16 Tips - What Don't Do in Tunisia

Page update - Jan 9, 2023

How to behave on vacation in Tunisia so as not to get into trouble? What to watch out for? What places to avoid? What potential dangers await tourists? How not to lose money? Read the answers on this page.

Prices, statistics and other information on this page were updated in January 2023. We will touch on all the important issues, but apart from covid safety and the coronavirus situation.

Is Tunisia safe?

Tunisia is quite safe. Tunisia is the most educated and progressive Arab country. Tunisia has the lowest crime rate in North Africa. According to Numbeo, the Safety Index for Tunisia is 55.23. For comparison, it is 50.97 for the US and 52.94 for the UK.

As you can see, there is no big difference. The statistics data is by January 2023.

It is safe to leave the hotel and travel by public transport in Tunisia. The country is safe, but some rules of conduct still need to be remembered. Here are 16 of the most important tips.

1. Don't relax crossing the road

We will describe this huge problem in numbers. The death rate on the roads in Tunisia is 154 people per 100 thousand cars a year. While it is 14.2 in the US and 5.7 in the UK. That is to say the statistical chance of finding yourself under the wheels of a car in Tunisia is 10-30 times higher.

Tunisian drivers chronically do not obey traffic rules and this problem has not been solved for years. And the traffic control in the country is very primitive. There are traffic lights only in the capital. At the resorts, there are only zebra crossings which do not really mean anything to the drivers. The police are watching the traffic at stationary posts only (pictured near, click on the photo to enlarge).

If you're crossing the road through a zebra crossing, it's better to let a car pass, as it's safer that way. Be careful in the medinas, as people use scooters and mopeds, and the streets are narrow. In some resorts, the situation is particularly dangerous for tourists, for example in Yasmine Hammamet where the beach and hotels are separated by a road.

Keep a close eye out for children! About travelling to Tunisia with children, read our big review "Flying to Tunisia with a child".

2. Don't forget about pickpockets

Tunisians now use mostly cash, and the "plastic era" in Tunisia is just in its infancy. Consequently, pickpockets were, are, will be there for at least the next decade.

But don't worry too much. Pickpocketing is rare in Tunisian resort regions. The good statistics are due to the fact that there are not many places in Tunisia where people crowd. However, there are still such places, and you need to stay awake there. The most potentially dangerous places are Tunisia's light rail (tram) and TGM trains, large shopping malls, bus and train stations.

Keep money and documents in inside pockets only. Do not get out money unless absolutely necessary, do not "flash" your cash. Use your external pockets for a change and small banknotes for basic needs such as buying a bottle of water or paying for a toilet.

By the way, losing your documents in Tunisia can get you into a lot of trouble. There are not so many consulates in the resorts and you have to go to the embassy in the capital to get your Certificate of Return (or similar single use travel document).

3. Don't drink tap water

In Tunisia, there is no uniform standard for the quality of tap water in all regions. The situation varies from region to region. In Sousse and Hammamet, for example, tap water is considered potable, while in Djerba and Kairouan it is not.

In major towns, the water supply is handled by the National Authority for Water Exploitation and Distribution (SONEDE) which guarantees the water quality. In smaller towns and rural areas, other smaller companies do not usually guarantee the quality.

However, the water quality is only guaranteed for as long as the water leaves the treatment plant. Next, the water can become polluted in the pipelines which have not been changed for decades in Tunisia.

On November 29, 2018, there was a high-profile case. In Mhamdia (Ben Arous, a southern suburb of the capital), dozens of schoolchildren were poisoned by tap water. Fortunately, there were no casualties. But this case shows us that the water situation is not ideal even in the capital.

So don't take any chances - drink bottled water. A 1.5 liter bottle of water costs 0.7 Tunisian dinar and you can always get bottled water from the bar at All Inclusive. For the current exchange rates of the Tunisian dinar, see our review "Money in Tunisia".

