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What I Wish I Knew Before Moving to Morocco

What I Wish I Knew Before Moving to Morocco

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The 20th-century novelist James Michener said, “If you reject the food, ignore the customs, fear the religion, and avoid the people, you might better stay at home.”

These are important words for anyone planning to spend a significant amount of time in another country. It rings especially true when moving to Morocco.

Due to its geographic location, many regard Morocco as the perfect mix of Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. It’s enough like home that Western travelers don’t feel completely out of place, but different enough to be both interesting and scary.

Over the long term, however, differences that were once exciting can lead to frustration. As the novelty fades we may find ourselves struggling to reconcile our own experiences, expectations, and culture with those in our new home.

As much as I adore Morocco and Moroccan culture, I admit it was difficult to acclimate. Had it not been for the many friends I’ve made, my time here would have been very different.

Using my personal experiences and the experiences of others who have also tackled Morocco head-on, let’s take a look at a few facets of expat and immigrant life that you may not have heard about, particularly if you’ve never moved abroad before.

You Might Experience Language Barrier and Social Isolation

“I moved to Morocco quite unexpectedly and without a whole lot of preparation. I wish I’d known about the isolation one could experience.

Noel L.

The most obvious piece of advice for curbing isolation in Morocco is to learn Darija (Moroccan Arabic) or, at the very least, some French.

You will not always be surrounded by English speakers and being able to communicate with local people will not only help to ease the sense of loneliness you may experience but also give you the independence that is necessary to feel like a normal, functioning human.

I can’t tell you how much of a relief it was for me to be able to go to the store on my own and express my needs without the help of a friend. The only way to do this is to venture out alone and work to break the language barrier.

So go to the store, go to cafes, socialize, and take advantage of every opportunity to practice your Darija with locals. Chances are they’ll be genuinely pleased and surprised at your effort, and they might even want to practice their English with you.

The inability to communicate is only one aspect of feeling isolated in a foreign country. Another contributing factor is lack of contact with other people like yourself. That’s why the next point is so very important.

Make Networking a Priority

It is much easier to adapt to a new culture and reduce some of the culture shock if you can balance it out with activities and people that share your native way of life.”

Tracy Bornman

Seeking out friendships with others from your own background is a crucial piece of advice for those deciding to reside in Morocco. We’re all products of the societies and cultures in which we were raised, and no matter where we go in the world, we’ll naturally want to cling to what’s familiar.

For many of us, having a connection to our own culture is essential to feeling balanced in our adopted home. That cultural connection not only includes things that make you comfortable—foods, music, hobbies, etc.—but also people who speak your language and relate to being foreign in a new land.

I can’t stress how important it is to have that kind of social network when you are feeling homesick and out of sorts. It’s important even if you can communicate fluently with Moroccans in French or Arabic.

If it weren’t for my American and European friends here, I probably would have returned home a long time ago.

Even if a cross-cultural marriage to a Moroccan means you have a built-in family bond, social isolation is still a risk. Sometimes you just need to speak to someone from your own background, someone who understands you and what you’re feeling.

Facebook Groups for Foreigners in Morocco

All of this is why it’s so important to connect with other foreigners in Morocco. Facebook is the perfect platform for this kind of networking.

There are a few groups that I have been a member of since moving to Morocco. They are invaluable to me, having been the source of so much support, advice, knowledge, and even friendships over the years.

Many of these groups set up weekly or monthly meet-ups for members; it’s the perfect way to meet new people.

Facebook groups that I can personally recommend are:

There are other groups for networking in specific cities such as Marrakesh, Rabat, Tangier and Fez. Seek them out and join.

Experience Moroccan Hospitality

As a European, it was unusual to accept invitations to meet or dine with a family of a friend that I don’t even know very well! It turns out, it is one of the greatest things to do. If you are invited you are not a guest but part of their family when you enter their house!

Alexandra O.

In America, it’s quite unusual to receive a personal invitation to a stranger’s home, and you’d rightly be hesitant to accept it, but that’s not the case in Morocco. Someone you have just met might sincerely invite you to tea or a meal.

If you have the honor of being invited into a Moroccan home for a meal, you will learn so much about Moroccan hospitality, something missed out on by people who are perhaps too self-conscious to form close relationships with Moroccans.

This is when you really get to see the true nature of Moroccan people. They are warm, generous, and eager to share their customs as well as their dinner table with visitors to their homes.

