For years, Tunisia was a prime tourist destination, attracting European tourists looking to escape the cold weather and enjoy a cheap and affordable destination in the sun.
But Tunisia’s location on the border of conflicted and unstable Libya alongside deadly terrorist attacks at popular holiday resorts led many governments to issue travel warnings for the country. As a result, the tourism industry has suffered immensely in recent years.
While the risk of terror attacks might be high in Tunisia, many parts of the country are still safe to visit and the country is much more stable than government warnings may at first make the destination appear. It’s important though, to make sure that you have comprehensive travel insurance when travelling to Tunisia, and that you conduct thorough research into the security and safety levels at the time of your visit.
Here’s our guide to keeping safe while travelling in Tunisia.
Health Concerns in Tunisia
Before setting off on your travels or holidays to Tunisia, it’s important that you are up to date on any vaccinations that might be required. For the most up-to-date information on what’s necessary and what’s required, you will want to visit your local GP practice and arrange an appointment with the travel nurse. You may also want to check the NHS website or the Fit For Travel website.
It’s recommended that you are up to date on many vaccinations, including but not limited to hepatitis A, hepatitis B, tetanus, typhoid, polio and diphtheria. You will also want to consider a rabies vaccination too.
While travelling through Tunisia, you are not entitled to any free health or medical care from Tunisian hospitals or doctors. This means that all medical costs must be paid for upfront by the patient, and if you have a serious accident, medical costs can quickly add up. In more remote areas, healthcare is much more limited than in the cities, and access to adequate facilities can be limited. You will want to make sure that your insurance policies cover you for evacuations and transfers if you are planning on travelling to more rural areas of the country.
The risk of terror attacks is very real in some parts of the country, so you will need to make certain that your travel insurance policy covers you in all instances where you might require medical assistance, be it an accident or injuries resulting from serious incidents.
Food and Water
When travelling in unfamiliar countries, it’s always important to be aware of what the risks are to your health when it comes to eating and drinking the local food and water. Tunisia is no exception. When you first arrive in the country, you will want to be careful of what you consume if it’s your first time visiting, as it may take time for your stomach to adjust.
Many tourists visiting Tunisia have traditionally been package holiday tourists. If you are staying at a beach resort, you should find that hygiene standards are high, as the resorts don’t want their well-paying guests to get ill from the food.
Outside of the resorts though, hygiene standards can vary from restaurant to restaurant. Generally speaking though, Tunisian food is safe to eat, and you’ll find it to be a delicious fusion of Mediterranean and Berber cuisine. You’ll find an abundance of influences and many different ingredients from chickpeas to meat are commonly used. Food can be the most exciting part of travel so in Tunisia don’t be scared of dipping into the local cuisine.
Officially, the tap water in Tunisia is safe to drink – especially in the capital, Tunis, and other large cities – but due to high mineral contents and the use of chlorine, the taste of the water can be unusual at first. If you are only on holiday for a short period, you may want to stick to bottled water, as your body won’t have long to adjust to the different composition of the tap water, even if it isn’t dangerous. Bottled water is cheap in Tunisia, but to avoid unnecessary plastic waste, you will want to bring along a refillable water bottle to use where you can.
Tunisia is a relatively poor country, especially in comparison to the United Kingdom, and this can lead to incidents of tourists being robbed for their personal belongings. Petty theft, as with anywhere in the world, can be a problem in Tunisia, so when you are walking through crowded streets or using busy public transport, you will want to keep aware of your surroundings and your pockets. Do not leave valuable items unattended, anywhere, and use common sense when it comes to travelling here.
Violent incidents of crime or violent robberies aren’t common, but incidents can and do occur. If you are the victim of a crime, you will need to report it to the local police, especially if you want to claim any compensation on your travel insurance. Tunisia has an unfortunate corruption problem, which you will need to be aware of when you are dealing with the government and police. Traffic police are a particular problem, and you’ll want to be certain that your paperwork is watertight, to avoid being pushed into unnecessary situations where the police demand bribes for minor infractions.
In popular tourist areas, you may be at risk of scams or fraud, and you will want to be wary of anything that seems too good to be true. Tourists can become easy money for intrepid locals, so be aware of the potential risks in tourist zones and when arranging tours or making use of services. Unofficial guides, for instance, can at first seem harmless, before demanding large sums of money.
Tunisia is, unfortunately, a country that in recent years has seen both terror attacks and an unstable political climate in the country. The country’s geographical location means that Tunisia has long borders with Libya and Algeria, and these can quickly become flashpoints for localised conflicts, as insurgencies spillover, particularly from lawless Libya.
