A Few Key Things to Keep in Mind when Living in Morocco

CASABLANCA, Morocco—A stable country in a wobbly region, Morocco has long attracted foreigners thanks to its growing and stable economy.

As a native Moroccan, I have seen numerous foreigners, namely French, Spanish and Americans, settling in the North African country to learn Arabic or get a first experience in the Arab world.

That’s a great idea, although expats moving to the North African kingdom should bear in mind a few tips.

1. It is not cheap.

Morocco is more expensive than you think. Many foreigners think of the Morocco of the souks, the traditional markets, where things are cheap. But the rent in big cities, such as the economic capital Casablanca, is higher than in Boston, according to Mercer’s 2014 Cost of Living Survey.

Real estate prices in cities like Marrakesh can be as high as in Western Europe. Morocco is an emerging market that expanded by 4.5% in the fourth quarter of 2015.

However, there is a significant difference in real estate prices between big cities, like Rabat and Agadir, and the towns. Jean Pierre Cogitore, a Frenchman who retired in Morocco, pays 4,000 dirhams (about $370) a month for a two-person house at the outskirts of Essaouira city.

While vegetables, fruits, meat and fish, especially in traditional markets, are cheaper than in the U.S. or Western Europe, wines and spirits are more expensive in this Muslim nation. A good bottle of wine—which might cost $20 in the U.S.—costs up to $30. You can only find them in large supermarkets.

2. It is multicultural.

Former Moroccan King Hassan II used to say: “Morocco is a tree whose roots are in Africa, but whose branches extend into Europe.”

Unlike other Arab countries, Morocco has a unique mix of Arab, African, Berber and European influences because of its location—just 14 kilometers (nearly 9 miles) separate the port of Tangiers and the Spanish city of Algeciras. Expats can thus use their Spanish and French to get around.

3. It is a monarchy.

Expats should also keep in mind that Moroccans take the monarchy very seriously. Unlike in the U.K. or in Spain, the king in Morocco has the highest rank. He is also a religious leader. Article 46 of the Constitution stipulates that “The King’s person is inviolable and respect is due to Him.”

No matter how much time expats spend in the country, they should never get comfortable enough to criticize the king or religion.

At the same time, this stable political system makes Morocco one of the safest countries. A study by the U.S.-based Council on Foreign Relations found out that Morocco is unlikely to become a conflict zone.

4. It is a traditional society.

Despite being open to tourism, Morocco is a traditional Muslim society.

It is illegal for unmarried couples to live together. Homosexuality is not tolerated. In fact, there has been recurrent violence against gay couples. Women cannot sunbathe topless on public beaches.

Claudia Charry, a 40-year-old housewife from Florida, says she sees some expats who dress the way they want, “with very short skirts.” The Rabat resident reminds expats that Morocco is a traditional Muslim society where women should cover their legs and arms so they won’t be bothered by men in the street, especially in rural areas. Women should cover themselves from wrist to ankle in a mosque, which is the custom.

Since the 2011 legislative election, when an Islamic party won the polls for the first time in Morocco, women are more likely to wear the headscarf.

During the holy month of Ramadan—in which Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset—expats should not eat or drink in public because it offends people. Moroccans tend to be edgy at this time of the year. The selling and consumption of alcohol is prohibited during Ramadan.

5. It requires patience.

Expats need to have the patience of a saint to do administrative work in bureaucratic Morocco.

“I recommend to be very patient and stay calm: Morocco’s management is slow, so you should not worry and instead be well prepared” to save time, says Gaston Hakim Lastes, a French-Moroccan who published a guide on Morocco.

Mr. Cogitore says that his move to Morocco introduced him to the country’s bureaucracy. He had to pay large sums of money to send containers to Morocco. “It is better to sell everything and come with your suitcases,” he advises.

Should they keep all of these tips in mind, expats could have an eye-opening experience in a rather tolerant Arab country.

This piece was published by Wall Street Journal on July 15. Click here to read it. 

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