23 August 2016

Rachael Williams-Mejri - Expat in Tunis, Tunisia

Rachael Williams-Mejri - Expat in Tunis, Tunisia

We’ve had the chance to talk to Rachael Williams-Mejri, 38, an American expat who has moved to Tunisia with her spouse. Mrs. Mejri who has been living there for one and a half years, now works as a teacher.

Read more about her experiences in the full interview below.


Q: Where are you originally from?



Q: What made you move out of the USA?

A: There are several reasons:

  1. I wanted to have a new experience.
  2. I was more than fed up with U.S. education and wanted to see if it was better somewhere else (Dubai was NOT)
  3. I always wanted to live overseas.
  4. I wanted to experience another culture – which is why I left Dubai and went to Tunisia.


Q: Where are you living now?

A: Tunis, Tunisia (moving to France in February!!!)


Q: How did you come to choose this new country of residence?


  • My husband is French-Tunisian.
  • I was ready to leave Dubai because I really wanted a cultural experience.
  • It is not very expensive (I had very little online work at the time).
  • I really wanted to try a developing or third world country because I felt I needed a change from the fast-paced, bling-bling lifestyle of industrialized nations.


Q: How long have you been living in Tunisia?

A: One and a half years


Q: What has been the most difficult experience you've had when you were new in Tunisia?

A: I am very independent, and I find it difficult to do anything without my husband taking me. The public transportation is not very good outside of the capital (I live in the suburbs), and I really am not comfortable driving. So I feel a bit confined in that sense.


Q: Would you say that formalities like getting visas or work permits and international health insurance were particularly difficult in Tunisia? What was your experience with these?

A: Visas are very, very easy for Americans and Europeans in Tunisia. This goes for Russians as well. The Japanese, Chinese and many South American countries also have good relationships with Tunisia, so you see a lot of diversity in terms of nationalities.

Work permits are probably not as easy to get in this country. A person really does need a job prior to coming, or have a very dynamic personality and entrepreneurial experience. I work online, so I do not work locally. My husband is a citizen, so the papers were very easy for me.

I do not have health insurance, so I am not sure about this. I do know that clinics are good here; and while they are expensive for locals, they are very inexpensive when making the dollar. Hospitals aren’t bad, but I wouldn’t want to go to one.


Q: Are you living alone or with your family?

A: Spouse


Q: How are they adjusting to the Expat Lifestyle?

A: My husband was born here, but moved at a very young age to France. It is actually more difficult for him to adjust than for me. I came with the understanding that this was a developing country and that things would be different from our American (or even Dubai) lifestyles. I have no memories or family here, so the psychological aspect is different.


Q: Was it easy making friends and meeting people? Do you mainly socialize with other expats in Tunisia? How did you manage to find a social circle in Tunisia?

A: I confess that I am not a terribly social person. Due to this, my social circle is primarily my husband’s family and other Tunisians. I have good relationships with neighbours who live downstairs. Tunisians are remarkably warm and welcoming. It is easy to meet people and become friends with them.

There are a lot of expat groups here as well – including an English and French church. They have meet ups and events all of the time at this one expat website. I frequently receive their emails but have never attended a meeting. There are also quite a few places that offer courses like Zumba. These are great places to meet expats and locals alike – if you are a woman. I would say that speaking French or of course Arabic would facilitate things, as there are significantly fewer English speakers than French or those who speak French. Russian speakers will also find a large community here.


Q:  What are the best things to do in the area? Anything to recommend to future expats?

A: The best things are:

  1. Visiting historical sites (walk on 3,000 years of history just about everywhere). There are amazing ruins here including ancient Carthage, massive Roman temples, and World Heritage sites such as the only civilization still preserved from the punic period. 
  1. Weddings – if you enjoy music, dancing and socializing, this is the best activity available. It is actually very simple to get invited to a wedding. You can even invite yourself. It is really a unique experience for many North American or European people. Tunisians absolutely love djow (ambiance) and you can squeeze fun out of anything. There was even music and dancing for the elections. One time someone started to interview a taxi driver who had a few musicians in the back. They all got out and started to play and people stopped their cars, got out and danced. 
  1. Shopping – Nabeul (next to Hammamet about 45 minutes from Tunis) is the best spot for pottery. Kaeroun (sp?) is the best spot for purchasing rugs. The massive souk in Tunis is amazing. Hammamet is great for leather products. Really, the things you can find here are quite lovely and relatively inexpensive. However, you will spend more money for better quality products. 
  1. Eating – I really love Tunisian food and suggest visiting as many places as possible to try a variety of flavours. Tunisian street food is great – leblebi (chickpeas cooked in a spicy brine, poured on top of bread, slightly cooked egg, with spices such as harissa, cumin and more, served with pickled vegetables), brik (tuna, slightly cooked egg, and tuna fried in a thin, savoury pastry), and fricassee (spongy, fried bread served with egg, tuna, mayo and harissa). I think the cafés are great if they are mixed. They are great to relax, enjoy company, people-watch and smoke a shisha (not my thing!).


