Tunisia travel guide
From broad sweeps of beach overlooked by a tumble of sugar-cube houses, to grand ancient ruins and the vast, rolling dunes of the Sahara, Tunisia encapsulates everything that’s enticing about North Africa.
Lose yourself in the maze of medina alleyways in Tunis, explore the Maghreban mosques of Kairouan and stand on the shimmering salt flats of Chott El Jerid. Tuck into freshly baked brik at a bustling street market, pretend to be a Roman gladiator at El Jem’s impressive amphitheatre and hoist yourself onto a camel for a trip into the desert.
Traditionally, sun-seeking tourists came to Tunisia for its beaches – lining the Mediterranean, the long, rambling coastline is impressive. But while modern resorts are perfect for an easy escape, more adventurous travellers can explore tiny coastal villages, where fishermen haul in the day’s catch on quiet beaches and cobblestone streets are lined with blooming bougainvillea.
But Tunisia is so much more than a seaside destination. You’ll realise as much sitting down at a café after the last notes of the call to prayer have faded. Or puffing on apple-scented shisha as you watch old men play dominos. Otherwise, get scrubbed and steamed on a marble slab under the tiled domes of a hammam. Or haggle in the souks, sipping glasses of mint tea while you barter for the best price. Suffice to say the age-old traditions of Tunisian life are still alive and well.
Regarded as one of North Africa’s most politically moderate countries, Tunisia balances traditional Islamic culture with modern influences. Beyond the ancient medina, the cities are full of restaurants, cafes and bars, many of which have a European air about them.
Though tourism took a hit during the Arab Spring, travellers are returning to the country in increasing numbers. The appeal of Tunisia endures.
163,610 sq km (63,170 sq miles).
11,375,220 (UN estimate 2016).
67.4 per sq km.
President Beji Caid Essebsi since 2014.
Prime Minister Habib Essid since 2015.
Last updated: 22 April 2018
The travel advice summary below is provided by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the UK. 'We' refers to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. For their full travel advice, visit www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) advise against all travel to:
- the Chaambi Mountains National Park and the designated military operations zones of Mount Salloum, Mount Sammamma and Mount Mghila
- the militarised zone south of the towns of El Borma and Dhehiba
- within 20km of the rest of the Libya border area north of Dhehiba
- the town of Ben Guerdane and immediate surrounding area
The FCO advise against all but essential travel to:
- areas south of, and including, the towns of Nefta, Douz, Médenine, Zarzis
- within 30km of the border with Algeria south of, and including, the town of Jendouba (this area includes the archaeological sites of Bulla Regia and Chemtou)
- the governorate of Kasserine, including the town of Sbeitla
There’s a heightened risk of terrorism against aviation. Additional security measures which restrict electronic devices on-board planes, have been in place on flights departing from Tunisia to the UK since March 2017. You should co-operate fully with security officials. For more information about how this may affect your flight, including if you’re transiting through Tunisia on the way to the UK, read this guidance page and contact your airline or travel company if you have further questions.
A state of emergency is in effect in Tunisia, imposed after a suicide attack on a police bus on 24 November 2015. It’s been extended a number of times, most recently on 12 March 2018 by 7 months.
Since the terrorist attack in Sousse in June 2015, which targeted tourists, the UK government has been working closely with the Tunisian authorities to investigate the attack and the wider threat from terrorist groups. The Tunisian government has improved protective security in major cities and tourist resorts.
But terrorists are still very likely to try to carry out attacks in Tunisia. Security forces remain on a high state of alert in Tunis and other places. You should be vigilant at all times, including around religious sites and festivals. Follow the advice of the Tunisian security authorities and your travel company if you have one.
There were widespread protests in January 2018 driven by economic tensions. Demonstrations often occur in Tunisia, though the majority are peaceful. However, some have affected key services, disrupted traffic or included violence.
You can contact the emergency services by calling 197 (police), 190 (ambulance) or 198 (civil protection).
If you’re abroad and you need emergency help from the UK government, contact the nearest British embassy, consulate or high commission.
