Tunisia is both a Muslim country and a popular tourist destination for non-Muslim tourists from Western countries. As you might expect, this presents some difficulties for travelers who wish to engage in activities frowned upon by many Muslims, such as drinking alcohol.
Tourists who come to Tunisia to party, relax, or simply maintain their casual drinking habits as if they were at home frequently inquire about the legality of drinking in Tunisia. The straightforward answer is as follows:
Yes, Tunisia allows the purchase and consumption of alcohol. However, because many Tunisians view alcohol as immoral, you should exercise caution regarding where and how you consume alcohol.
We’ll cover everything you need to know about alcohol in Tunisia in this post. Please continue reading for critical details on how to navigate this culturally charged issue during your trip!
Is it Legal?
Alcohol is legal to purchase and consume in Tunisia. Naturally, there are some critical caveats to bear in mind.
Certainly not on Fridays. Just as the United States has “Blue Laws” or “Sunday Laws” that prohibit alcohol sales on Sundays, Fridays are prohibited in Tunisia. Alcohol is typically sold in supermarkets out of a back storage room, or they create an enclosed space out of the shelves with a single entrance guarded by a security guard. If you go in on a Friday, the alcohol room door will be closed and it will appear as though no alcohol is sold there.
Not during certain hours of the day. Additionally, there are restrictions on the hours during which alcohol can be purchased in stores. Grocery stores’ “booze rooms” may be open only from Noon to 6:30 p.m.
Not during the month of Ramadan. Ramadan also imposes additional restrictions on alcohol. Ramadan is a month-long fasting period during which Muslims abstain from food and liquids from sunrise to sunset. Numerous establishments will refrain from selling alcohol during Ramadan. If you intend to purchase it during your trip, you should be aware of Ramadan’s dates. Ramadan’s date is determined by the lunar calendar and thus varies each year. You’ll need to check the dates of Ramadan’s start and end in a given year to determine whether they coincide with your trip. Ramadan will be held from April 12 to May 11 in 2021. In 2022, it will take place from April 2 to May 3. Each year, the start date is shifted backward.
The drinking age is 18 in Tunisia.
Alcohol is far more difficult to come by in Tunisia than it is in Europe or America. It is typically available at the city’s largest grocery stores, as well as some of the smaller neighborhood supermarket chains. Alcohol is NOT sold in hanoots or small corner stores.
If you stay in a nicer hotel or beach resort, the restaurant or bar will almost certainly serve alcohol.
If you visit a nicer restaurant, alcohol is almost always available. However, if you require it for a special occasion, you should inquire in advance. Certain restaurants allow patrons to bring their own bottle of wine.
There is no easy way to determine whether a particular supermarket sells it other than to inquire or visit the store in person. If you’re in Tunis, you can visit the large Carrefour supermarket on the highway near La Marsa or the Geant supermarket on the highway leading to Bizerte. It is also available at the Monoprix in the Menzah 6 neighborhood. Availability is subject to change in any location.
While the selection in Tunisia is not as extensive as in Europe or the United States, the quantity and variety of merchandise available in Tunisian stores is quite diversified.
Tunisians prefer certain types of alcohol, according to a World Health Organization report. In 2016, beer was the most widely consumed beverage, accounting for 72 percent of all alcoholic beverages purchased. Wine accounted for 24% of the total. Spirits and other alcoholic beverages accounted for 5%.
Supermarkets that sell alcohol stock a large quantity of beer, but from a limited number of brands. Celtia is Tunisia’s most popular brand. It’s a 5 percent ABV pale lager brewed in Tunisia. There are a few Tunisian brands and some Dutch imports available.
Tunisia has been producing wine for thousands of years, and the country now boasts tens of thousands of acres of vineyards. Numerous Tunisian-made wines, as well as numerous imports, are available in supermarkets.
In large stores, a wide variety of spirits are available. Expect neighborhood supermarkets and large supermarkets in smaller towns to carry significantly less–if any at all.
Drinking in Public
So, is it permissible to consume alcohol in public? To some extent. As far as we are aware, there is no law prohibiting public drinking or carrying an open container. However, there are some critical caveats to this observation.
It IS legal and acceptable to consume alcohol in restaurants and hotels that serve it, as well as in some restaurants that allow you to bring your own bottle.
While it is not illegal, it is most emphatically NOT acceptable to consume alcohol on public property when the police are present. That is, urban streets and parks. Tunisia has public decency laws, which, from what we’ve heard, are fairly broad in their application. For instance, some people are arrested for eating and smoking in public during Ramadan.
As one might expect, Tunisia has a diverse range of attitudes toward alcohol. If you’ve read any of our other blog posts, you’ve probably heard us discuss Tunisia’s significant cultural divide between cities and small towns and rural areas. This is also true of Tunisians’ attitudes toward alcohol.
Alcohol and Islam
Numerous Muslims are teetotalers, as alcohol is expressly forbidden in the Quran. These two Quranic verses contain some of the most frequently cited prohibitions:
Indeed, O you who have believed, intoxicants, gambling, [sacrificing on] stone alters [to gods other than Allah ], and divining arrows are all defilement from Satan’s work; therefore, avoid them in order to succeed. 5:90 Quran (Sahih International Translation)
They enquire about your wine and gambling habits. “In them is great sin and [yet] some benefit to people,” you say. However, their sin outweighs their benefit.” And they inquire as to how much they should spend. Declare, “The surplus [beyond requirements].” Thus Allah clarifies the verses [of revelation] for your consideration. 2:19 Quran (Sahih International Translation)
Tunisians’ Attitudes Toward Alcohol
According to the statistics, the majority of Tunisians are actually anti-drinking. According to a 2013 Pew poll, 82 percent of Tunisians believe that drinking alcohol is morally wrong.
