As exciting as it is, it can be intimidating to travel to unfamiliar countries. Still, these tips for cultural etiquette in Morocco can help visitors enjoy its diverse offerings without confusion.
Morocco is a magical travel destination for many people. The colorful and diverse country, with its snow-capped mountains, stunning beaches, and vibrant golden desert, can attract anyone interested in experiencing an extraordinary adventure.
Just like its landscapes, Morocco’s culture is very diverse. Foreign influences throughout the years mean Morocco is home to people of different ethnicities, reflecting today’s culture.
Visitors know Morocco not only for its beauty and diversity but also as the top destination for safe travel. Its people are generous, welcoming, and hospitable. They will not hesitate to try and help when you ask and will gladly talk to you about their culture and history.
However, to gain the respect of Moroccans, you need to stay mindful of appropriate behavior in different environments. Having a solid understanding of Morocco’s cultural etiquette is vital to avoid any misunderstandings or embarrassments on your journey.
These tips on cultural etiquette will help you avoid confusion and feel confident during your travel to Morocco:
- Disrespect for Islam
- Using the left hand
- Not Dressing Properly
- Drinking tap water
- Not Respecting The locals
- Bringing Only Credit Card
- Clicking Photos Without Permission
- Not Leaving Shoes Out Of the Room
- Not Controlling Your Reactions
- Trying to Enter Mosques
- Utilizing Drones
11 Things Not To Do When Traveling to Morocco (Explained)
As a tourist traveling to Morocco for the first time and want to make sure you are sticking to the rules and avoiding getting in trouble and wasting your trip time. Here are a few things you should never do when traveling to Morocco:
1. Disrespect For Islam
More than 99% of the Moroccan population is Muslim, and Islam is the state religion of Morocco. If you disrespect Islam here, you risk offending the locals, and no traveler should go out of their way to be rude to their host. While it’s fine to ask questions genuinely to learn more about the religion, you should avoid sharing any controversial opinions that may upset the locals.
Morocco is a Muslim country where religion plays a central role. From the call of the Muezzin to the many religious festivals, the prayers, the mosques, and the various local traditions, it is omnipresent in the country.
It is, therefore, natural to ask travelers during a stay in Morocco to respect this religion and the faith of Muslims. Most mosques are not open to the public and are therefore forbidden to foreigners and non-Muslims alike.
For those to which you have access, it is vital that you take off your shoes and keep the body covered (legs, bust, and shoulders) and sometimes the hair for women. Once inside, respect and discretion are customary, like in any other place of worship in the world.
Find out well before your trip to Morocco, as your stay might fall during Ramadan. If this is the case, you need to know well beforehand about this fasting period and what it entails. All Moroccans from puberty upward, except pregnant women or the sick, must do Ramadan. If believers are caught unawares in public places eating or breaking the fast, they can be condemned by the police.
From sunrise to sunset, it is impossible for Muslims to eat, drink, smoke, or make love. However, no sooner has the call of the muezzin started than families hurry to the kitchen and the waiting pastries! You will hardly find anyone out and about in the streets at this time of day.
During this period which lasts for 29 or 30 days every year, Morocco functions at a slackened pace, and many businesses up and down the country are closed. It all depends on where you are going and why you are making a trip to Morocco. Still, sometimes it is better not to holiday here during this period, especially if you want to discover the local cultural life, as this is seriously put on hold.
Asking questions to learn more about the religion is fine, but limit discussions about Islam to factual matters rather than offering opinions that may be controversial. Respect rules that forbid non-Muslims from entering certain areas – such as mosques and shrines – and dress modestly in keeping with local customs.
Also, remember that non-Muslims are forbidden from entering certain areas like shrines, mosques, graveyards, and koubas (tombs of marabouts or local saints). Even if you’re near a mosque, you should be very respectful and never get too close or look inside, especially if you’re taking a photo.
The main exception to this rule is the famous Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca, and it’s a wonderful experience to see the intricate Islamic architecture up close here.
2. Using The Left Hand
Greetings in Morocco tend to be formal yet very warm and friendly. Usually, people of the same sex will either shake hands or greet each other with two kisses on both cheeks, depending on their closeness.
