Is Morocco safe? Insider’s guide to traveling safely in Morocco

by Apr 1, 2019Morocco

Travel Safety In Morocco Silver Medal

Is Morocco safe to travel in? Westerners often wonder about travel safety in Morocco. The country is considered very safe, especially if you follow a few travel safety tips. 

Is Morocco safe? Morocco is an African country with French roots, a conservative culture and Muslim religion, and the country intrigues travelers with its culture and landscape. But is also often leaves people wondering about travel safety in Morocco.

Traveling tips you find online or even what you get from many tours organizers may not be the most accurate when you are wanting to travel smart in Morocco, so I consulted with somebody who not only organizes tours but also has an in-depth personal background herself in the country and speaks some Moroccan Arabic. Doesn’t hurt it’s a “she,” so she can address all the questions about how to dress in Morocco and etiquette for men AND women.

Open Doors Morocco

Nancy Lauer, managing partner of tour operator Open Doors Morocco, lives in the United States but spends a good part of the year herself in Morocco and works there with two men who lead many of the tours for and with her. She works directly with tour organization and knows many of her suppliers (such as hotels and restaurants) personally. Many tour organizers may not know the country themselves but simply hire a local who sells a package to them and also leads the tour, sometimes even somebody who hasn’t been there.

We talked to Nancy about misconceptions, etiquette, how to dress, and how all that relates to travel safety in Morocco and how to travel smart.

“People of course have misconceptions about Morocco, as they may about many countries where the customs are different from our Western society. We strive to provide rewarding, comfortable and of course safe experiences while also respecting Moroccan nationals,” Nancy says about her company’s philosophy.

Is Morocco safe? This Is Morocco - inside a mosque.

Basic traveling tips for safety

Is Morocco safe? Despite being more foreign to Westerners, “Morocco is really a relatively safe country. Follow the rules you’d follow at home when in a city that isn’t your own,” she says.

  • Stay on what she calls “yellow alert,” like you would in any unfamiliar city. That means being aware of what’s going on around you, avoiding walking around with your phone in your hand OR pocket (where it can be easily picked), and to walk as if you know where you are going (even if you are lost).
  • In cities such as Essaouira on the coast, a woman should not stroll the beach alone at night, although it’s beautiful and tempting. You may soon end up with men wanting to “stroll” with you.
  • Despite warnings to not go out after dark, Morocco is a night country and Moroccans are out roaming around at night. Stay in well-lit areas. If you are a woman and suddenly look around and don’t see any other women, you are either out too late or standing out too much and you should leave. “You are not necessarily unsafe. It’s more like it is assumed that you are on the hunt for a nightclub or a man.”
  • Do not ever accept the offer to buy hashish (marijuana). It is illegal in Morocco and can result in jail time of 10 years!
  • Never assume taking photographs of people is OK. In Islam, images of living things are unacceptable. Always ask and then offer a couple of dirhams to say thank you if you do.
  • Crossing streets is an art and can be risky, like in some other European countries. Never forget that pedestrians do NOT have the right of way, ever. When you are crossing busy streets, walk near a Moroccan so you can learn how and stay safe. “When I first lived in Morocco, I’d look for a woman carrying a baby and cross with her.” Perhaps less reassuringly, she says, “If you do it right, it’s still possible that you’ll be run over, but less likely.”

Safety Crossing Streets Morocco

Travel safety in Morocco — medinas and souks

To be clear, a medina is like the downtown or the “old town” center of a city. A souk is the market area, often around a plaza, which is usually in the medina.