The country is technically under a State of Emergency, which has been in force and continuously extended month on month for several years. Protests can occur in big cities and lead to violence, while terror attacks can potentially occur in cities and tourist areas.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office recently lifted travel bans on Tunisia. However, there are still some parts of the country that are deemed too risky for tourism. The border areas, with Algeria and Libya, are considered no-go zones by the FCO, and they advise against all travel to these areas. In many other areas, the FCO advises against all but essential travel due to the risk of terrorism. The Chaambi Mountains are off-limits, despite being a national park, as there are consistent clashes between insurgents and Tunisian security forces in the area.
In 2015, a terror attack in the popular tourist area of Sousse left many foreign nationals dead, when gunmen opened fire on a packed beach. The incident led the FCO to ban all travel to Tunisia, and the tourism office suffered immensely in the aftermath.
At popular tourist resorts, there is heavy security, because the country relies on the money brought in by tourism. Terror attacks can occur anywhere though, and you will want to keep abreast of the security and political situation before and during your trip to Tunisia.
Family Travel Safety (Tunisia with Kids)
Ever since the 2015 terrorist attack in Tunisia, the country has hardly been a destination that’s been top of the family travel list. With FCO warnings being dropped in touristic areas, family travel to Tunisian resorts will no longer be seen as a reckless act, and many parts of the country will be safe for families and children.
In fact, the beaches and resorts that made Tunisia such a popular place in the past are perfect for family holidays, and now more than ever there’s heightened security. Just make sure you have adequate insurance for everyone that’s travelling with you to Tunisia.
At the beaches, you will want to look after your kids and make sure they stay safe in the swimming areas. If you do take them further afield into the cities and away from the tourist resorts, keep a close eye on your children, as they can easily become lost in busy markets or crowded streets in places such as Tunis.
Family Travel Safety (Tunisia for Women)
North African countries, in general, have a bad reputation when it comes to female travel safety and, unfortunately for women, Tunisia isn’t really an exception. Luckily though, women experience fewer problems than in many neighbouring countries such as Morocco. In general, by following rules and local customs, women can enjoy safe travels in Tunisia.
If you are just planning on staying in the resorts and the touristy areas, then in general as a woman you should have little trouble. Stay safe at night though, as you may still experience minor harassment.
In less-visited areas, women travelling alone may be the subject of an inquiry or perhaps intrigue, and even harassment. This is a Muslim nation and prevailing customs and traditions are on the conservative side. As a woman not seeking attention, you should dress modestly and inform yourself of local manners. Tunisian men are also known to be very direct with western women, due to misconceptions about western culture, and you may find that you need to be overly firm with local men seeking dates or more than this.
Tips for Staying Safe in Tunisia:
Buy the Right Insurance
While most of Tunisia is now safe to travel to, it’s imperative that you purchase the correct insurance for your trip before you depart home. Depending on the activities you plan on undertaking in Tunisia, you may require specialist travel insurance, so always read up on the fine print to make sure you are fully covered.
Importantly, when travelling in Tunisia you will need to be certain that your level of insurance covers you depending on your location, as ignoring warnings from governmental bodies such as the Foreign and Commonwealth Office can invalidate your insurance, as in some areas you may not be covered by basic packages.
Learn the Language
Knowing the local language helps immensely when travelling through any foreign country, and picking up even just a few words of the local dialects can endear you to the locals and make your life easier.
In Tunisia, you will find that a wide variety of languages are spoken and that there are many different local dialects in different regions. The most common language is Tunisian Arabic, which is similar to but in many ways different from the Arabic spoken in neighbouring countries. Other languages spoken include Berber dialects, as well as French, due to the country’s colonial past. In the touristy areas and resorts, you’ll find that people speak a variety of European languages, with English, French and German, being the most common.
Know the Laws
Tunisia is a Muslim majority nation, and in many cases, laws can seem conservative to a Westerner. It’s best to educate yourself on local laws and customs before you depart, so as not to get into trouble while you are abroad.
What might seem like normality to you can be illegal in a different country, and you don’t want your holiday ruined because you didn’t follow the local laws.
In Tunisia, homosexuality is not only frowned upon but is, in fact, illegal, while sex outside of marriage can also technically be punished by the law. Tolerance for drugs and drug use is low, and there are strict laws punishing anyone found with even small quantities of illegal substances on their person.
It’s particularly important to observe local laws and traditions during holy periods, such as Ramadan. During this time of the year, travel can prove to be much trickier in Tunisia, so do your research on when it falls before booking your holiday and plan accordingly.