Tunis, Tunisia Report of what it's like to live there - 01/13/10
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?
First expat experience
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.Trip is approximately fourteen hours long with one connection in Rome, Paris or Germany.
3. How long have you lived here?
Eight months of a two year tour.
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Spouse of State Department Employee
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Most embassy employees live in stand-alone homes closer to the Mediterranean (note: there are only a few homes over looking the sea- don't get your hopes up).The homes tend to be spacious, with small yards full of fruit trees and just a bit if grass. Singles might be assigned to duplexes or condos. New housing assignments are coming up in the neighborhood across from the embassy in an area called Berges du Lac II.While the proximity cannot be beat, the current major construction projects in the area make that neighborhood undesirable. Beware.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
The produce in Tunisia is amazing and cheap. Everything is seasonal. Groceries are of the local variety with some knock-off American cereals (not good) and imported European stuff (good but pricey).
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Healthy cereal, snacks for the kids, good coffee, English literature, reasonably priced clothing, shoes. If you will have access to the pouch, all this can be ordered on-line. If not, bring it all with you as you will have a difficult time finding any of these items here.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Schwarma and pizza is everywhere here, and quite good. You'll find your favorite schwarma spot and stick to it. There's not much in the way of American fast food here however.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Mosquito problems in August, ant invasions all summer.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Through the DPO pouch. Stuff from amazon.com takes about a week via DPO.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Cheap. We pay $300 a month for a maid/nanny. She is technically full-time but often works until early afternoon unless needed for additional hours.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
The embassy has a gym for American embassy employees. There are several local gyms as well. Additionally, there seems to be an increase of yoga and pilates classes at the school and people's homes lately. There's also a Hash group that runs/walks.
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?
You can use them, but you're better off carrying cash.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
Yes, I understand there is Greek Orthodox, Catholic and some other services available, some in English.
6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?
No, I get all of my news on-line.
7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
You must speak French or Arabic to survive in Tunisia. The Arabic is different from standard Arabic but will serve you well here, with some minor tweaking.
8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Many. There are very few sidewalks and ramps in this town.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Taxis are plentiful and cheap and as safe as you could expect to be driving here in Tunis. The buses are not recommended because of unsafe conditions, and the train is fine although I haven't used it.
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?
Any sort. All the cars in Tunisia appear to be small four-cylinder cars. Insurance is based on horse-power so the smaller, the cheaper.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes, about $100 a month for internet.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Get a cell phone. They're cheap and useful.
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?
2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?
The vet care is okay but not high tech- our cats were never weighed, no lab work completed. But, we found a lovely caring vet to whom we bring our cats.
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?
No. It's difficult to find work here unless you teach or are in nursing. I've seen quite a few nurses land work at the embassy and school.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Work dress code - same as in Washington, DC.In public almost anything goes. Tunisians are very open-minded and you will see a range of styles from fully covered to scantily clad. You can be yourself here.
Health & Safety:
1. Pollution index (Good, Moderate, Unhealthy, or Very Unhealthy)?
Generally the air seems quite clean. I've had several colds & conjunctivitis during the fall and winter months which I can only assume is related to the air quality and allergens here in Tunis. I don't think I'm alone; many ex-pats report getting sick frequently during the fall and winter.
2. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
None. Tunisia is a police state and you will feel safer here than you did back in the States.
3. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
The healthcare is fine. I've seen a few local doctors for minor problems and the care has been good- and the doctors are English speaking in all three offices. If you have a serious issue however, you will be medevaced to London.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
The weather is hot and dry all summer, mild and rainy during the fall and winter.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
My children are elementary-aged and attend ACST, an American School directly across the street from the embassy (although not quite walkable due to poor sidewalks and construction).The school has about 600 students, most from the African Development Bank. The school seems to be doing a fine job although does not seem as challenging as schools in Northern Virginia. Additionally, if your child is above his/her grade level, there are few opportunities for them. The school offers French, Arabic and German classes as well as after-school activities and sports programs. The kids seems happy and the teachers seem devoted. I've got no complaints.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
Uncertain but I doubt it's extensive.
3. 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?
There are many pre-schools in the area. My child attends a Tunisian school for half days, five days a week and we pay about $120 a month. ACST has a pre-k for four-year-olds. There's an English Montessori for ages three and up and a new "British" school with an English curriculum that is double the price that we pay for our Tunisian pre-school.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Yes, ACST offers sports programs. Our kid plays baseball but there's soccer, baseball and swimming and I'm sure other sports as well.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Medium. The European, particularly French community is huge. There is a small group of Americans, some from the U.S. embassy and some who live/work here in other capacities.
2. Morale among expats:
High if you have a positive attitude. I've heard some grumbling of unhappiness from some, generally related to the fact that Tunis can be a bit boring and that the Tunisians are not friendly. The new ambassador has brought a positive attitude and good leadership into the embassy so I understand that morale is good at the US embassy.
3. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?
Most entertaining is done at home. There are a few great restaurants and nice local hotels where you can have a great time.
4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
This is a great city for families. I think it's a challenge for singles and married couples with no children as the night life is mediocre and there are not a ton of things to do after-hours.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
I know a few gay folks who seem to do fine, although I wouldn't call this the hub of gay life.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Not that I have seen although I have heard some murmuring about people with darker complexions being discriminated against. I'm imagining that it's infrequent and subtle.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Roman ruins, Roman ruins...did I mention Roman ruins?In the summer, the beach, the embassy pool, exploring the medina, hamam, outdoor restaurants, trips out of town, excursions to the south.
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Gorgeous rugs, ceramics.
9. Can you save money?
Yes, if you don't get out o Dodge too frequently.
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Sure. This is a gorgeous, safe country with tons of history.
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Skis, dreams of warm and fuzzy locals, olive oil, olives.
3. But don't forget your:
Tolerance for bad driving, sunscreen, and walking shoes. There's a lot to see here if you get out of town.
4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
The Lonely Planet Tunisia, The History of Modern Tunisia
5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:
6. Do you have any other comments?
Tunisia is a great post. The Tunisians are interesting people and there's is a lot of history here. However, the Tunisians are closed off if they do not know you/your family. This might be attributable to the restrictive nature of the government here. Be prepared for this. Also, the day-to-day bad driving and bad customer service can wear you down. Get out of town and enjoy all that Tunisia has to offer.