Morocco is remarkably safe. Although the gap between rich and poor is similar to that of violent countries such as Colombia or Mexico, the crime rates of Morocco is much smaller. Safety in the streets is generally greater than in many European cities.
Respect for the established order
The low crime rates in such an unequal country are due to the fact that Morocco is still a very traditional society with great respect for the established order. The sense of community is widespread and even in larger cities people do care about what is going on around. This has its advantages and disadvantages (people do care, but people do also interfere in others’ lives), but the foreign visitor usually only gets the good side of this trade-off.
When out and about, foreigners will be treated most of the time in a very white-glover manner. Moroccans are very used to the foreigners and are very deferential and kind to them. Hospitality is a central value in Arab countries, and the visitor is supposed to deserve a better treatment than the local.
But these pleasant interactions have an exception: the “faux guides” (French phrase for “Fake guides”). These men prowl around the tourist areas and can be really persistent and rude when trying to become your guide for the day. However, some of these guides can be really helpful, especially in labyrinthine areas such as souks and medinas (read the tip below).
When approached by a guide (and sure you’ll be approached!) there are 2 good options:
1) Refuse politely but sharply from the first moment (and sharply, means sharply, no more talk than a “Thank you, sir, I want to be alone”, and probably you’ll need to repeat that sentence 2 or 3 times).
2) Accept to be guided on condition that a price is agreed beforehand and that you will be deciding which shops to enter and which not.
The only type of theft you should be really concern about is the petty kind. If you keep eye on your own pockets and bags its unlikely that you’ll have any problems.
Armed robbery is very infrequent. You must apply common sense precautions: avoid deserted streets and do not walk alone after 10 or 11 at night (12 or 1 in summer).
And what about women?
The only serious risk to women visiting Morocco is to receive an excess of masculine attention in the streets. Apart from this (that some may even find flattering), there is no specific risks involving women, on the understanding that women will also be avoiding deserted areas and late-night walks.
Regarding clothing, wear whatever you like (but wear something, I mean, don’t you think of going topless on the beach!). Joking apart, many foreingers think that since this is an Arab country, they will have to go around wearing a headscarf or something like that. This is unnecessary in Morocco. Actually half of the female population don’t wear one themselves. Indeed, Morocco is not Iran or Saudi Arabia.
Cost of living
Generally speaking, Morocco is a much cheaper place than Europe (a taxi ride costs about 1 euro, a coffee 60 cents, a private consultation with a specialist doctor no more than 20 euro…). However, some things that are seen as luxury items may sometimes be even a bit more expensive than in Europe (broadband internet, designer clothes…).
But what really sets Morocco apart in terms of costs of living is employees’ wages. A cleaning lady who also cooks will charge less than 10 euro per 8-hour workday. And the same goes for gardeners, guards, chauffeurs and any other domestic staff. Obviously, this allows to enjoy a lifestyle in Morocco that few people can still afford in Europe or America.
Plumers, builders & co
These types of contractors are also much cheaper, about 10-15 euro per workday. In exchange, don’t expect the same degree of thouroughness and attention to detail of Western contractors that are paid at least the same amount for a single hour. Often, foreigners are outraged at the lack of punctuality and professionalism of these workers, but they don’t stop a moment to think of how little these low wages help motivation. That is why it is a good idea to pay a little more than the average wage and have a happier more motivated contractor working at home.
In Morocco, there is a corner shop at every corner, no, really. These shops have a little of everything and will make do for most last-minute purchases. For more important purchases, it is better to go to traditional markets and supermarkets.
Colorful food souks are one of the great attractions of Morocco, be sure to use them. Many have still a lot of natural, wholesome produce more in the line with the type found in Western organic farmer’s markets (and without organic prices).
A few years ago supermarkets and hypermarkets arrived in Morocco to stay. Now there are at least a couple of them in every larger town, and inside Westerners will feel in familiar ground for a couple of hours. Although it is better to get the fresh produce from a traditional souk (best quality and prices), hypermarkets will be useful to find all that useful packed stuff that is also part of a consumer’s life.
You cannot find alcohol in every shop like you can in some European countries like Spain. There is a very few off-licenses per town. The other place where alcohol can be purchased is at the larger supermarkets (you may have to ask for the alcohol section because sometimes it is in a very discreet corner).
There are two religious festivities that will have an impact on your day to day life:
RAMADAN, the holy month
Ramadan is the religious event that affect everyday life the most.
It’s a sacred month during which Moroccans fast during the day hours and only can eat at night. Every evening, after having a first dinner at home, people take to the streets in masses to continue eating, drinking and smoking (the things forbidden during the day) in company. If the Moroccan street is normally lively, in Ramadan evenings the streets can be full of people up to 3 or 4 in the morning.
