Tunis, Tunisia Report of what it's like to live there - 05/03/10

Personal Experiences from Tunis, Tunisia

Tunis, Tunisia 05/03/10

Background:

1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?

2nd expat experience.

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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?

DC to Paris to Tunis.

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3. How long have you lived here?

4 years. We will leave in June of 2010.

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4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?

My spouse works at the US Embassy.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?

Standalone homes with tiny yards (so don't expect nice gardens) and newly constructed apartment buildings.

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2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?

Crazy expensive if you shop at the US Embassy commissary. Not too bad at Carrefour or Geant; but cheap at local shops and the sunday market.

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3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?

Pecans, cake mixes, a nice grill, all baby-related stuff.

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4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?

Only local stuff, like shawarma and kefteji. These are cheap, too. One or two dinar (approx 70 cents US to the dinar) will get you a good sandwich.

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5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?

Ants and big roaches.

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Daily Life:

1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?

DPO and pouch. I wouldn't recommend sending any other way because they will try to tax the heck out of you and you'll pay a LOT!

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2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?

I find it expensive compared to asia. It is expensive for what you get. Most women who work as housekeepers consider 8am-2pm to be full time.

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3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?

Yes. There are many, including the recreation center on the embassy grounds.

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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?

They usually work, but sometimes they ALL are down.

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5. What English-language religious services are available locally?

Many Christian services are available (catholic, 7th day adventist, pentecostal, universal church of christ, protestant).

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6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?

With satellite you can get anything on TV, but to get that and AFN (which is provided by the embassy) you will need two dishes on the house. The receivers for hotbird are cheap to get locally (less than $50).

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7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

You need to know at least some French. Arabic is nice to know but not totally necessary. You will have a hard time if you speak only English. The embassy has a good language program.

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8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?

Many. There are no usable sidewalks, and cars do NOT wait for pedestrians. Elevators work sometimes. It was funny to see the elevator broken that we needed to take to get to the orthopedist. He was on the same floor as the cardiologist at the top of the stairs :)

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Transportation:

1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?

Taxis: yes, and cheap, too. Buses - too crowded and not safe. I've never taken the train.

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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?

Anything is really fine. The roads are good. It's the driving that's the issue. Recently there have been issues registering vehicles with tinted windows.

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Phone & Internet:

1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?

Yes. Less than $50 per month.

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2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?

Here they are pay as you go. Easily available. Just take your passport with you to get a sim card.

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Pets:

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?

No.

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2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?

Vet care is available and cheap, but I wouldn't ever kennel a pet there.

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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?

Not at all. Tunisians will work for MUCH less than Americans, French or Italians. Plus you have to be fluent in French AND Arabic.

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2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?

Not formal.

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Health & Safety:

1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.

Home break-ins, but if you have a dog, you will most likely be ok. Plus all embassy homes have alarm systems. Use them!

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2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?

Decent care is available, but cleanliness standards in hospitals are lacking.

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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?

Moderate. It can be quite dusty with all the construction going on. Plus the winds from the Sahara in the summer bring the finest sandy dust you can imagine.

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4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

HOT summers, rainy winters which are colder than you may think. No snow, but you still need a coat in winter.

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Schools & Children:

1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?

American Cooperative School, International School of Carthage, and Lycee Francais Paul Verlaine.

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2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?

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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 french-speaking schools and one english-speaking.

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4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?

Yes, through the American School. There are also local soccer programs as well as dance lessons, riding lessons, and martial arts.

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Expat Life:

1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?

Not very big, as there aren't too many NGOs here (Tunisia doesn't need anyone's help). Mostly French and Italians.

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2. Morale among expats:

It's ok but not as high as I expected. A lot of people are frustrated with how hard it is to get anything done when it comes to work, but happy with the simplicity of life outside of work.

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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?

There are many clubs and restaurants, but nothing gets started until really late compared to in the US. And expect Tunisians to be late ALL the time. If a wedding invitation says it starts at 8pm, don't show up until 10 at the earliest or you will be waiting around all alone.

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4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?

This is a good family post. It is good for single men. Not so good for single women.

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5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?

No, because as everyone knows, there are no homosexuals in Tunisia :)

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6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?

Although the Tunisians say they are tolerant and not sexist, it is very clear that is not the case.

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7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?

The proximity to the beach and cheap travel to Europe.

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8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?

The beach, horseback riding, cheap trips to europe, Matmata (the site for Star Wars filming), Tozeur, the Sahara.

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9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?

Olive tree wood, hand-blown glass from Sadika, carpets from Kairouan.

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10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?

Despite what most Americans say, you CAN save money if you shop at local markets rather than the US Embassy commissary and Carrefour. If you eat a lot of meat, though, it can be expensive, but local produce is CHEAP - but keep in mind that almost nothing is imported, so veggies are seasonal but super cheap when they are in season.

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11. Can you save money?

Yes, if you don't travel to Europe too much.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?

We have had fun and our children liked their school, but I can think of somewhere else i would rather go. it wasn't an incredibly enjoyable tour, but it wasn't bad enough to hate it.

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2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:

expectations of meeting a deadline, tuna, and olive oil.

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3. But don't forget your:

sunscreen, patience, and defensive driving skills.

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4. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

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5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

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6. Do you have any other comments?

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