How is life in Morocco?
Living in Morocco is a very controversial subject and I hesitate to write about it. Many Moroccans often want to leave Morocco because “being Moroccan” carries a lot of cultural, financial and global baggage. What does it mean? The Moroccan passport is weak, which means that travel is limited and gets harder over time, not easier. The economy is also very weak, ranking 97th on the Economic Freedom Index. Many Moroccans say that Morocco is a prison, an inhuman hell, that there are no opportunities here.
But at the same time, Moroccans are very protective of their country. So anyone who is not Moroccan and says anything but praise (i.e. an expatriate like me) is quickly met with anger and contempt.
The question is: “Why do you have an opinion, why do you have to say whether you like it or not?” Or, my favourite, “Why don’t you go away? But then people ask me what I think of Morocco and what should I say, “No comment”?
So if you criticise Morocco, people get angry. If you praise Morocco, people think you are privileged, isolated or an idiot for thinking it is not a nightmare. And so it goes over and over again.
As a foreigner in Morocco, I would like to give my opinion as someone who has lived here for more than nine months. What is life like in Morocco, what can an expat (or ‘immigrant’) expect, what is life like for women in Morocco, and would you advise other people to live in Morocco?
Living and working in Morocco
Income inequality is a huge problem in every country in the world, but in Morocco it is extreme. Some people are very rich, but most people are very poor. When I say very poor, I mean that on average they earn less than $200 a month. Some people live on much less than that.
Much of the controversial discourse about Morocco and the quality of life in the country is related to the fact that outsiders and foreigners are unlikely to ever encounter the level of poverty experienced by the average Moroccan. They are more likely to encounter rich Moroccans or other foreigners. If you live in cities like Casablanca and Rabat, you will be exposed to the highest level of Moroccan income.
I think this often gives people an exaggerated view of life in Morocco, and they put rose-tinted glasses on the living conditions of ‘normal’ people. It’s as if your idea of America is only based on Beverly Hills or Manhattan. It’s an unrealistic view of what life is like for most people.
If you have money, life in Morocco is quite comfortable. Things like rent, housekeepers and restaurants are very cheap compared to places like the US and Canada. We live downtown, have a car, and rarely spend more than $1,200 a month (see our total expenses here).
Nevertheless, it is very difficult for the average Moroccan to “make ends meet”. Although expenses are small, they add up quickly and you have to pay a little for everything, which adds up faster than you can imagine. I couldn’t imagine living on an average Moroccan salary, and I even had unrealistic expectations of how much everything would cost when I moved here.
Living as a foreigner in Morocco
I have often heard that Moroccans are some of the nicest people (especially for foreigners) and I think this is true to an extent. Some people are genuinely friendly and welcoming. But in my experience, in most cases this kindness is transactional. People tell you where to go… in exchange for something. They will help you, but in exchange for something. Or they will be kind enough to pick you up or take your phone number.
As an American, I tend to be a very friendly and outgoing person. But that’s not normal in Morocco. People don’t smile at each other, they don’t exchange pleasantries, and when I try to be friendly, they give me dirty looks or ignore me. I’ve had to train myself not to smile, nod or say hello automatically, because that’s not how it works here.
I’ll never forget the time we were in the park and a woman tried to take a picture of what I thought was her husband and son. I offered to take a picture of the three of them and the woman shouted at me. I think she thought I was trying to talk to her husband or something, which was not the case. But it also speaks to a culture where people aren’t so friendly with each other.
So yes. A lot of people say that Morocco is a friendly place, but that’s not my experience. Most people look at you or ignore you, especially foreigners. It depends a lot on where you are – in the city or in the country. If you are in Casablanca, for example, people usually leave you alone. But if you are in the city, it is terribly uncomfortable when people look at you.
Daily life of a woman in Morocco
Women’s lives in Morocco are another of the issues that vary significantly from place to place. But, in general, women in Morocco are more likely to be assaulted, harassed and otherwise harassed than in most places.
I rarely go out without my husband because at least one person a day approaches me for one reason or another. Sometimes it’s just to ask me for money, sometimes to start a conversation, sometimes just to yell and get my attention. This even happens with my “don’t mess with me” face (sunglasses, headphones, I don’t make eye contact with anyone) and is one of the reasons I’ve had to train myself not to be automatically polite like I would be in the US, because people take it as an invitation to talk or ask for your number or money.
That’s pretty much normal life in Morocco. Much of the blame falls on the women, who must avoid unwanted attention by dressing fully covered, wearing a wedding ring and taking other precautions. I rarely see men having the responsibility to behave respectfully. When I talk about how frustrating this is, the typical response I get is “what were you wearing?”, “boys will be boys!” and other vaguely sexist comments.
