Tunisia flag Tunisia: Business Environment

Business Practices in Tunisia

Opening hours and bank holidays

General Information
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Opening Hours and Days
Offices are closed on Saturday and Sunday, with shops only being closed on Sunday. Offices are closed for a lunch break, which may be shorter or longer but usually falls somewhere between 12.30 p.m. and 2.30 p.m.

During the month of Ramadan and the two summer months of July and August, administrations and companies are closed in the afternoon.

Public Holidays

New Year's Day 1 January
Revolution day 14 January
Aid El Fitr (End of Ramadan) Varies
Aid El Idha Varies
Independence Day 20 March
Martyrs' Day 9 April
Labor Day 1 May
Republic Day 25 July
Women's Day 13 August
Evacuation Day 15 October
Islamic New Year Varies
Ramadan According to the Islamic calendar

Periods When Companies Usually Close

End of Year holiday New Year's Day
Summer holidays July or August, depending on the company

Business culture

The Fundamental Principles of Business Culture
Tunisian business culture has been shaped by various regional, cultural and religious influences and bears the characteristics of Arab/Muslim, Mediterranean and French culture at varying degrees. Similar to other countries in the region, personal relationships, trust and hierarchy are some of the outstanding values that define the local business culture. The work culture can also come across as more formal and courteous than North American and Nordic countries. Indirect and non-confrontational communication define the way Tunisians prefer to negotiate with foreigners.

Decisions, even the simplest ones, are made from the top down. Hierarchy is clearly defined at most firms and always respected. Ideas generated by staff can only be presented if they are supported by their managers and brought up to the board of directors. Alternatively, managers may leave the room to consult with their subordinates during negotiations; however, they are not always likely to take their feedback into consideration. The decision-making process is usually cumbersome and time-consuming.

Personal relationships are crucial to closing a successful deal in Tunisia. Tunisians prefer getting to know their foreign counterparts and establishing a certain level of trust before engaging in business. It is advisable to set up a network of business acquaintances or to be introduced via mutual acquaintances. An advanced university degree from a prestigious university or a special recognition in a business field are likely to impress Tunisians and make them more likely to approach foreigners. Well-groomed appearance and courteous manners also go a long way in earning the respect of Tunisians.
First Contact
Appointments should be made well in advance. It is a good idea to confirm meetings several days ahead of the scheduled date. Because of the extreme heat but also the high holiday season, it is recommended to avoid scheduling meetings in July and August. The month of Ramadan should also be avoided, if possible. Most Tunisians are proficient in French, but not necessarily in English, therefore it is better to check whether an interpreter will be necessary.
Time Management
Time is usually loosely viewed in Tunisia. While foreigners are expected to arrive at meetings on time, they may be kept waiting. Meetings may also start later than scheduled and easily run overtime. Meetings may have an agenda; however, it usually serves as a starting point for discussion.
Greetings and Titles
Handshakes are the most common form of greeting among male associates. They tend to be warm and linger a bit. Female associates may also greet one another by shaking hands, alternatively a simple nod may suffice. When greeting someone from the other sex, it is appropriate to wait for women to extend their hand first. Some Tunisians may refrain from shaking hands with someone from the opposite sex. Titles are important in Tunisia, especially when addressing a high-ranking manager. It is appropriate to use "Monsieur" (or "Si") for men and "Madame" for women, followed by their surname.
Gift Policy
Small gifts may be exchanged after the first meeting. If invited to a Tunisian home, it is appropriate to bring pastries, nuts, fruit, cake, candy, or flowers. Alcohol should be avoided unless you know for sure that the host consumes alcohol.
Dress Code
Business attire is formal and conservative both for men and women. Dark coloured suits with shirt and tie are appropriate for men while women should wear business suits or dresses. Tight fitting, sleeveless and above the knee outfits should be avoided. Business casual or informal attire may be accepted in certain industries.
Business Cards
There is no formal protocol surrounding the exchange of business cards. It is appropriate to bring two cards, one printed in English and French and the other one in English and Arabic. When presenting the card, the side that has your host's language should face up. It is also a good idea to exchange cards with higher-ranking managers first.
Meetings Management
Meetings always start with considerable small talk and it is considered rude to directly delve into negotiations. Tunisians like to get to know their foreign counterparts personally and are likely to ask questions that may be considered personal in North American or Nordic countries. Small talk also serves the purpose of establishing trust.

When negotiating and presenting an offer, foreigners should ensure to captivate the interest of the most senior person in the room, as decisions are always made from the top down in Tunisia. This person is also likely to lead the negotiation and the rest of the team tends to support the leader. Negotiations are usually quite lengthy and foreigners should not appear too hasty to get a final answer. Rushing a decision is considered to be an insult. By the same token, hard selling tactics and direct confrontation should also be avoided at all costs.

Tunisians prefer indirect communication, especially in the context of negative responses. They are likely to give vague answers or even agree to 'save face' in meetings only to refuse the offer in writing after the meeting. Foreigners are also expected to remain courteous and refrain from openly criticising any offer made by their Tunisian counterparts, which can be taken personally. Foreigners should also expect a relaxed meeting agenda. Tunisians have an open-door policy in meetings and are often interrupted by outsiders. Furthermore, the conversation may easily go off track several times and various simultaneous conversations are common. In these situations, foreigners should stay calm and go with the flow. When a new person enters the room, foreigners should not bring up the original topic of discussion until the new person leaves.

Business lunch and dinners are common as Tunisians like to get to know their foreign counterparts in less formal settings. Negotiations tend to continue over meals; however, it is better to take cues from Tunisian associates in this regard. The guest of honour usually sits next to the host. Some Tunisians eat with their hands, whereas others use knives and forks. It is recommended to follow the host’s lead. Food can be served in a communal bowl and everyone is expected to eat from their section of the bowl. It is considered rude to reach across the bowl to get something from the other side.
Sources for Further Information
Commisceo Global - Tunisia Business Guide Career Addict - How to Master Business Etiquette in Tunisia Culture Crossing - Tunisia Business Etiquette

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Latest Update: July 2024