Don’t eat, don’t drink, don’t smoke (and don’t kiss!)
During the month of Ramadan, foreigners should not eat, drink or smoke in public. It makes sense as it would be perceived as rude to do so in front of people who cannot.
Alcohol in Ramadan?
Purchasing alcohol is also more difficult during Ramadan. For Moroccans is absolutely forbidden to buy alcohol during Ramadan (during both day and night) while for foreigners is just a matter of finding a place serving or selling alcohol that stays open. Usually large supermarkets and venues aimed at foreigners are more likely to keep selling alcohol during this month.
Ramadan keeps shifting
Another peculiarity is that Ramadan shifts a few days every year. For example, in 2011, Ramadan will take up all the month of August, in 2012, part of July and part of August, and so on and so on. It makes a complete tour of the calendar every 32.
For the next 3 or 4 years, Ramadan will be taking up one of the summer months. When this happens, Moroccan beaches become a desert place because it is too hard to be in the sun withou eating and drinking. So, if you want to enjoy the tranquility of having long golden sand beaches (almost) only for you, take advantage of the holy month to come and visit the coasts of Tangier and Tetouan.
FEAST OF THE SHEEP
In Arabic “Aid el Kbir” (‘the big festivity’), this festivity keeps also shifting from year to year (it takes place 70 days after the end of the Ramadan). Although, it only last for a couple of days, it will be important to you because it stops the whole country for that time.
A few days before, you’ll start to come across sheep at unexpected places, maybe even in the hall of your apartment building. Then, the day of the festivity, every family will sacrifice their sheep (sometimes inside houses) and will celebrate a feast where that sheep will be eaten.
Shocking but peaceful
The day of the sacrifice the street scenes may be a bit hard for the faint-hearted: blood flowing down the gutters, groups of kids burning sheep heads in bonfires, strong smells, long knives… If someone were to arrive in the country on that very day without being told what was going on he would be most shocked indeed.
A couple of days before the festivity, make sure to do a big shopping of food and any other things that you will be needing at home for the next 2 to 3 days. Otherwise you’ll find yourself running out of food in the middle of the festivities when it is really difficult to find an open shop. Remember, everything both public and private is closed for at least 2 days.
Moroccan climate is very varied. You can find deserts, ski stations, temperate Mediterranean coasts and ever-green fertile valleys.
The Tangier-Tetouan region
The North of Morocco enjoys a very mild Mediterranean weather never too hot or cold. Although, sometimes it rains heavily, as soon as the cloudburst ends a magnificent sun shines again. The result is a scene of green meadows that reminds more of the Irish countryside than a North African country and which unlike the Celtic nation is bathed in sun for at least 300 days per year.
When to go
To fully enjoy the beach and be able to swim in lukewarm water, visit the region during the five months that go from May to September. If you fancy a fresher holiday come during any of the other months. Event the coldest months of December, January and February are not too cold and a light coat will be enough outdoors.
Hospitals and clinics
Public hospitals in the north of Morocco have poor standards of staff, equipment and hygiene. Fortunately for those having the means (as the foreign visitor who will find the fees affordable) there are private clinics with much higher standards. The best professionals, who often got their medical degree in Europe, work in these centers as the salaries in public hospitals are too low to attract them.
The best private clinics in Tetouan are:
Clinique du Croissant Rouge de Tetouan
Address: Avenue Hillal Al Ahmar (Avenue du Croissant Rouge)
Tel 1: 05 39 70 13 10
Tel 2: 05 39 70 13 11
Address: 74, avenue Hassan II
Tel 1: 05 39 96 26 00
Tel 2: 05 39 96 27 00
Address: 242, avenue des FAR
Tel 1: 05 39 99 91 42
Tel 2: 05 39 99 91 43
Address: Avenue Mohammed V (quartier scolaire)
Tel 1: 05 39 96 49 78
Tel 2: 05 39 96 42 52
The best private clinics in Tangier are:
Clinique du Val Fleuri
Address: Km 17, route de l’aéroport
Tel 1: 05 39 33 30 72
Tel 2: 05 39 93 32 93
Address: 10 avenue de la Paix
Tel 1: 05 39 32 25 58
Tel 2: 06 61 29 30 35
Clinique du Croissant Rouge de Tanger
Address: 6, Rue Mansour Eddahbi
Tel: 039 94 25 17
Address: Avenue Abou Bakr Arrazi
Tel 1: 05 39 94 69 90
Tel 2: 05 39 94 69 91
There is certainly no shortage of general practitioners and specialists with their own private practice in Morocco. As with doctors working in private clinics, many of these practitioners were educated abroad and so it will be easier for them to communicate with your in your own language or at least in French. The service is usually excellent and much cheaper than in Europe’s private practices.