When Moroccans greet you with “cheek kisses” they do not kiss your cheeks. Rather, they touch your cheek with theirs and kiss the air.
The left hand is reserved for bathroom hygiene and dirty chores in Morocco. So it is considered incredibly rude to eat, shake hands, give a gift, or leave a tip with your left hand.
If you get invited to a local’s home for tea during your tour of Morocco, be especially careful only to touch your cup and any fruit or bread that may be offered with your right hand.
Moroccans are more formal in social situations than most Westerners. Queries about one’s marital status and children are considered polite, and greetings should always include queries as to the health and well-being of one’s family. Always greet with your right hand, as your left is traditionally considered unclean.
Traditionally, when a man greets a woman, he waits for her to extend her hand for a handshake. If she doesn’t extend it, the man should bow his head in greeting.
However, amid the coronavirus pandemic, Moroccans place their left hand on their heart after nodding and saying “Salam Alaykum.” Alternatively, they may touch elbows.
Moroccans will often ask how you’re doing and about your family and children’s well-being. Some Moroccans tend to greet everyone, even strangers, especially in large gatherings.
They will say “Salam Alaykum” to everyone present. If you are with a Moroccan and they meet someone they know, they will stop for greetings, and their friend will likely greet you as well.
In Islamic (and Arabic) cultures, the left hand is considered unclean, as this is the hand with which a person performs sanitary tasks. Moroccans rarely eat with their left hand, perhaps only using it for drinking or passing bread. If you are eating from a communal tagine, only eat with your right hand.
The respectful procedure when offered food is to decline politely and, if offered again, to accept a small portion. Reciprocating the offer is also considered polite and will afford respect. To decline an offer of food, pat your stomach and shake your head, followed by “La, shukrran” (No, thank you).
3. Not Dressing Properly
Modesty is important in Morocco since it is a Muslim country, especially in rural villages and small cities. Wearing appropriate clothes while traveling to Morocco can gain respect and help you travel comfortably. Men and women alike wear loose-fitting clothes that cover most of their bodies.
Women often wear scarves and the traditional djellaba. However, this is not the case for everyone, especially young people.
In large cities, the dress code is less strict. You can find many people wearing what they want as long as it’s not too revealing or inappropriate. In villages and small cities, on the other hand, it is better to dress modestly to avoid offending people and respect Moroccan culture.
Wearing swimwear at beaches and swimming pools is completely acceptable. However, it is inappropriate to walk around in cities wearing bathing suits and bikinis, even if you are near the beach.
Morocco is relatively conservative compared to the West, with some parts more than others. If you’re traveling in rural areas and small towns and cities, you might want to dress up modestly because most people, as you may notice, might find relative nudity offensive, disrespectful, or odd.
We’re talking here about women, of course. This is the case, especially during the holy month of Ramadan. Muslims consider sexual arousal, which can be caused unconsciously while looking at someone attractive, to be considered to ruin the fast.
4. Drinking Tap Water
Regarding Morocco, tap water is something people discuss a lot.
It’s generally harmless for locals, but if you’re from another country, opt for bottled water, as you don’t know how your body might react to the different bacteria in the tap water.
Generally speaking, it’s probably best to drink filtered or bottled water when traveling in Morocco. Most locals will drink tap water, and many travelers may take the risk, but you wouldn’t want a stomach bug to stop you from having a good time in a new country.
In the major cities in Morocco, the tap water is chlorinated and will usually cause no harm. However, it’s still wise to either purify this water yourself or choose another water source, as your body may react to unfamiliar bacteria in the water, causing sickness or diarrhea.
Brushing your teeth with this water should be fine. In remote or rural areas, stick to treated water by either filtering or purifying it yourself or purchasing a large bottle.
It’s also advisable to avoid raw vegetables, fruits with edible skins, salads, and drinks with ice. Opt for cooked foods and fruits that need to be peeled instead.
Hot beverages in Morocco are usually fine, as boiling water should kill off any harmful bacteria in the tap water. However, if you wish to drink iced tea, it is best to check if it has been made using filtered water.
Note: For environmental reasons, try to avoid buying bottled water. Bring a reusable bottle or canteen (at least a 1.5-liter capacity) that can be refilled and filtered.
