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What You Need To Know about Sfax

Capital of the South, located at approximately 260 Km southeastern of Tunis, Sfax is the heartbeat of the Tunisian economy through its industries and its port which provides an important part of Tunisia trade transactions. This economic space was built over the centuries and that since the Romans.
From the Aghlabide time (9th century), Sfax, like other major cities of the country, has known the construction of the Arab Town. This town has welcomed since the 17th century, Maltese, Jewish, Italian, Andalusian, Arab and native inhabitant. Sfax became a multicultural city. This multiculturalism is noticed in some traditions and in its specific dishes.
Architecturally, Sfax is rich of monuments built in the art nouveau, art deco and neo Moorish, bordering its Medina. Sfax is also known for its refined pastry, orgeat syrup and a unique olive oil taste.
Population: 330,440 (2014)

Currency

The Tunisian dinar is the official currency in Tunisia, subdivided into 1,000 milim or millimes.
The dinar was set out as the new currency in Tunisia in 1958, although it did not start to be used until 1960. Until that moment, the official currency had been the franc and the equivalence to the new currency was of 1,000 francs to 1 dinar.
You cannot export Tunisian currency, and for that reason your bank cannot order any for you to take with you.
Most tourists arrive with no currency – it’s easy enough to obtain it.

The exchange rate is fixed by the Government, and you will be offered that rate at the airport and at your hotel.
You may find it better to exchange some currency at these locations rather than use ATMs.
Nearly all banks and credit cards place huge surcharges on overseas transactions.
Again, note that it is illegal to take ANY Tunisian currency out of the country.
You must change back ALL currency**, including coins, when you leave.

You can still make purchases at the airside shops and cafes, since they take a range of non-Tunisian currencies, notably Euro, GBP and USD.

The Tunisian authorities have the right to search your baggage and spot-searches are common.
They really do mean it – NO currency is to be exported.

Before leaving the country you should contact your bank and let them know where you’re going to and for how long, otherwise you could have your card(s) blocked due to irregular spending patterns.
However, a lot of banks just ignore this, so make sure you’ve got your bank’s telephone number written down – you may need it!

Climate

In Sfax, the summers are hot, muggy, and clear; the winters are long, cool, windy, and mostly clear; and it is dry year round. Over the course of the year, the temperature typically varies from 45°F to 90°F and is rarely below 39°F or above 96°F.

The hot season lasts for 3.1 months, from June 18 to September 22, with an average daily high temperature above 84°F. The hottest day of the year is August 6, with an average high of 90°F and low of 74°F.
The cool season lasts for 3.8 months, from November 28 to March 23, with an average daily high temperature below 68°F. The coldest day of the year is January 19, with an average low of 45°F and high of 62°F.

Language

Arabic is the official language, and most natives speak a dialect of Tunisian Arabic. Modern Standard Arabic is taught in schools. The cultural Arabization of the country was largely completed by the end of the 12th century, and currently only a tiny fraction of the population—most of them in the south—still speak one of the Berber languages. French, introduced during the protectorate (1881–1956), came into wider use only after independence, because of the spread of education. It continues to play an important role in the press, education, and government. To a lesser extent, English and Italian also serve as lingua francas.

Health and Security

Though Tunisia is a thriving, forward-looking society, its health-care system does not yet match that of most western countries. Also, expats from western countries should take note that the vast majority of staff in most public hospitals will not speak fluent English, and so communicating in French or Arabic will be the only option. Public hospitals are often overcrowded and have low quality equipment.

As you have to pay for treatment in hospitals, it is strongly advised that anybody living in Tunisia takes out some solid private health insurance. At private clinics, it is much easier to find English speaking physicians and the quality of specialized facilities will be much higher.

If you are staying outside of Tunisia’s resorts and tourist hotspots, it is advisable to be cautious. For foreigners that live in Tunisia, the main risks are theft-related — i.e. pick pocketing and mugging. Female expats should be careful with their handbags and purses, while men should be careful with where they flash their wallets.

Unfortunately, street harassment of females is a problem in Tunisia. Though there are no religious restrictions on how women dress, clothing that shows a lot of skin can attract negative attention. Another problem is kidnapping, a crime that targets both natives and expats. The best advice is to stick to the busy areas, where there is generally a noticeably high police presence.

Don’t

  • Being a progressive Muslim country, alcohol availability is restricted (but not greatly) to certain licensed (and invariably more expensive) restaurants, resort areas and Magasin General shops. Large department stores (Carrefour at Marsa/Carthage) and some supermarkets (e.g. Monoprix) sell beer and wine, and some local and imported hard liquors, except during Muslim holidays. Some bars will refuse to admit women, others may ask for a passport to check nationality.
  • Be aware that the export of Tunisian currency is forbidden and searches of wallets and purses can, and do, occur at airports.

Do

  • Although it doesn’t have the sandy attractions of other Tunisian towns, Sfax is ripe for sightseeing and is a great place to take in local Tunisian culture with a beautiful walled Medina area to explore. It’s also a good base for day trips with the unique architecture of Matmata easily reached from here, as well as the tranquil Kerkennah Islands, and the Roman glory of El Djem.