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Overseas Security Advisory Council
Bureau of Diplomatic Security
U.S. Department of State

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Tunisia 2020 Crime & Safety Report

This is an annual report produced in conjunction with the Regional Security Office at the U.S. Embassy in Tunis. OSAC encourages travelers to use this report to gain baseline knowledge of security conditions in Tunisia. For more in-depth information, review OSAC’s Tunisia country page for original OSAC reporting, consular messages, and contact information, some of which may be available only to private-sector representatives with an OSAC password.

Travel Advisory

The current U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory at the date of this report’s publication assesses Tunisia at Level 2, indicating travelers should exercise increased caution due to terrorism. Do not travel to within 30 km of southeastern Tunisia along the border with Libya; mountainous areas in the country’s west, Kasserine, including the Chaambi Mountain National Park area; Jendouba south of Ain Drahem and west of RN15, El Kef, and next to the Algerian border; or Sidi Bou Zid and Gafsa in central Tunisia due to terrorism. Do not travel to the desert south of Remada due to the military zone. Review OSAC’s report, Understanding the Consular Travel Advisory System.

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

Crime Threats

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Tunis as being a LOW-threat location for crime directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests. Reliable crime statistics are difficult to obtain, but violent crime involving the use of firearms (e.g. assault, homicide, armed robbery) is rare. Violent and nonviolent crime (e.g. personal robberies, residential break-ins, financial scams, vehicle thefts, petty drug offenses) occurs in Tunis and other large/tourist cities. Homicides and sexual assaults occur throughout Tunisia, more often in rural areas and impoverished neighborhoods.

Violence is often associated with soccer matches, to include vandalism and physical assaults of police, security forces and rival fans.

Most reported criminal incidents against foreigners are crimes of opportunity (e.g. pickpocketing, purse/phone snatching, petty theft). The selection of foreigners as targets tends to focus on those who appear unfamiliar with their surroundings or who dress expensively, wear Western-style clothing, or draw attention to themselves by not speaking the local language. There have been cases of young men on motor scooters targeting Western-looking females and attempting to snatch valuables during both day and night. Snatch-and-run tactics include speeding by an unsuspecting pedestrian on a scooter and grabbing a dangling purse. Use extra caution in high traffic tourist areas (e.g. Tunis Medina, central market area, and the medinas of other large cities). Review OSAC’s report, All That You Should Leave Behind.

More serious crimes, such as armed robbery, do occur, but much less often; these typically involve a knife or machete rather than a gun. If an assailant displaying a lethal weapon or threatening violence confronts you, attempt to de-escalate the situation by immediately turning over your valuables. Incidents of assault, vehicle theft, and vehicle break-in have occurred against both Tunisians and foreigners. The area of West Le Kram in Tunis is particularly well-known for theft.

In 2018 and 2019, residential burglaries occurred in areas of Tunis popular with expatriates. Most residential burglaries occur during the day, when people are at work, and happen in both expatriate and Tunisian neighborhoods. Burglaries also occur at night, when there are obvious signs that no one is home; burglaries while occupants are home do occur. Most home burglars are young males (ages 17-25) looking for small, expensive items they can convert to cash easily. Although burglaries may seem like a random occurrence, they involve a selection process. Burglars are likely to choose an unoccupied home with the easiest access, the greatest amount of cover, and the best escape routes. If you give a key to domestic staff, consider using secondary locks. Discourage children from answering the door/gate, and do not open the door/gate until you have identified the visitor. Instruct domestic staff and dependents to do the same, and to report any unusual activity. Inspect your home periodically to identify vulnerabilities or inoperative security features. The U.S. Government provides well-secured residences for its employees. Review OSAC’s reports, Hotels: The Inns and Outs and Considerations for Hotel Security.

Tunisia is largely a cash-based economy. Credit cards are gaining acceptance at establishments in larger tourist cities, and there are ATMs in many places in the capital. There have been muggings at ATMs. Protect your PIN. Try to use an ATM attached to a bank branch. Even though the Embassy has not seen a high level of credit card fraud among U.S. citizens, authorities report numerous financial scams. Review OSAC’s reports, The Overseas Traveler’s Guide to ATM Skimmers & Fraud and Taking Credit.

