Tunisia 2014 Crime and Safety Report
Travel Health and Safety; Transportation Security; Stolen items; Theft; Murder; Rape/Sexual Violence; Assault; Burglary; Financial Security; Fraud; Drug Trafficking; Religious Terrorism; Riots/Civil Unrest; Earthquakes; Extreme heat/drought; Floods; Economic Espionage; Intellectual Property Rights Infringement; Kidnapping
Near East > Tunisia; Near East > Tunisia > Tunis
Overall Crime and Safety Situation
There is currently a Travel Warning for Tunisia (https://www.osac.gov/Pages/ContentReportDetails.aspx?cid=14592).
The U.S. Department of State has designated Tunisia as a Medium threat country for crime and a critical political violence. Crime statistics in 2013 reflect a continued stream of criminal activity. A significant rate of violent and nonviolent crimes exists in the capital, Tunis, and other large or tourist cities. Such crimes include homicides, sexual assaults, personal robberies, and residential break-ins as well as nonviolent crimes associated with financial scams, vehicle thefts, and petty drug offenses.
Tunisia’s crime and safety situation continues to remain an ongoing and serious security concern.
Most reported criminal incidents against foreigners are crimes of opportunity, including pickpocketing, purse-snatching, and petty theft. However, more serious crimes, such as armed robbery, do occur, but much less often, and, typically, a knife or machete rather than a gun is used. Many incidents of assaults, vehicle theft, and vehicle break-ins have occurred in Tunis and other parts of the country against both Tunisians and foreigners. Most victims report being targeted while walking alone or at night, and in high-traffic areas such as the beach resorts, the downtown Medina of Tunis, and the central market area of Tunis and that of other large Tunisian 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 otherwise draw attention to themselves by not speaking the local language. Cases have been reported of young men on motorscooters targeting Western-looking females on the street and making attempts to snatch handbags, cell phones, and other valuables during both day and night.
Most home and apartment burglaries often occur during the day, when most people are away 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 reported to have happened while occupants are home. Most home burglars are young males (ages 17-25) looking for small and expensive items that can easily be converted to cash. Items like cash, jewelry, watches, laptops, and cell phones are high on their list. Although home burglaries may seem like a random occurrence, they actually involve a selection process. The burglars are likely to choose an unoccupied home with the easiest access, the greatest amount of cover, and the best escape routes. In 2013, there were approximately 3,100 reported residential burglaries in greater Tunis.
Tunisia is largely a cash-based economy. Credit cards are gaining growing acceptance at many establishments in Tunis and other 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 we have not seen a high level of credit card fraud, the government has reported large-scale scams involving checks and fake Tunisian dinars.
Standard Arabic is the official, national language in Tunisia. French is widely spoken. English is understood by few and usually only at high-end establishments, such as hotels and restaurants.
Women face no specific dress restrictions, but wearing conservative clothing helps avoid attracting undue attention or harassment.
Homosexuality is illegal and can be punished by imprisonment.
Overall Road Safety Situation
Road Safety and Road Conditions
Road safety poses one of the greatest risks to foreign travelers in Tunisia. Therefore, it is highly encouraged that you become well aware of the neighborhoods, local traffic patterns, and road culture before driving.
Local drivers often fail to obey traffic signs or signals, drive on the wrong side of the road, and go against the flow of traffic. Drivers should also not be surprised to see locals using the road shoulders or turning lanes to pass or to see them largely 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. Bicycles, mopeds, and motorcycles are operated without sufficient lights or reflectors, making them difficult to see as they dart in and out of traffic.
Visitors should avoid driving after dark outside Tunis or the major resort areas. Travel in the desert areas of southern Tunisia presents additional challenges. Many roads are not paved, and even well-traveled routes are subject to blowing sands that can create hazards for vehicles. 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 and supplies, including water and food. Groups should generally travel in multiple vehicles, so if a vehicle becomes disabled or immobilized, the group can return in another vehicle.
Uniformed police officers are generally located at most major intersections in Tunis and other major cities. Police officers may stop drivers for inspection for no reason at any time, and drivers should comply.
