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Tunisia 2017 Crime & Safety Report

Near East > Tunisia; Near East > Tunisia > Tunis

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

U.S. Embassy Tunis does not assume responsibility for the professional ability or integrity of the persons or firms appearing in this report. The ACS Unit cannot recommend a particular individual or location and assumes no responsibility for the quality of service provided.

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.

Please review OSAC’s Tunisia-specific webpage for proprietary analytic reports, Consular Messages, and contact information.

Crime Threats

Tunisia’s crime rating is low; police and military forces have increased their effectiveness in recent years. Reliable crime statistics are difficult to obtain, but violent crime involving the use of firearms (assault, homicide, armed robbery) is rare. According to official statistics from the Ministry of Interior (MOI), theft and property crimes showed a slight decrease from 2013 to 2014, while there was a marked increase in the number of financial crimes/scams during that same period. Data for 2016 is not available. Violent and nonviolent crime (personal robberies, residential break-ins, financial scams, vehicle thefts, petty drug offenses) occurs in Tunis and other large/tourist cities. Homicides and sexual assaults have been reported throughout Tunisia more often occurring in rural areas and impoverished neighborhoods. 

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

Most reported criminal incidents against foreigners are crimes of opportunity (pickpocketing, purse-snatching, phone snatching, petty theft). Visitors should be extra cautious in high traffic tourist areas (Tunis Medina, central market area, the medinas of other large cities). The selection of foreigners as targets tends to focus on people who appear unfamiliar with their surroundings or on those who dress expensively, wear Western-style clothing, or who draw attention to themselves by not speaking the local language. Cases have been reported of young men on motor scooters targeting Western-looking females and making attempts to snatch valuables during both day and night. Snatch-and-run tactics include speeding by a pedestrian on a scooter and grabbing a dangling purse.

More serious crimes (armed robbery) do occur but much less often and, typically, involve a knife/machete rather than a gun. Incidents of assaults, vehicle theft, and vehicle break-ins have occurred against both Tunisians and foreigners. The area of West Le Kram in Tunis is particularly well-known for theft.

Between 2015 and 2016, residential burglaries occurred in areas of Tunis frequently inhabited by expatriates. Most residential burglaries occur during the day, when people are away 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; however, break-in burglaries are also reported to have happened while occupants are home. Most home burglars are young males (ages 17-25) looking for small, expensive items (cash, jewelry, watches, laptops, cell phones) that can be converted to cash easily. Although home burglaries may seem like a random occurrence, they actually 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.

Tunisia is largely a cash-based economy. Credit cards are gaining acceptance at establishments in larger tourist cities, and ATMs can be found in many places in the capital. There have been incidents reported of people getting mugged while at the ATM and being watched while paying bills at restaurants. Even though the Embassy has not seen a high level of credit card fraud among Americans, there are numerous financial scams reported by authorities.

Areas of Concern

The security situation in parts of the country, especially in certain areas along Tunisia’s borders, has deteriorated since the 2011 revolution.

The Tunisian National Guard requires persons traveling into the desert areas south of Tataouine to register their travel plans beforehand and obtain a “desert pass” for access. The Department of State issued a Travel Warning for Tunisia on April 1, 2016, warning U.S. citizens to avoid travel to southeastern Tunisia along the Libyan border as well as the mountainous areas in the country’s west due to the threat of terrorism. This Travel Warning was renewed September 26, 2016. A Security Message to U.S. Citizens (issued January 22, 2016) provided guidance due to civil unrest. On August 11, 2016, a general Security Message advised U.S. citizens to remain alert and vigilant during the summer travel and tourist season.

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 8,300 recorded traffic accidents, approximately 1,500 deaths, and well over 12,000 injuries in 2016. These figures illustrate the need to become aware of neighborhoods, local traffic patterns, and road culture before renting a car or self-driving. Drivers should refrain from using mobile phones while driving. For more information on self-driving, please review OSAC’s Report “Driving Overseas: Best Practices.” Drivers will likely encounter road conditions, driving patterns, traffic laws, and signs that are different from those in the U.S. 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. Also, do not assume that pedestrians are aware of oncoming traffic or that they will be given the right-of-way, even at a designated pedestrian crossing. Finally, bicycles, mopeds, and motorcycles are operated without sufficient lights/reflectors, making them difficult to see as they dart in/out of traffic.

Uniformed police officers are generally at major intersections in major cities. Police officers may stop drivers for inspection for no reason, and drivers should comply. Police pay particular attention to rental cars (all rental cars have blue license plates).

If drivers are involved in a motor accident that results in death or serious injury, the police may take them into protective custody until responsibility can be determined. This situation can mean a driver spending days to months in detention. 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. If the driver decides to leave the scene due to safety concerns, he/she must report to the closest police station. Drivers involved in traffic accidents not involving injury are required to file an accident form (the form is usually issued by the insurance company and found in the glove compartment of rental cars). On the form, both drivers must document driver/vehicle information, how the accident occurred (each driver may write his/her statement describing the details of the accident), and both drivers must sign the form but should not admit guilt. Drivers may go to the traffic police station if they need help or if there is a disagreement. The form must be returned to the insurance company within 48 hours of the accident.

