COUNTRY DESCRIPTION: Tunisia is a presidential republic with a developing economy. Tourist facilities are widely available in large urban and major resort areas. Arabic is the official language and French is also common. Read the Department of State’s Fact sheet on Tunisia for additional information.
SMART TRAVELER ENROLLMENT PROGRAM (STEP) / EMBASSY LOCATION: If you are going to live in or visit Tunisia, please take the time to tell our Embassy about your trip. If you enroll, we can keep you up to date with important safety and security announcements. It will also help your friends and family get in touch with you in an emergency. Here is the link to the Department of State’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program.
Local embassy information is available below and at the Department of State’s list of embassies and consulates.
ENTRY / EXIT REQUIREMENTS FOR U.S. CITIZENS: A passport is required. For U.S. passport holders, a visa is not necessary for stays of up to three months; however, a residence permit is needed for longer stays. The residence permit can be obtained from the central police station of the district of residence. U.S. citizens born in the Middle East or with Arabic names have experienced delays in clearing immigration upon arrival. U.S. citizens of Tunisian origin are expected to enter and exit Tunisia on their Tunisian passports. If a Tunisian-American succeeds in entering using a U.S. passport, he or she will still have to present a Tunisian passport to exit the country.
Visit the Embassy of Tunisia website or call the Embassy of Tunisia in Washington, D.C. at 202-862-1850 for the most current visa information. Tunisian-American children under the age of 20 (the age of majority in Tunisia) whose father is a Tunisian citizen must have their father’s permission to exit the country. This is required even if the child is travelling on a U.S. passport.
The U.S. Department of State is unaware of any HIV/AIDS entry restrictions for visitors to or foreign residents of Tunisia.
Information about dual nationality or the prevention of international child abduction can be found on our website. For further information about customs regulations, please read our Customs Information page.
THREATS TO SAFETY AND SECURITY: The current Travel Warning for Tunisia warns U.S. citizens of the risks of travel to Tunisia.
A popular revolution led to the ouster of former President Ben Ali in January 2011. Elections were held in October 2011, a new government assumed office in December 2011 and the drafting of a new constitution continues. General elections are expected in 2013.
On September 14, 2012, a violent mob attacked the U.S. Embassy and the American Cooperative School of Tunisia, resulting in extensive damage to the Embassy and the school. Following the attack, the Tunisian authorities arrested some individuals suspected of involvement. The security situation in Tunisia remains unpredictable and a state of emergency remains in force. While most tourist and business centers remain calm, sporadic episodes of civil unrest have occurred throughout the country. In recent months, Tunisian government offices in Tunis, Sidi Bouzid, Bizerte, Jendouba, Beja, Sousse, Tataouine, Kelibia, and Sfax have been attacked by rioters. In the southwest town of Gafsa, there have been intermittent clashes with fatalities between rival families over local land and labor disputes, and there have also been clashes between groups of demonstrators and security forces in Kasserine and Siliana. In June 2012, Tunisian police clashed with groups of rioters in the northern suburbs of Tunis, including Carthage, La Marsa, Sidi Bou Said, and areas near Gammarth, and rioters set fire to a police station in the Tunis neighborhood of Le Kram. U.S. citizens should avoid large crowds and demonstrations because even demonstrations that are meant to be peaceful can become violent and unpredictable. U.S. citizens should be alert and aware of their surroundings and maintain security awareness at all times. U.S. citizens should regularly monitor the local news media for current news and information. Travelers contemplating trips to the interior of the country should assess local conditions and routes when making travel plans, as conditions can change quickly. For more information please review the Travel Warning for Tunisia.
Tunisian nationals have been involved in international terrorism, and international terrorist organizations have on multiple occasions called for attacks in North Africa, including Tunisia.
