When you think of the Kingdom of Morocco, you’re probably not thinking about dirham or santim. You may have visions of Casablanca, the Western Sahara, beautiful blue doorways, and ornate Islamic architecture.
But if you’re planning to visit Morocco, whether for tourism or a family reunion, you’ll need to focus on more essential items. Like money.
Which means you’ll need Moroccan dirham.
Moroccan dirham essentials
The dirham is the official currency of the Kingdom of Morocco and is printed by the Bank al-Maghrib. It can be divided into santim. It takes 100 santimat to make up 1 dirham. And since Morocco is a multilingual nation, where Arabic and French are both spoken among many other languages, the Arabic santim is called a centime in French. The plural is centimes.
But that’s not all you need to know. Here’s the key information about Moroccan currency:
- Currency Code: MAD
- Abbreviation: DH
- Coins: 1, 2, 5, and 10
- Banknotes: 10, 20, 50, 100, 200
- Sentimat/Centimes: 5, 10, 20, 50
A short history of the dirham in Morocco
The Arabic word “dirham” derives from the Ancient Greek word drachma. So how did the term for Greek currency end up in Morocco? It’s simple: Conquest and trade. At the height of the Byzantine Empire in 600 AD, the Greek reign stretched across Northern Africa, particularly the seaports, all the way to Persia. And they traded with many more people outside their empire.
The drachma was picked up by other civilizations, including Persia, Moorish Spain, and what would later become the Ottoman Empire.
But as power changed hands, Moroccan currency changed, too.
Until 1882, Morocco still used copper, silver, and gold to mint coins. The silver coins were called dirham. The dirham retained its status as the second-most valuable currency after the Moroccan rial was introduced. The rial lasted until 1921 when France took over Morocco.
Remember the film Casablanca? It took place during the French occupation of the country, when the franc, not the dirham, would have been in use.
Finally, after independence in 1960, the dirham was reintroduced. But this time, it was the primary currency.
Understanding currency exchange in Morocco
Currency rates are determined by a number of factors, from government stability to the national economy. While the kingdom has been more progressive under the current king, Mohammed VI, the economy continues to struggle due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Morocco depends heavily on trade and tourism, and its overall growth fluctuates depending on its agriculture sector.
Due to the economy, its trade balances, and other factors, the Moroccan dirham is valued to be less than the USD, EUR, or GBP.
Currently, the currency exchange is fairly stable, as it has hovered around 8 MAD per 1 USD for the past few years. You can see historical rates for the MAD to the USD or other currencies at Oanda’s historical rates chart here.
5 facts you probably didn’t know about the dirham
So what makes the dirham so special? As you can imagine, coming from a country as rich in history and culture as Morocco, a lot can be said about its national currency. But here are our top five interesting facts!
1. The first dirham notes were printed over old francs.
A new country has a lot on its plate. That’s one of the reasons that when the modern dirham was first introduced in 1960, the 100 and 50 dirham notes were overprints on the original franc banknotes.
The 100 dirham note was printed over the 10,000 franc notes and the new 50 note over the 5,000 franc banknotes.
2. The actual plural of dirham is darahim.
Plurals in Arabic work a bit differently than in English. In English, we add an “s” to the end of a word to signify that there is more than one of that thing. That’s why an English speaker’s first instinct is to turn dirham into dirhams.
But in Arabic, some words create a “broken plural,” which is when the middle sounds change. That’s why dirham becomes darahim.
It’s okay if you stick to just using “dirham.” Especially in tourist-heavy sites like Casablanca, local residents are used to hearing the English or French versions of the word.
3. Countryside markets might use different names.
In the 18th century, the Moroccan currency system used the Spanish coin system as a reference. This resulted in common alternative names to the dirham, including the duro and real for the silver coins. You may still hear these terms used in the countryside markets of Morocco.
4. Dirham banknotes feature the current king of the Kingdom of Morocco.
If you’ve ever seen or held a dirham banknote, you may have noticed a man is printed on each one. That’s the monarch of the Kingdom of Morocco.
Starting from 1987, the notes featured King Hassan II. After he passed away in 1999, a new note was designed with his successor, Mohammed VI, which was released in 2002.
5. Both the rial and the franc are still used…sort of.
Nowadays, the dirham is subdivided into 100 santimat, or centimes if you are speaking French. However, you can still hear locals calling 5 santimat a “rial” and 1 santim a “franc.”
This is likely because when the new currency was announced in the 1960s, one dirham equalled 100 francs. It was only in 1974 that the santim replaced the franc as the lower denomination.
Exchanging, converting, and using the Moroccan dirham
The Moroccan dirham is a closed currency. This means you can’t buy it outside the country. Because of this, it’s advised that you generally exchange only the amount you think you’ll need, and make sure to spend all of it while in Morocco.
Generally, you’ll need cash for marketplaces, small shops, and emergencies, as well as in locations outside the major cities. You should be able to use your credit card at most mid-to-large hotels, luxury restaurants, and malls.
If you plan to exchange your UK pounds to MAD, Euros to MAD, or US dollars to MAD in Morocco, you will have two options: currency exchange agencies and the airport counter.
However, the easiest way to get hard cash in Morocco is simply to use an ATM to convert your pounds, Euros, or dollars to dirham. It depends on your bank, but usually, ATM fees are less than those at a currency exchange office.
Check with your bank to find out about their out-of-network or international ATM fees before you travel.
Here are some more tips on using your Moroccan dirham:
- Break 100 and 200 DM notes when you can.
- Small notes, such as the 5, 10, and 20 DM, are preferred.
- Keep exact change for taxis.
- If no tip is added to your restaurant bill, consider giving a 10% tip.
- Don’t try to bring in money with traveller’s checks. Most Moroccan banks won’t accept them.
Sending money to Morocco with Remitly
For affordable money transfer to Morocco, look closely at fees. Since the currency exchange from USD to MAD, EUR to MAD, or GBP to MAD is fairly stable, focusing on lowering your transfer fees will save you more than waiting for a better exchange rate.
Other considerations: You’ll also want to see where and how your loved ones can receive the funds you send. Look for transfer companies with a wide network of partners.
Remitly is a secure, affordable app for sending money to Morocco. You can send US dollars, Euros, or British pounds directly to your Moroccan bank account with low transaction fees. Or you can send money for your friends or relatives to pick up in cash. And all you need is your bank information to complete the transfer.