4. Don't forget to switch off mobile internet

This is a frequent nuisance to tourists not only in Tunisia, but in all countries. The thing is that almost all SIM-cards have roaming enabled by default. Internet traffic prices in roaming are astronomical.

As soon as a tourist lands in Tunisia, his/her smartphone automatically connects to the roaming Internet, starts downloading updates, mail and other data. In case of a postpaid service, the tourist receives a huge invoice. In the case of prepayment, the balance quickly reaches zero.

If you are not going to use roaming mobile internet on vacation, then turn off the "Data Transfer" function in your smartphone beforehand. And do not switch it on until you get home.

If you are going to use a special either roaming tariff, or package, or option, then you should first activate it using a USSD command (usually). Then wait for a message indicating that it has been successfully enabled. Only then activate the Data Transfer function back.

Keep in mind that Tunisian SIM cards also have a very expensive internet connection by default. To get cheap Internet you have to buy a traffic package. If you are going to use a Tunisian SIM-card you have to first activate the required data traffic pack by USSD command, and only after that activate the Data Transfer function back.

Read our helpful detailed review "Cheap Internet in Tunisia".

5. Don't touch drugs

Tunisia has very strict drug laws. In particular, Law 52/1992 punishes the possession of any narcotic substance with 1 to 5 years in prison. The penalties for selling, cultivating, transporting are even stricter - from 6 to 25 years in prison.

Your attention please! Even possession of drugs is punishable by 1 to 5 years in prison in Tunisia.

The drug problem in Tunisia is serious. The figures are serious. For example, in the year 2019, in the port of La Guillette, the police arrested a couple who came from Marseille. They had 4 kilos of cocaine and 25,000 ecstasy pills with them. And such high-profile arrests (of course, with not such striking figures) happen all the time in Tunisia.

A few years ago, a statistical study was conducted on a group of 2,453 young Tunisians (15 to 24 years old). Among them, 10% turned out to be drug users. That is why the Law 52/1992 will not be canceled or softened soon. No matter how much the human rights activists "scream" about the injustice of this law.

Our advice to tourists: don't even touch drugs in Tunisia.

6. Don't throw away currency exchange documents

You can easily exchange Euros, US dollars, UK pounds for Tunisian dinars in Tunisia. Some exchange bureaus offer a much longer list of currencies, but don't wait for good rates for uncommon currencies. However, making a reverse exchange is much more difficult.

If you have money left in Tunisian dinars, you can exchange them back at banks (not all) or special exchange offices at airports. You have to present a direct exchange receipt. You can see a picture of such a receipt near, click on the photo to enlarge it.

Tunisia has very strict currency control regulations. That is the way the authorities are fighting against financing of terrorism and export of money obtained illegally. For example, an ordinary Tunisian has the right to exchange only 6,000 dinars for dollars or euros a year (Circular of the Central Bank 2016-10).

Therefore. Firstly, try not to change more money than you need for your daily expenses. Secondly, be sure to keep your direct exchange receipt in case you need to make a reverse exchange. Read our detailed review "Where and how to exchange money in Tunisia".

7. Don't buy gifts and souvenirs in the first few days

The cunning Tunisian traders easily identify recently arrived tourists. They watch the condition of the tourist's skin first of all. They try to sell for three times the price to the recently arrived tourists.

It is strongly advised to have a look around the shops first and see the range and prices. Then decide on a list of gifts and souvenirs that you want to buy. Go shopping in the last days of your vacation.

Remember that none of the souvenir shops has any exclusive products. Everything is the same everywhere. A few exceptions are shops at places of interest that sell themed souvenirs.

It is important to decide where to buy. Some gifts are cheaper and better at Carrefour and Monoprix supermarkets. Alcohol beverages are sold at Magasin General only. Some souvenirs are sold in gift shops only.

To get information of the prices in advance, read our detailed review "What to bring from Tunisia".