The consultation prices are usually 100-150 DH for a general practitioner and 150-200 for a specialist. Once you are established in the country, the best way to find a doctor is the word fo mouth, but in the meantime most of them are listed in the Moroccan yellow pages website (http://www.pj.ma/).
There is a persistent myth among tourists visiting Morocco about tap water not being safe to drink. As a results, foreigners spend all their trip drinking bottled water when in reality tap water in Morocco is absolutely safe. The only exception would be to drink water from the tap of a house not connected to the public water supply system. Some very modest households not having the means to pay for water use the water from another source such as an underground spring that has no sanitation guarantees.
There are no compulsory vaccines that need to be given before entry in Morocco. However some optional vaccines that are recommended in certain cases are:
• hepatitis A and B
There are pharmacies everywhere in Moroccan towns and villages and they have the most standard and important drugs that can be found in Western drugstores. However, if you need some drug that is a bit special it is a good idea to pack enough of it for your stay just in case.
Passport required, but no visa
To enter Morocco, only a valid passport is required for the citizens of most European countries, as well as for those from North America, Australia, New Zealand and Japan – no visa will be needed.
The visitor will be allowed to remain in the country for 3 months. After that time, you can get out of the country and come back for another 3-month consecutive period, and so on.
The visitor has permission to stay three months in the country. If after that period you want to stay in the country, you must go to one of the country’s borders and get out and back in again. You can do this even in the same day. After you’ve done that you’ll be allowed for another three-month period. You may repeat this as many times as you need.
As long as you keep getting out and back in of the country every 3 months, you can spend as much time a year in the country as you like. However, this can get annoying if you actually live most of the year in Morocco. In that case it is a good idea to get a residence card (“carte de séjour”). To get this card you need to prove that you possess or rent a residence in the country and that you have the financial means to support yourself. In the particular case that you are working in Morocco or you have opened up a company in the country, getting a residence card is extremely easy.
A person visiting Morocco may enter the following items without paying any duty:
– 200 cigarrettes or 50 cigars
– 1 bottle of wine and 1 bottle of spirits
– 1 bottle of parfume
– 1 camera, 1 camcorder and a pair of binoculars
– 1 laptop and 1 cellphone
– 1 bicycle
Bringing your car for a few months
If you intend to use a foreign car in Morocco for less than 6 months per year, you may take advantage of the agreement for the temporal admission of vehicles. In this way, you won’t need to pay any taxes for using your car in Morocco.
The 6 months may be continuous or intermittent, but the total time cannot be greater than 6 months per year. Any excess time will be liable to a strong fine.
Bringing your car permanently
The taxes on permanent car imports make this option very expensive. In addition, you may take into account that a residence card will be necessary to obtain permission for this import.
Buying a new car
As with importing an used foreign car, the import of new foreign cars is very expensive. Therefore, it is often cheaper to buy it inside Morocco. On the other hand, in Morocco, there is a large market of second hand cars.
The national currency, the dirham (DH), is approximately equivalent (2011) to:
1€ = 11 DH
1 £ = 13 DH
1 $ = 8 DH
There is no limit to the import of foreign currency into Morocco. Most banks and a the many exchange offices that are found in the commercial areas will be able to change your currency. Exchange rates are nearly the same everywhere.
The dirham is not convertible
Although informally it is possible to exchange dirhams into foreign currency, officially it is forbidden. For this reason, if you intend to open a Moroccan bank account and to transfer money from abroad into that account, you must open a convertible bank account.
Convertible bank accounts
This bank accounts allow you to take your money back to your home country. If you transfer foreign currency into a normal Moroccan bank account, the money you have transferred will not be allowed to get out of the country. But usually this is not a problem because by default Moroccan banks open convertible bank accounts for their foreign customers.
If you are just visiting the country, or if you reside but do not need a Moroccan bank account, then you will still be able to use Moroccan cash machines to get money (the most popular cards, such as Visa, Mastercard and American Express, may be used with any cash machine). The maximum amount of cash that can be obtained by this mean per card is 5000 DH.
Payment with credit cards in shops, restaurants and hotels is not as common in Morocco as in Western countries. It usually depends on the category of the place: any boutique, expensive restaurant or above-3 star hotel will surely accept your cards, whereas the less exclusive businesses are unlikely to accept them.