Tunis, Tunisia Report of what it's like to live there - 01/09/24
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, have also had multiple previous tours in the Middle East, Latin America, 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?
Flights to the US go through Paris or Amsterdam.
3. What years did you live here?
4. How long have you lived here?
I lived here for two years
5. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, military, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
2/3 of the staff loved the housing. Houses usually large, some with ocean views. Most expats live in La Marsa, Carthage, and Gammarth - all nice neighborhoods close to the sea, with breezes. Some houses are older and require maintenance. Ours required a lot of work when we first moved in.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Groceries are cheap but it can be hard to find some US items. The fruits are amazing but many are seasonal - get used to enjoying them in their season and their absence later will make their eventual return that much sweeter. The large supermarkets are pretty dumpy. There are occasional shortages of subsidized staples such as milk, pasta, and sugar. A couple times there were gas shortages.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Extra pasta and sugar for the shortages.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
There are some good European restaurants, including french cuisine and pizza. Even a few decent asian restaurants. Local seafood can be tasty. There are multiple delivery services. Tunisian cuisine can sometimes leave something to be desired. They put canned tuna on everything: pizza, pasta, you name it, but there are some treasures in the local cuisine as well. I loved the lablabi soup in the winter.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
We had some cockroaches and know at least one diplomatic house that was infested with it.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Household help is quite affordable. If you want English-speaking you will mostly likely need to look in the Filipina community which charges more.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Plenty of gyms but I worked out at home and had a trainer come. Trainer was excellent and cost about $13 a class.
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?
Credit cards are often accepted at restaurants and larger stores. Outside of the big cities it can sometimes be difficult to find working ATMs.
5. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
French is very helpful and almost everyone in the capital speaks it very well. There are fewer English speakers as this is a former French colony, but the numbers are increasing. Locals speak a dialect of Arabic that is mixed with some French and Berber words. If you try to speak formal Arabic (Fossha) many people will be confused or uncomfortable.
6. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Plenty of uneven sidewalks but I've seen worse.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
There is a local tram and train but it has really gone downhill since I visited in the early 2000s - I wouldn't recommend. The group taxis drive like maniacs. I used the taxi app Bolt. I preferred it to getting a cab on the street as taxi drivers will sometimes try to rip off foreigners if the price isn't already set. Also, the app saves you from having to try to explain your destination to the driver.
2. What kind of vehicle(s) including electric ones do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, infrastructure, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car or vehicles do you advise not to bring?
One of the worst countries for driving I've ever been in - and I've been in some bad ones. Drivers are constantly on their cell phones and do not pay attention to the road. The lanes aren't respected and cars drift constantly. The roads are ok though. I would bring a car that you don't mind getting dented a little. A sedan is fine. The less fancy the car looks, the less of an attraction it will be for break-ins.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Internet was so-so. We could do streaming but sometimes it would die randomly. You could telework from here but it wouldn't be ideal and you would want to have your cell phone internet as a backup.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
We used Google Fi which worked great.
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 lots of wild dogs that carry diseases. Our dog died within a couple months of arrival, we think because of a tick-borne illness. Get all the tick medication and also get a flea collar.
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?
Local salaries are very low and jobs are competed over intensely. Most spouses telework. Proximity to Europe can help for some jobs.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Fairly formal. In Tunis - at least in the affluent areas - most women go without a hijab.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Crime was increasing given the dismal economic situation and there were some reports of break-ins in the diplomatic community. That being said the city didn't feel that dangerous - equivalent to large American city perhaps. There are a few areas of the country, such as near the Algerian border, that are off-limits due to concerns about terrorism. But almost all of the tourist sites are ok.
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 only so-so, but you're an hour flight from France or Italy if you need more complicated work. Food safety is actually ok. I don't think I got diarrhea once the whole time I was there, and I don't have a strong stomache.
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?
Pollution is not great in downtown Tunis, but in the Marsa/Gammarth/Carthage bubble it's not too bad - the sea breeze keeps it cleaner. Occasionally people may burn trash in your neighborhood and that is gross.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
Some members of my family have asthma and they were ok. Don't know about food allergies. Olive oil, tomato, and tuna fish are in everything local.
5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?
I think the declining economic and political situation does have a negative effect on morale, but most people seemed content.
6. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Nice mediterranean climate. Perfect in October - May. A little cold perhaps December - February. July and August can get very hot.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
The American school was ok for the lower grades and there was a good community. The school has nice facilities and communication was o.k. We miss the school.
2. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
The American school has lots of after school activities. We hired a piano teacher to come to our house and that was cheap.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Medium-sized. In addition to the diplomatic community there is a decent sized community of international NGOs, although they are currently under some stress because of the political situation.
2. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?
We mostly did things with our family and a few expat friends - going to the beach, going on hikes, or renting houses.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Like a lot of diplomatic posts, this place could get a little boring for single people unless you're adventurous. If you don't have kids to keep you occupied you need to actively try to get out of the Marsa/Gammarth/Carthage bubble.
4. Is it easy to make friends with locals here? Are there any prejudices or any ethnic groups who might feel uncomfortable here?
The locals are approachable enough but you need French. There is some racism against black Africans. Outside of the elite in Tunis, who are mostly tolerant, there is a lot of anti-semitism. Shortly after I left an old synagogue in another part of the country was burnt by a mob in response to the war in Gaza.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
While this is a more liberal Muslim country, outward displays of affection in same sex couples could invite unwanted attention and harassment.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
See above. This is the most tolerant Muslim country I've been with regards to female dress. In one family you'll see one daughter in abaya and hijab and another wearing a tight tee-shirt and jeans.
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
The weather and mediterranean views are great. It is very affordable. Flights to Europe are cheap and frequent. There are a ton of amazing roman sights, many of which are not that crowded. There are some nice places to hike.
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Lots of day trip possibilities. My favorite was to go hiking around Zaghouan area - about an hour and half away. You can also go to beaches around Raf Raf or to roman ruins like Dougga, El Jem, and Uthina. The northern part of the country actually has some nice forests, while there are interesting deserts in the south.
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
YES. Our house is full of carpets, lamps, and other crafts we bought in Tunis. It's nice and cheap. The exhibition center in Le Kram has craft fairs 2-3 times a year and it's a great place to load up on stuff.
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Affordable Mediterranean living with ample vacation possibilities.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
How there are a lot of tick-borne diseases that will kill your dog. That there are shortages of some staple goods. Also, be prepared to see a lot of trash.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Yes. I've been in multiple middle eastern posts and this was my favorite - from a lifestyle perspective.
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Don't come here with a hope that the economic or political situation will improve. This country is on a downward trajectory. I came here 20 years earlier and could see how things have declined - a lot more trash, more graffitti, more crime, more hopelessness. But it's still a wonderful country. I miss the sunsets over sidi bou said.
4. But don't forget your:
to fill your gas tank frequently in case there is a gas shortage.