8. Don't fall for scams

Fortunately, almost all tricks in Tunisia are limited to luring tourists into souvenir shops. Brutal tricks such as drugging or accusations of molestation are very rare in Tunisia. It is not for nothing that Tunisia is known as the most progressive and educated Arab country.

The most popular way of attracting a tourist to the shop is to say, "Do you remember me? I am the chef from your hotel". The idea is simple. A Tunisian approaches a tourist and claims to be the chef from the hotel. He names the hotel accurately because he recognises the color of the All Inclusive bracelet. Then the Tunisian says that his brother (brother-in-law, father-in-law) has a shop nearby and will give a good discount.

In the picture near, you can see a pseudo-chef leading our editor-in-chief into the shop in the Hammamet medina. As you can see, the pseudo-cook is not hiding from the camera because he is not doing anything illegal.

The way to counteract is simple - ignore such persons and go about your business.

9. Don't take food into your room

It is strictly forbidden to take food from the restaurant in all the All Inclusive hotels but the prohibition stops tourists rarely. And the violation may lead to bad situations. The food spoils quickly in the hot Tunisian climate and you can get seriously poisoned.

This is why, in the case of All Inclusive hotels, we do not recommend eating out of restaurants at all. The exceptions are fresh fruits and vegetables, if they are whole (not cut up). It is also relatively safe to take pastries and dried fruit.

But if you do take food from a restaurant, remember the "6-hour rule". If the food had been cooked more than 6 hours ago, throw it away without thinking twice! Don't risk it for nothing, there's more on the buffet.

We especially want to focus on seafood. In Tunisia, seafood is considered the main cause of poisoning. Last year there was a terrible case of one-third of the staff at the Central Bank of Tunisia being poisoned all at once. Fortunately, there were no fatalities. All of the poisoned employees ate shrimp in the canteen. Never take seafood from a restaurant!

10. Don't forget to wash fruits and vegetables

Tunisia grows great peaches, apricots, figs, strawberries, grapes and other fruits. Tourists buy fruits in markets and shops and can't resist tasting it right away. And no wonder, as the fruits are beautiful there. Fruits have ripened on the branch, and not ripened in boxes on the way.

But don't forget that you have to wash the fruit. You must also wash your hands. If you can't do it, take some antiseptic wipes with you and wipe the fruit before eating. Tunisia is a hot country and any pathogenic bacteria multiply fast.

According to the latest statistics available for 2018, 1,855 cases of severe food poisoning have been reported in Tunisia. And these are only the reported cases where patients have sought medical attention. Tunisian doctors believe that two types of food carry the greatest risk. The first is seafood, the second is fruit and vegetables if they are eaten unwashed.

11. Don't smoke local cigarettes

Tunisia has a record percentage of smuggled and counterfeit cigarettes. Optimistic studies put the percentage of counterfeit cigarettes on the market at 20%. Some studies claim a figure of 50% and even more. Counterfeit cigarettes most often enter the country from neighboring Libya and Algeria.

Where are these counterfeit cigarettes made? From what materials? How? What chemicals are spiked? No one has the answers to these questions. And the big question: are they safe? No one knows.

Some Tunisian brands are considered safe, like MARS or CRISTAL (pictured near, click on photo to enlarge). But even if you buy them, no one will guarantee against fakes. See our in-depth review "Cigarettes and smoking in Tunis" for more details.

So, don't take any chances, don't smoke local cigarettes. Take cigarettes with you or buy at Duty Free. For details on tobacco import regulations, see our review "What you are allowed to bring into Tunisia and how much".

12. Don't think all Tunisia is safe

Some tourists like to rent a car and drive around the country on their own. It's quick, convenient, and gives complete freedom of action. But you have to remember about Tunisia that the country borders Libya in the east and not all parts of the country are safe for tourists.