Tunisian security forces have noted the increased availability of small arms and other weapons in Tunisia since 2011. There have been occasional clashes between armed groups, resulting in casualties and the declaration of temporary curfews. On February 1, 2012, security forces clashed with three armed men near Sfax. Two of the men were killed and the third was arrested. The Ministry of Interior arrested a number of other individuals associated with the group and later confirmed that the group had links to al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb and known weapons traffickers. On June 20, 2012, the Tunisian military attacked a convoy of suspected arms smugglers in the governorate of Tatouine. In early December 2012, the Tunisian Ministry of Interior announced that security forces hadarrested a group of men with weapons operating in the area of Fernana in Jendouba Governorate, near the Tunisian-Algerian border. Also in early December, clashes took place between a group of armed men and security forces in Feriana in the Governorate of Kasserine. One policeman was killed.
In October 2012, some western diplomats reported harassment by groups of young men who forced the diplomats’ vehicles to stop while driving in Tunis. On May 6, 2012, a group of unidentified men, threatened a group of foreigners travelling by car on a road from Cap Serat to Sejnane in northwest Tunisia. No one in the group was injured but some were forced to exit their vehicles, which sustained damage. The assailants appeared to be offended that the travelers were “inappropriately dressed.” Two similar incidents occurred during the same week involving groups of foreign and Tunisian travelers passing through the area on tour buses. No U.S. citizens were targeted in any of these attacks.
U.S. citizens should carefully consider all travel in the interior and avoid travel in remote regions in the south of Tunisia. All travel south of the designated military zone in the south must be coordinated in advance with Tunisian authorities. The Tunisian National Guard encourages persons traveling into the desert to register their travel beforehand. For details on how and where to register, please visit the U.S. Embassy’s desert travel page.
Tunisia has open borders with Algeria and Libya. Nevertheless, developments in Libya continue to affect the security situation along the border areas between Libya and Tunisia. The Ras Jedir and Dehiba border crossings may be closed occasionally and access to both crossings is strictly controlled by Tunisian security forces. Travelers should consult with local authorities before travelling to the border between Libya and Tunisia and read the Department of State’s Travel Warning for Libya. Please refer to the Country Specific Information and other international travel safety and security information for Libya and Algeria. Travelers should also remain particularly alert in areas near the Algerian border. Please see the section below on Traffic Safety and Road Conditions for more information about traveling in the desert.
Government security forces, including the army, police, and National Guard, are visibly present throughout Tunisia. Travelers should heed directions given by uniformed security officials, and are encouraged to always carry a copy of their passport as proof of nationality and identity. Security personnel, including plainclothes officials, may at times place foreign visitors under surveillance. It is against Tunisian law to photograph government offices and other security facilities. Suspicious incidents or problems should be reported immediately to Tunisian authorities and the U.S. Embassy.
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CRIME: The U.S. Embassy notes a rise in criminal activity in recent months. High value items left unattended and visible to others have been stolen from vehicles, hotel rooms, and private residences. Additionally, muggings have occurred during daylight hours in upscale neighborhoods; in some cases these encounters have turned violent when the victim tried to resist. Travelers should remain vigilant of their surroundings and take care to secure their valuables as prominently displayed cash or jewelry may attract unwanted attention. Any thefts or attempted robberies should be reported immediately to the local police and the U.S. Embassy.
Criminals have targeted tourists and business travelers for theft, pick pocketing, and scams. Exercise care with wallets and other valuables kept in handbags or backpacks that can be easily opened from behind in crowded streets or marketplaces. Criminals may violently grab at items worn around the neck (purses, necklaces, backpacks) and then run away, sometimes causing injury to their victims. Criminals have been known to rob pedestrians by snatching purses and handbags from their victims while on a motorcycle.
Harassment of unaccompanied females occurs rarely in hotels, but it occurs more frequently elsewhere. Dressing in a conservative manner can diminish potential harassment, especially for young women. It is always wise to travel in groups of two or more people. Women are advised against walking alone in isolated areas. Travelers are advised to avoid buses and commuter rail when possible, and to never enter a taxi if another passenger is present.
U.S. citizens resident in Tunisia are also advised to refrain from leaving items of value unattended in the yards of their homes, as there have been reports of theft of items such as tools and bicycles.