Some hotels you’ll stay at may have drinking water available. Your local leader can tell you where to find filtered water, or you can bring purification tablets.
5. Not Respecting The Locals
In Morocco and other countries, tourists should respect local customs. For instance, if you go to Morocco during Ramadan, be careful not to consume alcohol in public.
It is also recommended not to drink, eat and smoke in public, or at least with discretion, especially in less touristy areas. Also, another thing to keep in mind is that if you see shoes near the entrance of a place, be sure to take yours off.
They’re very social and are even considered one of the most welcoming and hospitable countries in the world compared to other countries, where intimacy is key.
Therefore, it is preferable to keep in mind to be more open and social than you probably are. But don’t worry, like many other tourists that came to Morocco before you, this will be done without thinking, marveling at the Moroccan’s kindness.
Also, Morocco is famous for its vibrant souks (traditional markets), selling everything from spices and tea to lanterns, leather goods, and clothing.
It’s hard to resist loading up on souvenirs in these enchanting places – so you’ll need to learn the art of haggling. It’s a huge part of Moroccan culture, and most locals haggle when buying anything from food to carpets.
Negotiating can be both stressful and fun. For Moroccans, dealing is social interaction and a way of life.
A general rule is to offer a third of the seller’s initial price and go from there. It’s almost guaranteed that they’ll laugh at your lowest offer, so don’t be surprised or offended when that happens.
The general rule is never to pay more than 70% of the original (and inflated) starting price, and your first offer should be around 50% less than the asking price.
If the vendor doesn’t offer you a reasonable deal, you’re not pressured to buy anything, and you can walk away. In such cases, it is important to be confident but respectful. Say no thanks and stand your ground.
6. Bringing Only Credit Card
Credit and debit cards aren’t widely used outside of the cities and tourist areas in Morocco. However, in more upscale establishments, you may be able to pay with your card (Visa or MasterCard).
Besides these high-end places, Morocco is a largely cash-based society, and it’s advisable to carry cash with you for purchases.
If you decide to use your debit or credit card in Morocco, make sure your bank knows you’re planning a trip. If not, they may block your cards.
7. Clicking Photos Without Permission
Certain aspects need to be considered when you wish to take pictures or film in Morocco. Although there isn’t a strict photography etiquette in Morocco being established, it’s important to show respect towards Morocco’s religion and culture.
- Landscape photo shooting is fine anywhere in the cities. Make sure no military personnel or buildings should be present. Use the roof of the building you are staying in for great shots of the city you visit.
- Taking pictures of markets (souks) or crowded places where there are many people doesn’t require special permission.
If you want to take an up-close picture of a Moroccan, always ask before you take the camera out, as it is not deemed appropriate to act before asking. You will likely have more success if you ask for a photo after you have befriended a local.
It can be your taxi driver, tour guide, or even someone you’ve met in the hotel or the medina. Water/tea servers are amiable when you ask them for a picture, and paying 5 Dirhams will leave them extremely happy.
The rules around taking photos in Morocco tend to be stricter than what many westerners are used to. For example, when it comes to mosques, refrain from taking pictures of the interior. Photographing military and police personnel or border checkpoints is also strictly forbidden.
Although there isn’t a strict photography etiquette in Morocco being established, it’s important to show respect towards Morocco’s religion and culture. Landscape photo shooting is fine anywhere in the cities. Make sure no military personnel or buildings should be present.
If you want to take a photo of a local or their property, the safest thing to do is always ask. In some cases, they will want a tip as compensation.
8. Not Leaving Shoes Out Of The Room
Moroccans are very hospitable, and you might even meet people who invite you over for a meal at their home after only one conversation.
When entering a Moroccan home, it is important to remove your shoes at the door and leave them by the shoe area. Your host will then offer you indoor slippers.
During a home visit, you will have to converse with the hosts before they offer you tea or coffee with Moroccan sweets and pastries. As a first-time guest, traditionally, it is nice to bring gifts such as cones of sugar or sweets and pastries.
When the host serves the meal, it is important to wash your hands first. Sometimes they will bring a washing basin to the table before serving the meal. This custom will also allow you to dry your hand with a towel. You can start eating when the host blesses the food and says “bismillah” (in the name of God).
