This was initially intended to be a ‘Top 5’ list, but once I started writing I realised how much is probably worth addressing – especially for those who know nothing about the country.
So the ‘Top 5’ quickly became a list of 20 things to know about Morocco! If there’s anything I’ve missed that you think would benefit future travellers to the country, share your tip in the comments!
20 Things to Know Before you Travel to Morocco
1. You can’t take more than 1000 MAD (≈68 GBP) in or out of the country
Morocco has a closed currency and therefore it’s illegal to take more than 1000 dirhams in or out of the country. For this reason, it’s almost impossible to change currency before boarding your flight to Morocco, however you can do so in most major airports.
I usually just take a bank card and head straight for the ATM in the airport once I arrive in Morocco. Most Moroccan airports will also have currency exchange desks so that you can exchange your currency for dirhams on arrival.
2. Carry cash.
Very few places aside from the larger supermarkets accept credit or debit cards. You definitely won’t be able to use a card to pay for purchases in a souk or local village shop so consider this when going shopping.
It can also be quite difficult to find a cash machine if you are staying outside of a major city. When staying in Tamraght and Taghazout, the nearest ATM was in the village of Aourir.
3. Women are expected to dress conservatively.
I have covered this topic extensively in a previous article: How to Dress in Morocco – A Complete Guide to Morocco Dress Code.
In short, it is uncommon for Moroccan women to show any skin other than their face, hands and feet. Whilst this tradition is not as strict for tourists, it show respect to dress conservatively and cover at least your shoulders, chest and knees.
4. Morocco is multi-lingual.
Moroccans can speak one of, or a combination of, Classic Arabic, Darija (Moroccan Arabic), Berber, English, French, and Spanish – sometimes mixing them all in one sentence!
Of all the European languages, Moroccans speak and understand French far better than English. But the major language of Morocco is Darija.
There are a few resources out there for you to learn a little Darija before visiting Morocco:
- Lonely Planet have a Moroccan Arabic Phrasebook & Dictionary
- My Darija teacher recommended another practical guide: Moroccan Arabic: Shnoo the Hell is Going On H’naa?
- If you’re serious about learning Darija properly, The Peace Corps have made their Moroccan Arabic Textbook available for free download online – but be careful because it’s a whopping 200 pages long!
5. You are sometimes asked for your flight out of the country when entering
This hasn’t actually ever affected me. In fact in 2015 I flew in to Morocco three times (once from Amsterdam and twice from London) and was never asked for proof of my flight out of the country.
However I have been told by others that a lax of exit plan is sometimes queried at customs, so perhaps to keep things simple it’s best to book your flight out of the country if you know your dates before arriving.
6. Fridays are holy days
You may find that the majority of shops and businesses in Morocco will be closed on Friday, especially after midday.
Friday is the day on which the Islamic tradition of Jumu’ah is upheld and therefore the day on which Moroccans, as Muslims, are expected to be at the mosque in congregational prayer.
7. Carry small change and cigarettes for beggars
Many visitors to Morocco can get really frustrated by beggars asking for money, especially in the busier cities of Marrakech, Agadir and Casablanca. We even had one guy materialise out of a bush in the middle of nowhere when we were on the road to the Sahara desert!
Whilst it can be disheartening, those asking for money are usually content to receive a few dirhams and when 1 MAD is less than 10 cents EUR I don’t mind handing it over.
Cigarettes are also widely appreciated – my photographer friend Michael was asked for cigarettes in exchange for taking someone’s photo – although using tobacco as a form of exchange is best left to your personal conscience.
8. It gets cold
In the summer months of 2015 Morocco hit highs of over 40 degrees celsius during the day! But whilst many will pack for the heat, few will consider how quickly the temperature drops once the sun sets – especially in the winter.
This is especially true for the Atlas Mountain range and the Sahara desert, where the temperature drops dramatically, so make sure to pack warm clothing and layers!
9. Vaccinations aren’t mandatory
Many people looking to travel to Morocco believe certain vaccinations are required by law in order for you to cross the border, but whilst the UK National Health Service recommends various immunisations, these aren’t mandatory and you can enter the country without them.
10. The left hand is considered unclean
Islam places quite a lot of importance on personal hygiene. Part of this includes only using the left hand when visiting the toilet, so it’s important to avoid shaking hands with your left.
If you are eating with bread in public try and use only your right hand, as this is considered the cleaner hand.
11. Moroccans favour using bread rather than cutlery
Traditionally, Moroccans eat almost every meal with bread (and their right hand!), which they use as a utensil in place of forks or spoons.
It might seem strange at first, especially as it means you eat bread with every meal – breakfast, lunch and dinner! But it’s a more communal way of eating, leaves less to wash up after the meal, and I was actually caught eating my scrambled eggs this way this morning by my dad!
12. Alcohol is hard to find and expensive
Being a Muslim country, the purchase of alcohol is definitely frowned upon in Morocco but allowances and acceptance is given to tourists who would like a drink on holiday.
