Travelers to Morocco, be forewarned.
The tipping culture is pervasive. This is not unique to Morocco, of course, but I never thought the problem was going to be as big as it became. Add to this the fact that most of Morocco operates pretty much as a cash economy. Credit cards are accepted only by bigger businesses that cater to tourists.
Most Moroccans you’ll encounter in your travels will be doing something for you, whether it’s a bus boy, restaurant server/waiter, guide, housekeeping, public toilet employees, and so on. You can, of course, choose not to tip, but that would be a mistake. Tipping is considered an important way to say thank you for a service rendered. Like it or not, many people rely on it to eke out a living. I am not against tipping. However, I wasn’t prepared for the constant demands it made on me and my time.
The usual tip amount is as low as 1 MAD (Moroccan dirham) and goes up to 10 or so MAD, depending on the service. For those of us in industrialized countries, we’re talking peanuts here. For example, 1 MAD is equivalent to a little over 10 cents in U.S. currency.
The problem is this: where to get the small denomination coins for tipping. It’s a bigger issue than you can possibly ever imagine. Here’s why.
Travelers now rely on ATM machines to get cash in local currency. The minimum amount they will dispense in Morocco is often a 100 MAD bill, less often 20. OK, you say, I’ll just get change from somewhere. You’d be wrong. Unless you’re a customer at a local bank, you won’t be able to make change there. Neither can you get it at so-called exchanges/cambios where their business is to swap foreign currencies (for a fee or an ‘adjusted’ exchange rate), not to make change for free. What if you try to buy something at a shop and hope to get small change. Nope. Invariably, they’ll tell you they don’t have the change. I swear this happened every single time. Many items are sold rounded to the nearest 10 MAD at minimum. Try breaking a 100 or 200 MAD at a shop and you’ll see what I mean. Even getting change at a riad or dar is difficult. It may be easier at large hotels.
Every time you use a public toilet, the usual tip to the person sitting outside (for women, this will be the only way to get TP) is 1-2 MAD. These are people who keep the WCs clean. A bellhop might be given 10 MAD. If you want to take pictures of people, they may ask you for 1-2 MAD. Waiters should be given about 10 percent of the total bill. You get the idea; small change is going to want to leave your pocket more often than you think.
The other issue is what exactly should be an appropriate tip for various kinds of services. Make sure you know what is expected. Your tour company should have good guidelines on what to give. Mine issued guidelines but didn’t go far enough on the hows. If yours doesn’t, insist that it does to make your holiday less stressful. And, believe me, getting small change in Morocco is very stressful.
So, traveler, be aware. This shouldn’t in the least discourage you from going to Morocco. It is a beautiful, wonderful country with so much to offer. It will captivate and surprise you in many ways, as it did me. I wouldn’t have traded the opportunity for anything, not even small change.