If drivers are involved in a motor accident that results in death or serious injury of another person, the police may take them into protective custody until they are absolved of responsibility. This situation can mean a driver spending anywhere from one day to two months in detention. Drivers involved in traffic accidents not involving physical injury to an individual are not required to file a traffic report. U.S. citizens taken into custody should immediately request that the police inform the U.S. Embassy of their whereabouts.
Taking public buses or minibuses is strongly discouraged. Bus drivers often drive at excessive speeds and have poor safety records. Buses are usually overcrowded, and women reportedly have been harassed onboard. Americans on official business are authorized to take taxis for official and non-official use. Tunis’ official taxis, yellow cabs, can be hailed legally from the street or at designated spots in prominent places, such as hotels or restaurants. The white and red roof sign will have a four digit serial number. All fares are metered and have a minimum charge. 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 running between downtown Tunis and nearby suburbs. One man was killed on both November 18 and 19, 2013, after being struck by the Metro.
For some travelers, trains may offer a more practical choice and make more sense for routes between cities much farther apart. Trains depart from Tunis to many cities, such as Sousse, Sfax, Gabes, and El Jem, and offer a safe alternative to driving. The last train accident occurred on Sept. 24, 2010, when two trains collided at Bir El Bay, killing one person and injuring 57.
Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence
Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats/Concerns
A source of terrorist threats are jihadi groups with links to AQIM that have infiltrated the region and attacked Tunisia’s military along the country’s western border.
The government is undertaking extensive anti-terrorism operations against Ansar Al-Shari’a in Tunisia. The government and U.S. State Department recently announced the designation of Ansar As-Shari’a in Tunisia as a Foreign Terrorist Organization. This group was involved in the two political assassinations in Tunis in 2013 and the attack on the U.S. Embassy and American School in Tunis on Sept. 14, 2012.
Terrorists have assassinated politicians and attacked police stations, and other security force targets, to include:
On January 17, 2013, the government announced that four people had been arrested with a large cache of weapons, including rifles and rocket-propelled grenades in Medenine in southeast Tunisia.
On February 6, 2013, the leader of the Popular Front, Chokri Belaid was shot and killed in front of his residence in the Tunis neighborhood of El Menzah 6. Large, though generally peaceful, demonstrations in response to his death occurred in central Tunis in front of the Ministry of Interior.
On July 25, 2013, Tunisian National Constituent Assembly member and political opposition figure Mohamed Brahmi was shot and killed in front of his residence in the Tunis neighborhood of Ariana. Numerous demonstrations in response to his death occurred in a number of cities in Tunisia.
On October 17, 2013, militants killed two National Guard officers at a traffic checkpoint in the governorate of Beja in northwest Tunisia.
On October 23, 2013, six Tunisian National Guard officers were killed in Sidi Ben Aoun, in central Tunisia, after exchanging fire with militants. In a separate incident on the same day, one police officer was killed in Menzel Bourguiba.
On October 20, 2013, two young men carrying explosive devices were stopped while attempting to attack tourist destinations in Tunisia. In Sousse, the suicide bomber died when his explosives detonated after he was spotted and chased away from a hotel by security. In Monastir, the attacker at former President Bourguiba’s mausoleum was stopped and arrested when his device failed to detonate. These incidents are the first attempted attacks directed against tourist sites in Tunisia in many years.
Tunisia remains a critical threat country for political violence. Following the July 25, 2013 assassination of Brahmi, non-violent protests occurred around the country through August 13, 2013. Although these demonstrations were not aimed at Westerners, the possibility of anti-Western protests cannot be ruled out. The political crisis resulting from Brahmi’s assassination was resolved in late 2013 with a progressive constitution being ratified and new government installed in January 2014. Nonetheless, Tunisia’s democratic transition remains fragile with the possibility of further violence, instability, and continued crime.
A state of emergency, which had been in place since the 2011 uprising, was rescinded on March 5, 2014. Tunis, among other cities, has experienced periodic or spontaneous demonstrations. All areas of demonstrations or protests should be completely avoided. If a large concentration of people is observed, it would be wise to immediately leave the area.
