Rabat, Morocco Report of what it's like to live there - 07/20/14

Personal Experiences from Rabat, Morocco

Rabat, Morocco 07/20/14

Background:

1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?

No. Sub-Saharan Africa also.

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2. What is your home city/country? How long is the trip to post from there, with what connections? How easy/difficult is it to travel to this city/country?

The Colorado Front Range. 4-5 hours to the east coast, plus 8-10 through either London+Casablanca, or Paris. I like to avoid CDG (Paris airport) at all costs; but their international terminal is not too bad, nor are the employees--especially if you speak even a little French.

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3. How long have you lived here?

2+ years.

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4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?

Government.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?

Houses are nice but not to U.S. standards. It's hit or miss in the housing pool right now. That said, Facilities and GSO do everything they can to support you and make you comfortable. Many folks are housed in apartments; Agdal is the downtown area and is great for no kid households, Mahaj Riad is great for families with teens or tiny kids--no grass/play area. Commute varies and we move to the new embassy compound (NEC) in 11/2014 so all that will change, but typically now-20-30 minutes. There is a beach community as well with fabulous views (Hauhorra--spelling??) but the houses are much older and the commute is 40-60 minutes. Regardless of where you live you will struggle with the traffic here. Plan twice as long as it should take to get anywhere.

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2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?

More expensive than in the U.S. except for the lovely organic produce which is cheap,seasonal, and abundant. The ECA commissary has a wide variety of goods available and has been a huge boon for our tour here. They can special order cases of virtually anything and keep a ready supply of U.S. products at a premium. It may cost more but I don't mind when I have the comfort foods I crave at my fingertips.

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3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?

You can get most everything you want here either at the commissary, via DPO, or the pouch. More blankets and slippers for the family during winter. The floors are all tiled so they are cold and very slippery with just socks!

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4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?

McDonald's, Burger King, KFC, Pizza Hut, Dominoes. Nothing with pork products! Pepperoni is beef, bacon if available, is turkey.

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5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?

Ants, ants, ants EVERYWHERE. You won't get rid of them completely--ever. Roaches (the big ones) are common as well as most of the typical African flying insects; flies, bees, wasps, termites, and mosquitoes.

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Daily Life:

1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?

DPO and pouch.

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2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?

180-200 Dirham per day is standard for both nanny and maid services. Gardener 150-180 day.

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3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?

Yes, pricey.

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4. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?

Don't use them unless at a hotel or the Embassy.

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5. What English-language religious services are available locally?

Almost none. I found a Catholic service in English once per week and I hear the LDS community is happy here. Other than that, I don't know.

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6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

Darija (Moroccan Arabic) is the most important though in the cities French will go along way. English is useless outside of the expat/Diplomatic communities.

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7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?

Absolutely.

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Transportation:

1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?

Blue taxis yes, but only if you have a good grasp of a local language! Trains are good between cities but not intercity. Avoid buses and white taxis always!

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2. What kind of car do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car do you advise not to bring?

Whatever you like to drive. I like the higher profile of a small SUV so I can see better.

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Phone & Internet:

1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?

The Employee Cooperative Association (ECA) offers several packages and has an added benefit of collective payments You pay your ECA bill each month and they pay your phone/TV/Internet bills for you.

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2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?

Bring an unlocked one with you and buy the sim locally. You will find many knock off's at the Medina but they are unreliable and expensive.

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Pets:

1. Are qualified veterinarians and/or good kennel services available? Do animals need to be quarantined upon entry to the country? Are there other considerations regarding pets that are particular to this country?

No quarantine; there are two vets here and they are so-so: Dr. Laila and Dr. Benchaffi. They are both very caring but not as knowledgeable as I would like.

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Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:

1. What types of jobs do most expatriate spouses/partners have? Locally based or telecommuting? Full-time or part-time? Can you comment on local salary scales?

Not unless you work at the school or in an English language teaching position.

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

American International Women's Association is active here (AIWA). RAS and CLO can keep you busy if you want to volunteer!

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3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?

Business at work, business casual though it is easy to feel under-dressed when visiting a Moroccan home! Moroccan men do not wear short pants in public unless exercising or at the beach. As a rule, women do not show their shoulders or much leg, though this is less of a rule in Rabat and Casa.

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Health & Safety:

1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.

The residences are safe and have had security measures put in place. Grills on all access points, etc. There is crime here though most is petty theft. Send nothing of value to the school with your children (cheap phones only) because it is set up that they cannot get to their lockers between each class and the expectation is that they leave their bags piled up. They get looted. Even the school supplies and textbooks (which are PRICEY to replace) are stolen.

Friends have been mugged for their bags during daylight hours in busy parking lots and residential neighborhoods. Most want your cell phone or electronics. Any ladies I know who have a penchant for running have either quit or used a treadmill here. Men can be very forward, especially with foreign women; Asians and blondes will have the worst time of it. My teenage girls were regularly approached on the street; men following, reaching out to touch them, and/or block their path. I also know of several attempted sexual assaults on members of the mission community.

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2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?