According to this VICE post, “over two million Tunisians consume millions of bottles of beer, wine, pastis, whiskey, and vodka on a daily basis.” Two million Tunisians out of 11.5 Tunisians is 17%, which would seem to validate the fact that the majority of Tunisians do not drink.
Nonetheless, we have met a number of Tunisians who are candid about their partying and regular drinking habits. Many Tunisians, particularly in the cities, have a more European perspective on issues such as alcohol.
The Bubble of the Tourist Zone
When it comes to culturally sensitive subjects such as alcohol in Tunisia, you should be aware of what we refer to as the Tourist Zone Bubble. Spending time in resort hotels or more affluent areas of cities gives the impression that “anything goes” in Tunisia. This is not correct.
Tourism accounts for nearly 10% of Tunisia’s GDP, so the country has an economic incentive to be accommodating and comfortable for visitors. You should be aware that once you leave the hotel, customs and expectations for what is acceptable change significantly.
Tunisians in Hammamet frequently refer to the beaches and areas surrounding large tourist hotels as “tourist zones.” Although the term “tourist zone” is unofficial, it refers to the area where tourists are permitted to behave as tourists. Tunisian hotel employees, for example, say it is acceptable to wear a bikini in a tourist zone but not on public beaches. Alcohol is subject to the same behavioral code.
To see how the tourist bubble can distort your perception of what is culturally acceptable in Tunisia, see the VICE article about Tunisia’s wine clubs that we referenced above. According to VICE, “alcohol consumption is as prevalent in Tunisia as couscous.” However, the country’s population of alcohol drinkers (2 million) accounts for only about 17% of the population. Given that Tunisians consume couscous in their entirety, the number of drinkers is negligible.
Tunisia does have bars and nightclubs, though they are not as prevalent as in other vacation destinations. If you’re staying in Tunis or one of the coastal towns, you’re unlikely to have difficulty finding a bar that serves alcohol and stays open late.
The majority of bars in Tunisia are attached to hotels. Additionally, they have a more lounge-like vibe. They may or may not have dancing, and if they do, it may not begin until later in the evening. The Plaza Corniche, Le Carpe Diem, and the Sky Bar at the Novotel Hotel are just a few examples in the Tunis area. The Sky Bar, as the name implies, is located on the hotel’s top floor and offers spectacular views of downtown Tunis. In La Marsa, the Plaza Corniche is located. They occasionally feature dancing, if that is your thing. These are just a few of the most popular tourist destinations, but the majority of resort hotels will have some type of bar. As is always the case, the best course of action is to ask a Tunisian for a recommendation in your neighborhood.
Bear in mind that while Tunisia has bars and nightclubs, the majority of Tunisians prefer to spend their evenings in cafés. We strongly advise you to try this aspect of Tunisian life! In almost any city, there are numerous traditional cafes where you can relax and order coffee or hookah. If you’re in Tunis, try the rooftop cafe Terrace El Bey in the medina.
Considerations for Safety
Please be aware that petty crimes occur frequently in Tunisia, and adding alcohol to the mix can significantly increase the danger of your evening.
Muggings and pickpocketing are the most common crimes to be aware of. Criminals target tourists because they frequently carry a large amount of valuables and are less aware of their surroundings. Alcohol impairs nearly every quality that would aid you in defending yourself against a pickpocket or mugger–situational awareness, discernment, and the ability to think quickly.
Additionally, travelers to Tunisia have reported that taxi drivers attempt to adjust their meters and overcharge tourists exiting bars and nightclubs. If you intend to take a taxi at night, keep this in mind.
We previously published a lengthy post about Tunisia’s safety. To learn more about Tunisia’s safety for tourists, visit How Safe Is Tunisia for Tourists and How to Travel Safely in Tunisia.
To summarize, while drinking is perfectly legal in Tunisia, it is culturally acceptable only in certain contexts, such as hotels, more Westernized areas of town, and unofficial “tourist zones.” Because the majority of Tunisians (up to four out of five) view alcohol consumption as immoral, your partying may not garner widespread approval.
Finally, Tunisia has a lot more to offer than drinking at the hotel bar. There are numerous cool experiences to be had… You simply have to get out there, possibly venture a little outside your comfort zone, and confront them!
Read more about Tunisia
- 10 Cultural Aspects You Need to Know Before Traveling to Tunisia
- ATM’s In Tunisia: International Debit & Credit Cards and Fees
- How Much to Tip in Tunisia — Guide on Tipping Etiquette in the Country
- Tunisia Travel Information — Essential Tips You Must Know Before You Go
- Planning a Trip to Tunisia — All What You Need to Know
If you would like to comment on this article about tipping in Tunisia or anything else you have seen on Carthage Magazine, leave a comment below or head over to our Facebook page.
And if you liked this article, sign up for the monthly features newsletter. A handpicked selection of stories from Carthage Magazine, delivered to your inbox.