Don’t buy counterfeit and pirated goods, which are widely available. Not only are the bootlegs illegal in the United States, you may be breaking local law.
VICTIMS OF CRIME: If you or someone you know becomes the victim of a crime abroad, you should contact the local police and the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate (see the Department of State’s list of embassies and consulates).
The local equivalent to the “911” emergency line in Tunisia is 197, although the service will be in Arabic or French. Emergency services are widely available in the larger towns; however, they can be less reliable in rural areas.
Please see our information on victims of crime, including possible victim compensation programs in the United States.
CRIMINAL PENALTIES: While you are traveling in Tunisia, you are subject to its laws even if you are a U.S. citizen. Foreign laws and legal systems can be vastly different from our own. In some places, it is illegal to take pictures of certain buildings. In some places driving under the influence could land you immediately in jail. These criminal penalties will vary from country to country. There are also some things that might be legal in the country you visit, but still illegal in the United States, and you can be prosecuted under U.S. law if you buy pirated goods. Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime prosecutable in the United States. If you break local laws in Tunisia, your U.S. passport won’t help you avoid arrest or prosecution. It’s very important to know what’s legal and what’s not wherever you go.
While some countries will automatically notify the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate if a U.S. citizen is detained or arrested in a foreign country, that might not always be the case. To ensure that the United States is aware of your circumstances, request that the police and prison officials notify the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate as soon as you are arrested or detained overseas.
Consensual same-sex sexual relations are criminalized in Tunisia.Penalties include sentences of up to three years in prison. Although the U.S. Embassy is not aware of any recent arrests or prosecutions for such activities, they remain illegal. For further information on LGBT travel, please read our Information for LGBT Travelers page.
Accessibility: While in Tunisia, individuals with disabilities may find accessibility and accommodation very different from what you find in the United States. While Tunisia has realized much economic and social progress, it remains a developing country. Though the government has been generally progressive and forward-leaning on the rights of the disabled, there remains a significant gap between theory and practice. Budgetary constraints have so far precluded the uniform retro-fitting of public buildings to make them accessible to disabled citizens.
As of 1991, the Government of Tunisia has required that all new public buildings comply with building regulations and be accessible to persons with physical disabilities. The Government of Tunisia has only arbitrarily enforced this regulation and persons with disabilities still do not have access to many older buildings. The Government of Tunisia has issued cards to persons with disabilities for benefits such as unrestricted parking, priority medical services, preferential seating on public transportation, and consumer discounts, but these are not available to visitors.
Money: Credit cards are accepted at some establishments in Tunisia, mainly in urban or tourist areas. Traveler’s Checks are not widely accepted for payment, even at large tourist hotels, and may only be cashed at a bank where the check holder has an account. Cash machines (ATMs) are available in urban and tourist areas. The Tunisian dinar is not a fully convertible currency. While the export or import of Tunisian banknotes and coins is prohibited, the export of foreign currency declared when entering Tunisia is allowed. Tourists are expected to make foreign exchange transactions at authorized banks and to retain receipts. A tourist may reconvert to foreign currency 30 percent of the amount previously exchanged into dinars, up to a maximum of $100. Declaring foreign currency when entering Tunisia and obtaining receipts for dinars purchased thereafter will facilitate th e conversion of dinars to U.S. dollars when leaving the country. Please keep all receipts of monetary transactions for presentation when departing.
Workweek: Normal working days are Monday to Friday. Many stores are closed on Sunday, except in resort areas where most remain open.
Proselytizing: Islam is the state religion of Tunisia and the government does not interfere with the country's religious minorities’ public worship. Many religious denominations hold regularly scheduled services. However, it is illegal to proselytize or engage in other activities that the Tunisian authorities could view as encouraging conversion to another faith. In the past, U.S. citizens who engaged in such activities were asked to leave the country.
MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION: Medical care in Tunisia is adequate, with a number of new, private “polyclinics” available that function as simple hospitals and can provide a variety of procedures. Specialized care or treatment may not be available. Facilities that can handle complex trauma cases are virtually non-existent. While most private clinics have a few physicians who are fluent in English, the medical establishment uses French and all of the ancillary staff in every clinic communicates in Arabic and/or French. Public hospitals are overcrowded, under-equipped, and understaffed. In general, nursing care does not conform to U.S. standards.
Immediate ambulance service may not be available outside urban areas. Even in urban areas, emergency response times can be much longer than in the United States. Doctors and hospitals expect immediate cash payment for healthcare services, although some hospitals may accept credit cards. Over-the-counter medications are available; however, travelers should bring with them a full supply of medications that are needed on a regular basis. The U.S. Embassy in Tunis maintains a list of doctors and medical practitioners (dentists, etc.) who can be contacted for assistance.
You can find detailed information on vaccinations and other health precautions on the CDC website. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad, consult the World Health Organization (WHO) website. The WHO website also contains additional health information for travelers, including detailed country-specific health information.
MEDICAL INSURANCE: You can’t assume your insurance will go with you when you travel. It’s very important to find out BEFORE you leave whether or not your medical insurance will cover you overseas. You need to ask your insurance company two questions:
In many places, doctors and hospitals still expect payment in cash at the time of service. Your regular U.S. health insurance may not cover doctors’ and hospital visits in other countries. If your policy doesn’t go with you when you travel, it’s a very good idea to take out another one for your trip. For more information, please see our medical insurance overseas page.
TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS: While in Tunisia, you may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Tunisia is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
Driving in Tunisia can be dangerous. Visitors should avoid driving after dark outside Tunis or the major resort areas. Drivers fail to obey the rules of the road even in the presence of the police. Traffic signs and signals are often ignored, and drivers sometimes drive vehicles on the wrong side of the road. Faster drivers tend to drive on the left while slower drivers stay to the right. Traffic lane markings are widely ignored. Bicycles, mopeds, and motorcycles are operated without sufficient lights or reflectors, making them difficult to see darting in and out of traffic. Motorists should also be aware of animals on the roads, particularly in rural areas.
Pedestrians present an additional challenge as they continuously dodge traffic (even on controlled-access highways) and do not pay attention to vehicles. Pedestrians and cyclists should be aware that drivers rarely yield and will not always stop at either crosswalks or stoplights. Defensive driving is a must when driving in Tunisia. Drivers may be stopped for inspection by police officers within cities and on highways at any time, and drivers should comply.
Drivers should also be aware that if they are involved in a motor accident that results in death or serious injury of another person, the police may take them into protective custody until they are absolved of responsibility. This can mean spending a period varying from one day to two months in detention. As with any arrest or detention, U.S. citizens taken into custody should immediately request that the police inform the Embassy of their whereabouts.
Travel in the desert areas of southern Tunisia presents additional challenges. Many roads are not paved and even well-traveled routes are subject to blowing sands that can create hazards for vehicles. Persons driving off the major paved roads are encouraged to ensure that their vehicles are appropriate for off-road driving conditions, and are equipped with appropriate spares and supplies, including water and food. Groups should generally travel in multiple vehicles, so if a vehicle becomes disabled or immobilized, the group can return in the operable vehicle(s). Desert regions are subject to extreme temperatures, from sub-freezing evenings in the winter to dangerously hot daytime temperatures in the summer. In addition, there are many areas in the southern desert regions with little or no cellular telephone service. The Tunisian National Guard encourages persons traveling into the desert to register their travel beforehand. For details on how and where to register, please visit the U.S. Embassy’s desert travel page.
Emergency services are widely available in the larger towns. They can be less reliable in rural areas. Emergency service numbers are:
Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT: As there is no direct commercial air service to the United States by carriers registered in Tunisia, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed Tunisia’s Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards. Further information may be found on the FAA’s safety assessment page.
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This replaces the Country Specific Information for Tunisia dated December 19, 2012 to update the sections on Criminal Penalties and Threats to Safety and Security.