If you can, buy directly from supermarkets such as Carrefour as the prices are drastically lower than the cost of alcohol in restaurants, hostels and hotels. Much of this has to do with the high tax of selling alcohol, and also the time and cost associated with stocking it for guests – especially in the case of hostels.
It’s important to note that during Ramadan alcohol is almost impossible to buy and is taken off the shelves of many stores.
13. Local SIMs are cheaper than using your phone data plan abroad
I have a Maroc Telecom SIM card which I use when in Morocco, and the initial cost was just 50 MAD (less than 5 EUR). When topping up I always splash about 200 MAD (less than 20 EUR) on internet which usually gets me about 8GBs and lasts for a while.
Other phone service providers in Morocco are Meditel and Inwi. The best way to choose a provider is to ask locals which one gets the best reception. When I’m in the South near Agadir my Maroc Telecom SIM probably has the better service out of the three.
14. Photography isn’t welcomed by all
Moroccans, especially those in more rural areas, are nervous when it comes to having their pictures taken.
Some genuinely believe that cameras have black magic abilities to capture a person’s soul – so I think it’s crucial to ask before taking a picture of anyone in Morocco. At the very least it shows respect that many locals appreciate.
15. Morocco observes the holy month of Ramadan
Ramadan is a month of fasting observed by Muslims worldwide – including Morocco. During Ramadan Moroccans fast from sunrise to sunset, and are not allowed to smoke, eat or drink at all during day light hours.
During this month (the ninth in the Muslim calendar) it is even more important to respect the conservative Moroccan dress code and to avoid eating and drinking in front of locals during the middle of the day. Alcohol stores also close during this period.
16. Carry toilet paper
For personal hygiene reasons, Moroccan toilets (often which are squat toilets without a seat) are equipped with a small shower or tap and bucket, rather than toilet paper.
Most toilets should however have a waste basket, where you can dispose of any toilet paper you may have thought to carry with you. It’s also advisable for us women to carry a plastic bag when on our periods to dispose of tampons and pads – as with rough plumbing in most toilets these can’t be thrown down the hole with the rest of our waste!
17. Be wary of stray puppies and kittens!
If you have a soft spot for puppies and kittens, the strays of Morocco are certain to pull on your heartstrings!
I managed to ignore most of them and not get too attached until I met the little boy in the top left photo! He was so young and adorable that had I been staying long term in Tamraght I definitely would have adopted him…
…Just like my friends did! The puppy in the top right photo is Paula, and she was adopted by two friends of mine who now plan to walk with her from Morocco back home to Germany! Follow their journey on Instagram!
18. Buying or consuming hashish is illegal
Here’s a funny story. On my first trip to Morocco we arrived to Fez airport and took a taxi straight to our hostel. Once there we realised the first thing we needed to buy – water.
Leaving the hostel, we’d been walking for about five minutes when some guys on the street stopped us and asked if we wanted to buy hash. Before we’d even bought water we were offered hash.
Hash is offered regularly on Moroccan streets, but whilst it might seem easily acquired it’s illegal to buy, sell or consume hashish and a lot of locals will use this to scam tourists or even tell the police that you have it once they’ve sold it to you.
I’ve never been much of a fan of drugs, but I have always been a fan of sticking on the right side of the law – especially in countries in which I don’t know the law. Don’t smoke kids, it’s probably not worth it.
19. You will get lost in a medina
Medina is the name given to the old walled inner cities of Moroccan and other North African cities. These old cities contain tight meandering alleyways, and only the main streets (of which there are few!) have street names. So to see a lost tourist (or ten) in a medina is not uncommon!
But practice a little caution in the busier Medinas (such as Fez and Marrakech) as the bustling nature of the small streets can often invite local pickpockets and ‘guides’. The guides are often just locals who will offer to take you somewhere you want to go and then charge a lot of money when they get you there.
Even if you tell them that you know your way, getting rid of guides in the medinas can be difficult. The best methods are to either call for the police (which will scare them away) or to call shame on them (shame = 7chuma – pronounced ha:shooma with a harsh ‘h’).
20. Don’t pay the asking price
Another trick of the Medinas! When you visit a souk (this is a Moroccan market place – which can take place in an open village square or within the inner walled sections of the Medina) be prepared to haggle as vendors always ask for more than an item is worth!
It’s just part of the culture to haggle over the price, and whilst it can be annoying being offered the ‘tourist price’ I think it’s also important to realise that the tourist price is still a hell of a lot lower than any price I’d pay in England.
So my general rule of thumb is to halve what they’re asking for and try and put my foot down! If they’re adamant they won’t take your price, walk away. Either they’ll call you back and offer a lower price or I’m sure you’ll see the same item in another store in another alley!
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One of my favourite countries and one of the countries I spend the most time in, this is just a sneak peek and what to watch out for and how to make the most of your time in Morocco!
Have you been? What would be your top tip on Morocco?
Lots of love,