Planning a trip to Tunisia? Here is everything you need to know when planning your trip, from visa regulations to transportation.
Visa and Passport Requirements
Most nationalities—including travelers from the US, Canada, and the UK—do not need a visa to enter Tunisia as a tourist. If your nationality is not on the following list, then you should contact a Tunisian Embassy and apply for a visa.
You do NOT need a tourist visa if you belong to one of the following countries: Algeria, Antigua, Austria, Bahrain, Barbados, Belgium, Belize, Bermuda, Bosnia & Herzegovina, British Virgin Islands, Brunei Darussalam, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, Côte d'Ivoire, Croatia, Denmark, Dominica, Falkland Islands, Fiji, Finland, France, The Gambia, Germany, Gibraltar, Gilbert Islands, Greece, Guinea, Hong Kong, Hungary, Iceland, Republic of Ireland, Italy, Japan, Kiribati, South Korea, Kuwait, Libya, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Macedonia, Malaysia, Mali, Malta, Mauritania, Mauritius, Monaco, Montenegro, Montserrat, Morocco, Netherlands, Niger, Norway, Oman, Portugal, Qatar, Romania, Saint Helena, St. Kitts & Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent & Grenadines, San Marino, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Serbia, Seychelles, Slovenia, Solomon Islands, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, United States, Vatican City, and Yugoslavia.
Your passport must be valid for at least six months after you enter Tunisia. You will get a stamp in your passport upon entry into the country (make sure you get it) which will allow you to stay for 3 months. No entry fees are charged.
Nationals of Australia and South Africa can obtain their tourist visa upon arrival at the airport, but double check with the Tunisian Embassy.
Health and Safety
As with most destinations in Africa you have to be careful about what you drink and eat in order to avoid stomach upsets. Buying food from street vendors carries some degree of risk especially salads and uncooked food. Tap water can be drunk in major towns, but there's plenty of bottled water around to be totally safe.
- Immunizations and Vaccinations: No vaccinations are required by law to enter Tunisia but Typhoid and Hepatitis A are two vaccinations that are strongly recommended. It is also a good idea to be up to date with your polio and tetanus vaccines. Luckily Tunisia is malaria-free.
- Terrorism: On April 11, 2002, Al-Qaeda terrorists used a truck bomb to attack a synagogue on the Tunisian island of Djerba. The attack killed 14 Germans, five Tunisians, and two French tourists. About 30 others were injured. In 2008 two Austrian tourists were kidnapped by an Algerian Al-Qaeda organization. The couple were on their own and driving close to the Algerian border deep in the Sahara desert. They were released 6 months later in Bamako, Mali. Apart from these two incidents, Tunisia has been free from terrorist attacks and is probably the safest destination in North Africa.
- Crime: Violent crime is quite rare in Tunisia but getting harassed by "guides" and petty theft is fairly common in the tourist areas and souks. Avoid walking alone at night especially in unlit areas and on the beach. Take care of your valuables and don't flaunt your cameras and jewelry.
- Women Travelers: Tunisia is an Islamic country so be modest with your clothing. In the major tourist areas and the capital Tunis, dress is quite modern and only half the women wear headscarves but you won't see too many short skirts, shorts or tank tops. Wear a bikini or swimsuit only at a pool or on a beach.
Currency and Money Matters
The Tunisian Dinar is Tunisia's official unit of currency. The confusing thing about Tunisian Dinar is that 1 dinar is equivalent to 1000 millimes (not the normal 100). So you can have the occasional heart attack and think you owe 5,400 dinar for a cab ride, when in fact it's only 5 dinar 4 millimes.
The Tunisian Dinar is not available outside the country as it's not an internationally traded currency, but you can easily change US Dollars, British Pounds, and Euros at most of the major banks which line the main streets (ask for Ave Habib Bourghiba whatever town you're in, and it'll be the main street). Many of the banks ATMs (cash machines) accept credit cards. Using an ATM is much less time consuming than exchanging currency inside a bank and is often cheaper.
You can't take Tunisian Dinar out of the country, so try and spend it before you depart. The Tunis airport does not accept Dinar in its gift shops once you go through customs.
Credit Cards are accepted at high-end hotels, in the tourist zones and some high-end restaurants in the main cities, but you'll be using cash for the most part. American Express is not widely accepted at all.
When to Go
As with many destinations, the weather usually determines the best time to travel to Tunisia. If you want to trek in the desert (which I highly recommend) the best time to go is late September to November and March to early May. It will still be chilly at night, but not quite freezing, and the days won't be too hot.
If you're headed for the beach and would like to avoid the crowds, May, June, and September are all perfect. Most tourists visit Tunisia in July and August when the sun shines every day, the swimming is perfect and the beach towns are filled with life. Book your accommodation well in advance if you're planning to travel during the summer months.
You can get to Tunisia by boat, plane, and road (from Algeria and Libya).
Arriving by Air
Tunisair is Tunisia's national carrier, they fly to various destinations in Europe as well as North and West Africa. You can't fly direct to Tunisia from the Americas, Australia, or Asia. You'll have to connect in Europe, the Middle East, or North Africa. Most scheduled airlines fly into Tunis-Carthage International Airport, just outside the capital Tunis.