Morocco Medina Souk Market

  • The medinas (some, but not all, pedestrian only) are very busy places with narrow alleys and paths teeming with people and motorbikes where you are likely to get lost. Try not to stop and consult a map. First, the map likely won’t help and, two, you will likely be offered “help” by a person to guide you there – and then want money – which can be annoying. Even if you say, no, the person may casually walk in front of you and once you arrive, demand money saying they led you. Just say “no” firmly.
  • GPS maps are likely unreliable in medinas, and you should not ask some random person for directions. Women can ask women since it’s rare to find a woman who is a “fake guide.” Men should not approach a woman. Best is to ask a shopkeeper or fruit stand operator, but you may need hands and feet or a few Moroccan Arabic words.
  • Don’t worry too much about getting lost, she advises, but just dive in and enjoy the adventure of it all. If you are with a tour group you should have a telephone number to call if you need help – if with Open Doors, you can be in touch at any time. Otherwise, if you feel uncertain or perhaps even panicked, just head out of the medina so you can “recalculate” your bearings.
  • When in transit in a medina, you may need to walk single file. Walk next to the outside, nearest the shops. Keep kids at the farthest side toward shops. Keep any shoulder bag on the side toward the outside. In general, just try to stay to the side and not get trampled or, in some cities, hit by a zooming motorbike. Stay aware!
  • Keep personal items and valuables close to your body or under a shirt. Your smartphone – or other valuables or money — should be stashed in a waist belt or otherwise under cover, not just in a loose pocket. Belongings should be held close or in front of you.

Etiquette: How to dress in Morocco

Moroccans are good at accepting that foreigners dress differently but, at the same time, the best traveling advice is for visitors to be respectful of the modest culture. Try not to further stereotypes seen on TV or in the movies of exposed skin and chests or bare thighs – especially in smaller villages. Sure, we can try to blend in, as we addressed in this article, but in some areas it’s really not possible, meaning you need to be respectful of how you stand out.

Dress DONT Morocco

Too flashy, showing shoulders, purse just over one shoulder and not secure, and those shoes … NO!

  • Bare shoulders and sleeveless top or big scooped necklines are no-nos.
  • Capris are fine for women if they come below your knee. No shorts or short skirts.
  • Jeans are fine. Try to avoid skin-tight apparel.
  • Make sure your footwear is walkable and comfortable. Closed toes are best because of uneven sidewalks and streets.
  • Men can wear longer shorts, although pants are best.
  • For women, wearing a head covering is fine, but not necessary, but scarves come in handy for covering shoulders or necklines.
Dress DO Morocco

Conservative clothing with the man in long pants and the woman in capris, sensible shoes, purse safely tucked away on lap and with strap across the body.

Traveling tips on gender roles and rules

We as Westerners may not agree with these “rules” and the roles accepted there, but you are a guest in the country so behave respectfully.

  • If you are there with your significant other, avoid any public display of affection, except a little hand-holding perhaps. Moroccans are very uncomfortable with it.
  • There is very little mixing of genders. There is no understanding of how genders can interact as friends, aside from some teens and young adults in cities.
  • Simply speaking, men are friends with men and women are friends with women. Period.
  • For women: Some Moroccan men may appear to want to be your friend, but they will want more. Never give out your phone number, email, Facebook, Instagram, etc. Nancy says, “They take that to mean you are interested in more. They will call you. They will tell you that they just want to be friends, but again they do not know what this means in practice simply because it isn’t commonly found in their cultures.”

Click here to learn more

Open Doors Logo With TaglineNancy Lauer named her company “Open Doors” for several reasons: One, the doors in Morocco are always open. “Moroccans are some of the most hospitable people anywhere.” Two, because the doors themselves are beautiful and unique. She considers Morocco her second home.

Learn more about travel safety and security anywhere in the world

We’re here to answer your most basic questions about travel safety and security no matter where you travel in the world. Having good travel insurance as well as international emergency medical coverage is a good start. Read our stories on travel insurance 101 and what to do when you have a medical emergency while traveling. Then know how to keep yourself, your gear and your data secure by reading these articles: Travel safety tips: Keep travel safe, valuables secure, Digital security when traveling: 10 must-do tips, and Travel security gear we rely on anywhere we go.

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  1. Ed and Jenn Coleman

    A very good reminder to be respectful of your host country. This seems like common sense, but I’ve seen a lot of boneheaded travellers out there so it’s always good to get back to the basics. I’m surprised that crime is as big of a concern with the emphasis on pickpockets and purses.