Safety and security
Legislative elections took place in October 2014, and Beji Caid Essebsi became the country’s first democratically elected President in December 2014. The current government under Prime Minister Youssef Chahed was approved in parliament on 26 August 2016.
Demonstrations sparked by economic, political or religious tensions often occur. Widespread protests occurred in January 2018. Most protests are peaceful, but some have affected key services, disrupted traffic or included violence, especially in Tunisia’s south and interior.
You should keep up to date with developments, avoid all protests and places where large crowds gather and follow instructions given by the security authorities, your hotel and your tour operator, if you have one.
There is a heightened Tunisian security presence at the borders with Libya and Algeria due to cross border terrorist activity and fighting in Libya. Border crossings are sometimes closed temporarily without notice. Some violent incidents have occurred.
See FCO travel advice for Libya and Algeria.
The FCO advise against all travel to the Chaambi Mountains National Park area, as well as Mount Salloum, Mount Sammamma, and Mount Mghiba (all designated military operations zones), where Tunisian security forces continue to conduct operations. Security personnel have been killed and severely wounded in attacks and by booby-trap explosives in these areas.
Incidents of mugging, pick pocketing, bag-snatching and petty theft occur. Take sensible precautions to protect yourself and your belongings. Where possible, avoid carrying all your important documents, money and other valuables in the same bag. You should remain alert to potential confidence tricks.
Personal attacks are rare but they do occur. Harassment of foreign women, including uninvited physical contact, can sometimes occur. Women should maintain at least the same level of personal security awareness as in the UK and take care when walking or travelling alone.
Rail travel is generally safe, although safety standards tend to be lower than those in the UK. There is a risk of petty crime on trains.
Driving standards can be erratic. There is very little lane discipline and often confusion about the right of way, especially at roundabouts. There are few pedestrian crossings and traffic lights are sometimes ignored. Take care when driving in towns as pedestrians tend to walk on the roads and have the right of way. Take particular care when crossing roads on foot, even where there is a signal allowing you to do so.
Roads are generally of a reasonable standard although large pot-holes can appear quickly following heavy rain.
You may come across military or police security checks. If you do, approach slowly, don’t cross boundaries without permission and be prepared to present photo ID if asked.
Demonstrations can occasionally affect road travel.
There’s a heightened threat of terrorist attack globally against UK interests and British nationals from groups or individuals motivated by the conflict in Iraq and Syria. You should be vigilant at this time. Keep up to date with this travel advice, and follow the advice of the local authorities.
Terrorists are very likely to try to carry out attacks in Tunisia and there have been a number of attacks in recent years. A state of emergency – in effect since a suicide attack on a police bus on 24 November 2015 – has been extended several times, most recently on 12 March 2018 by 7 months. You should be vigilant at all times and follow the advice of local security officials, including in and around religious sites.
The main terrorist threat is from Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and Libya-based extremists with links to Daesh (formerly referred to as ISIL). Despite some improvements in border security, Tunisia has a porous border with Libya, where there’s a continuing conflict, an absence of security, and where Islamist terrorist groups operate. Tunisian security forces have repeatedly been targeted in terrorist-related incidents, mainly in border areas including in the Chaambi Mountains.
Recent incidents include:
- on 31 March 2018, 2 western tourists including one British national were attacked by an individual with a knife in the town of El Kef, in northwest Tunisia. They suffered non-life threatening injuries and a suspect was detained by the Tunisian police
- on 1 November 2017, 2 traffic police officers in the Bardo area of central Tunis were attacked by an individual with a knife. One of the officers later died from their wounds. A suspect was detained by security forces
on 11 May 2016, a number of suspected terrorists were killed or arrested during armed clashes with security forces in the Mnihla distric of greater Tunis and 4 national guards were also killed by a suicide bomb during a security operation in Tataouine in southern Tunisia
in early March 2016, security forces repelled attacks by terrorists in Ben Guerdane, close to the Libyan border; over 60 fatalities resulted, the majority of which were terrorists; members of the security forces and civilians were also killed
on 24 November 2015, 12 security personnel were killed in a suicide attack on a police bus on Avenue Mohammed V in central Tunis
on 26 June 2015, 38 foreign tourists were killed, including 30 British nationals, in a terrorist attack at Port El Kantaoui near Sousse
- on 18 March 2015, 21 tourists were killed, including a British national, in a terrorist attack at the Bardo Museum in the centre of Tunis
The Tunisian authorities regularly report that they have disrupted planned attacks and terrorist cells, and made arrests. The Tunisian authorities have improved security in tourist resorts and their ability to respond to a terrorist incident. Tunisian security forces have also improved and are better prepared to tackle terrorist threats than they were at the time of the 2015 attacks. But further attacks remain likely, including in places visited by foreigners such as tourist resorts. Attacks may be carried out by individuals unknown to the authorities, whose actions may be inspired by terrorist groups.
