Rabat, Morocco Report of what it's like to live there - 10/23/17

Personal Experiences from Rabat, Morocco

Rabat, Morocco 10/23/17


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

Third post, Dominican Republic and Indonesia previously.

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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?

New England, USA. Most flights to Rabat route through Paris. 10 hours door-to-door from JFK or Boston. There are direct flights from JFK and Dulles to Casablanca, if you don't mind the 90-minute trip up to Rabat via car or train.

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3. How long have you lived here?

Sadly, only a year.

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

Diplomatic posting for language training.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

Families all live in detached villas, while singles and couples get apartments. Housing is spread across the city, but most commutes are between 15-25 minutes, depending on traffic.

Houses range from vintage to modern. Older houses will have larger yards, beautiful tile mosaic walls, and a lot of space. Newer houses lack the character of the old houses, but are sleek and clean. Apartments run the gamut of quality, but are usually spacious.

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

If you eat locally and seasonally, food is dirt cheap. Fresh produce, meats, and fish are all available at the supermarkets, and there are many local markets selling all kinds of food - fruits & vegetables, meat, fish, grains and spices.

Household supplies are also inexpensive, but sometimes the quality can be sub-par compared to the U.S. Diplomats have access to a commissary, and a wide range of U.S. products are available there for a small premium.

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

Almost none. You can find it all in-country if you look hard enough. I think Asian ingredients would be the exception to that rule...

If you really, really need it, a "wine & swine" run to Ceuta can be done over a weekend.

If you have dogs, do ship heartworm meds for them... Local vets do not have it.

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

Rabat has a wide variety of restaurants. Moroccan, French, Spanish, Italian, American, German, etc. restaurants are in the city. Many places deliver, and there's a smartphone app for delivery services (Jumia).

U.S. fast food options are McDonalds, Burger King, Dominos, Pizza Hut, KFC. All deliver.

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

Sugar ants are everywhere. Occasional cockroaches. HUGE grasshoppers that do bite/pinch if harassed. The large number of feral cats keeps the rat/mouse population down, but these cats are everywhere and are shameless in coming into your yard.

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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 for U.S. embassy folks. There are a couple of reliable local couriers. I didn't have the opportunity to try out the local Poste Maroc.

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

$20/day for cleaning & cooking. English-speaking help is a little more expensive than French/Arabic. Nannies are available for about the same price. Most folks use a housekeeper for childcare duties on top of the cooking/cleaning. It works, but interview carefully and check references.

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

There are gyms all over the city. The embassy has a well-equipped gym, and the American Club has a pool that's open seasonally. There are also many walking and running trails in the city (Foret Hilton, the Corniche, out by the Royal Golf Club). Surf clubs in Rabat and just south. Skate parks. There are plenty of opportunities.

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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?

I used credit cards in the cities, and there were a few ATMs I trusted. Keep an eye on your statements, and realize that ATM skimming is an issue.

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

Not sure.

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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?

It is essential to have "taxi and restaurant" Arabic or French. Very few people in Rabat speak English, and even fewer in the smaller towns and cities, unless you're in a touristy part.

Darija, the local dialect of Arabic, is tricky to understand if you speak classical Arabic. It takes a while to get used to. As a Caucasian Westerner, even when I spoke MSA or Darija to locals, I usually got French in reply. However, if you have some French and some Arabic, you can definitely get by using a mix of the two.

Berlitz is good for French, and Qalam wa Lawh is the go-to Arabic language school.

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

Yes. There aren't a lot of "ADA-compliant" facilities outside of the U.S. embassy. Sidewalks are challenging. Forget about the medinas....

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

"Petit" taxis (metered) are cheap and plentiful in most parts of the city. "Grand" taxis travel set routes, and you just kind of pay what you want (I'm sure there's a pricing scheme, but I never figured it out. 10-20 dirham and a "Shukran!" seemed to do the tick.) Trains are cheap and mostly reliable. The tram in Rabat is very modern. I wouldn't use public buses...

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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?

Japanese brands do well, as do European brands. If you really want to explore Morocco, a large 4x4 is best, as roads can get dicey out in the sticks. Small cars are fine, and are easily maneuvered through the hellish city traffic.

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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?

Fiber optic internet is pretty fast & reliable. About $60/month for ~50 MbPS. I can't speak for non-embassy folks, but the employee association takes care of the internet hook-up, and it took about 2 weeks.

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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?

Post-paid and pre-paid options are cheap & ubiquitous. $20/month for talk, text and data.

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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?

Veterinary care is adequate for routine care and some more serious cases. There is one clinic that most expats use, and their care is decent and inexpensive.

Animals do not need to be quarantined upon entry, and importing pets is quite easy. Getting them OUT of Morocco is the real challenge. The export process takes 2-3 days, and must be done within 48 hours of departing. You get to go to a functioning slaughterhouse, deal with the government vet, and shave 5 years off your life with the stress. You also need to speak French or Arabic (or bring someone who does), as the vet does not speak English.

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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?

Unless you work at your embassy or the American school, it will be nearly impossible to find a job on the local market without fluency in French, Arabic, or both. Pay is about 40 percent of the average U.S. salary for the same type of work.

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

Plenty...there are many social services organizations working with orphans, people with disabilities, etc.

