Tunis, Tunisia Report of what it's like to live there - 11/29/17
Personal Experiences from Tunis, Tunisia
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
No - I have served at other posts in the region and Europe.
2. What is your home city/country? How long is the trip to post from there, with what connections? How easy/difficult is it to travel to this city/country?
Washington, DC. Usually 17-20 hours total with a layover in Paris or Frankfurt.
3. How long have you lived here?
Almost two years.
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Housing is split between villas in La Marsa/Sidi Bou Said/Carthage and apartments in the Lac area. The villas are usually pretty large and charming but with weird layouts and in various states of minor disrepair. Commute times are around 20-30 minutes. The apartments are smaller, more modern, and within walking distance to the Embassy.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Carrefour, MG Mart and Monoprix are here. Pretty much anything you need you can find here, including peanut butter and taco kits. The brands are French or Tunisian and quality/tastes vary from the US, so we're still bringing in some choice groceries via Amazon. Fruits and vegetables are available fresh and cheap on the local market.
Pork products are available at Carrefour and some specialty shops - in terms of sandwich meat the pork is probably higher quality than the other stuff available by virtue of import.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Baking stuff. Vanilla extract, brown sugar, and things like that. Trash bags. What you can buy here inevitably splits and dumps garbage everywhere on the way to the dumpster.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Tunis has a number of quality restaurants, most falling into one of the following categories - Tunisian traditional, seafood and steak, and pizza/Italian. There are a number of good sushi places, some trendy burger joints have popped up, and shwarma/kebab shops are pretty common. A few American chains have also opened here - Chilis, Fatburger, Johnny Rockets, Pizza Hut, and Papa Johns come to mind.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Ants are ubiquitous and some houses have had issues with cockroaches.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
DPO and pouch.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Maids, nannies, gardeners and drivers are available but finding anyone that speaks English will be a major challenge. I pay about $12 a day for household help and $20 a week for a gardener/handyman.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
The Embassy has a nice gym and very nice swimming pool. There are a number of tennis and soccer clubs available as well.
4. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?
This is largely a cash economy but fortunately ATMS are common and seem safe to use. International withdrawal fees are harsh though - try to arrange a deal with your bank ahead of time.
5. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Knowledge of French and/or Arabic will be immensely helpful and important for the day-to-day outside of an embassy or international setting. There are tutors and language institutes available.
6. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Yes but it is possible. Sidewalks are narrow, uneven and have trees growing in the middle of them or piles of rusty nails on the ground. Many buildings have access ramps but they are not of any sort of standard spec and are often very steep.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Local public transport is not advised. Taxis are OK to use and pretty cheap. Outside of the airport, most drivers are good to use their meters.
2. What kind of car do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car do you advise not to bring?
A small SUV or something with enough clearance to mount curbs every once in a while. The parts of Tunis that expats frequent are fairly well-paved, but venturing outside of those areas or road tripping to sites in the south or west of the country will call for good suspension and clearance.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes and very cheap, though this seems to vary from house to house. I've had no problems streaming Netflix with the local providers. Some people are forced to rely on expensive 4G web routers instead of the cheaper land-based options because of consistency issues.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Bring an unlocked smartphone - most providers offer pay-as-you-go for reasonable rates.
1. Are qualified veterinarians and/or good kennel services available? Do animals need to be quarantined upon entry to the country? Are there other considerations regarding pets that are particular to this country?
There are a number of vets in the La Marsa area and I have heard mixed reviews. No quarantine for pets as far as I know. Many people adopt street cats and dogs.
Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:
1. What types of jobs do most expatriate spouses/partners have? Locally based or telecommuting? Full-time or part-time? Can you comment on local salary scales?
The hiring freeze has been detrimental to spouse hiring. Some spouses have jobs with international organizations, and there are a few international schools here.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Tunisians are well-dressed and the Embassy environment is quite formal - suits and ties most days.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Tunisia remains a critical threat post for terrorism - remain aware at all times. Know that trips outside of Tunis require preparation and approvals. There is also a steady stream of petty crime - purse or phone snatchings are common.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Medical care is inconsistent. I have heard about several people getting very sick, including hospital stays, in recent months.
3. What is the air quality like at post (good/moderate/bad)? Are there seasonal air quality issues? Does the air quality have an impact on health?
The air quality is good minus the occasional trash fire or outdated emissions setup on buses etc.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Very temperate - pleasant, dry, warm most of the year. Summers get fairly hot, and winters are chilly but not freezing.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
There is an American cooperative school here that I have heard is OK but small.
2. Are preschools available? Day care? Are these expensive? What has been your experience with them, if any? Do the schools provide before- and/or after-school care?
Yes - several daycares and preschools available, working in Tunisian Arabic, French and English.
3. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Soccer, horseback riding, tennis, windsurfing...
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
The expatriate community has grown significantly since I've been here and continues to do so. It seems like all the embassies and international organizations here are expanding.
2. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Seems good for both singles and an increasing number of families.
3. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
I have heard there is an LGBT community and some low-key venues/bars/restaurants that are LGBT friendly, but I don't have personal experience.
4. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Unaccompanied women will get some unsolicited attention in places like downtown, the Medina. Overall though it is a much better environment for women than other places in the region.
5. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Trips out to the Roman and Islamic sites - El Djem, Dougga, Kairouan. Enjoying beach weekends in Sousse or Hammamet.
6. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Carpets are a good buy here, as are custom mosaics.