Using mobile phones in Morocco

By Stephen Addison
This item appears on page 15 of the October 2018 issue.

Cell phone tower disguised as a palm tree at the Kasbah Tamadot hotel in Asni, Morocco. Photo by Stephen Addison
Typically, when Americans travel internationally, their wireless carrier will offer some version of a reasonably priced international roaming plan for voice, text and data. Often, these plans cover at least 140 countries, or about three-fourths of the world's nations. These plans are likely to include the countries on your itinerary.

As I learned the hard way several years ago in Jordan, always check in advance to confirm that every country you plan to visit is covered. Many of us have heard horror stories from travelers who returned to the US and soon afterward received a mobile bill for hundreds of dollars. You don't want to be that person.

While planning a May 2018 trip to Morocco for my wife, Paula, and myself (Sept. '18, pg. 14), I found Morocco to be one of those countries that doesn't play well with others in respect to mobile service. My phone would work there, but avoiding very high service charges would be difficult. Multicountry international plans often omit Morocco. Usually, all that is available is some variant of a pay-as-you-go plan with high per-minute rates for talk, nominal charges for texts and very high data charges.

I couldn't find a good option from my carrier, Verizon, and neither T-Mobile nor Sprint appeared to have a decently priced option. (Note: After my trip, T-Mobile began offering unlimited data and texting and cheap voice in Morocco for $80 a month, but I wouldn't have wanted to switch carriers or phones, anyway.) AT&T's pricy Passport® was the best of a bad lot. Google's Project Fi (fi.google.com) is a great deal but is available for only a handful of phones.

My best option was to buy a local SIM card upon arrival in Morocco and use that in my phone. I attempted to buy a SIM card for Morocco prior to leaving the US but was unable to find one at a decent price.

Upon our arrival, our private tour guide gave us an inexpensive Maroc Telecom SIM card that included voice minutes and texts. While its packaging promised "4G+," our guide didn't spring for a data plan because it was expensive. I used this SIM card in my old Samsung Galaxy S5, which I had taken on the trip for this purpose.

Setting up my phone was challenging because all of the documentation was in either French or Arabic. The Maroc Telecom app (which installed automatically on my phone) was in French only. Coverage was excellent, however; we saw plenty of cell phone towers (several of which were disguised as palm trees).

Several of the Wi-Fi networks we used in Morocco had the problem of lengthy losses of their Internet connections. If I had it to do over, I would have procured a SIM card that included some data.

I would also have disabled 2-factor authentication on several online accounts. Text-based 2-factor authentication messages (verifying my identity) didn't work on my Moroccan network-connected S5 because the text messages were going to my regular mobile phone number, and my S5 now had a Moroccan phone number (from using the Maroc Telecom SIM card). Email-based 2-factor authentication messages didn't make it to either phone unless the phone was on Wi-Fi.

Another lesson learned was that apps installed by your mobile service provider probably will not function when your phone is using another carrier's SIM card.

My phone normally uses Verizon's Message+ app for text messaging, but that app quit working when I installed the Maroc Telecom SIM card. Fortunately, my phone had another text-messaging app that worked just fine.

STEPHEN ADDISON

Charlotte, NC