Rabat, Morocco Report of what it's like to live there - 10/24/17
Personal Experiences from Rabat, Morocco
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
Bonn, Germany, as a child, and Stuttgart, Germany, as an adult. This is my first FS post, however (as an EFM).
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?
Ottawa, Canada. Most flights out of Rabat connect through Paris, so it would be about 10 hours door to door. However, about an 1-1.5 hours' drive/train away is Casablanca, which has direct flights to all sorts of cities, including DC.
3. How long have you lived here?
Just under half of our two-year tour.
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, military, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
My husband's diplomatic mission.
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
We are in an apartment approximately a 15-minute walk from the embassy. The complex is new (built about 2.5 years ago) and very nice: large, spacious rooms, marble flooring, new bathroom and kitchen fixtures, and large windows, with 3 bed and 2.5 bath.
Families with children get villas, which range in age, but as far as I have seen generally have large gardens, many rooms, and are mostly located in the same neighborhood. Singles or couples usually get apartments, which are located all over the city. Traffic, while a bit crazy, flows pretty well and commutes are rarely over 30 minutes from anywhere in the city to the embassy.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
As others have said, if you eat local and seasonal food, expenses are dirt cheap. There are many local corner stores that sell fresh produce and household supplies for a pittance. Larger grocery stores (Marjane â€“ similar to a WalMart â€“ and Carrefour, among others) have almost anything you might want and are regularly well stocked, though more expensive (but not like US prices, in my experience). We have a commissary about 15 minutes' drive from the Embassy and a quick shop and cafeteria (with surprisingly cheap prices) at the embassy that provide much that you can't otherwise find on the local economy.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Kalamata olives and dill pickles are about the only two products I really can't find locally (but I've requested they be included in the commissary's orders). Otherwise, Spain is an easy weekend trip away, where you can buy any pork or alcohol products you can't otherwise find â€“ most pork products are available at the commissary (pork shoulders, belly, bacon) or in stores (salami, prosciutto, etc.) and alcohol is available at both quick shop/commissary and on the local economy, but is significantly more expensive than in Spain.
Mexican and Indian spices are hard to find on the local market, but available in Europe, commissary, or via Amazon ordering.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Local restaurants run the gamut from local cuisines to almost all European types. There are a few Thai/pan-Asian and sushi places. Mexican and Indian are probably the two most popular culinary cultures that are NOT (or very poorly) represented here. Many restaurants offer either food delivery or take-out and there are several fast food chains represented here as well, including a new Starbucks.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Morocco is a huge sandbox so ants are pretty much ubiquitous. Many people have mild roach problems, but nothing overwhelming.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
DPO and pouch are available to U.S. embassy people. I've never really dealt with local postal facilities, as there's never been a need.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Our housekeeper/cook works twice a week for 20 USD/day (200 dhs). Many people employ similar help on a similar basis (few have full time, live in help, though it is available). For people with kids, housekeepers often double as nannies. The CLO has a list of staff previously used and vouched for by U.S. embassy personnel. We have had no issues with our housekeeper.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
The U.S. embassy has a good gym and the commissary grounds have two pools (adult and kid sized), which are open seasonally. There is a tennis club/gym/indoor pool complex within a 10-minute walk of the embassy, as well as a golf club and horseback riding club within easy drives of the embassy. There are many other gyms around town. There is also an embassy/diplomatic softball league that runs out of the Rabat American School. Running/cycling/walking trails abound all over the city and are safe.
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?
Most restaurants and large stores accept credit cards. Smaller corner stores and almost all medina/market stores are cash-based. ATMs abound and are safe to use.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
There are a few churches, though I am not a member so cannot speak to this.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
The embassy provides language training for free to employees and EFMs. Modern Standard Arabic is understood, but you won't understand the local dialect, Darija, with it. This dialect doesn't seem too hard to learn (my husband picked up the Arabic alphabet within a few hours and has learned enough to get by with minimal study within a few months). French is very useful and will get you through almost every interaction - taxis don't always understand in-depth instructions, but simple directions are fine.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Probably, depending on the extent of the disability. The U.S. embassy is wheelchair accessible, but many buildings don't have elevators and have steps to even enter the front door, with few ramps that I've spotted. Sidewalks are also not always in the best of conditions.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Taxis are fairly safe (no seatbelts, but no stories of kidnapping or anything of the sort) and fairly abundant. Uber and its Middle Eastern version, Careem, are available, safe and just a little more expensive than the extremely cheap taxis.