Q: How does the cost of living in Tunisia compared to America?

A: The cost of living here is quite low for expats, although high for locals after the revolution. Rent in a really nice place can cost 1000+ TDN (about $600). Food at the souk is probably a third of the price than at Carrefour or Giant.

  • How much is a cup of coffee?

A: Between .700TDN – 3TDN

  • How much is a meal in an inexpensive restaurant?


  • How much is a meal in an expensive restaurant?

A: 35TDN

  • How much is a bottle of wine?

A: No idea – I don’t drink

  • How about a pack of cigarettes?



Q: What do you think about the locals?

A: Tunisians are very, very friendly and warm. They have many different nationalities that live in Tunis, including large communities of expats. Although Islam is the dominant religion, I can definitely say that there are many secret atheists, humanists and agnostics. There was a push for Islamic code after the revolution, but this group was quickly discouraged by the population at large.


Q: What do you think are the positive and negative sides of living in Tunisia?



  1. It is not expensive.
  2. There is a lot to do in terms of museums and ruins.
  3. People are very friendly.
  4. It is very safe.
  5. Everything is fresh and safe when it comes to food – the food has no dangerous chemicals and the animals have no hormones.
  6. The locals enjoy having fun rather than discussing politics and getting angry with everyone who doesn’t agree with them.
  7. It is easy to get around for someone who doesn’t speak the language.



  1. It is an Islamic country. After the revolution, there was a wave of religious fanaticism. Although many things have calmed, there are still issues that prevail in the “new Islam” as my Muslim neighbour calls it. For instance, the call to prayer is excessively loud to the point that one cannot even hear the words of the call for the buzzing of the loudspeaker. Additionally, a point of offense with many Tunisians is the screaming of the Koran from the loudspeaker. People believe this should be done in private and not as a means of a show. Even though Tunisia is a democratic country with secular laws, they deem themselves Islamic – meaning one will not see Jews, Christians (the major religions here outside of Islam) or any other group of people in power (such as the police, government, etc.). 
  1. At the time I am writing, one of the primary issues is the lack of unification of the government. However, with the recent election, hopefully something can be done to unify and enforce the laws – such as garbage collection and animal maintenance. Right now, there are many wild dogs near the forests (such as where I live), which can make it unbearable with the barking and howling; and garbage is everywhere. They are efforts underway to deal with both of these, so I suspect 2015 will bring real change. 
  1. Driving is hazardous. Tunisians have always been horrible drivers – usually making 4 lanes out of 2 or 3 and driving over the lines. They enjoy talking and not looking into rear view mirrors, and he who has the right away is he who takes it. However, with the revolution and slacking of laws, there is a real problem with running red lights. Consequently, accidents have gone through the roof. Additionally, since people do not wear seatbelts (nor do children), an injury is likely. It is very much an African country when dealing with traffic.


Q: Do you miss home and family sometimes? How do you cope with homesickness?

A: I honestly do not. I have never lived in one place for long, so “home” is such a relative term. My family is small and not entirely unified, so while I miss my parents, that’s about all I miss. I find that contact with people back home is easy, whether through Facebook messenger, emails, texting, Viber or Skype. With the rise in iPhones, I can text  my parents every day for free via iMessenger; call them free whenever I wish with Viber; and talk with them face to face for free whenever I want with Skype. I never feel like I am out of touch.


Q: Do you have plans to move to a different country or back home in the future?

A: I will be moving to France in February 2015.


Q: What has been the hardest aspect to your expat experience so far?

A: As an independent person, the hardest thing for me was simply having the independence to get around by myself. I love being able to do things alone, and this has been an issue for me.


Q: What tips can you give other expats living in Tunisia?

A: I would say to make sure to get out and meet people. Tunisians are very, very friendly and they do want to establish relationships. Enjoy the country and the people, and don’t be afraid to ask if you can do something.

Make sure to do your homework on housing prices. Once they hear you are foreign, they will definitely raise the prices. You can work with an agency like Tecnocasa that lists the prices – or you can work with individual people and negotiate the prices.

Always make sure to negotiate prices if you are outside of a place such as Carrefour. In the souk it is really important. You won’t negotiate when in a food souk -  but pay attention to what others are paying.

If you miss home and enjoy other expats, there are a lot of options. Make sure to get together with other people so that it won’t feel so “foreign.” Internet searches are a great start as they can turn up some unlikely interests.


Q: Do you have favourite websites or blogs about Tunisia?

A: Yes! A Blond with a Passport! J

Because I spend so much time working on my computer, I spend very little time now looking at the Internet. L