Most chartered flights head straight for the airports close to the beach resorts. You can fly direct to Monastir, Djerba, and Touzeur (for the Desert) from the UK, France, Sweden, Germany, Italy, Austria and the Netherlands. Nouvelair offers charter flights to European destinations from various tourist resorts in Tunisia.
Arriving by Ferry
Ferries sail to Tunis from France and Italy throughout the year and several times a week. Book well in advance if you're planning to travel in July and August. Ferries and Cruise ships arrive and depart from 'La Goulette' the main port, which is about 10km from the center of Tunis. You can catch a taxi into town, or take a commuter train. You can also take a commuter train up to the very picturesque village of Sidi Bou Said.
There are also several ferries a week to and from Tunis to Genoa (23 hours), Salerno (23 hours), and Civitavecchia (21 hours). Grimaldi Lines and Grandi Navi Veloci and SNCM operate the ferry services.
Crossing by Land
You can cross into Tunisia by land from Algeria (which lies West of Tunisia). The most common border towns to arrive and depart from are Nefta and El-Oued. You can get a louage (shared taxi) from Tozeur or Gafsa. Make sure you check into the security situation in Algeria before you cross.
To get to Libya, most people take the road from Gabes. It's busy with lots of trucks carrying goods as well as Libyan and Tunisians on vacation. But unless you hold a Tunisian passport, you need special permission to travel in Libya and you have to join an official tour. You can arrange to be met at the border, head to Ras Ajdir on the Tunisian side. Long distance buses go from Tunis to Tripoli every day and take about 12 hours. Check out the national bus company website (SNTRI) for schedules and prices in French and Arabic.
Getting Around Tunisia
Tunisia is very easy to get around by plane, train, louage, and bus. Public transport is well organized, cheap and runs frequently. If you don't have a lot of time, there are domestic flights to every major town (usually in and out of Tunis). You can choose from trains, buses, and shared taxis, or rent your own car.
Getting Around by Plane
Tunisia's national domestic airline is called Tunisair. Tunisair operates some charter routes as well in and out of Tunis to various destinations in France, Spain, and Italy. Their scheduled domestic/regional routes include Tunis to Djerba, Sfax, Gafsa, Tabarka, Monastir, Tripoli, and Malta.
You can't book directly online, but you can email and request a booking and just pay for it upon arrival in Tunis. If you live in Europe you can usually book through a travel agency.
Traveling by Train
Traveling by train in Tunisia is an efficient and comfortable way to get around. The train network in Tunisia is not very extensive but many of the major tourist destinations are covered. Trains run between Tunis, Sousse, Sfax, El Jem, Touzeur, and Gabes.
Traveling by Bus
Long-distance buses cover every major town in Tunisia and the network is more extensive than that covered by the train. Long-distance buses are comfortable, air-conditioned, and everyone gets a seat. The national bus company SNTRI has a decent website with schedules and fares.
Within big cities like Tunis and Sfax, local buses operate, these are extremely cheap and often crowded. In Tunis it's probably the least pleasant way of getting around, opt for the tram or a taxi instead.
Traveling by Louage
When there's no bus available or train, everyone uses a louage. Louage lines have fixed rates and routes, but no fixed departure times. They do go frequently, and they go when they're filled up (usually 8 passengers). But they travel fast and it's a very convenient way to get around. There may not be a huge amount of room for luggage and you'll be a bit squished. Sometimes, you'll be charged extra for large bags.
Most louages don't travel at night so plan accordingly. There are louage stations just like a bus station or taxi stand where you get on. You usually pay the driver and as soon as you show up. You'll have no problem getting help to find the right louage for your destination. Louages are either old white station wagons with a colored stripe down the side or minibuses.
Renting a Car
All the major car rental companies are represented in Tunisia and you can rent a car upon arrival at any of the airports. The cheapest rate runs at around 50 TD per day, but that doesn't include unlimited mileage. If you're headed for the desert in Southern Tunisia you'll want to rent a 4x4 which is double the price.
Check out Tunisia Auto Rental website for a comparison chart of all the major car rental companies that are represented in Tunisia. I got a good quote from Budget in Djerba as well. Auto Europe has some good advice about road conditions and what to expect in Tunisia. They are also an excellent car rental company.
The roads are decent for the most part in Tunisia and paved. Drivers don't always adhere to the rules though and often drive too fast. In towns and cities many traffic lights are just ignored, so be careful especially when driving in Tunis. It's best to use public transport.
Private taxis are a great way to get around major cities and towns. They're easy to spot, they're small and yellow and you just flag them down. Taxis have to use their meters and usually, this is no problem except when getting to and from the airport in Tunis. For some reason, this is where tourists always seem to get ripped off.
If you'd like to tour around the south of Tunisia, chartering a taxi is a great way to get to the more remote Berber villages and avoid the large tour buses.
There's a good tram line in Tunis, it's called the Metro Legere and the hub is on the Place de Barcelone (opposite the main train station). Take the number 4 to get to the Bardo museum. Buy your tickets before you board, and if you don't like crowds avoid commuting times.