Be aware of distraction techniques (e.g. a staged fight or an intentional bump). Be wary of unsolicited offers of assistance, and refuse offers that sound too good to be true. Foreigners living in Tunisia have reported that Tunisian men have rung their doorbells claiming to be neighbors who have locked themselves out of their houses and need cab fare to get a spare key.  

Travel in groups, especially in remote areas during nighttime hours. Women face no specific dress restrictions, but conservative clothing helps avoid attracting undue attention or harassment.

If someone approaches you claiming to be a police officer, ask for identification and be vigilant.

Cybersecurity Issues

Tunisian men have been known to target U.S. women online in communications that often turn romantic and result in an invitation to travel to Tunisia. Single women 40 years and older are typical targets. The Tunisian man is usually in his 20s. Once in Tunisia, a common scenario involves the man and his family pressuring the U.S. national into marriage. His goal is to then have the target submit a petition for his immigrant visa. Maintain caution if traveling to Tunisia to meet someone you have met online.

Review OSAC’s reports, Cybersecurity Basics, Best Practices for Maximizing Security on Public Wi-Fi, Traveling with Mobile Devices: Trends & Best Practices, and Satellite Phones: Critical or Contraband?

Transportation-Safety Situation

Road Safety and Road Conditions

Road safety poses one of the greatest risks to foreign travelers. According to the Tunisian National Road Safety Observatory, there were more than 6,700 recorded traffic accidents, approximately 1,421 traffic-related deaths, and well over 10,000 injuries in 2017. These figures illustrate the need for awareness of the neighborhoods, local traffic patterns, and road culture before self-driving. Drivers will likely encounter road conditions, driving patterns, traffic laws, and signs different from those with which they are familiar. Local drivers often fail to obey traffic signs/signals, drive on the wrong side of the road, and go against the flow of traffic. Locals use the road shoulders or turning lanes to pass, or ignore traffic lane markings. Do not assume that pedestrians are aware of oncoming traffic or that other vehicles will give them the right of way, even at a designated pedestrian crossing. Bicycles, mopeds, and motorcycles operate without sufficient lights/reflectors, making them difficult to see as they dart in/out of traffic.

Refrain from using mobile phones while driving. Keep vehicle windows closed and doors locked, and conceal any valuables. 

There are generally uniformed police officers at major intersections in major cities. Police officers may stop drivers for inspection; drivers should comply. Police pay particular attention to rental cars (all rental cars have blue license plates), which they stop frequently.

Police may take drivers involved in a motor accident that results in death or serious injury into protective custody until they determine responsibility. This can mean spending days to months in detention. Drivers involved in traffic accidents not involving injury to an individual must file an accident form; the form, usually issued by the insurance company, is in the glove compartment of rental cars. On the form, both drivers must document driver and vehicle information, and how the accident occurred (each driver may write a statement); both drivers must sign the form, but should not admit guilt. Drivers involved in accidents may go to the traffic police station if they need help or if there is a disagreement. Return the form to the insurance company within 48 hours. Drivers involved in traffic accidents involving injury to individuals must notify police, and all drivers involved must not leave the scene before the police finish the investigation. A driver who decides to leave the scene due to safety concerns must report to the closest police station.

Avoid driving after dark outside the greater Tunis area or major resort areas. Many roads lack proper maintenance and lighting, may have unmarked community installed speed bumps, and lack sound infrastructure. Even well-traveled routes are subject to blowing sands that can create hazards. Review OSAC’s reports, Road Safety Abroad, Driving Overseas: Best Practices, and Evasive Driving Techniques; and read the State Department’s webpage on driving and road safety abroad.

Travel in desert areas presents additional challenges. Persons driving off the major paved roads should ensure their vehicles are appropriate for off-road driving conditions and have appropriate spares/supplies (e.g. water, food). Groups should travel in caravans of multiple vehicles. Desert regions are subject to extreme temperatures, from sub-freezing evenings in the winter to dangerously hot days in the summer. In addition, many areas in the southern desert regions have little or no cellular telephone service.

The Tunisian National Guard requires those traveling into the desert areas south of Tataouine to register travel plans beforehand and obtain a “desert pass” for access.

Public Transportation Conditions 

Avoid taking public buses or minibuses (known as louage). Bus drivers often drive at excessive speeds, have poor safety records, and do not maintain vehicles properly. Buses are usually overcrowded, and women have experienced harassment. 

