Stay safe in Tunisia
Tunisia has recently experienced a revolution and is currently in a controversial transition phase. Although there is currently no large-scale violence, demonstrations do occur from time to time and are sometimes violent and/or brutally dispersed. Therefore, before travelling to Tunisia, check with your foreign office about the current conditions and, if possible, stay away from large demonstrations that might take place during your stay.
Be aware that since 2015, Islamist terrorists have targeted tourists in Tunisia. 24 people have been killed at the Bardo Museum in Tunisia in March and a terrorist shot 39 tourists at a beach and a hotel in Sousse in June. The British government has advised its citizens to leave Tunisia and only visit for important travel.
It is apparently not considered rude for a man to stare at a woman’s body, which should indicate that modesty attracts less attention. Women can expect to be the target of frequent boos (“gazelle” seems to be particularly popular). If travelling as part of a couple, stay together as much as possible, as the female traveller should not walk around alone if she does not want to be harassed. The harassment is usually limited to bizarre words and occasional touching, but can be extremely persistent and annoying.
Tunisian women often wear outfits you would normally see on the streets of any major cosmopolitan city (tight jeans, slouchy top), but they do so while showing traditional modesty by exposing virtually no skin. Arms are covered up to the wrists, collars reach the neck (there is no cleavage) and a headscarf may be worn. Western women visitors can minimise attention by choosing clothes that show as little skin as possible. V-neck is fine if another layer with a higher collar is underneath.
Note that there are street cafés around squares and in the streets of most towns, but these are for men only, even when accompanied by men; women are not welcome. Prices are much cheaper in these cafés than in the mixed-sex cafés and tea rooms you find in Tunis.
Money and fraud
Travellers report problems being harassed, either to buy something or for other purposes. Persistence is one of the main complaints. Some say that refusal often leads to a bad reaction, “being hissed at” is an example, but those who have been advised to politely refuse with a smile rarely complain. “Non, Merci” is a very good response, with a smile. This seems to be borne out by reports from women travelling alone, who one would expect to receive the most attention but who often report the fewest problems (from an admittedly small sample), perhaps because they are more cautious than female companions. It certainly seems to be the case that female seafarers travelling alone attract a lot of unwelcome attention (even harassment) until a male friend arrives.
Theft of belongings, including from hotel rooms and room safes, is often reported and the usual caveats apply – keep valuables in a safe place (e.g. a monitored hotel safe), don’t show too much cash and keep wallets, purses and other coveted items where pickpockets cannot reach them. A good recommendation is to carry only enough cash for immediate needs and only one credit or debit card, provided you can be sure of the security of your reserves. Also, most ATMs are available and foreign credit cards are accepted. Cash (equivalent to Tunisian dinars) can be withdrawn directly from your bank account for a small fee (bank transfer of €1 to €2 ).
Thefts are also reported at airports. Always keep your belongings under your direct supervision.
When it is time to settle the bill at a Tunisian café or restaurant, it is advisable to make sure you are presented with an actual, itemised copy of the bill before handing over the money. Often your waiter will claim to have calculated the total amount in his head, and it will always be higher than you actually owe. Also check the prices on the menu before you order. Some places claim not to have menus, but they usually have menus on the wall. Tunisian workers are extremely poorly paid (around 300 pounds per month) and will often try to take advantage of tourists without understanding.
Be aware that the export of Tunisian currency is prohibited and searches of wallets and purses can and do occur at Tunis airport. If you are found with more than 20-30 dinars, you will be asked to return to the land side to change them. The problem is that this “invitation” comes after you have already gone through passport control and handed in your exit card; so it is not practical. You are then asked to hand over some or all of your Tunisian money to the uniformed officer (which cannot be spent in the duty-free shops anyway). You don’t get anywhere with arguments, and the request for a receipt is flatly refused. Judging by the way the money is quickly taken in hand, you have almost certainly just paid a bribe.
Stay healthy in Tunisia
- Malaria – There is not much risk of malaria in Tunisia, but pack your bug spray.
- Sun Please remember that the sun is often your worst enemy. We would recommend applying a high (factor 30 or better) sunscreen frequently. It is usually cheaper at your local supermarket than at the resort.
- Be careful where you eat and drink (and remember the ice too). Diarrhoea is a common problem of careless travellers. Tap water in the Tunisian-Carthaginian-Marsa area seems to be safe.
Always see your doctor 4-8 weeks before travelling (the 4-8 weeks is important as some vaccinations take weeks to take effect and with polio you can also be contagious for a while):
- Yellow fever is required for all travellers entering from a yellow fever-infected area in Africa or America.
- Hepatitis A is usually recommended Two Havrix injections given 6 months apart provide protection against hep A for 10 years
- Hepatitis B – Strongly recommended if you are likely to have intimate contact with locals or if you are staying longer than 6 months.