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Morocco - Banking
by Mary Mimouna
Restricted Moroccan banking hours are definitely not what many foreigners are used to. Each bank has slightly different hours, so these hours are one thing that should be investigated before choosing to open your account there. Furthermore, summer hours (consisting of July and August) are different than year-round banking hours, so be sure you investigate both. Very occasionally, you can find a particular branch of a bank which is open different hours, or even different days. For example, some outlying branches (suburbs, Marjane) have Saturday morning banking hours, and are closed Monday mornings.
Here are two examples from banks in Marrakesh:
September - June M - F 8:15 AM - 11:30 AM; and 2:15 PM - 5:00 PM
July - August M - F 8:15 AM - 3:00 PM only
September - June M - F 8:00 AM - 11:30 AM; and 2:30 - 4:30 PM
July - August M - F 8:00 AM - 2:15 PM only
The currency of Morocco is the dirham. Each dirham is divided into one hundred centimes. Decimal places in Morocco are denoted with commas. In the places we write commas in numbers in English, Morocco uses the French system of decimals in the place of our commas. (In other words, the places of decimals and commas are reversed from English usage.)
Money minted under the reign of Hassan II is still in circulation, and is still valid. New bills and coins which look a bit different, minted under Mohamed VI, are also in concurrent circulation. The dirham is usually indicated by "DH." Centimes can be noted as "cm."
If you are buying from small street vendors, they will not calculate prices in dirhams. They will use "riyals." (Riyals were a system in place in Morocco before the arrival of the French. Many small shopkeepers are Berbers, and this group of shopkeepers has not yet made the switch to calculating in dirhams.) One riyal is equivalent to a five-centime gold-colored coin. There are 20 riyals to the dirham. (So if a price is given to you in riyals, you must divide by 20, in order to get the price in dirhams.)
Banking Facts for Tourists
If someone is meeting you upon your arrival in Morocco, and you have a transfer from the airport, then you won't need to worry about getting cash in advance of arrival.
Changing Money at the Airport
While there is an exchange office at the airport that often opens when flights arrive, it it not always reliably open. There are also now two cash machines in each terminal of the Marrakesh airport; however, they also do run out of cash at times.
Therefore, if you are arriving at night, or on your own without a hotel transfer, try to get about 200 Moroccan dirhams before entering the country. Even though Moroccan dirhams are not permitted to be exported, you can usually find them at airport money changers in New York, Madrid, Paris, and London. The rates are terrible, but if you are arriving in Morocco at a time when airport banks are closed, or the machines are out of cash, and find that you have no dirhams to get from the airport to the hotel, you will find yourself in a jam. (Some taxi drivers might accept foreign currency, but it would be at usurious rates!
Changing Money in Morocco
If changing cash, make sure that the currency is fairly new, not marked or torn, particularly at the corners. The following currencies are generally accepted for changing into dirhams in Morocco:
New Zealand Dollars (some places)
U. S. Dollars
Using foreign bank cards at automatic tellers in Morocco
Foreign debit cards do work in Moroccan automatic teller machines. As of this writing, this writer has not found any foreigers who have attempted to get a cash advance from a Visa or Mastercard CREDIT card out of an ATM machine. It could work, but few have ever chanced it, as the cards would be difficult to replace living away from one's home country. However, there is no problem with going into a bank and getting a cash advance on the credit card from inside the bank, although it can take up to a couple hours. (If any bank employee asks for your PIN number during this process--which once happened to me--of COURSE you should not give it to them.)
Cashing Traveler's Checks in Morocco
Businesses in Morocco do not accept traveler's checks. However, they can be cashed at any bank, and most money-changing offices, with your passport as identification. When checking in at a hotel, it is wise to ask if there are any upcoming holidays when banks might be closed, so that you are not caught unawares at check-out. (Also, if you are paying a hotel bill with a credit card, even five-star Moroccan hotels will not accept more than 3,000 DH a day on any one credit card--regardless of your personal limit in your own country. So that means you either must split the bill between several cards, OR each time your bill gets to 3,000 DH, pay it, and then continue your stay.)
Commission on traveler's checks in Morocco is charged PER CHECK. What this means to you is that, when coming to Morocco, you should bring mostly HIGH DENOMINATION CHECKS (such as for $100). A recent per-check charge rate was 20 dirhams (about $2.20). If you have all your checks in $20 increments, this can be a substantial bite.
Banking Facts for Residents
Foreigners often wonder about bank safety in Morocco. For example, in the United States of America, banks pay into the FDIC (Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation), which insures deposits up to a certain maximum. According to one of the bank managers at Attijariwafa Bank, Morocco also assures safety of depositors' money. If something should happen to depositors' money, the Moroccan government will step in to pay back depositors' money. According to the bank manager, there is no maximum as in the United States--ALL deposits would be covered. He did not say, however, how quickly depositors would be paid if this were to happen.
