The Moroccan Dirham (MAD) is the national currency of Morocco. One US dollar is roughly 9.45 MAD. I usually round it to 10 when converting in my head. To demonstrate the buying power of a dirham, here is a list some recent purchases in my town along with their current US dollar equivalence.
• 1 GB of data on my SIM card: 10 MAD, $1.06
• Snickers: 6 MAD, $0.64
• Coffee: 6 MAD, $0.64
• Rotisserie chicken, fries, and beans: 20 MAD per person, $2.13 • Pringles: 20 MAD, $2.13
• Medium pizza from Pizza Hut Meknes: 100 MAD, $10.69
• 3 hour cab ride: 200 MAD, $21.38
• 3 hour bus ride (actually takes 5 hours): 50 MAD, $5.34
• Monthly rent of my two bedroom apartment: 500 MAD, $53.46
• Queen mattress: 1100 MAD, $117.61
• Small refrigerator with freezer: 2100 MAD, $224.54
Although it seems like a cheap country, it’s only so for select foreigners. Though it’s a privilege that my US dollar is worth a lot here, I barely use my US money in Morocco. I did use it for Pizza Hut in Meknes because that was expensive (in MAD), and I am constantly craving pizza.
Prices may vary from town to town and throughout time. In larger cities, rent may rise, but you can still find cheap food options. Some prices can also change depending on weather and holidays, like taxis, or on the season and supply, like food. Regardless of price, there are some things you just can’t buy in small towns because they don’t have it. Last week was a small Monday su9 (market), so I couldn’t buy some things I wanted, like lettuce, cauliflower, and avocado. On my way to a Christmas party I stopped by my nearest supermarket, five hours away on the bus, to buy soy sauce.
Locals may recognize volunteers as foreigners and increase prices. Speaking Darija, I think, minimizes this risk. It’s still difficult to know how much something is actually worth without a local’s insight, so sometimes I probably just overpay. My host mom took me to shop for my new apartment to avoid this issue and help negotiate. Negotiation is a widely accepted practice in Moroccan culture. In my experience, you don’t usually negotiate food and transportation prices, unless you’re buying out an entire taxi. For rent, clothes, furniture, and appliances, negotiation is common. And sometimes it occurs aggressively. It’s often hard to tell if Moroccans are arguing or negotiating.
Peace Corps provides me with a living stipend which is meant to support a living style similar to those around me. I’ve adjusted quickly to this new currency. I remember in Brazil, my US dollar was worth more than the Brazilian real, and I constantly converted to justify any purchase because it was cheap with my US dollar. But since I know I’ll be living here for two years and won’t be relying on my US savings, I’m already bummed to spend more than 20 MAD, or $2.13, on anything.