The dinar is the official currency of Tunisia, nestled in the heart of the north of Africa.
Each dinar is then divided into 1000 millemes (so half a dinar is worth 500 millemes).
Coins are issued in the standards of 5,10,20,50 and 100 millemes, but there is also a 500 millemes coin circulated, which is sometimes referred to as a half dinar coin. 1 dinar and 5 dinar coins then complete the set of coins.
Notes in circulation are: 5,10, 20 and 30 dinar.
The History of the dinar
The current dinar came into being in 1960. It had been established as early as 1958, but it was not until 1960 that it was brought into circulation. The dinar replaced the franc, although it was a somewhat surprising introduction, since the dinar was to be worth 1,000 francs, which made it a strong currency. It was later pegged to the US dollar as its yardstick and the conversion into French francs was abandoned.
The dinar is fiercely protected by the Tunisian authorities and it has long since been illegal to either import, or even export dinar to and from Tunisia and surprisingly, they are quite insistent on this and you will be reminded sometimes when you either arrive at or depart from Tunisia. You can take exchange 4000 dinars back into the currency of your choice prior to leaving, but no more than that. If you leave Tunisia with more than the worth of around £500 in British sterling, then you need to declare it. The best way round this is simply to not take out excessive amounts of money on the last few days of your holiday and instead, make sure that you don't have too much cash to change over. If you do, then blow it in duty free or buy some souvenirs. It isn't worth risking any official hassle over dinars and if you did stockpile some for when you return, you may find that the notes have changed and you can't use them anyway.
Idiosyncrasies of the use of the Tunisian Dinar
Although the dinar is the official currency in Tunisia, the locals really don't seem to like it! Although supermarkets and various places, do adopt the dinar as the standard of currency, others don't seem to use it at all. Instead they use a rather complicated system that can take some time to adapt to. They actually use the millemes to signify the cost of something and often do this verbally. So you can ask how much something is and get the reply 60,000. This means that it is worth 60 dinars or 60,000 millemes. Sometimes it can lead to confusion, particularly if you think that someone is talking in terms of millemes and they actually mean dinars.
This system also refers to larger sums of money, so if you are told that something is 45 million, then it would be 45,000 dinars. It can feel like some kind of exercise in mental arithmetic until you get used to it (usually just by the time that you leave the country).
In many places, you will see prices marked up in both dirhams and millemes, which makes to easier to understand. So if you see something priced as 4.900 then it will be 4 dinars and 900 millemes.
If out and about remember to check whether things are in dinars or millemes: particularly if you think that something looks too good to be true. It may be the case that you are using the wrong standard of currency to assess its price!
There are various ways of getting hold of dinar. Possibly the easiest and most straightforward is actually to take your debit or credit card and use it in an ATM machine, of which there is a considerable number dotted throughout
Tunisia and the high numbers of tourists who visit from all over Europe, means that your card is more than likely to be accepted. Notify any card providers of your intention to use the card abroad: they are becoming increasingly suspicious of any 'different' type of activity on any accounts, as a means of trying to stop fraud and apparently money laundering activities.
You can take cash into Tunisia, but because there is so much suspicion about cash, particularly in large amounts, you are probably better just to take in a small amount of money and then if required, you can change it over if you really need to.
Travellers cheques are really the best alternative to using your ATM card. Keep a log of the numbers separate, so that if anything goes wrong, you can easily have them replaced.
Sometimes people ask you for US dollars or British sterling. Usually they are not the most law abiding, so it is bets to avoid transactions with them.
Keeping Your Tunisian Dinar Safe
Tunisia has at times experienced quite a bad reputation, but currently, it seems to be relatively safe and there is a very low risk of crime, apart from petty crime, so this isn't something that you should be too worried about.
However, that being said, the risk of petty crime is quite high. Thefts are really common, even in hotels where staff may not be the most honest, or they may allow locals in who are simply opportunistic thieves. Either way, knowing whether it was a member of staff or a local is not much of a comfort if you have just had your valuables stolen.
Always try and make use of hotel safes and do not leave money lying around and if you are in a crowded place, hang onto your bags. Some reports have recently circulated that there is a significant number of thieves working at the airport and they will prey on travellers who may be tired and a little distracted, so be extremely vigilant in the airport.
One important thing to remember before travelling to Tunisia, is that it is a Muslim country and as such there are some different cultural attitudes towards women in particular. Whilst women are not expected to wear a headscarf or cover themselves from head to toe, they may find that male attention is 'ever present' and that men seem to think it is ok to pass comment on a woman's attributes and to be somehow almost intimidating by being very forward.
Women travelling together or alone i.e. not accompanied by a man, will often attract specific attention. Usually this will be as far as it goes i.e. the men are not trying to rob the woman or anything else. However, it can feel relentless. Undoubtedly the behaviour of some western tourists has fuelled the preconceptions that many Tunisian men have about how women behave in the west, so the whole circle repeats itself. It is not generally very threatening, though, just more bothersome.
Spending Your Dinar
Tunisia offers good value for money when you are out and about. If you only stay in the tourist areas then you can effectively expect to pay more than if you were to travel into the more remote and rural areas. Also the towns, such as Carthage actually offer better value for money than some of the tourist areas such as Hammamet or Douz.
Eating and drinking is relatively cheap in Tunisia, but as a Muslim country, it is not possible to drink everywhere and if you do find somewhere that is licensed (nearly everywhere in the tourist centres are), then it will be more expensive than if non licensed. Tourists are simply expected to pay more for the privilege of drinking alcohol.
It is perhaps not the extremely cheap place to go on holiday that it was say 10 or even 20 years ago but comparitively, it really is good value for money, even if it is much more expensive than it was.
Prices may also vary according to where you travel to in Tunisia. Tunis and Carthage are often quite good value, but the tourist areas are significantly more expensive. Douz, which is very much a tourist 'picturesque ' town, located right on the very edge of the Sahara is also quite expensive.
The tourist hot spots are generally Djerba, Port el Kantabui as well as Djerba. Towns such as Sousse and Monastir offer good value for money and show a very different side to Tunisia than you simply see in the tourist areas.
The more you venture off the tourist track however, the more you should be aware that toilets will not be the same as toilets in the UK and the standards will also not be the same, so be mindful of this, carry toilet paper and do not expect toilets to be as per the standard Western toilets. By bearing this in mind, you should avoid any major disappointments when you are there!
Leather goods and ceramic as well as all types of handicrafts are available all over Tunisia. Haggling is still very common, particularly within the tourist areas, whereas the locals will go to the fixed price shops!
The souk or market is a real cultural experience and should be visited at least once so that you can not just try to eek out your dinar by getting some great bargains, but also you will be able to practise your French (it is the second language in Tunisia) or simply enjoy the experience of seeing all the various goods on offer and how the souk just seems to stretch for miles and miles. It is a cultural experience and is quite intense in just how many people will try to get you to buy something from them. But such is the spirit of the souk.
Tunisia has undoubtedly experienced quite a boom in terms of tourism, particularly over the last thirty years or so, which has meant significant changes within the country and how it welcomes people. Sometimes Tunisians are not renowned for being welcoming, but if you leave behind the tourist hotspots, then you will find that inland people are much more gentle and more welcoming. For those who appreciate a bargain, the villages and little hamlets inland often produce some excellent handiwork and ceramics, all at tremendously good prices, which makes that trip inland seem just that little bit more appealing.