Choosing a Bank
For better service, Moroccans advise that the most important things in choosing a bank are that the bank is new and small (fewer customers means more attention to those customers), and/or knowing someone in that bank who can serve as your personal liaison. These two helpful hints keep you from getting "lost in the shuffle." If you are fortunate enough to have Moroccans you trust make a personal introduction for you to certain bank managers, by all means, do try opening an account at that bank. You can always change banks later in the year if you end up having problems.
However, since few newcomers to Morocco will have such personal contacts, investigate the banks most convenient for you in terms of hours and locations, and hope for the best. Check out the peak-hour crowds in the lobby at 9:00 AM, 11:00 AM (except on Friday, when crowds will be light at this time), and 4:00 PM. Try not to choose the most crowded bank. Also try talking to people in the bank, and see which bank has the most helpful employees.
Checking Accounts and Other Types of Accounts
Morocco is still a cash society, and looks to remain that way for the forseeable future. Merchants do not want to accept checks, partly because in order to cash each check, the merchant has to pay a charge of 15 dirhams ($1.80). Furthermore, often checks are not cashed by being deposited, but instead by sending a secretary or assistant to stand in line for an hour or two to actually cash the check. So while checks can be used for large purchases or expensive services, including supermarkets (preferred in amounts of over 500 dirhams; a few merchants accept 200-dirham checks; and no one accepts checks for less than 100 dirhams), they are neither common, nor preferred. Generally, merchants will not accept a check drawn on a bank outside the same city.
The dirham is NOT a freely exchangeable currency. Therefore, upon arrival in Morocco (to stay), you should open a "CONVERTIBLE DIRHAM" account. This means that any foreign money you bring in (or have wired) can go into this account. While you can deposit foreign currency into it, NO MOROCCAN DIRHAMS can be deposited into this account. There is no minimum for opening this account. (If a bank tells you there is a minimum, and if that is a problem for you, go to another bank--they do sometimes "say" there is a minimum, if they don't know the customer.) Any monies in a convertible dirham account can be freely wired abroad, at any time. Checks written on convertible dirham accounts can be used to pay for anything in Morocco, just like normal checks from non-convertible accounts. If purchasing property, DO use convertible dirhams so that you can later prove you brought the money in from outside. (If you want to later take the money out of Morocco, you have to prove that it originally came in from the outside.) Debit cards can be requested and issued for convertible dirham accounts. To open a convertible dirham account, the only document you will need is your passport, as well as some money to make an initial deposit. Statements can either be sent to an address in your home country, or an address in Morocco.
Once you have become a legal resident, and obtained your actual plasticized, pink "resident card," you are permitted to open a normal dirham account. It will take several months after applying at the police station for the pink card to actually arrive, so be prepared to have to wait to open a dirham account. Debit cards can also be requested and issued for convertible dirham accounts. To obtain a debit card on a REGULAR DIRHAM account, you MUST have a legal resident CARD (not just the "receipt" for the card), and an account. (The only exception I found is that one new accounts person at a BCME bank branch told me that they would open an account for someone with just the RECEIPT from the police station, saying that you have APPLIED for legal residence. So, if you are in a hurry for some reason, it might be advantagous to TRY one of the BCME branches.)
If you are a legal resident and have both a regular dirham account and an official work contract, your employer can direct-deposit your salary into your regular dirham account each month. Foreign workers who are residents, and who have an official work contract, can have up to half of their net monthly salary transferred into a convertible-dirham account. The bank must have all the proper paperwork in order to do this. Any funds in convertible accounts can be wired abroad, at will.
Neither a regular dirham checking account, nor a convertible-dirham checking account pay interest. Legal residents can open dirham passbook-savings accounts which do pay interest. Only Moroccan citizens residing abroad are permitted to have a special type of convertible account which also pays interest (which is to encourage Moroccans abroad to keep money in Moroccan banks).
Also, certificates of deposit are available, but NOT for convertible-dirham funds. They are only available for non-convertible accounts. Moroccan currency is NOT freely exchangeble (why Moroccan debit cards on normal dirham accounts are valid ONLY inside Morocco).
Foreign-denominated checks CAN be deposited into convertible accounts, but it will take between two and three months for those funds to be "available" to you (collected funds), and the commission will be extremely high.
Credit and Debit Cards
No banks have shown any interest in promoting Moroccan credit cards, as payment habits in Morocco are not yet reliable enough.
ONLY DEBIT CARDS ARE ISSUED IN MOROCCO. If a bank tells you they can give you a credit card, it is because they do not understand what you mean. If a bank tells you they can give you a "credit card," what they mean is that you will actually have a debit card, with personal authority from the bank manager to exceed a zero bank balance. This is a privilege very rarely extended to any bank customers. Many people in Morocco, including many bank employees, speak of a "credit card," but they are using this name very casually, actually calling ANY charge card a "credit card," just as the WORD for the name of the card--without even knowing or caring that it is actually a DEBIT card.
