Moving to Morocco Guide
Morocco isn’t just confusing culturally, but also geographically. It is a country of contrast – the Atlantic coastline, the Sahara Desert, the snow-capped mountains – it has a lot to offer and being less than three and a half hours flight time from the UK only adds to the appeal. One thing that really stands out is how different every city seems to be – life in Rabat differs hugely to that in Marrakech, which differs to life in Agadir… The list goes on. If you are thinking of starting a life in Morocco, then take the time to explore different regions and cities to find the place where you think you will be happiest.
Morocco’s climate is as varied and diverse as its geography. Generally, the country’s weather is subtropical, with the mid-day heat cooled by breezes from the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea. Average coastal temperatures in summer range from 18°C to 28°C. However, as you head inland, the seasons are extreme. Temperatures in the summer can reach 38°C, but drop dramatically to around 5°C during winter nights.
Marrakesh and the lowlands of Morocco are hottest during July, August and September. Due to little humidity, temperatures are bearable but easily hit over 40°C when the desert winds blow from the Sahara. In this area, it is sunny all year round and winters are mild and pleasant. Heavy rains are the only downside of lowland winters and, at night, temperatures drop to around 5°C.
In contrast, the winters in the north of Morocco are wet and rainy but not particularly cold. Whereas areas in the same region, particularly near Rissani and Erg Chebbi (on the edge of the Moroccan Sahara), contend with bitterly cold nights during the winter months. Similarly, in the Atlas Mountains, temperatures drop well below freezing at night and the mountains are blanketed in snow throughout most of the year.
Rabat Annual Temperatures and Rainfall (North Coast)
|Average Temp ‘C||13||14||14||15||18||20||23||23||22||19||16||14|
|Average Rainy Days||9||9||8||8||5||2||0||1||3||6||9||9|
Marrakesh Annual Temperatures and Rainfall (Inland)
|Average Temp ‘C||13||14||17||18||21||24||29||29||27||21||17||14|
|Average Rainy Days||8||7||8||8||5||1||1||1||3||6||7||7|
Western Sahara Annual Temperatures and Rainfall (Southern Morocco)
|Average Temp ‘C||22||23||26||25||25||27||29||30||30||28||25||23|
|Average Rainy Days||2||1||1||1||1||0||0||1||2||2||2||2|
Morocco is a country rich in history, tradition and culture, most of which is tied to its official religion of Islam. When many move to Morocco they are astounded by the kindness and warmth emitted by the local people. A Moroccan citizen will feed you a feast, even if they go hungry. Moroccan people value close relationships highly and want to help others regardless of personal gain.
Family is very important in Moroccan society and extended families meet for meals regularly and, when engaging with any local, they will always enquire about your family and their health before anything else. Moroccan people have a genuine interest in people’s lives, with personal honour and respect being two of the most important qualities an individual can possess.
Traditional clothing in Morocco is partly religious and partly due to historical culture. Expats will notice that many men and women wear the djellaba; a loose-fitting hooded robe with full sleeves created by the Berber people. During special occasions, Moroccans will switch from their djellaba to a caftan. The only difference between the two is the caftan is not hooded and is made of more expensive materials adorned with intricate beadwork and embroidery. However, many of the younger generations wear Western-style clothing in day-to-day life.
Although parts of Morocco are becoming modern, the old traditions and ways of life still shine through. Once a week, Moroccans will visit their local hammam – the Islamic version of a Roman bathhouse. Many locals do not have washing facilities in their homes so these visits are a necessity. Great pride is taken in cleanliness and this ritual is performed at a leisurely pace and thoroughly enjoyed.
What many expats will notice when living in Morocco, particularly women, is that the country is still male-dominated. However, the government is working to advance the rights of women and children. Women are still not allowed to enter some establishments, or they are banished to one side of the room. This can be hard for many foreigners to deal with when living in Morocco but it soon becomes an accepted part of life.
Understandably, much of Moroccan culture is linked to the country’s official religion, Islam. Many expats who live in Morocco will hear the adhan (call to prayer) five times a day. It is a unique facet of Muslim countries and shows that religion is still at the centre of life. Although living in a Muslim community may mean expats change certain aspects of their lifestyle, it is not the culture shock that some automatically assume.