The U.S. Embassy allows its U.S. staff on official business to take taxis within the greater Tunis area. Patrons can hail official taxis (yellow cabs) legally from the street or at designated spots in prominent places. The white and red roof sign will have a four-digit serial number you should note. All fares are metered and have a minimum charge. Do not use a taxi that will not use the meter or claims “the meter is not working,” as these drivers will overcharge unsuspecting passengers. Depending on what time and place you catch the taxi, additional charges may apply. Do not enter a taxi that is already carrying passengers, and do not allow your driver to pick up additional passengers. Taxi fares are relatively inexpensive.

The streetcar system, known as “Metro,” consists of five lines between downtown Tunis and nearby suburbs. Petty crime (e.g. pickpocketing, purse/phone/jewelry snatching, sexual harassment of women) is common aboard Metro. The U.S. Embassy does not authorize its U.S. staff to use the Metro for official business. Review OSAC’s report, Security In Transit: Airplanes, Public Transport, and Overnights.

Trains depart from Tunis to many cities (e.g. Sousse, Sfax, Gabes, El Jem), and offer a safer alternative to driving. However, there have been several major train accidents over the past several years; the most recent occurred in November 2017, when a train derailed in Bizerte, injuring 20 passengers. In March 2017, two trains collided in Megrine, injuring 28 people. Drivers and pedestrians must pay additional attention at railroad crossings because most crossing signals are either absent or not working properly.

Terrorism Threat

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Tunis as being a HIGH-threat location for terrorism directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests. A state of emergency put in place after a 2015 terrorist attack in Tunis continues; the government reinstates it monthly, with an unknown expiration date.

The Tunisian government expanded its counterterrorism efforts in 2016, particularly after several high-profile terrorist attacks; major terrorist incidents in 2018 and 2019 included

  • June 2019: Two suicide bombers detonated devices targeting police forces, killing and injuring several officers.  A third individual detonated a suicide vest killing only himself to avoid arrest.
  • November 2018: Twelve terrorists stole $110K from Kasserine bank and killed a civilian.
  • October 2018: A female suicide bomber detonated a device near a police patrol in downtown Tunis, injuring several police officers and civilians.
  • July 2018: Nine police officers died in a gun and grenade assault in Jendouba, close to the Algerian border.

The security situation in parts of the country, especially in certain areas along borders with Libya and Algeria, has deteriorated since the 2011 revolution. Police and military operations to combat terrorism are disrupting terrorist cells, especially near the Algerian and Libyan border areas, included but not limited to Kasserine, El Kef, Jendouba, Sidi Bouzid, Gafsa, and Ben Guerdane. Most border operations occur in the closed military area of Mount Chaambi.

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Tunis as being a MEDIUM-threat location for political violence directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests.

Civil Unrest 

Tunisian cities experience periodic spontaneous demonstrations. Avoid all areas of demonstrations or protests. If a large concentration of people amasses, leave the area immediately.

Since the signing of a 2018 budget law, many peaceful protests occurred throughout the country. Areas most affected by violent activities were the Ariana area of Tunis, Ben Arous, Jendouba, Beja, Seliana, Kasserine, Sidi Bouzid, Gafsa, Gabes, and Kebili. On one evening, opportunistic individuals engaged in civil unrest and delinquent activity to include vandalism, arson, looting, and violence against police and government facilities. This prompted the government to send the army into several cities to provide security at key critical infrastructure facilities. One civilian death, determined to be asphyxiation by tear gas, occurred in Tebourba, 25 miles from Tunis. Review OSAC’s report, Surviving a Protest.

Post-specific Concerns

Environmental Hazards

Tunisia is in an active earthquake zone. Most buildings do not meet U.S. construction criteria for such an area.

During the winter, extended downpours have overwhelmed Tunis’s storm drains and resulted in street flooding. The city can shut down because of washed-out roads when diverted traffic overburdens alternate routes.

Personal Identity Concerns

Same-sex sexual relations are illegal in Tunisia. Penalties include sentences of up to three years in prison. Review the State Department’s webpage on security for LGBTI+ travelers.

Modern Standard Arabic is the official, national language; however, the local dialect is the most commonly used language in daily activities. French is widely spoken. Few Tunisians understand English, and usually only at high-end establishments.   

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 retrofitting of public buildings to make them accessible to disabled citizens. Review the State Department’s webpage on security for travelers with disabilities.

Islam is the state religion of Tunisia. 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 had to leave the country. Review OSAC’s report, Freedom to Practice, and the State Department’s webpage on security for faith-based travelers.