Here are the recommendations of the British Foreign Office. Tourists are not advised to visit:

- Mount Chambi National Park;

- Border posts on the Tunisian-Algerian border: Hazoua, Sakiet Sidi Youssef, and Ghardimaou;

- The military zone south of Dehiba and El Borma;

- In general, do not go near the border with Libya. The border provinces themselves should not be visited either.

13. Don't leave the hotel while intoxicated

Tunisia is an Islamic country, although Tunisians produce their own local alcohol and even sell pork in supermarkets. Consider Tunisia's most famous beer, Celtia, pictured nearby, click to enlarge.

The attitude to alcohol and drunken tourists is tolerant there, but everything has its limits.

The laws of Tunisia don't prohibit drinking alcohol. In theory, the law doesn't even say anything about drinking and being drunk in public places. However, the Tunisian Criminal Code has Section IV "Crimes against public morals".

In Tunisia, you can get imprisoned for a period from 6 months to 5 years or a fine from 120 to 1,200 Tunisian dinars for offenses against public morals. Of course, imprisonment is usually imposed as a last resort, but there is a theoretical chance of that, and paying a fine is unpleasant.

In addition, any injury or exacerbation of illnesses, if you get them while intoxicated, is NOT an insurance case. In such a case, you will have to pay for the treatment at your own expense.

For more on Tunisian alcohol, see our in-depth review "Alcohol in Tunisia - prices and rules".

14. Taste first, then put on a full plate

Tunisian cuisine is the spiciest in the Mediterranean, and Tunisian chefs like to cook national dishes in the All Inclusive hotels. It often happens that tourists fill up their plates full of food and then can't eat it, as the food is very unfamiliar.

Some Tunisian dishes look like the ones we are used to, but taste quite different. For example, Tunisian merguez, which looks like common sausage but tastes very spicy.

It is a shame to see delicious Tunisian dishes going to the trash just because tourists have not predicted the tastes. So we kindly ask you to taste the dish before filling the plate.

If you don't eat spicy things, you don't have to be afraid to come to Tunisia. There's always plenty of neutral dishes on the buffet.

15. Don't trust blindly your hotel guide

If you come by a package tour, then your tour operator's representative (hotel guide) will be there to help you. They are not much help, usually.

They have other main business - sale of excursions. And they try to sell the excursions by all means. Of course, a tour guide will try to urge you that it is difficult, long, dangerous to get somewhere on your own. In reality, though, it's easy and quick. His/her aim is to sell excursions by all means.

There are sights that are really difficult to get to on your own in Tunisia. There are sights that are really easy to get to. Sometimes it's cheaper to go on an excursion. And there are places that are much cheaper to get to on your own.

16. Don't forget the dangers of the sun

Tunisia is a very hot country in Africa. Sunburn or heat stroke can easily happen. You should be aware that sunburns are not covered by insurance. You'll have to pay for the treatment yourself.

To avoid getting into such trouble, follow some simple rules:

1. The sun is at its most active between 12 noon and 3 pm (12-00 to 15-00). Try to spend this time indoors. You can go out for lunch or a trip to a local museum. On the beach at this time, it is better to be under an umbrella.

2. Use sun protection creams or milk. We recommend SPF 20-30 for adults and 50-60 for children. Do not forget that the active time of such creams is limited, that is, it is necessary to renew after a couple hours.

3. Always wear a hat, and shoulders must be covered during the excursions, as it is your shoulders that will get burnt first.

4. Wear light-weight and light-coloured clothing. Light fabrics reflect the sun's rays. Dark clothing absorbs and heats. Dark clothing may give you a higher chance of a heatstroke.

For details about the clothes set for your trip, see our review "What to take for Tunisia".

Good and important to know

- You may get into trouble after your holiday - at customs check. There are restrictions on exporting certain items and products. What exactly are the restrictions, read our review "What you can and cannot take out of Tunisia".

Have a great vacation in Tunisia and read our interesting pages about the country (see the list of the pages below). © 2020-2024