Tunisia is considered to be in an active earthquake zone. Some buildings may not meet U.S. construction criteria for such an area.
During the winter months, extended downpours have been known to overwhelm Tunis’ storm drains and result in street flooding. The city can effectively shut down because of washed-out roads when alternate routes become overburdened by diverted traffic.
Desert regions are subject to extreme temperatures, from sub-freezing evenings in the winter to dangerously hot days in the summer.
Economic Espionage/Intellectual Property Thefts
Many multinational express delivery services can provide service to Tunisian addresses through the Tunisian “rapid poste” system. Tunisian Customs routinely opens express mail for inspection. Although the U.S. Embassy knows of no cases of theft or 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.
Regional Travel Concerns and Restricted Travel Areas/Zones
Since the ouster of then-president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali in 2011, security has deteriorated in certain parts of the country, especially along the country’s borders with Algeria and Libya.
Many areas in the southern desert regions have little or no cellular telephone service. The Tunisian National Guard encourages persons traveling into the desert to register their travel plans beforehand.
Use or possession of illegal drug, and drug trafficking are serious offenses. Individuals arrested for drug-related crimes can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines.
There is a general threat of kidnapping, not only directed at Westerners but also against local nationals. In one of the most high profile kidnappings, armed Libyans kidnapped 80 Tunisian nationals in the border zone on April 17, 2012.
Tunisian police are well trained and professional. Many senior police officials have received advanced training in Western Europe or the United States. In an effort to maintain its image and protect Tunisia’s tourism industry, the police are generally responsive to visitors in need of assistance, although in the period since the revolution, there have been some reports of delayed or inadequate police responses, especially in rural areas. The police presence is particularly high in tourist areas and other areas frequented by foreigners. Police and National Guard officers are generally responsive to the needs of visitors, but speak limited English, if any at all.
Dual citizens originally from Tunisia are typically recognized as Tunisian citizens.
All visitors to Tunisia must adhere to local laws at all times. Possession of pornography in Tunisia is illegal and can also lead to imprisonment.
The Tunisian police often set up after-hours checkpoints. By law, Tunisian police officers can, and do, conduct random traffic stops. Drivers and passengers are required to show their Tunisian identity card or resident’s permit and vehicle registration. Visitors should always have a copy of their passport and immigration card with them. You will need the small perforated card when you leave through Tunisian immigration.
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 behavior will assist in expediting a quick resolution to an arbitrary police stop. Insulting or arguing with the police is illegal, and people have been imprisoned for it.
Where to Turn to for Assistance if you Become a Victim of Crime
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
National Guard: 193
Fire Department: 198
Ambulance (SAMU): 198
Various 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.
There are no known private security firms that have trained personnel who can provide executive protection services to visiting business persons. Additionally, the Tunisian 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 care is adequate with a number of new, private ‘polyclinics’ that function as simple hospitals providing a variety of procedures. Specialized care or treatment may not be available. Medical facilities that can handle complex trauma cases are virtually non-existent. While most private clinics have some physicians that 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 very 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. Some over the counter medications are available. Travelers should bring a full supply of medications needed on a regular basis.
Contact Information for Recommended Local Hospitals and Clinics
The U.S. Embassy maintains a list of doctors who can be contacted for emergency prescriptions. The U.S. Embassy assumes no responsibility or liability for the professional ability or reputation of or the quality of services provided by the medical professionals, medical facilities or services listed below. Names are not listed in any particular order.