There is a threat of kidnapping by groups operating in North Africa, particularly from Libya, Mauritania and groups originating in the Sahel. This includes Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQ-IM) and Daesh-affiliated groups, who may travel across the region’s porous border. There is a heightened risk of kidnap in border and remote desert areas of North Africa. Terrorist groups have kidnapped foreigners, government officials and civilians in the region for financial gain and for political leverage. Further kidnaps are likely.
Those engaged in tourism, humanitarian aid work, journalism or business sectors are viewed as legitimate targets. If you’re kidnapped, the reason for your presence is unlikely to serve as a protection or secure your safe release.
The long-standing policy of the British government is not to make substantive concessions to hostage takers. The British government considers that paying ransoms and releasing prisoners increases the risk of further hostage taking. The Terrorism Act (2000) also makes payments to terrorists illegal.
There’s a heightened threat of terrorist attack globally against UK interests and British nationals from groups or individuals motivated by the conflict in Iraq and Syria. Find out more about the global threat from terrorism, how to minimise your risk and what to do in the event of a terrorist attack.
Local laws and customs
Local laws reflect the fact that Tunisia is an Islamic country. Respect local traditions, customs, laws and religions at all times and be aware of your actions to ensure that they don’t offend, especially during the holy month of Ramadan or if you intend to visit religious areas.
In the coastal holiday resorts the dress code is very much like any European city or tourist area, although topless sunbathing on beaches may cause offence. If you’re visiting religious sites or more remote areas of Tunisia, you should dress more modestly.
Possession, use and trafficking of controlled drugs are all serious criminal offences. The possession of even a small amount of ‘soft’ drugs could result in a prison term.
You can’t remove antiquities from Tunisia without first getting permission from Customs authorities. Failure to get permission could result in lengthy delays on departure, a fine and/or imprisonment.
Carry a form of photo ID at all times (eg a copy of your passport) and be prepared to show this to uniformed security officials if asked to do so.
British nationals wishing to buy property in Tunisia have often been advised to do so through a Tunisian ‘friend’ on the basis that it is illegal for foreign nationals to purchase property in Tunisia. If you are considering purchasing property in Tunisia, you should consult a local lawyer who will be best placed to offer advice. Don’t make private arrangements, which may be illegal and could result in large financial loss.
Homosexuality is a criminal offence in Tunisia. See our information and advice page for the LGBT community before you travel.
Sexual relations outside marriage are also punishable by law.
Avoid taking any photographs near sensitive political or military sites.
The information on this page covers the most common types of travel and reflects the UK government’s understanding of the rules currently in place. Unless otherwise stated, this information is for travellers using a full ‘British Citizen’ passport.
The authorities in the country or territory you’re travelling to are responsible for setting and enforcing the rules for entry. If you’re unclear about any aspect of the entry requirements, or you need further reassurance, you’ll need to contact the embassy, high commission or consulate of the country or territory you’re travelling to.
You should also consider checking with your transport provider or travel company to make sure your passport and other travel documents meet their requirements.
British passport holders don’t need a visa for visits of up to three months. On arrival, security checks are sometimes carried out on British passport holders who were not born in the UK. This can take a few hours and you will need to be patient until clearance is given. These types of checks rarely take place on departure.
For stays of up to 3 months your passport should be valid for the proposed duration of your stay; you don’t need any additional period of validity on your passport beyond this.
