In the United States, when we hear that over 80 percent of the world’s population lives on $10 or less a day, it may sound almost impossible. How could a person survive on less than what some may spend on a coffee habit? Yet in Tunisia it is quite feasible to live well on such a budget.
Visitors can keep from spending a lot of money in the country by avoiding luxurious rental housing and unnecessary purchases, understanding the public transportation system, discovering inexpensive ways to stay entertained, and keeping food costs low. I lived in Tunisia for 10 months and followed these guidelines, spending less than $300 a month on average.
Keep Housing Costs Low
Finding housing in a foreign country can be a daunting task. If you can, make friends with locals who can assist you in the process. When I lived both in downtown Tunis and in the suburb of Le Kram, Tunisians found me housing for 250 dinars (about $150 USD) a month. It would have been difficult to find housing on my own for that price, which is very reasonable by Tunisian standards. As a student at the Bourguiba Institute of Living Languages, I was able to find housing for 300 dinars a month in Hay Romana.
Rent should not be expensive in Tunis, but it is important to avoid luxury housing designed for foreigners, secluded from where most of the population lives. It helps to make friends and form connections with people who know rental property owners rather than chasing after publicly posted ads. The American Maghreb Studies Center (known by its French acronym CEMAT) in Tunis is a good place to start asking about landlords with available housing.
If traveling outside of Tunis, staying with friends is the best way to understand not just the place you are visiting but how people live. If you do not have friends in a particular place, stay in inexpensive but comfortable hostels or utilize Couchsurfing. When deciding to stay in a hostel in Tunisia, it is very important to see the room and the facilities first. Set your expectations for hostel accommodation low and bring all hygienic products needed with you.
Do Not Buy Unnecessary Items
As a tourist in a foreign country it is very easy to spend money on goods you can live without. Resist the urge at all times to buy any non-food items in the Medina or the freep flea market unless absolutely necessary. As a non-Tunisian, many vendors will assume you are a tourist and charge more for their items. It is always better to go with a local if you do need to shop in places where prices are not fixed.
If you buy something every time you see low prices you can become an endless consumer in Tunisia. Refraining from buying excessive items can also save money by avoiding excessive baggage fees when you take your next flight out of the country.
Avoid Taxis, Use Public Transportation
One of the easiest ways to spend money in Tunisia is to take a taxi everywhere you go. It will usually cost between three and five dinars a ride ($2.00 to $3.30) depending on distance. There are other less expensive options, however, that are better and allow you to meet new people.
Your first mode of transportation in Tunisia should be walking. This not only provides you with exercise, but also gives you an opportunity to meet people and feel Tunisia's vibrant youthful energy. The cities of Sousse and Sfax, for example, are small enough that it is possible to walk almost anywhere.
Although it is possible to walk to many places in Tunis, public transportation is often the best option for longer distances. The TGM commuter train reaches the northern suburbs of La Goulette, Kheireddine , Le Kram, Carthage, Sidi Bou Said, and La Marsa from downtown Tunis. Prices range from 430 millimes to 1.150 dinars ($0.25 to $0.70) depending on the distance you travel and whether you ride in first or second class. For 1.300 dinars ($0.80) you can catch a shared taxi from the Passage area of downtown Tunis to La Marsa passing through the Lac I and Lac II suburbs.
There are five streetcar lines connecting central Tunis to various residential neighborhoods throughout the metropolitan area. Prices start at 320 millimes and increase depending on the length of your journey.
Getting to the southern suburbs of Rades, Megrine, Hammam-Lif, and Borj Cedria is easy, with comfortable trains leaving the train station on place Barcelone and tickets costing 650 millimes ($0.40).
You can easily take an affordable long-distance shared taxi called a louage from one of three stations in Tunis to most other Tunisian cities. Bus routes may also exist. See Tunisia Live’s guide to louages to know where to find transport to your desired destination.
Find Inexpensive Means of Entertainment
Tunisia offers many means of staying entertained that do not cost much money.
Watching a movie at the theatre on Bourguiba Avenue costs three dinars ($2) and is a must-do in Tunisia.
Soccer games are another typical form of entertainment in Tunisia, although the season has been postponed this year and since the revolution spectators have often not been allowed at stadiums due to security concerns. When possible, getting tickets to go to the stadium is relatively inexpensive; prices range from 3 to 15 dinars ($2 to $10).
Hanging out at the beach is part of the Tunisian experience. During summers, the country’s coast of Tunisia is full of beachgoers. Some of Tunisia’s most enjoyable beaches are in La Marsa or Hammam-Lif in the Tunis suburbs, El Haouaria or Kelibia in the Cap Bon peninsula, or the popular resort towns of Hammamet, Sousse, Monastir, and Djerba. The white sand, blue water, friendly people, and hot Mediterranean sun on these beaches can make any visitor to Tunisia very happy.
Spend No More Than Five Dinars a Day on Food
Food in Tunis is not expensive. Loaves of bread are available for 300 millimes or less ($0.20). Delicious and affordable toppings include cheeses, vegetables, pickled items, tuna, harissa (a spicy pepper-based paste), sardines, and merguez sausages. A half-kilogram bag of Tunisian pasta costs no more than 600 millimes ($0.40), while pasta sauce is no more than one dinar ($0.65 ). Fruits and vegetables are fresh, plentiful, and inexpensive as well. They are best purchased at an open marketplace.
Many inexpensive and delicious traditional dishes at restaurants cost no more than four dinars ($2.40), including Tunisian classics like ojja merguez, chakchouka, lablabi, and kafteji. It is important to ask locals about the cleanest spots because not all may meet the health standards you are used to.
There are occasions where you may want to spend 20 dinars or more on a meal. Although some restaurants may offer a better atmosphere or special preparation, for the most part the ingredients are the same all over Tunisia. Paying more does not always translate into better-tasting food.
Tunisia is a great place to try living a minimalist lifestyle. Experiencing life at a living standard of 80 percent of the world’s people can dramatically change the way you view your life, the world and it certainly teaches you to appreciate what you have.
Kouichi Shirayanagi is a former Tunisia Live Senior News Editor currently based in San Francisco. This post reflects the opinions of the author and not of Tunisia Live as a publication.