Foreign credit and debit cards, as well as debit cards from Moroccan banks--both on Moroccan convertible dirham accounts, and on normal dirham accounts (which are valid ONLY in Morocco) are accepted at all mid-sized hotels, and restaurants catering to foreigners. They are also accepted by larger merchants, or merchants selling expensive merchandise. The main use for Moroccan debit cards is to get cash out of your dirham account at the automatic tellers (thus avoiding the 30-60 minute wait time in the lobby to withdraw money from your dirham accounts). There are now automatic tellers in many far-flung regions of Morocco, such as Ouarzazate, Taroudannt, Zagora, Azilal, and Layounne. However, the automatic tellers will often run out of money, especially on weekends. So, if you are traveling, or have cash needs over the weekend, be sure to withdraw enough cash in advance. You can, however, go into banks while traveling around Morocco, and get cash advances on your foreign credit or debit cards. Debit cards issued on Moroccan convertible accounts CAN be used abroad (according to the BCME).
Banks, Mergers, and Lending Practices
As elsewhere in the world, several banks in Morocco have recently undergone mergers. Morocco has a number of private national banks, all of which practice branch banking. This means that if you have an account at one bank, you CAN get your money out of any other bank in Morocco by that name (such as when you are traveling). However, it can be time consuming, as they have to send a "wire" to your actual branch to check your account balance, and that can take up to several hours to get a response (plan on from two, to three hours).
As of this writing (August, 2006), there are over 20 different banks in Morocco. Each bank concentrates its lending practices in specific areas--which doesn't really affect where you might want to open a checking account, unless you are thinking of borrowing money in the future. The following banks are among those used by most people:
Credit du Maroc
Societe Generale Marocaine de Banques
Banks are now offering a moderate amount of term life insurance whenever you open a new account. Banks policies differ. At Attijariwafa, the insurance is required with all new accounts; whereas, at the Banque Populaire, the insurance is still optional. In any case, it is no longer valid after age 65.
Internet banking, as we know it abroad, has not yet arrived in Morocco. For a monthly fee, customers can sign up at most banks for an on-line service where bank balances can be checked by mobile phone, or computer. But no transactions can be made yet over the internet (probably wise, from a security standpoint).
Wiring (Electronic Transfer) of Funds to Morocco (known as "Money Mover" in Britain)
Be sure to obtain the following information from your Moroccan bank, which your foreign bank will need: complete name of Moroccan bank; name of branch and/or branch number; exact street address of the branch, the branch's SWIFT number (this is an internationally used system of numbers which identifies each branch of each bank, in each country); and the precise name as it reads on the account; and account number that the funds should be deposited into. Also, SPEAK DIRECTLY to the Moroccan bank's WIRE TRANSFER DEPARTMENT (not just ANY bank employee), and ask them WHICH CORRESPONDENT BANKS they use in the country you are having funds wired from. Ask whoever in your own country is wiring that money to REQUEST THAT THE FUNDS BE WIRED THROUGH THOSE CORRESPONDENTS. If you wire through the correct correspondents, your funds can arrive in your Moroccan account within three-to-five days. If you neglect to do that, the funds may not arrive for three-to-six WEEKS. (The BCME bank CLAIMS to have more direct correspondents than some other banks, which is one reason many foreigners choose it.)
Changing Normal Dirhams Into Hard Currency
There are two circumstances under which foreign residents can change ordinary non-convertible dirhams back into a hard currency. The first is for foreign travel, and the second is that up to half of your salary in dirhams may be put into a convertible account.
Foreign residents (or Moroccans) who wish to travel abroad are now permitted to change up to 15,000 DH per passport into the hard currency of your choice, in cash. That means if you are a family, you can also change up to 15,000 DH in each of your children's passports--provided they have a separate passport from you. The amounts you change are marked in your passport so that the maximum per year is not exceeded. (These amounts have been increased in recent years. Just a few years ago, the maximum was 5,000 DH; it was then raised to 10,000 DH; it now stands at 15,000 DH as of August, 2006.) If you are a foreign RESIDENT of Morocco, with the PINK RESIDENCE CARD and an OFFICIAL ORANGE-COLORED WORK CONTRACT (the paper having come back from the minister with the correct stamps on it, before taking it to the bank--and this can take several months), THEN you may have up to half of your Moroccan-dirham salary deposited into your convertible-dirham account (which can then be wired abroad at your leisure). The procedure is that all of your salary FIRST goes into your normal dirham account. Then, after your bank has correct paperwork, you can arrange with the bank's foreign exchange department to have the specified portion of your salary transferred from your normal dirham account to your convertible dirham account.
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