Importantly, remember to use your right hand for everything. Moroccans usually use their right hand when eating a communal dish by dipping small pieces of bread into their meal.
Personal space is important here because everyone eats from their specific side of the dish. If the host serves couscous, they will offer spoons as well.
9. Not Controlling Your Reactions
On the one hand, that’s a perfect thing. Instead of leading a robotic existence, our feelings and emotions motivate and inspire us. The problem is when we become victims of those emotions. At times, we all let temporary feelings and moods rule how we make decisions, even when it leads to actions we later regret.
It’s always important to be polite and respectful in Morocco, but being overly friendly and not controlling your reactions is another matter. While you may come from a country where it’s standard practice to make small talk with strangers, this kind of attitude can be taken the wrong way in Morocco.
When you hit pause, you take time to stop and think before you speak or act. Doing so can prevent you from saying or doing something you’ll later regret–like forcing conversation with the locals at the market or trying to enter the mosques if you are not a Muslim.
If you feel your emotions are getting out of control while having a beautiful moment at any destination in Morocco, pause. If possible, go for a short walk. Once you’ve calmed down, come back and decide how you want to relate with the people around you.
For example, Moroccan women tend to be more aloof than friendly when interacting with men. If you’re overly familiar, this can be seen as a romantic interest, likely to provoke unwanted attention. In particular, it’s wise to avoid physical contact with men.
Also, Islamic culture tends to encourage the value of modesty. You might mean no harm by complimenting a local in Morocco, but this can be seen as too forward and can make them uncomfortable.
If you ever want to praise someone, it’s best to be as subtle about it as possible. You’ll find that many locals won’t accept compliments, even if they’re a reflection of the truth.
10. Trying To Enter Mosques
Generally, many mosques in Morocco will be off-limits to those who are not Muslims. You can admire the building from the outside, but in many cases, only those of the Islamic faith will be permitted to enter.
Islam is the state religion of Morocco, and disrespecting Islam can be deeply offensive to locals. While it’s okay to ask questions to learn more about the religion, you should avoid offering any opinions that may be controversial.
You need to respect rules that forbid non-Muslims from entering areas like mosques and shrines. Looking from the outside is fine, but you should never get too close to mosques and shrines that don’t allow non-Muslims to enter.
There is one exception to the rules which is the Hassan II mosque in Casablanca city since it’s famous and accepting tourists. So you can take your time to hang out, explore the amazing Morocco architecture, designs and areas as well as take photos without worrying about breaking the rules and getting in trouble.
11. Utilizing Drones
Since March 2015, the government has prohibited the import of drones for security reasons. Companies may use drones in Morocco only with a special permit. However, private use is completely prohibited.
Bringing one into the country without declaring it will result in it being seized by customs, and you will not be able to get it back. If you do, declare the drone before entering Morocco, the customs will hold it at the airport, and you will be able to pick it up on the way out of the country.
Special permission is possible for commercial drone use, but it is a lengthy and difficult process. Operators must ensure that they follow the following drone laws once they have obtained permission to fly in Morocco,
- Do not fly your drone over people or large crowds
- Respect other’s privacy when flying your drone
- Do not fly your drone over airports or in areas where aircraft are operating
- You must fly during daylight hours and only fly in good weather conditions
- Do not fly your drone in sensitive areas, including government or military facilities
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The Bottom Line
Although this is sound advice in any destination, Morocco is extremely serious due to the immense quantity of individuals who will pay you unwanted attention. It requires a lot of energy to be constantly on the lookout in a city where inquiring for directions frequently leads to people demanding money. Is traveling to Morocco Safe?
For the most part, Yes.
However, visiting Morocco needs more grit and a keen eye for vulnerabilities. It necessitates a degree of skepticism on your part. Instead of touring the nation alone, I recommend taking a tour. Furthermore, public transit is difficult to use in isolated deserts and mountains.
Thousands of individuals, however, come here by themselves and are alright. You’ll be fine visiting Morocco if you’re comfortable in unpleasant situations and a fast-paced environment.
I would strongly advise anyone to visit the nation but have an extra eye out and a thick skin for all the folks trying to sell you stuff! Morocco may not be easy, but it is well worth the trip — and it is far safer than you may imagine!
That’s all for this article, thanks for reading all the way to the end.