Planning & Information – Tunisia
Where: Tunis, Carthage, Sidi Bou Sid, Sousse, Monastir, El Jem, Chebika, Tamerza, Tozeur, Douz, Matmata, Safari
Transport: Airlines, Bus, Taxi, Louage (shared taxi)
When: April 2014, for nine days
Who: One backpacker
Tunisia is the northern-most country in African continent, with Bizerte considered the northern-most city. With varied landscapes and temperatures, this is an Arabic- or French-speaking country where you will find caring, humble and helpful, yet frustrated people. My first impression on landing at Tunis airport was that people smoke a lot in Tunisia. Ignoring the no-smoking signs in public places, including the airport, usually men smoked in the immigration line as well. Heck even the immigration officer smoked at passport control!
Things have changed a lot after the 2011 revolution and generally the citizens are still frustrated with the laws of the trade policies and the government. A traveler may not notice this during their short stay in the country, but talk to locals and you will realize otherwise.
A lot of countries have an option of visa-upon-arrival, but it’s best to check their website and apply for a visa well in advance as the consulate may take anything between 1 to 4 weeks. Also, the visa upon arrival may be applicable to citizens of certain countries with different rules, based on the pre-existing visas or residency levels in the country you’re living. Visa are given typically for 30 days.
I was required to get a visa prior to traveling to Tunisia which costs US$56 plus shipping fees. Click here for visa information on the Tunisian Embassy in Washington D.C.
Tunisia’s currency is Dinar. It is subdivided into 1000 milim or millimes (مليم). The abbreviation DT is often used in Tunisia, although writing “dinar” after the amount is also acceptable (TND is less colloquial, and tends to be used more in financial circles); the abbreviation TD is also mentioned in a few places, but is less frequently used, given the common use of the French language in Tunisia, and the French derivation of DT (i.e., Dinar tunisien).
Most businesses in Tunisia will accept Euros as well, although U.S. Dollar is only accepted by hotels and tour companies.
The exchange rate is almost constant since Tunisian Dinar is a closed currency. This also means that you cannot exchange it anywhere else other than the country itself. And it is considered illegal to export the currency out of the country. I used the word ‘considered’ because by law it IS illegal, although authorities don’t check you on your way out.
|IMPORTANT NOTE on Currency Exchange
Considering the fact that it is illegal to export the currency out of Tunisia, you’d want to exchange it before leaving. My flight out of Tunis airport was early in the morning and there was only one exchange counter open and hence a long line. They were out of Euros, and there was no sign mentioning that tot he frustration of the people standing in line for hours.
When you arrive at Tunis airport and exchange currency, you will be given a receipt of the exchange. It is very very important you save this receipt carefully because when you go to exchange back to EUR or USD while leaving the country, you will be required to show this receipt. The cashier will not exchange TND to any other currency if you don’t have this receipt. I was unable to find mine and after waiting for an hour and a half in line, I was too frustrated to search my entire bag for that receipt. Taking a risk of being stopped at the baggage check, I went for the gate. And not surprising to me, no one checked my bag for any “currency export”. And now I’m stuck with 160 TND (approx $100) that no other bank or country will exchange!
The banknotes come in 50, 20, 10 & 5 Dinars and coins come in 5, 2, 1 Dinars & 500, 200, 100, 50, 20 & 10 millims. Tunisian rates are in 1000 millims, which means you will see a price like TND 2.450 – two Dinars and 450 millms.
Currency exchange rate is provided ‘as is’ and solely for informational purposes, not for trading purposes or advice, and may be delayed. © Yahoo! Finance
Here are some tips that I experienced on my trip to Tunisia:
If you are traveling on a budget then there’s no need to spend exorbitant amount on taxis from one place to another. It’s easy and affordable to travel around almost everywhere with excellent louage (shared taxis) connections between cities and towns. And between major cities, the train service is very convenient. For example, it will cost you TND 22.500 (approx $14) between Sousse and Tozeur.
- Buses – Always make sure to check the timing of the buses. The SNTRI website (in Arabic and French) lists the services between towns, but depending on the number of people and time of the year, most services will be cancelled. Ask your hotel concierge, or the best option is walk to a bus station for the latest updates on the services.
Private charter buses are rare to find and used only by tour companies.
- Trains – SNCFT (website in French & Arabic) operates all long-distance trains and are almost entirely reliable to be on time. They are cheap and a convenient way of traveling between cities. First class costs a bit more than second class, but it’s always preferable to take the first class since the seats are less cramped and more comfortable.
There are few daily services between cities, so make sure to check their website. Night trains are almost never available.
Do not expect the trains to be European-style clean and the toilets are less cleaner, where the doors don’t lock most of the time!
Most of the trains has 5-6 cars with the last two (or first, depending on the direction) are first class and rest are second class. The cars have a huge number-sign outside the doors indicating the class.
- Most hotels have hot water available 24 hours a day, but not all of them. They are not clean and well-maintained as per ‘western standards’, but they are decent and cheap.
- There are not many hotels in Tunisia. That said, you will not be spending a lot for decent accommodations all over the country, except for the Sahara tents which are managed by tour companies.
- Considering that fact, it’s always better to book your hotel in advance, but if you’re traveling in off-peak season (between September and June) then you should be able to find a room almost everywhere.
- There are ATMs all over the country.
- You may accumulate a lot of coins which come handy when taking louages or local transportation, as most rides will cost you anything between TND 2 to TND 10.
- Utilities & others
- You can find toilets almost everywhere, just look for the sign “WC”. Be prepared to pay TND 0.200 for using the toilets, maybe TND 0.500 at some tourist places. Not all toilets are western-style.
- Tap water is not safe to drink in Tunisia. One litre bottle of water from a local market will cost TND 0.500 to TND 1.500.
- Wi-fi – This is almost negligible. Hotels provide free wi-fi but only in the lobbies, not in the rooms. Restaurants and businesses will never have wi-fi.
- Mobile services – For a mere TND 20 for 10 days, you can get a SIM card with 3G services and voice calling (that depends on the amount of calls you make). Remember that almost all of Tunisia has 3G on their networks, but mostly it’s Edge. You can purchase a SIM card at the airport easily from one of the many companies like Tunisiana, Orange and Tunisia Telecom (preferred).
|Offline maps & directions
If you are using a smartphone, then you know how expensive international data plans can be. And if you find yourself lost in a place, then using the device for maps and directions can sometimes be a life-saver. But with no data to find directions in an unknown city can be frustrating.
So while you are at your hotel where you have wifi access, open the maps app and point it to the address or area in the destination town or city. Then zoom-in and zoom-out around the area, or around the entire town if it’s a small one. This time the app will load all the maps and places in cache (memory). That’s it. When you arrive at the destination, just open the maps app and you will still be able to browse around without any data.
Just make sure not to remove the app from the memory (kill it entirely).
Note: All values in USD, unless otherwise mentioned, are approximate and based on the exchange rate at the time of publishing. Each cost is for one adult. The exchange rate at the time of publishing is assumed to be USD 1 = TND 1.6.
|United Airlines||$1,231||Flight from Los Angeles, USA (LAX) to Tunis, Tunisia (TUN) via Paris (CDG). Return.|
|SIM Card||$21.87||TND 35 including TND 20 for voice calls, TND 10 for 2GB of 3G and TND 5 as service charges. Through Tunisia Telecom.|
|Total Costs||$1,324.87||Per person|
|Overall Costs||$1,324.87||Per person|