    • HI Travel Tales

      yeah, we need to extract the bone from the head, abide by local customs, and be considerate of a culture.

  2. The Roaming Renegades

    After visiting many countries around the world, quite a few of them Muslim, I tend to think pretty much anywhere is safer than the general public in places like America might imagine!! I have also not come across any problems in Muslim countries wearing shorts and t-shirts as a woman though they are usually longer shorts around knee length. But certainly even in Brunei, Turkey, Egypt, UAE, Indonesia this wasn’t an issue! I think if you have respect and general awareness like you would anywhere and have a healthy dose of scepticism then you’ll be fine in most places!

    • HI Travel Tales

      You are so right. one must have respect and one MUST have awareness, not only of immediate surroundings but of the culture and how it works. unfortunately way too many Westerns launch into a place like Morocco and expect things to be as they are at home — and that is dangerous. thanks for your comment.

  3. The Holidaymaker

    I have been reading such mix reviews on safety that each year I put off a trip, despite really wanting to go. This article is very helpful, and offers some great insights, so much so that I will continue to put it on the top of my list. Thanks for sharing.

    • HI Travel Tales

      morocco IS safe. you just must be aware and smart, like anyplace!

  4. Marvi

    Interesting and helpful post! The basic travel tips mentioned are really helpful. I like how specific they are like strolling at the Essaouira beach at night, walking with purpose even if you are lost, and asking directions from shopkeepers or fruit stand operator instead of some random stranger.

    • HI Travel Tales

      thanks for the input and comments!

  5. Alison

    Thanks for all the great tips for travelling in Morocco. It is so important to be respectful of the culture we are visiting, as tourists, and to do some research prior to arriving. Love how you got the inside scoop from someone who has spent a ton of time in Morocco. Crossing the street with the locals, always a good idea! Had no idea about the gender separation when it came to friends. Note taken.

    • HI Travel Tales

      you are welcome. we will be back and we will have more insights!

  6. Bernie

    That’s interesting and helpful. I like that you’ve included photos to show what’s appropriate in terms of dress. I think I would instinctively ask a stallholder for directions, and it’s also a great tip to go with the flow and get yourself outside or into open space to re-orientate yourself.

    • HI Travel Tales

      thanks for the input too!

  7. Joanne

    This is all so interesting! We had considered visiting Morocco a few years ago but didn’t make it there. This is great advice and information for when we do go. I had no idea that men and women didn’t mix as friends and love the advice to cross the road with a lady and her child.

    • HI Travel Tales

      crossing roads with or without moroccans is always a trick! you just run for your life. one time, we were waiting to cross and I saw a Moroccan start to go so I said, LET’S GO, tailing the guy. kinda funny really. but it works!

  8. yarasam

    Thanks for the helpful travel tips, although I think they apply to many countries and regions outside of Morocco. Tips about safety are always important regardless of destination. Great tips about photographing other people, it’s true that it’s not as acceptable or common in the Middle East. Looking forward to visiting Morocco again!

    • HI Travel Tales

      and again and again!

  9. Passports & Pigtails

    I love that you are working to break misconceptions of what I imagine to be such a beautiful destination worth exploring. I think many of them apply to traveling in general, but absolutely appreciate the tips about taking photographs, and dressing respectfully, things that are often not at the forefront thought when of many travelers. Fantastic tips all around!

    • HI Travel Tales

      thank you! photographs are quite different in this — and other – muslim and conservative countries. many women in particular do not want their photos taken and one should never just shoot randomly.

  10. Mirela | The Travel Bunny

    I am dreaming to visit Morocco ever since I watched Gilmore Girls and Rory was speaking about Fez. 🙂 In addition, a good part of the family of my husband-to-be lived there many years and fell in love with it and I’m looking to hear more about it when I see them. And the food! I found a nice Moroccan restaurant in the suburbs of Paris that I always hit when we visit his family, but I’d love to try it in its actual country. Safety is somehow the last thing on my mind when I dream of Morocco.

  11. Ycho

    thanks for sharing interesting information about safety in morocco

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