Essaouira is an increasingly attractive destination for those seeking a simpler, cheaper, sunnier or alternative lifestyle and is attracting younger travellers as well as older retirees. It is an inspirational and artistic place and the bohemian lifestyle and incredible light attract many creatives. Read the overview I write for Retirement and Good Living.
I recommend that anyone considering moving to Essaouira come here for an extended period first. Living somewhere is not like being on holiday and you’ll want to ensure that the lifestyle is for you. Although you can find all the mod cons of life elsewhere, basic errands and services take longer to get done in Morocco and the quality of goods and services might not be what you are used to. Life is significantly cheaper in Morocco than in Europe or the US, but you will need to live simply like a local to reduce your living costs. If you seek out foreign foods, entertainment and travel, your cost of living will closely resemble that at home…
Furnished rental accommodation (one or two bedrooms) is available from around 3000 dh (€270 / US$ 360 / £210) per month. Larger properties are more expensive and newcomers will want to consider the benefits of medina (old city), new town or countryside living for their lifestyle. There are plenty of people offering apartments and villas and you will want to weigh up the advantages of using an official estate agent (contract, deposit, guarantee, fees, online selection) over a local “smsar” or intermediary (informal, can be cheaper, but no comeback, fees are not set and there are no guarantees).
Living abroad can be lonely. There are expats of several nationalities in Essaouira (although only a small proportion live here full-time) and while you will probably want to build a network of Moroccans and foreigners, this will be determined by your language skills and you are likely to need either French or Moroccan Arabic language ability to really integrate and make contacts and friends. Get in touch if you want recommendations on language teachers. Wifi, 3G and satellite TV services are widely available and mobile coverage is cheap and widespread, making it easy to keep in touch with news, family and friends from home.
Many people take on staff to help them deal with the day-to-day. The minimum wage in Morocco is around 2,500 dh/month. Responsible employers declare their staff and pay them their worth as well as their taxes and social security contributions. Most people don’t bother for domestic staff.
The French are the largest expat community in Morocco as the legal system, language and general set-up are very familiar to them. There are several schools in Essaouira teaching in French, for example, but currently none which teaches in English (although all schools offer English language tuition at some stage).
You will also need to take the decision about whether to continue officially residing in your own country (in which case you will need to leave Morocco every 3-6 months to renew the tourist stamp in your passport) or to apply for residency in Morocco. You should consider the tax implications of either. The residency application process (for the “carte de séjour”) is relatively straightforward, but you will need to prove your means of supporting yourself in Morocco, eg financially, with property or a business or by marriage to a Moroccan.
Finally, the climate in Essaouira is very particular. It suits some, but not others. For those of us from the north, over 300 days of sunshine a year are a big attraction. However, some people (including many Souiris) find the almost-constant wind unbearable and others find the humidity (particularly in the medina) aggravates joint and muscular conditions such as arthritis. Consider how you will cover any medical emergencies: GPs and dentists are widely available (although few speak English), but if you require hospitalisation, you will probably prefer to use a private clinic in Marrakech or Casablanca. Without insurance, this could be costly.
Read about people who have made it work, in this article by Doreen Caraval for the New York Times: A Powerful Lure: Owning a Guesthouse in Morocco.
If you have further questions, feel free to get in touch.