Methods of Payment
Local law prohibits the export of foreign currency from Tunisia to pay for imports prior to the presentation of bank documents confirming that the merchandise was shipped to the country. Usually, a freight forwarder or Tunisian Customs documents fulfill this requirement. In past transactions, U.S. exporters have used confirmed irrevocable letters of credit, or letters of credit that authorize “payment against documents.”
For more information about the methods of payment or other trade finance options, please read the Trade Finance Guide.
The Tunisian banking sector is composed of 30 banks, 12 of which are publicly traded on the Tunisian stock market. There are six state-owned banks of which Société Tunisienne de Banque (STB), Banque Nationale Agricole (BNA), and Banque de l’Habitat (BH) are among the largest in the country. Per the 2020 Central Bank of Tunisia (CBT) report on banking supervision, state-owned banks collectively represent 36.5% of banking assets, 40.3% of banking sector credits, and 29.9% of banking sector deposits. The CBT strictly regulates the country’s banks. The CBT insists bank reserves and balance sheets comply with international standards. All Tunisian banks are under pressure to improve their performance and balance sheets. Recent bank actions include continued reductions in non-performing loan (NPL) ratios, implementation of tighter credit risk controls, enhanced recovery procedures, and upgrades of under-developed IT applications.
Parliament adopted a new Central Bank Statute in May 2016, as well as laws regarding recapitalization of BH and STB in August 2015. Other recent reforms include mandates for financial stability, consumer protection, and emergency liquidity assistance to insolvent banks, as well as a macro-prudential oversight committee to ensure the banking system’s overall stability.
Despite these reforms, the Tunisian banking system remains fragile. According to the CBT banking supervision report, the overall capital adequacy ratio of the Tunisian banking system, which measures the ratio of banks’ capital to their risk, stood at 12.9% in 2020, over the regulatory requirement of 10%. NPLs rose to 15.6% of total loans by value in 2020.
Foreign Exchange Controls
The Tunisian dinar is convertible for current-account transactions. Companies or individuals engaging in foreign trade can apply to the CBT for a convertible currency account. Foreign investors may freely repatriate profits and proceeds from the sale of equity, but other transfers may be subject to Central Bank authorization, and delays may occur in repatriation. Most trade-related transactions are conducted through letters of credit or bank transfers without difficulty.
Royalty payments must be approved by relevant government ministries in consultation with the CBT on a case-by-case basis. Royalty rates reflect the estimated value of the involved technology and the duration of the particular contract.
U.S. Banks and Local Correspondent Banks
Citibank is the only U.S. bank operating in Tunisia. It has both onshore and offshore branches, with offices in Tunis and Sfax. The bank deals with onshore corporate clients only.
Most Tunisian banks maintain a correspondent banking relationship with one or more U.S. banks. Several of them also work with Western Union and Moneygram for the transfer of funds into and out of Tunisia.
The Export-Import Bank of the United States (EXIM) offers trade financing solutions and support to U.S. businesses exporting goods and services to Tunisia. For more details, please visit https://www.exim.gov/.