I’ve found that the best way to deal with this is to wear noise-cancelling headphones everywhere and keep my head down. I completely ignore everyone. I’m lucky enough to live in an area where all the shops I would walk to are close enough, and I’m with my husband most of the time, so no one bothers me.
There are other frustrating obstacles for women in Morocco, such as renting a hotel.
Work experience in Morocco
I consider myself a “digital nomad”, which means that I use technology and the internet to work online. Working as a digital nomad in Morocco is not bad once you get established. It takes several months to get internet and there are very few options, so you have to make do with the provider in your area. There are only three main telecoms providers in the country, so if the one in your area doesn’t work, you’re out of luck.
That said, once fibre is installed, it’s excellent. Ours is stable, rarely goes down and I’ve had no problems despite making video calls several times a week and editing a lot. Unfortunately, the one thing I don’t particularly like about working in Morocco is the coffee culture. Morocco has some absolutely amazing and wonderful coffee shops with great coffee. However, almost all the coffee shops I have encountered are full of smokers.
For Moroccans, cafés are synonymous with smoking. Often, men only smoke in cafés and not at home. So if you plan to go to a café to work, be aware that you will be overwhelmed by cigarette smoke. This won’t be a problem for some people, but I have extreme reactions to cigarette smoke, so even working outdoors with chain smokers around me is quite unbearable. It’s a shame, because I would like to spend part of my working day in a coffee shop.
The advantages of living in Morocco
I have already written a whole post about the pros and cons of living in Morocco, but I think it is worth repeating it here. Living in Morocco has many advantages. It’s a beautiful country with a diverse geography, fantastic food and the pace of life is completely different from the United States. There are many things that can be very stressful, but if you have a good income and a good partner or friends to help you navigate an often difficult language, Morocco can be a fantastic place to live.
In fact, my stress level decreased considerably when I moved to Morocco from the United States. This is partly because the pace of life is much more relaxed. But also because there is no “live to work” mentality. A lot of people who don’t need to work choose not to work, and there is this idea of “why should I work if I don’t have to? In the US, your job is your identity. In Morocco, it’s just a job.
Another great advantage of living in Morocco, especially for an American, is that the country is very close to many amazing and different vacation destinations. It’s extraordinarily cheap to fly to Europe and other parts of North Africa. The United States tends to be fairly homogenous, but Europe and Africa have many different and unique cultures that are relatively close to each other. Since moving here, I have had the opportunity to travel to more countries than I could have ever known living in the United States, simply because most of the countries are so far away from the contiguous United States.
What do I need to avoid in Morocco?
Personally, I would avoid living here as a single woman. I have a hard time navigating the culture when I’m away from my husband, and if it weren’t for him I would have left almost immediately. There are too many opportunities to be harassed, taken advantage of or inconvenienced. From what I have been told, even single Moroccan women often depend on male relatives in many ways in order to be able to function in society without so many problems.
Between the paternalistic nature of the culture and the difficulty of the language, I can’t imagine a single foreigner or woman wanting to live here for very long. I’m sure there are foreign women who live here successfully on their own, but I personally wouldn’t like it and I applaud them for making it work.
Can I drink in Morocco?
I get this question quite often for some reason. Personally, I don’t drink and my husband is Muslim, so he doesn’t drink. Technically you can, but I wouldn’t. I’ve heard some pretty terrible things about the club and drinking scene in Morocco.
The drinking scene is often accompanied by heavy drug use and prostitution. Prostitution is very common, exploitative and unregulated. Even if I were to drink, I would certainly not drink here. I rarely see alcohol being sold, although there are a few bars in my town. I just know personally that I would never take part in that culture in Morocco.
Would you recommend a move to Morocco to other digital nomads?
Whether or not someone should move to Morocco definitely depends on what they’re hoping to find in the community. If someone is social and looking for easy friendships with other English speakers, definitely not. This may be the case in the larger cities, but foreigners and outsiders are not easily integrated into mainstream society in most parts of the country.
What’s the best place for living in Morocco?
It depends largely on your personality. Rabat, Casablanca and Marrakech are probably best if you like an active social life. If you like the slower pace of beach life, Essaouira and Tangier are good options. If you like a change of seasons and snow in winter, Ifrane is a good choice.
Morocco is a complicated and beautiful place, and life in Morocco varies greatly depending on many different factors. If you have a good income, people in your life who speak the language and are open to trying new ways of living, Morocco could be a great choice. However, it is not an easy place to live for many people. Living in Morocco is very different from holidaying or visiting, so it’s important to know what to expect before settling down.