There is a tram downtown, but it doesn't run to the embassy or to much of the housing (yet). I would not suggest the local buses as they get extremely packed and don't always look very sturdy.
Inter-city trains are available, safe, and cheap - and sometimes particularly nice.
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?
Any car is fine here. I wouldn't suggest a huge car though, as it would make parking a bit tricky, but this is no different from many U.S. cities. The roads - both in the cities and between them - are generally very good and well-maintained.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
We have fiber-optic and it's great. It took about a month to get it set up as they had to run it to our complex. Most people get internet within two weeks of arrival. ADSL is significantly slower, but also cheaper.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
We got Google FI when still in the States; we got to keep our American number and it works in 135 countries worldwide (if memory serves). There is a local provider - Maroc Telecom - and the ECA staff can help you set up a plan.
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?
We adopted two street cats while here (and many people end up getting a pet here as there are so many strays to choose from). I can't speak to bringing pets into the country - though many have done it and I have not heard of the process being particularly difficult.
There are several good vet choices, with one or two that speak good English. I'm not familiar with US vet prices, but I find our vet to be rather cheap, for very good care too (e.g., a visit is about $20, neutering a cat is about $60).
There are quite a few older stray dogs, which can get intimidating, though they are not commonly found downtown or on busy roads. I would, therefore, not suggest letting outdoor cats roam beyond a garden wall and would keep a sharp eye out while walking dogs. There are larger parks, though I haven't seen any dog parks where dogs can be off-leash.
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?
With the hiring freeze, spouses who are working are typically working on a freelance/telecommuting basis. I understand it is possible to work locally, though I don't know many doing this.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
Volunteering is definitely available. AIWA (the American International Women's Association) organizes some volunteers, but there are personal options too.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
So far, the only time I will have been formal in almost a year at post is the Marine Corps ball. My husband is in IT, so usually wears khakis and a button-down or polo; most of the rest of the staff seem to wear suits or equivalent for women. In public, while they say to cover shoulders for women and not wear short-shorts, I have seem many a local woman wear these outfits. I have worn tank tops all over the city with no repercussions at all.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Far less than most U.S. cities. Driving can be crazy, but surprisingly there seem to be very few crashes. The usual petty thieving is an issue, but if you're aware of your belongings and careful about how you hold on to things, you won't have issues.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
There is a medical center at the embassy and local doctors (for teeth, eyes, etc.) are also very competent in my experience. I've heard of very few evacuations.
Otherwise, it's advisable to wash your veggies with vinegar (but that should really be done anywhere in the world) and not to eat street meat. The water from the tap is safe in all big Moroccan cities, though bottled water is very available.
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?
I would say it's quite good, depending on your neighbourhood. There are a lot of cars, but the air flow seems to be good enough that the pollution doesn't accumulate too heavily
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
There are various plants in bloom at any time, as it is a warm post, so allergens can get pretty intense.
Some stores (Carrefour Gourmet) have started making gluten-free items available. The biggest problem might really be the language barrier. Many foods are labeled in French or Spanish, but quite a few are still only labeled in Arabic. If you have a serious food allergy, it might be quite difficult to figure out exactly what is in certain items. The same would go for restaurants â€“ while most restaurants have French and even English menus, not all the staff are as knowledgable as one might hope on what goes into certain meals and able to answer questions in French, let alone English.
5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?
SAD is definitely not an issue - it's almost always sunny (gets a bit tiresome, to be honest)!
I have not heard of/noticed any particular mental health issues associated with this post. Driving is anxiety-inducing to be sure, but the general culture is very relaxed, and Europe is so close that most people tend to take mini breaks to get to a more "Western" cultural setting. Moroccans are very friendly and helpful by nature and I haven't noticed any anti-Americanism directed at post employees.
6. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
In the winter it is lovely in the sun and cool in the shade and at night. In summer it is hot everywhere, though only really bad in July/August when the humidity rises. I've heard it favourably compared to Northern-ish California weather.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
Rabat American School is well regarded. I have no kids, however, so can't really speak past this.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
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?
They are available, and a lot of parents hire housekeepers/nannies to do child care. Household help is about $20/day; I have no idea about pre-schools.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Yes. The tennis, riding, and golf clubs all provide lessons. Additionally, I have heard of some martial arts and dance schools with kids classes, but have no real information on this.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
The U.S. embassy employs over 100 Americans; with family, this rises to somewhere in the neighborhood of 300. Morale is good - there's a lot to do in the city and the country and our CLO is active, though events are not always very well-attended (a bit of a fickle community in this way). Many people organize their own parties though and there's usually a lot to do and a good sense of community.
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?
With American expats, there are regular CLO activities. With locals, there are sports clubs (listed above), and others such as AIWA (listed above).
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Most of the U.S. expat community seems to be families here. There are a few couples and a few singles, as well, but if you want to socialize without kids, it can get a bit tricky, as a lot of the events are organized with kids in mind. This is definitely a product of the fact that Morocco is safe, cheap, and very kid-friendly.
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
It is a Muslim-majority country. While I have some LGBT friends and have seen a few people (including locals) that are clearly a part of this community, there is no "gay village" and few, if any, gay clubs. I think being obviously LGBT could potentially make you a bit of a target for harassment, though I doubt it would escalate past this.
5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
It's a Muslim-majority country, so women are still discriminated against, though it's probably one of the best such countries and getting better. Many women have stopped wearing even the hijab and it is getting freer and easier. That being said, as a woman, I hesitate to go very far alone at night, for example.
I have noticed no explicit prejudices otherwise.
6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
So many! Fez, only a couple of hours' drive (and a beautiful drive at that) away, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and well worth it. It can even be done as a day trip. Casablanca is a fun, big, metropolitan city only about an hour away. Chefchaouen, up in the mountains, is picturesque and quaint. And there are any number of other possible cities in between to venture to.
There are beaches galore, mountains, hiking, waterfalls, surfing, and the desert, which hosts a vast array of camping and "glamping" experiences.
Europe is also very close - short flights out of Casa or Rabat or a drive/train up to Tangier and the ferry across to Tarifa (other ferry options exist too). We have done this a few times and have loved it every time!
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
The Royal Club Dar Es Salam (riding club) offers trail rides and riding lessons, as well as pony rides for kids. The zoo is apparently lovely and there's an exotic botanical garden. T
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
The potteries in SalÃ© (just across the river from Rabat - about a 15 min drive from the Embassy) offer a huge array of pottery and furniture for insanely cheap prices (at least for the pottery).
Otherwise, rugs, ceramics, clothing, leather goods, etc. abound and are of very high quality. You can find anything in the medinas, but I recommend Fes for leather and rugs and SalÃ© for pottery. Our CLO has tons of suggestions too.
9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
It has pretty much any amenity you would like. The American Club is close to completion on its renovations and we have a pool. We're right on the coast and have an international airport. It's clean and safe, the weather is almost too perfect, and the people are friendly. I feel so lucky to be here!
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
That dress codes for women are not nearly as strictly enforced as I'd thought and that there are some delicious restaurants here, so not to fret.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Absolutely! Even more enthusiastically if anything.
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Winter gear and SAD lamp.
4. But don't forget your:
SUNSCREEN! Bathing suits, sunglasses, and light clothing.
5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
The Caliph's House is a super entertaining book by Tahir Shah about renovating a large house in Casablanca and living in Moroccan culture. It's not very accurate to Rabat, specifically, which is a pretty modern, rich city, by comparison, but it does give a pretty fun overview of certain customs and beliefs.
6. Do you have any other comments?
Rabat is truly a dream post! It will be very hard to leave this lovely city and country when our tour is over.