There are a number of different languages spoken in Morocco, but the two official tongues of the country are Modern Standard Arabic and Berber. Around 80% of the population are Berber speakers, but 85% also use or have Darijia as a second language. Translated as ‘everyday language’, Darajia is colloquial a form of Arabic.
All Moroccan children learn Standard Arabic at school but it is only ever used in educational, religious, or business settings. Many also study Classical Arabic out of cultural respect.
Morocco has two prestige languages, the first being Arabic in its Modern Standard and Classical form. A prestige language is a sociolinguistic term used to describe the level of regard a specific language or dialect has within a community, relative to other tongues of the country. Second in Morocco is French, which serves as a lingua franca and is often used in business and government. Many of the population have French as a second or third language and 69% of the population can read and write in French.
If the variations of Arabic and the inclusion of French wasn’t enough, over five million Moroccans speak Spanish. Adopted in the North and parts of the West of Morocco, particularly in Casablanca and Rabat, many native citizens converse solely in Spanish. Furthermore, although far behind French and Spanish, many Moroccans are picking up English. This has been introduced to the curriculum in many schools, alongside learning French. Morocco is a truly multilingual country.
Expats are welcome to drive in Morocco and there are a number of rental firms for expats. However, it is worth remembering that finding petrol outside of major cities and towns can be challenging. Furthermore, navigating the often-unmaintained roads full of other drivers, cyclists and horse-drawn vehicles can require considerable concentration. Many expats are daunted by the prospect of driving in Morocco and rightly so; locals tend to drive by their own rules and road signs are in Arabic or French. Driving in Morocco is not for the faint-hearted expat and many tend to rely on public transport as a safer option.
Taxis in Morocco are very common and are split into petite taxis and grande taxis. Petite taxis run locally and grande taxis are for longer distance trips or for use by larger groups. By law, petite taxis should have a meter and expats should ensure the driver starts the meter at the beginning of the journey. Many drivers will try and negotiate a price before travel but this is often more expensive. Expats should politely stand their ground as many taxi drivers will assume foreigners to be naïve tourists.
Grande taxis are often more expensive but the fare is often split between a number of passengers. Depending on the size of your party, some drivers may wait until the vehicle is full which can cause delays. Many expats choose to pay for the unused seats which results in a quicker and more comfortable journey. Expats should seek clean vehicles with smartly presented drivers.
Many Moroccans and expats opt to take the bus instead of the train. Bus travel is usually inexpensive and routes provide better coverage than the train lines. Luxury buses run between towns and are both comfortable and reliable, plus every city has a bus station where travel tickets can be purchased easily.
Local buses tend to be cheaper still and are full of vibrant Moroccans which can equate in a fun journey. They aren’t particularly comfortable but the routes tend to take in multiple places, so expats can see villages and towns that tourists would never usually see.
While bus travel is frequently cramped and stressful, taking a train is quite the opposite (but expect to pay a higher fare for the pleasure). Just like on the buses, expect to chat with friendly Moroccan people on your train journeys. Making conversation with locals on your route can provide valuable information as many smaller stations are unmarked, and your new acquaintances will be more than happy to let you know where you are and when to get off.
Morocco is a developing nation. Expats should therefore not be surprised to learn that the healthcare standards of the country do not match up to those in the Western world. Sadly, even today, many Moroccans suffer from insufficient medical care.
Expats are warned to give Moroccan hospitals and clinics a wide berth unless there is no other option. Conditions tend to be squalid, while simultaneously lacking quality doctors and basic medicines. Throughout the whole of Morocco, there are 24,000 hospital beds for a 33.1 million strong population and, even though health insurance schemes were introduced in 2005, less than 30% of the Moroccan population have health insurance coverage.
The health insurance scheme in Morocco is called Assurance Maladie Obligatoire or AMO for short. Workers who are employed in public companies receive public healthcare, whilst those working for private companies are covered by the private system. Those who are unemployed or earning under a certain wage can receive free medical care from public centres even if they are not paying towards the AMO scheme.
Although the private healthcare facilities under AMO are much closer to Western standards than the public system, fees are extremely high and there are a limited number of doctors found only in the big cities. For this reason, it is advised that expats take out international healthcare insurance to mitigate costs and ensure an excellent level of care.