Private ambulance services
Allo Docteur-Allo Ambulance, Tunis: 71-780-000, 71-781-000, 71-780-884, 71-841-979
Echifa, Tunis: 71-585-999, 98-243-552
Amen, La Marsa-Ambulance, LaMarsa: 71-749-000
Apollo Ambulances, Tunis: 71-843-434, 98-358-916
Private medical clinics ‘polyclinics’
LaSoukra Clinic: 71-758-888, 71-758-666
Polyclinic El Amen de LaMarsa: 71-749-000
Clinic El Manar: 71-800-211, 71-783-343
Centre d’Assistance Medicale Urgente, Montfleury: 71-341-807
Clinique Hannibal: 71-137-500
Nabeul: Clinic Ibn Rochd 72-286-668
Sousse: Clinic des Oliviers: 72-242-711
Sfax: Clinic Annafis: 74-215-000
Bizerte: Clinic Raouebi: 72-440-200
Djerba: Clinic Chifa: 75-500-411
Gafsa: Clinic Ennakhil: 76-210-750
Other medical resources
CAMUR: Centre d’assistance Medicale Urgent et Reanimation (poison control), Tunis: 71-335-000
Tips on How to Avoid Becoming a Victim
Best Situational Awareness Practices
Common sense and good security practices are the best way to ensure an incident free visit. Remain aware of the surroundings and carefully guard personal belongings. Travelers should be wary of unsolicited offers of assistance and refuse offers that sound too good to be true. Presenting a positive, confident attitude is one of the best ways to avoid crime. Men and women should travel in groups, especially in remote areas during nighttime hours.
Visitors should be extra cautious in high traffic tourist areas such as the Tunis Medina and central market area, as well as the medinas of other large Tunisian cities. Keep your purse or bag in a place where you can see or feel it. Do not hang it over the back of a chair, place on the floor, or hang on the door when in the restroom. Be aware of distraction techniques such as a staged fight or an intentional bump. Avoid carrying your wallet in your rear pocket. Use a front pocket, inside jacket pocket, or money belt. Do not use a jacket pocket if you are likely to take the jacket off. Carry a minimum number of credit cards and cash. Put them in separate pockets. Carry your purse or shoulder bag over your shoulder with the opening toward your body. Snatch-and-run tactics include speeding by an unsuspecting pedestrian on a scooter and grabbing a dangling purse.
If you are confronted by an assailant displaying a lethal weapon or threatening violence, attempt to de-escalate the situation by immediately turning over your valuables without comment.
Vary your schedule and places of activities.
Know the location of the nearest police station.
Carry your mobile phone and keep it readily accessible. Refrain from using your mobile phone while driving. Have emergency numbers pre-programmed in your mobile phone. Keep your vehicle windows closed and doors locked and conceal any valuables.
It is recommended you “harden the target” and make your home difficult to enter. The U.S. government provides well-secured residences for its employees who work in Tunisia. Residences have a high level of physical security upgrades, including solid-core entry/service doors with high-quality locks and sliding deadbolts, a peephole installed in all entry doors, grilled windows up to 12 feet high, perimeter lighting, and monitored alarm systems. Control the keys to your residence. If you give a key to domestic staff, consider using secondary locks. Use light timers when away from home and be sure to lock all doors and windows. If you will be away from home for any length of time, have a friend check on your house. Discourage children from answering the door or gate bell. Do not open the door or gate until you have identified the visitor. Domestic staff and dependents should be instructed to do the same and to report all unusual activity. Inspect your home periodically to identify vulnerabilities or inoperative security features.
If someone approaches you claiming to be a police officer, ask for identification and be vigilant.
Do not display large amounts of cash and be sure to control the visibility of cash at all times. Protect your PIN number when using Automatic Teller Machines (ATM). Try to use an ATM that is attached to a bank branch.
If you feel that you are being followed, do not drive home; go to a safe area such as a police station or public area such as a shopping mall. Make noise and draw attention to yourself to ward off a suspicious person(s). Try to get a license plate number as well as description of the vehicle. When out, take note where you might go if you are followed or what you might do if cornered or confronted. Tell someone when you are out, where you are, and how you can be contacted.
U.S. Embassy Location and Contact Information
Embassy Address and Hours of Operation
U.S. Embassy Tunis, 1053 Les Berges du Lac, Tunis, Tunisie
Embassy Contact Numbers
If dialing from abroad, the Country Code for Tunisia is +216.
U.S. Embassy Tunis, Tunisa: 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
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.
OSAC Country Council Information
There is no OSAC Country Council in Tunisia. Any request for security-related information should be directed to the Regional Security Office at the U.S. Embassy in Tunis.