Visitors should avoid driving after dark outside the greater Tunis area or major resort areas. Many roads are not paved, are poorly illuminated, and lack sound infrastructure.

Even well-traveled routes are subject to blowing sands that can create hazards. Travel in the desert areas of southern Tunisia presents additional challenges. 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/supplies (water, food). Groups should generally travel in 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.

Public Transportation Conditions

Taking public buses or minibuses (“louage”) is strongly discouraged. Bus drivers often drive at excessive speeds, have poor safety records, and do not properly maintain vehicles. Buses are usually overcrowded, and women have been harassed.

Americans on official business are authorized to take taxis within the greater Tunis area. Taxis are also authorized for home-to-work and personal business. Tunis’ official taxis (yellow cabs) can be hailed legally from the street or at designated spots in prominent places (hotels, restaurants). The white and red roof sign will have a four digit serial number. 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 over charge 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 (pickpocketing, purse/phone/jewelry snatching, sexual harassment of women) is common on the Metro. Americans on official business are not authorized to use the Metro.

Trains depart from Tunis to many cities (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 accident occurred in December 2016 in which five people were killed and 50 were injured near Jbel Jloud.
  • Other major accidents in 2016 include a collision between a train and taxi in October near Jendouba in which five people were killed.

Drivers and pedestrians must pay additional attention at railroad crossing because most of the crossing signals are either absent or not working properly.

Terrorism Threat

THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE HAS ASSESSED TUNIS AS BEING A CRITICAL-THREAT LOCATION FOR TERRORIST ACTIVITY DIRECTED AT OR AFFECTING OFFICIAL U.S. GOVERNMENT INTERESTS.

Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats/Concerns

Urban and coastal regions have not experienced terrorism since 2015. A state of emergency was put in place after a terrorist attack in November 2015 on security forces in downtown Tunis. This state of emergency is scheduled to expire at the end of February 2017. In the past, the state of emergency has been renewed multiple times, and it could be renewed again. 

The Tunisian government expanded its counterterrorism efforts in 2015, particularly after several high-profile terrorist attacks; major terrorist incidents in 2015 and 2016 included:

  • On March 7, 2016, terrorists staged a simultaneous attack on the National Guard headquarters, military barracks, and police posts in Ben Guerdane and attempted to seize the city. In the aftermath, 45 armed militants, 13 security force members, and seven civilians were killed. 
  • On November 24, 2015, a terrorist killed 12 Presidential Guard members in a suicide attack on their bus in downtown Tunis. ISIL claimed responsibility.
  • On June 26, 2015, a lone terrorist opened fired on tourists at two resort hotels in Sousse, killing. 39 tourists, mostly British. Security forces killed the terrorist, who was trained in Libya. ISIL claimed responsibility for the attack.
  • On April 7, 2015, a group of terrorists, reportedly armed with Kalashnikovs and RPGs, ambushed an army patrol in the central Kasserine region, killing four soldiers and injuring nine.
  • On March 18, 2015, two terrorists attacked the Bardo museum in Tunis, killing 21 foreign tourists and a Tunisian civilian and injuring more than 40 civilians. The perpetrators and a member of the Antiterrorism Brigade (BAT) died in the ensuing operations. ISIL and Okba Ibn Nafaa Brigade claimed responsibility for the attack. The perpetrators had trained in Libya.
  • On February 17, 2015, four National Guard service members on patrol died in a terrorist attack in Boulaaba, close to Mount Chaambi near the Algerian border. The terrorists fled with service members’ weapons. AQIM-affiliated Okba Ibn Nafaa Brigade claimed responsibility of the attack.

 

Police and military are engaged in ongoing operations to combat terrorism and disrupt terrorist cells in Tunisia, especially near the Algerian and Libyan border areas, included but not limited to Kasserine, El Kef, Jendouba, Sidi Bouzid, and Ben Guerdane. Most Algerian border operations were reported 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

Urban and coastal regions have not experienced violence since 2015. Cities have experienced periodic or spontaneous demonstrations. In January 2017, there were numerous demonstrations around the country protesting what some individuals believed to be unfair Tunisian government economic and social policies. The demonstrations featured varying degrees of violence, ranging from burning tires and impeding pedestrian/vehicular access to severely damaging government facilities and attacking government security forces. There were no deaths.

Post-specific Concerns

Environmental Hazards

Tunisia is considered to be in an active earthquake zone. Most buildings do not meet U.S. construction criteria.

During the winter, extended downpours have been known to overwhelm Tunis’ storm drains and result in street flooding. The city can shut down because of washed-out roads when alternate routes become overburdened by diverted traffic.