Dismal medical care here. The providers all believe they are on par with Europe but they ARE NOT even close. Chiropractic and massage is sub-par. This post has a lot of MedEvacs. Dental is FANTASTIC here, and very inexpensive.

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3. What is the air quality like at post (good/moderate/bad)? Are there seasonal air quality issues? Does the air quality have an impact on health?

Due to the abundant sea breezes, surprisingly good. I expected more pollution based on the number of vehicles on the road.

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4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

Fantastic for 8-9 months a year! 80's (F) most of the time. We love to sit on our terrace and enjoy the cool sea breeze! Though as others have mentioned, I have never been as cold in the winter as I was here inside my house. Even in the mountains of Colorado and being no stranger to cold weather; I had difficulty managing the high humidity + cold that seeped into not only my bones, but my concrete house. Once those walls got chilled, they simply did not warm up. The first year we tried to keep the utility costs/consumerism down to a dull roar by using our split pac heater/AC units only when we were home. The next year we were more successful at staying warm when we turned them all on high and left them there. Folks tell you to do the same thing with the space heaters; but I had two brand new ones that shorted out and the wires smoldered. I was glad I was home and awake or we may have had much bigger problems!

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Schools & Children:

1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?

Rabat American School (RAS). I have not had a great experience with these folks. My kids are in high school and struggled with many issues. My friends with younger kids have had no better time with it and many EFMs have chosen to throw themselves into the PTA or other school program to help protect their children's interests. Moroccan high school students drink A LOT of alcohol and there are many other readily available street drugs. For all students, especially HS boys, there is unresolved bullying and other social issues between the wealthy locals and the rest.

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2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?

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3. Are preschools available? Day care? Are these expensive? What has been your experience with them, if any? Do the schools provide before- and/or after-school care?

I hear they are available but most folks I know use nannies.

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4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?

Yes, at RAS they have volleyball, soccer, track, and basketball.

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Expat Life:

1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?

Medium size expat community with various morale. It is definitely what you make of it.

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2. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?

The one movie theater that shows movies in English, only has them on Thursday evenings and it's in Casablanca. Driving in Casa is a whole different animal that I describe best as driving in a school of fish--blind fish. We avoid it at all costs. We spend the bulk of our leisure time with other expats/friends socializing in homes or out together at restaurants.

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3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?

What do you want to make of your tour here? If it's a vibrant nightlife and travel opportunities, then yes. If you have primary school-age kids you have a built-in community waiting for you. If your kids are older, there isn't a lot of opportunity for them to begin to gain independence by stepping out on their own.

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4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?

Not good for single LGBT folks looking to date but couples seem to do fine. I'm not sure how low of a profile they keep.

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5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?

Gender yes. I have heard that dark skinned women feel it more.

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6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?

Going south into Erfoud/Merzouga into the desert. We have had visitors here and taking them around to the sites was fantastic. Chefchaouen, Fez' tannery, the square in Marrakesh, and the Ziz Valley should not be missed. Experiencing firsthand the generous nature and culture of sharing, by friends and strangers alike. Though we haven't done it yet, many folks appreciate the close proximity to Spain. Cueta is a Spanish enclave on this continent and is an easy 4-hour drive from Rabat for short weekend trips to clear your mind.

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7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?

The travel opportunities

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8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?

Pottery, rugs, leather goods, spices, trinkets, and Moroccan tea sets.

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9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?

Travel opportunities, amazing food, experiencing the various cultures (Arab & Berber), and the weather. This may sound weird to put in this section but the dental care is GREAT and very affordable! Dr. Rami (chat with CLO) speaks English and is fantastic. CLO has an extensive knowledge of Morocco; use their experience to maximize your time here.

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10. Can you save money?

Yes, if you plan accordingly and try not to splurge on too many of the fabulous travel options!

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Words of Wisdom:

1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?

I was surprised by how difficult day-to-day life can prove to be. It is on par with Sub-Saharan Africa in many ways (traffic, bugs, housing, quality of medical care) yet instead of 15-30% hardship you get nothing (just changed in 2013 to 5%). If you are coming here with the expectation that this is "little Europe" with typical DOS African housing you will be sorely mistaken. Also wish I had known how much the constant sexual attention and harassment would negatively affect my outgoing third-culture teens.

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2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?

No; but I am happy to have met and known some amazing Moroccan people.

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3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:

Misconceptions about Muslims as these folks are generally kind, generous, and outgoing.
If you have a propensity for road rage--you know who you are--don't consider this post!

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4. But don't forget your:

Winter clothes, love of cats, rain gear, tour-long supply of decent wine, and sense of adventure.

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5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

The movie Casablanca is not a good example of life here.

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6. Do you have any other comments?

Moroccan people are amazing, warm, kind, and generous--to a fault. This is most obvious when you are interacting on a personal level. When driving, shopping, or waiting in line, however; they can behave rudely and appear self-serving UNLESS you acknowledge them with a greeting and a smile. In the big cities, the attention shown to women in public (when not accompanied by a male) can be rude and ugly.

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