Morocco’s currency is the Moroccan dirham, which you may see represented as Dh or MAD. Each dirham is divided into 100 centimes (c). There are five dirham notes in circulation; Dh 10, Dh 20, Dh 50, Dh 100 and Dh 200. In terms of coins, there are Dh 5, Dh 2 and Dh1, as well as 5c, 10c, 20c, and 50c.
The dirham is a closed currency which means it can only be traded in Morocco. So, for those visiting or moving to the country, you will only be able to obtain the local currency on arrival. Equally, tourists should remember to change their dirham before they return home. If you are looking to exchange a foreign currency into dirhams head to one of the large banks, exchange offices, or major post offices. Moroccan exchange centres cannot exchange notes from Scotland, Northern Ireland, Australia, New Zealand or Singapore.
ATMs can be found easily in Morocco, usually around hotel complexes and shopping districts. Most ATMs accept foreign debit cards, but make sure to look for your specific logo before inserting your card. Expats and tourists should not use credit cards to withdraw cash from ATMs. If this is a necessity, it is best to enter a bank and take cash out with a bank employee. Visitors to Morocco should be aware of any charges associated with using their debit or credit card in the country.
Morocco, in general, is a cash society but expats are welcome to open a bank account when living there. It is advised to choose a local bank to where you live. Many expats shop around their local area for a bank that suits them, as there can be varying levels of customer care and some can be extremely busy at all hours of the day. A top tip for expats opening a bank account in Morocco is to select a Convertible Dirham account. As the dirham is not a freely exchangeable currency, this option is best for those who want the freedom to receive and send dirhams or the currency of their home country. To open an account of this nature, expats will need their passport and a small initial deposit.
Education in Morocco is free and compulsory for children aged between seven and thirteen. However, there are educational facilities available to those as young as four. There are four tiers to Morocco’s education system; pre-school, primary, secondary and tertiary. As school is not compulsory for children over the age of thirteen, only 56% of young people enroll in secondary education and only 11% into tertiary.
Illiteracy and access to quality education is a big problem in Morocco’s public sector. Donor bodies such as the World Bank, USAID and UNICEF are all trying to tackle the issue. Currently, 5% of Morocco’s GDP is being funnelled towards education but it still ranks as one of the least effective educational systems on a global scale.
Although public schools are generally an excellent way for foreign children to become integrated into their new culture, this is not an option in Morocco. Many Moroccan parents who have the finances to send their children to private school ignore the public sector altogether. Furthermore, the public schools tend to teach exclusively in Arabic and have huge classes with up to forty children.
The Moroccan private schools teach half in French and half in English. Most children are also taught a basic level of Arabic to get by in Moroccan society. Some expat parents choose to send their children to this in-between style school for social and integration purposes.
However, understandably, the vast majority of foreign families opt to send their children to private international schools despite the high fees. These are the elite schools and teach exclusively in French or English. They follow the curriculum of a specific country, or students study for an international baccalaureate that is recognised worldwide.
Food & Drink
The majority of us have eaten Moroccan-inspired meals without even knowing it! Moroccan cuisine is influenced by the country’s interactions with other cultures and nations over the centuries and it is a unique blend of Mediterranean, Berber, and Andalusian flavours and methods of cooking.
You will hear it referred to as seksu in Morocco but the humble couscous is considered a national delicacy. It is often strewn with fragrant seasoning and diced fruits before steaming meat and vegetable stews are laden over the top.
A tagine is a clay cooking pot with a conical lid. Beef, lamb or chicken is placed inside the tagine, with a myriad of vegetables and fruits such as dates, raisins, or apricots. The tagine is left to simmer for hours, producing the most succulent and tender stew that is served with couscous or bread.
Bread is a key player in all Moroccan meals and it is often used as an alternative to the traditional knife and fork. Moroccan’s love fresh bread and every town and village has a number of bakeries. Most of the bread in Morocco is made from durum wheat semolina but it can come in a normal loaf shape, baguette, or flat bread. A popular baguette-based street food is the bocadillo. Fillings vary from region to region but the baguette is usually laden with salad and a choice of meats, mozzarella, tuna, or egg.