Privacy Concerns

Tunisian Customs routinely opens express mail for inspection. Although the U.S. Embassy knows of no cases of theft/loss of material related to express mail delivery addressed to Americans, American business representatives should be aware of the possibility of review or loss of corporate proprietary information when using these services.

Personal Identity Concerns

Dual citizens from Tunisia are typically recognized as Tunisian citizens and must enter/exit on their Tunisian passports.

Homosexuality is illegal and can be punished by imprisonment.

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 for Westerners and Tunisian nationals.

Police Response

Police are capable and professional with varying levels of capacity to include 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. In an effort to maintain its 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 frequented by foreigners. The police often set up after-hours checkpoints.

Police officers conduct random traffic stops. Drivers and passengers are required to show their identity card or resident’s permit and vehicle registration. Visitors should always have a copy of their passport with them in addition to the immigration card completed upon entry. You will need the small perforated card for Tunisian immigration upon departure.

All visitors must adhere to local laws. Possession of pornography is illegal and can also lead to imprisonment. Insulting or arguing with the police is illegal, and people have been imprisoned for it.

How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment

Foreign visitors who are briefly detained by the police are encouraged to remain cooperative and patient. This 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.

Crime Victim Assistance

Crimes should be reported 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. American citizens should also report criminal incidents to the U.S. Embassy’s Consular Section.

Nationwide emergency numbers
Police: 197
Fire Department: 198
Towing: 71 801 211, 71 840 840

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 roads. Police and National Guard officers are generally responsive to the needs of visitors but speak limited English.

There are no known private security firms that have trained personnel who can provide executive protection services to visiting business persons. Additionally, the Ministry of the Interior does not allow its police officers to act in this capacity while the officers are 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 providing a variety of procedures. Specialized care or treatment may not be available in all locations. Medical facilities that can handle complex trauma cases are virtually non-existent. While most private clinics have some physicians who are fluent in English, French is primarily used by the medical establishment. Public hospitals are overcrowded, underequipped, and understaffed. Nursing care in all clinics is underdeveloped and in some cases nonexistent.

Well-equipped ambulances may not be available outside of urban areas. Even in urban areas, emergency response times will be much longer than in the U.S. Doctors and hospitals will expect immediate cash payment for health care services, although some hospitals may accept credit cards. Many over-the-counter medications are available. Travelers should bring a full supply of needed medications and a copy of their prescription. For more information, please refer to OSAC’s Report, “Traveling with Medications.”

CAMU: Centre d’assistance Medicale Urgente (poison control), Tunis: 71-335-500
CAMUR Centre d’assistance Medicale Urgente et Reanimation: (intensive care) 71-249-014
SAMU (ambulances) 190

Contact Information for Available Medical Services

The U.S. Embassy maintains a list of doctors who can be contacted for emergency prescriptions.

Private ambulance services
Allo Docteur-Allo Ambulance, Tunis: 71-959-000, 71-959-884 and 71-959-200.
Echifa, Tunis: 71-585-999, 71-502-000 and 98-243-552
Amen, La Marsa-Ambulance, La Marsa: 71-749-000

Private medical clinics ‘polyclinics’

Tunis:
La Soukra Clinic: 71-758-888
Polyclinic El Amen de La Marsa: 71-749-000
Clinic El Manar: 71-885-000
Clinique Hannibal: 71-137-500 (reception) or 71-137-400 (operator)

Other cities:
Nabeul: Clinic Ibn Rochd: 72-286-668,72-220-000 and  72-224-585
Sousse: Clinic des Oliviers: 73-242-453, 73-242-708, 73-242-709 and 73-242-711
Sfax: Clinic Annafis: 74-215-000
Bizerte: Clinic Raouebi: 72-427-399, 72-426-403 and 20-440-036
Djerba: Clinic Chifa: 75-655-007 or 75-650-511
Gafsa: Clinic El Amen: 76-210-750

Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance

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. Please contact OSAC’s Middle East and North Africa team with any questions and to join.

U.S. Embassy Location and Contact Information

Embassy Address and Hours of Operation

U.S. Embassy Tunis, 1053 Les Berges du Lac, Tunis, Tunisia

Embassy Contact Numbers

If dialing from abroad, the Country Code for Tunisia is +216.
U.S. Embassy Tunis, Tunisia: 71-107-000
Regional Security Office: 71-107-341 or TunisRSO@state.gov
Consular Section: 71-107-000 or ConsularTunis@state.gov
Economic and Commercial Office: 71-107-000 or TunisCommercial@state.gov
Website: http://tunisia.usembassy.gov/
 

Embassy Guidance

For the latest security information, U.S. citizens traveling abroad are encouraged to review and regularly monitor the Department of State's Internet website at travel.state.gov where the Worldwide Caution, Country Specific Information, Travel Warnings, and Travel Alerts can be found.

All U.S. citizens visiting or working in Tunisia are strongly encouraged to enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to receive security messages and make it easier to locate U.S. citizens in the event of an emergency.

Additional Resources

Tunisia Country Information Sheet