Many ask what they should bring to such occasions, and I usually respond with “anything.” Moroccans are gracious people and will be happy with whatever you decide to bring.

I will mention, however, in very traditional areas, Moroccans take sugar cones or cubes, cartons of milk, and fruit with them when invited to a meal in another’s home.

If that feels odd to you, take a box of pastries, a dessert, boxed chocolates, or treats for the children in the household. I’m sure they will be pleased as well as impressed that you brought something according to their cultural traditions.

Similarly, if you have the opportunity, break out of your comfort zone and accept invitations from a Moroccan to experience a hammam (traditional public bath) or attend a traditional Moroccan wedding.

Other Things to Know About Morocco

A few things are important to know before moving to Morocco. Being aware of them will make it easier to adapt to your new home.

Beggars in Morocco

Morocco is a country with an unfortunate amount of poverty. It is very common to see the homeless and needy soliciting change at street corners, near banks or shops, and in tourist-heavy areas.

It is okay to give them a dirham or two if you like but never take your wallet out in view of others. This puts you at high risk of having something stolen. For this reason, I keep a few small coins in my pockets should I encounter beggars on my way.

Not all beggars in Morocco are legitimately needy. Some, for example, falsely portray themselves as handicapped or carry fake passports to appear as refugees. It’s not easy to tell the difference so let intuition and intention be your guide.

You will also encounter beggars from other parts of Africa. Often they are migrants passing through Morocco, hoping to make it to Europe. Without residency status, they can’t find work.

Tipping Customs in Morocco

You’ll want to keep pocket change handy for tipping all kinds of service workers in Morocco. This includes tipping people such as restaurant and cafe waiters, hair salon staff, taxi drivers, fishmongers or other merchants who help prep food for you, parking attendants, and more.

The article Tipping in Morocco will give you a more thorough overview of Moroccan tipping customs.

Photographing People in Morocco

If you plan to take a photograph of a person, please ask their permission first. Women especially may take offense to having a camera pointed in their direction.

Think about how you would feel if random passers-by tried to photograph you. As always, it is important to show respect to the local community.

Moroccan Siesta

Many Moroccans observe a cultural siesta, or an after-lunch nap. During the hours of roughly 2 p.m. until 4 or 5 p.m., many local businesses are closed. This includes the majority of hanouts, which are neighborhood shops similar to bodegas.

The same holds true on Friday afternoons, during and after the weekly congregational Jumu’ah prayer from approximately 12 to 2 p.m. or later. Try to make sure you don’t need anything from the store during those times. Supermarkets are of course always open.

Sexual Harassment in Morocco

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention catcalling and other forms of sexual harassment. Some women have been here years and never experienced it while others are victims almost daily.

While blame belongs solely to the perpetrator, there are things that can be done to minimize the risk of such an occurrence.

These include trying to adhere to local etiquette regarding modest dress (this doesn’t always work, but it may help); avoiding going out alone at night unless completely necessary; limiting eye contact with passers-by; and not stopping to talk to strangers who address you in the street.

If you feel that you are being harassed, head to the nearest police precinct and report your disturbances. Many streets in tourist areas and downtown have police monitoring foot traffic. Speak to them directly as Morocco takes harassment of tourists and travelers very seriously.

Live Fearlessly but Respect the Culture

One of the wisest approaches to living in Morocco come from a long-time resident, Janice Taylor. Originally from the United Kingdom, she now calls Marrakesh home.

Of her experience in Morocco, she said, “When I first moved here over 30 years ago, there was no one to ask for advice. No internet, hardly any phones. However, I did a lot of research. But the one thing that held me in good stead was to never be afraid.”

If there is a single piece of advice that stays with you, that is it: Don’t be afraid. Live openly and embrace the changes. Open your mind and heart to the country and the people, and they will open their hearts to you.

To learn more about what to expect in Morocco, see my Newcomer’s Guide to Morocco.

About the Author

Jessa Howard is a freelance writer from the US. After moving to Morocco in 2011, she developed a love for everything Moroccan. She enjoys sharing her knowledge and experiences with others.