Most Moroccan meals comprise of bread, salad, meat and the famous couscous. Meals are extremely tasty, but can be heavy, and the national drink of mint tea is great for digestion and refreshment. Freshly squeezed orange juice is also a hit in all cafes and restaurants. If you are an avid coffee drinker, you won’t be let down in Morocco. Instant coffee is not a phrase that passes by the lips of any Moroccan and fresh cappuccinos, lattes, or espressos can be enjoyed practically anywhere.
For those with a sweet tooth, most Moroccan desserts are flaky pastries dipped in honey or smothered in cinnamon or sugar icing. But, due to French settlers of the past, there are a multitude of patisseries with quality mille-feuille, gateaux, éclair, and fruit-laden charlotte tarts.
Drinking in public is frowned upon in Morocco, particularly near mosques. Many hotels and restaurants will have alcohol available if you fancy a tipple and tend to serve wine, spirits, and local beers. Heineken is the only readily available imported beer but the resident brands, Casablanca, Stork and Flag, are all very popular. In terms of wine, the majority will be French. However, the Moroccan Gris de Guerrouane rosé is said to be a fantastic option.
Like any country in the world, there is a high threat of terrorist attacks against British nationals from groups or individuals motivated by the conflict in Iraq or Syria. There is also a high threat of terrorism in Morocco itself and although it could be indiscrete, foreigners could be a target. Expats should remain vigilant and not be surprised to see security personnel in popular tourist areas’ cities, and certain hotels.
Expats should also remember that Morocco is a Muslim country and there are certain traditions, customs and laws that they should abide by. Public displays of affection should be avoided in public areas and homosexuality is still a criminal offence. When checking in to hotels, expats who are travelling as a couple will often be asked to prove that they are married. Sexual relations outside of marriage is punishable by law in Morocco and couples who are not married will often be forced to have separate rooms. It is also best to avoid taking photographs near political or military sites and women should refrain from travelling alone.
In terms of general crime throughout Morocco, it is best to be vigilant. Tourists and expats have been subject to muggings in which a weapon was used to intimidate so it is best to avoid quiet areas, beaches, and dark city streets at night time.
Like any country that has an economy based on tourism, petty crime is common. Pick-pocketing and bag snatching is commonplace, so keep bags close to the body and ensure no expensive jewellery or gadgets are on show. Always remember to be very aware of your belongings when using ATMs or asking for directions.
Fraud is commonplace in Morocco and there has been a significant increase in marriage fraud and extortion. Many Moroccans are striking up relationships with foreigners via the internet and enticing them to visit the country. If you are travelling to Morocco for a meeting of this nature ensure you keep your return ticket, passport and belongings safe in case a problem arises.
Places to Visit
Morocco’s dizzying diversity is echoed in some of the best places to visit. From snow-peaked mountains to the impenetrable buzz of the major cities, there is something to captivate any traveller to Africa’s gateway.
You simply cannot visit or live in Morocco without experiencing the imperial city of Marrakesh. Sitting at the foot of the Atlas Mountains, the vibrant city is fascinating and full of history. The souks and busy market place are an intoxicating assault on all the senses. However, for a side of Marrakesh that is a little more tranquil, visit the Majorelle Gardens or Saadian Tombs.
Often referred to as Morocco’s cultural capital, Fes is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The medieval medina city is easily explored on foot and other highlights include the Jewish Quarter (Mellash) the Merenid Tombs, the Chaouwara Tanneries, and Sultanate Palace.
If you want to experience traditional Bedouin life, head to the small desert town of Merzouga. Located on the edge of Erg Chebbi (a mesmerising sea of wind-blown Sahran dunes) visitors can indulge in camel treks and rest under the starts with the local Bedouin people.
To escape the traffic and heat of lowland Morocco, take to North Africa’s highest peak. Jebel Toubkal stands 13,667 feet high in the Atlas Mountains and it is a challenging trek to the snow-dusted summit. Many visitors opt to take part in a three-day hike to take in the incredible scenery.
The gateway to Africa for many travellers, the harbour of Tangier offers unrivalled views of the Strait of Gibraltar and distant Spain. Writers Truman Capote and Tennessee Williams visited the medina frequently in the 1940s and 1950s and it is not hard to understand why.