Drug-related Crimes

Use/possession of illegal drugs, and drug trafficking are serious offenses. Individuals arrested for drug-related crimes, including possession of a small amount of marijuana, can expect jail sentences and heavy fines.

Kidnapping Threat

A general threat of kidnapping exists, not only directed at Westerners, but also against Tunisian nationals. For more information, review OSAC’s report, Kidnapping: The Basics.

Other Issues

International express delivery services can provide service to Tunisian addresses through the Tunisian rapid-poste system. Tunisian Customs routinely opens express mail for inspection. The U.S. Embassy knows of no cases of theft/loss of material related to express mail delivery addressed to U.S. citizens.

Possession of pornography is illegal and can lead to imprisonment. Read the State Department’s webpage on customs and import restrictions for information on what you cannot take into or out of other countries.

Police Response

The emergency line in Tunisia is 197. Tunisia’s police and military forces have increased their effectiveness in recent years. Tunisian police are capable and professional with varying levels of capacity, including some highly skilled specialized units with the ability to respond to crisis and critical incidents. Many senior police officials have received advanced training in Western Europe or the U.S. To maintain an image and protect Tunisia’s tourism industry, the police are generally responsive to visitors in need of assistance. The police presence is particularly high in tourist areas and other areas foreigners frequent.

Police conduct random traffic stops, and often set up after-hours checkpoints at roundabouts or on main thoroughfares. Drivers and passengers must show their identity card or resident’s permit and vehicle registration. Always have a copy of your passport and the immigration card you completed upon entry. You will need the small, perforated card for immigration upon departure.

Insulting or arguing with police is illegal; police have imprisoned people for doing so.

Foreign visitors detained briefly by the police should remain cooperative and patient. This behavior will assist in expediting a quick resolution to an arbitrary police stop. U.S. citizens taken into custody should immediately request that the police inform the U.S. Embassy of their whereabouts.

Download the State Department’s Crime Victims Assistance brochure. Report crimes immediately to the nearest police officer/station. Hotel desk clerks, store owners, shopkeepers, and taxi drivers can direct you to a police officer or summon one for you. U.S. citizens should also report criminal incidents to the U.S. Embassy’s Consular Section. For local first responders, refer to the Embassy/Consulate’s Emergency Assistance page.

Police/Security Agencies 

The National Police provide security in major urban areas, and the paramilitary National Guard is responsible for other areas, including the nation’s highways. Police and National Guard officers are generally responsive to the needs of visitors but speak limited English.

There are no private security firms known to have trained personnel who can provide executive protection services to visiting businesspersons. The MOI does not allow its police officers to act in this capacity while off-duty. The U.S. Embassy is unaware of any private security or law firms licensed to conduct private investigations in Tunisia.

Medical Emergencies

Medical care is adequate, with a number of new private polyclinics available that function as simple hospitals by providing a variety of procedures. Specialized care or treatment may not be available in all locations. Medical facilities that can manage complex trauma cases are virtually non-existent. While most private clinics have some physicians who are fluent in English, the medical establishment primarily uses the French language. Public hospitals are overcrowded, underequipped, and understaffed. Nursing care in clinics is underdeveloped and, in some cases, nonexistent. For medical assistance, refer to the Embassy’s Medical Assistance page.

Well-equipped ambulances may not be available outside of urban areas. Even in urban areas, emergency response times are much longer than in the U.S. Many over-the-counter medications are available. Bring a full supply of needed medications and a copy of your prescription. Review OSAC’s report, Traveling with Medication.

Doctors and hospitals will expect immediate cash payment for health care services, although some hospitals may accept credit cards. The U.S. Department of State strongly recommends purchasing international health insurance before traveling internationally. Review the State Department’s webpage on insurance overseas.

The CDC offers additional information on vaccines and health guidance for Tunisia.

OSAC Country Council Information

The Tunis Country Council currently meets several times a year. Contact OSAC’s Middle East & North Africa team for more information or to join.

U.S. Embassy Contact Information 

1053 Les Berges du Lac, Tunis

Hours of Operation: 0900 – 1600 Monday to Friday

Website: http://tn.usembassy.gov

Embassy Operator: +216-71-107-000

State Department Emergency Line: +1-202-501-4444

Helpful Information

Before you travel, consider the following resources:

 

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