Benaissa

Wednesday 1st of December 2021

There is no need for any foreigner to be too concerned about living in Morocco. Life is the same anywhere we go as long as we abide by the rule and laws and culture of that country. English language can be found in every city and so as Spanish language. I must say that since I migrated to North America 36 years ago, I found myself isolated there as well. I did not speak English at all but found a way to network with other foreigners who were just like myself. The first 5 years were very challenging. I started immediately taking English classes at university and working at the same time. The exposure was very rewarding. Morocco is a multi-language destination. We even have berbers who do not speak Moroccan dialect. Someone said you must be fearless to live in a country such as Morocco. Fearless of What? I thing you just have to plan everything all together and simply be determined. The kingdom of Morocco is a welcoming nation. Any good traveler will go with the flow and enjoy the unique moments that this country has to offer. You can read thousands of book about our kingdom or articles on social media but a traveler will discover the differences and can make their own determination and decisions to either live amongst us or leave the country.

Larry

Tuesday 2nd of November 2021

Thanks for your insightful article. It stands in par with a number of other articles I have read. Although my relocation is not immediate with the help of articles like this and the help of my Moroccan fiancé the culture shock will be lessened.

Natalie

Thursday 24th of June 2021

Hi! I'm an American living in Algeria with my Algerian husband and baby. Unlike Morocco, due to the need for a visa to travel here, there are practically no Americans here. I have very little opportunity to make friendships with females from home and my Arabic is only sufficient to go shopping. It is tough that I can't work due to the language barrier. Thus I have a sense of isolation and little to do. I have tried to rekindle some artistic hobbies and exercise but miss having more options available such as working and talking to people about topics more in depth! I hope some day i will be able to take some courses here in English, work for a US company online or do any other work, and find some American friends as well as local ones but at the moment none of that seems possible. So, I think your article is spot on except my situation is even more difficult.

Christine Benlafquih

Saturday 26th of June 2021

Hi Natalie. Your situation does sound challenging. Hopefully there are some FB groups or forums to help you connect to others who are in your area or who share your interests. In-person language classes might be a way to get out and meet other English speakers. Good luck!

Martin Harris

Saturday 8th of May 2021

I spent 15 years in Morocco it's not as easy as you say it is. To become a resident you need a ten thousand pounds in a Moroccan bank to start the process with a breakdown CV of your work history from the country you lived in pluse a police check of no criminal record. Lots of horror stories come from making friends with Moroccans expats are seen as walking banks. If you try to open a business you just need to open your wallet let them take what they want. The justice system will always take years to settle some are still going on and then the out come will be in favour of a Moroccan. Most things are dubble in price for a European unless you find a honest Moroccan who will look after your interests but will you trust. It's a very different culture you need you wits about all the time no matter what it's very hard life to live let me tell you. It's a beautiful place to Spean 3 or 6 months at a time but to live permanently think again.

Christine Benlafquih

Monday 10th of May 2021

Thanks for sharing this. There are definitely some challenges and adjustments to living in Morocco that this article didn't address. And without a doubt, having a trusted Moroccan connection can be invaluable for navigating things, particularly if you don't speak French or Arabic. However, some things you mention aren't out of the ordinary. For example, showing proof of savings or income doesn't seem unreasonable for a residency application in any country. Criminal background checks are also perfectly reasonable and foreign residents need to do that with every renewal. Perhaps opening a business has become more streamlined since you were here. There are companies and accountants who can handle the paperwork and filings. There is also now an option to register as self-employed, although exceeding revenue limits will necessitate moving to a more formal business structure. It's true that foreigners need to be careful at times that they aren't being overcharged or scammed, and perhaps some Moroccans assume all foreigners are wealthy, but knowing how to set personal boundaries will go a long way. I think your closing sentence is very pertinent to the fact that sometimes people visit Morocco as tourists, fall in love with it, then decide it's where they want to live without giving careful thought to the realities of it.

Farah

Saturday 8th of May 2021

Good tips. Doesn't seem like a hard place to adapt to. Would you still recommend the place now to a middle age couple who wants to settle there with a 14 year old son?

Mark

Tuesday 30th of November 2021

@Farah, Morocco is a culture very much steeped in religion. If you are not muslim and from a western country it will take a lot of getting used to. It isn't as easy as it sounds to adapt to customs and traditions that have a religious component. You have to watch what you say. I learned that the hard way. What I joke about with friends in Los Angeles I can never joke about in Morocco. Not even among Moroccan friends.

Christine Benlafquih

Saturday 8th of May 2021

Hi Farah. Many foreigners are very happy here and adapt quite well. I think it really depends on your personal reasons for wanting to move here, where you want to settle (Casablanca, Tangier, Rabat, and Marrakesh are very different from one another) and whether your teenage son is open to living in a country that may have fewer organized activities for teens than he's used to. Speaking French or Moroccan Arabic is a big help.