Its been more than 2 weeks since I first arrived in Tunisia. Since then, I have gotten a sense on the standard of living in this country compared to my home country Singapore. Overall, I am quite amazed at how cheaply one can live in Tunisia.
But before making comparisons, a little intro on their currency. Tunisia uses the Tunisian Dinar. 1 Singapore Dollar is roughly 1.25 Tunisian Dinar. 1 Dinar is 1000 millims. So when you see prices listed in Tunisia, it is usually listed in the thousands. So a bottle of mineral water may cost 500 millim, which is half a dinar or a pizza may cost 4 Dinars or 4,000 milims. So in a sense, 1 Singapore Dollar is about 1,250 milims.
We take lots of cabs to go to places. That is because compared to Singapore, taking cabs to places of interest is really cheap. The flag down rate for a cab in Tunisia is around 300 milims, which is equivalent to less than 25 cents in singapore currency, which is really cheap. Singapore flag down rate for cab is about SGD3.50.
A 20 to 25 minute journey around town rarely reaches 8 to 10 dinars. If you divide it among 4 person, its only 2 to 2.5 dinars per person, roughly around 2 bucks for the whole cab ride. After 9pm is a slightly different story. The charges double if you travel at night. It is only then you feel the pinch in the travelling cost if you travel often at night after 9 pm. Therefore, it is highly economical to travel in taxi, which is fast (and dangerous; see my previous post on traffic in Tunisia) and in large groups, 4, for maximum occupancy.
Daily essentials are relatively cheap. I bought a pack of 6 chocolate croissants for 1.3 dinars. A small pack of orange juice in tetra packs is less than 150 milims, thats like 0.150 Dinars per pack. A pack of 6 mineral water bottles each containing 2 liters of water is less than 2.5 dinars. That’s the price you get in getting a bottle of soda (500ml) back in Singapore 7-11. You can get a bottle of coke for 700 milims, thats 0.7 dinars or 50 cents. Baguettes, the entire loaf can easily get it for less and 1.5 dinars.
Getting food is cheap. They have lots of cafes and ‘fast food’. Their fast food are not the usual macdonalds, or burger king or KFC. I have yet to see any of them in Tunisia. They usually serve ‘fast food’ in the form of sandwiches (baguattes), Malawi, a kind of wrap that is strangely simlar to roti prata. The wrap contains fries in it on top of the usual meat, chicken or beef, with vegetables and onions and their traditional harissa sauce. Or pizzas, oujjas, and a few other foods that are commonly served elsewhere.
The best part of these fast food is that they taste good, they are in huge servings and they are really cheap. Wraps such as malawis cost no more than 3 dinars. Usually around 2.5 dinars. That is like 2 dollars for a full sized meal including a small pack of fries to go with it. A medium sized pizza, can range from 4 to 7 dinars. You rarely reach 5 dinars for your lunch meal if you know what you wanna get and where you can get it.
Restaurants are a mixed bag. Some fancy ones are quite expensive and comparable to the high end ones commonly found in Singapore. A main dish can cost 15 to 40 dinars depending on what you order and that means it range around 10 to 30 Singapore dollars. But usually its slightly cheaper. The trick is to find a restaurant that is relatively cheap, but offers stunning views of the sea, lake or the top of the hill overlooking the city or suburbs.
We once came across a fancy restaurant and cafe called V lounge, where a can of coke cost 4 dinars when it could have potentially cost 500 milims. But the cafe/restaurant offered stunning views of the town below the hill and the Mediterranean sea beyond that. In a place called Lac, about a 5 minute cab ride, we went to a restaurant that is situated in front of the lake and I bought grilled lamb for 15 dinars, or around 12 dollars which is reasonable considering it has extremely good ambiance at night and a beautiful view of the lake.
For alcohol drinkers, their local beer, Celtia, can cost you 1.4 dinars a bottle. That is dirt cheap. Or got to a hotel with a local bar, a Heineken can cost you 4 dinars, which is still a good price. A bottle of local Tunisian wine can cost as low as 8 dinars. A pack of cigarettes can cost you a round 2 dinars a pack if I am correct, as compared to upwards of 10 bucks a pack in Singapore. With prices like these, it is no wonder that Tunisia is a nation of smokers. Almost everyone that I have encountered, the males mostly, be it an aiesecer or just a random person on the street, are smokers. They smoke a ton. I only know an extremely small handful of aiesecers who doesnt smoke. For the first time, the number of non-smokers are the minority among the sea of smokers. It strangely refreshing and surreal to encounter someone who doesn’t smoke, as opposed to my home town, in seeing someone who smokes. For tunisians who oppose smoking, I really applaud your conviction in not smoking. I can see it as an easy habit to pick up, due to peer pressure and all.
That is all for now about the standard of living in Tunisia. I will write more other interesting stuff about Tunisia as I slowly explore the country in the coming weeks.