UK Emergency Travel Documents
Tunisian authorities accept UK ETDs for entry to and exit from Tunisia. If you’re leaving Tunisia on an ETD, make sure you have a copy of the police report about the loss/theft of your full validity passport to present to the Immigration Officer.
Dual British-Tunisian nationals should enter and leave Tunisia on their Tunisian passports.
Visit your health professional at least 4 to 6 weeks before your trip to check whether you need any vaccinations or other preventive measures. Country specific information and advice is published by the National Travel Health Network and Centre on the TravelHealthPro website and by NHS (Scotland) on the fitfortravel website. Useful information and advice about healthcare abroad is also available on the NHS Choices website.
There’s no provision for free medical attention for foreign nationals. All doctors’ fees, medication and hospitalisation in private clinics have to be paid for on the spot. These costs can be quite high. Make sure you have adequate travel health insurance and accessible funds to cover the cost of any medical treatment abroad and repatriation.
If you’re bringing prescription medicines, carry a note from your GP confirming that the medication has been prescribed for an existing condition. If you have any specific concerns about taking certain types of medication with you to Tunisia, contact the Tunisian Embassy in London.
If you need emergency medical assistance during your trip, dial 190 and ask for an ambulance. You should contact your insurance/medical assistance company promptly if you are referred to a medical facility for treatment.
ATMs are widely available though they don’t always work. Almost all ATMs will accept Visa cards, and many (including Bank of Tunisia and BIAT) will also accept Maestro cards for cash withdrawals.
UK issued credit and debit cards are accepted in some but not all of the larger shops, restaurants and hotels. In places that do take cards, there can be problems authorising Mastercard purchases. Travellers Cheques are accepted in some hotels but not others.
It is strictly prohibited to take Tunisian dinars out of the country. To exchange any Tunisian dinars left over at the end of your stay into Sterling or other hard currency you will need to show the receipt from the bank where you first withdrew the dinars. Please note that receipts from cash machines are not accepted.
Travel advice help and support
If you’re abroad and you need emergency help from the UK government, contact the nearest British embassy, consulate or high commission. If you need urgent help because something has happened to a friend or relative abroad, contact the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) in London on 020 7008 1500 (24 hours).
Foreign travel checklist
Read our foreign travel checklist to help you plan for your trip abroad and stay safe while you’re there.
The FCO travel advice helps you make your own decisions about foreign travel. Your safety is our main concern, but we can’t provide tailored advice for individual trips. If you’re concerned about whether or not it’s safe for you to travel, you should read the travel advice for the country or territory you’re travelling to, together with information from other sources you’ve identified, before making your own decision on whether to travel. Only you can decide whether it’s safe for you to travel.
When we judge the level of risk to British nationals in a particular place has become unacceptably high, we’ll state on the travel advice page for that country or territory that we advise against all or all but essential travel. Read more about how the FCO assesses and categorises risk in foreign travel advice.
Our crisis overseas page suggests additional things you can do before and during foreign travel to help you stay safe.
Refunds and cancellations
If you wish to cancel or change a holiday that you’ve booked, you should contact your travel company. The question of refunds and cancellations is a matter for you and your travel company. Travel companies make their own decisions about whether or not to offer customers a refund. Many of them use our travel advice to help them reach these decisions, but we do not instruct travel companies on when they can or can’t offer a refund to their customers.
For more information about your rights if you wish to cancel a holiday, visit the Citizen’s Advice Bureau website. For help resolving problems with a flight booking, visit the website of the Civil Aviation Authority. For questions about travel insurance, contact your insurance provider and if you’re not happy with their response, you can complain to the Financial Ombudsman Service.
Registering your travel details with us
We’re no longer asking people to register with us before travel. Our foreign travel checklist and crisis overseas page suggest things you can do before and during foreign travel to plan your trip and stay safe.
Previous versions of FCO travel advice
If you’re a British national and you have a question about travelling abroad that isn’t covered in our foreign travel advice or elsewhere on GOV.UK, you can submit an enquiry. We’re not able to provide tailored advice for specific trips.