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

Dress at the embassy is formal. Most Moroccans dress in Western formal or casual wear or traditional Moroccan garb. Conservative dress by women is recommended, not required.

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Health & Safety:

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

I always felt very safe in Morocco, either in the cities, wandering the alleys of old medinas, or out in the smaller towns and villages in the countryside. Use your head, keep valuables out of sight, and watch for pickpockets in the more touristy areas.

Women report harassment by males when walking alone or in small groups. This is a very real and common occurrence.

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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?

Local medical care is adequate, with some doctors and specialists trained in Europe and able to speak English. The embassy evacuates most non-minor medical issues to London for treatment.

The biggest risk of injury is motor vehicle accidents. There are no real risks of malaria or dengue, and with vaccinations recommended by the CDC, you should be protected against most other communicable diseases.

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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?

Allergies and respiratory problems can be exacerbated in the dry season (March thru October), as pollution and dust are prevalent.

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4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?

Most common allergy and asthma medicines are available on the local market for a fraction of the cost in the US. Food allergies are not really recognized, so have a Epi-Pen or two with you at all times if you suffer from them, and make sure you have a supply in your suitcase.

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5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?

Anxiety from daily driving in the city.

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

Morocco is a "cold country with a hot sun." Summer days can be quite hot, but nights are pleasant. In Rabat, the temperature rarely gets over 95 in the summer, usually staying in the mid-80s. Nights are in the upper-60s. Winters never see temperatures below 45 in Rabat, but the rain and dampness make it chilly.

Trips up into the mountains can cool you off in the summer, and snow is definitely a thing in the Atlas and Rif mountains. If you don't like the climate where you are, you can always drive a few hours & experience a totally different one.

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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 and Khalil Gibran School are the only two schools in Rabat offering English-language instruction. KGS is tri-lingual (English, Arabic, French).

RAS has its share of issues, but the new headmaster is trying to effect positive changes. I'd say the elementary school is adequate, MS is "meh," and the HS is not very good at the moment.

If your family speaks French, there are many schools in the city to choose from.

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

Anyone on a highly-specialized IEP will have difficulty at RAS. There aren't enough resources at the school to support students with anything more than minor special needs.

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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?

There are TONS of creches in the city. Prices are reasonable, and the quality varies. Do your homework.

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

RAS has sports and after-school activities. There are soccer clubs around town. Anything having to do with locals will require French or Arabic.

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Expat Life:

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

Again, this one is tricky. Anglophonic expat community is limited to the Britsh, Canadians, and American Embassies. There are many Francophone expats living in Rabat and Morocco as a whole.

Morale among Americans is low, but I think it's self-inflicted. Yes, if you don't have the language, you'll have a hard time getting out and about. Rabat is a small city and the seat of government, so it's lacking in nightlife & cultural activities. This can feel isolating at times. Some of the issues with the schools can leave families in the lurch, and singles (especially women) can feel isolated.

My advice is to learn the language and try to use it at every opportunity. Moroccans are very warm and friendly people, and will go a long way in trying to communicate with you if you make the effort. I think this would make your experience there much more pleasant.

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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?

There are a few expat clubs and organizations. The U.S. embassy has activities, as do the international schools. I used to go down to the medina (market) and walk around, talking to as many people as I could... with my Arabic and French and adventurous spirit, I definitely made more connections with the locals than most.

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

I think that Rabat is good for anyone. Single women may have a harder time dating than single men, but Rabat is what you make of it. If you get bored, just get in the car or hop on a plane, and you can be in a different place in a few hours' travel time.

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

Homosexuality is illegal in Morocco. Same-sex couples are in the U.S. embassy community, but I'm not sure of their experiences.

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

Gender equality has come a long way in the last 10-15 years. Still not perfect, but better than a lot of other places.

Dark-skinned Africans, refugees and migrants are definitely discriminated against. I have witnessed Moroccans swerving their cars in an attempt to strike the dark-skinned beggars on the street. It's very real.

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

I loved Morocco, and would return in a heartbeat. We took trips to Ceuta (Spanish enclave), Chefchaouen (the Blue Pearl), Fes, Marrakech, Agadir, Meknes, the Sahara, Spain, and all the places in between. It's a stunningly beautiful country with every imaginable landscape available.

If you're adventurous, you can fill your time with so many different experiences. I highly recommend traveling the country as much as possible.

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

There are a couple of nice beaches within a 30-minute drive (Bouznika and Skhirat). The medina is fun to wander around. Volubulis is a 2-hour trip (ancient Roman ruins). There's a carpet market (Tuesday mornings) in Khemisset, vineyards near Meknes (2 hours), and Tanger is a 2.5 hour drive away.

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

CARPETS! Make sure you have weight in your HHE to accommodate the carpets you will buy.

Woodworking, metal works, mosaic tiles, brass lamps, poufs, silver and gold jewelry, it's all here.

Be prepared to bargain your butt off to get the best prices (25-30 percent of the initial "ask").

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

It's a sleepy, safe, coastal city with a great climate and lots to do, either locally or via travel. Managing traffic can be dicey, but commute times are easy for the U.S. embassy community.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

That I should have had 1,000 lbs. extra weight in my HHE for all the rugs and handicrafts I wanted to buy.

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


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

Expectations of a fully-functioning Western city.

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4. But don't forget your:

French or Arabic language phrasebooks, sense of adventure, and "joie de vivre!"

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