Morocco Photographer's Warning

Warning to Photographers Traveling to Morocco! (Podcast 640)

Going to Morocco for a photography tour? Please take a look at this important warning about my customs fiasco first.

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Martin Bailey
Martin Bailey is a nature and wildlife photographer and educator based in Tokyo. He's a pioneering Podcaster and blogger, and an X-Rite Coloratti member.
36 Comments
  • David Ross
    Posted at 20:10h, 04 December Reply

    Martin,
    What does the ‘note’ say?
    Were these men after a ‘bribe’ and only ‘chickened-out’ because you objected so strongly?
    I’ve never experienced this behaviour in Morocco !
    Anyway,pleased you had a good shoot.
    Regards
    Dave

    • Martin Bailey
      Posted at 20:14h, 04 December Reply

      Thanks, David.

      I don’t know what the Arabic script says, but I assume it just says Minister of Communication, Rabat, like the English.

      I answer your question about them possibly being after a bribe in the section above with the header “Back-hander (Bribe)?”

      Cheers,
      Martin.

  • Neil Powell
    Posted at 20:27h, 04 December Reply

    Thanks for the info, Martin. This is a bit scary. Glad it finally worked out for you but it could have easily gone the other way. With all the wonderful places to photograph in the world, I donโ€™t think Iโ€™ll want to visit Morocco anytime soon given this risk.

    • Martin Bailey
      Posted at 20:32h, 04 December Reply

      You’re welcome, Neil.

      I think that is a decision that many people will make once they hear this. I might go back, but I will be nervous to do so.

      Cheers,
      Martin.

  • Elie Z
    Posted at 20:27h, 04 December Reply

    My Moroccan friends will be very upset knowing you went through this.

    My other friend had problems with his drone and they kept it in the airport till he left the country. They were polite though and did not ask for bribes.

    Thank you for sharing your experience with us and I wish you a complete recovery from your cold.

    • Martin Bailey
      Posted at 20:37h, 04 December Reply

      Hi Elie,

      I’m sure your Moroccan friends will be upset by this. The few people that I spoke to about this in Morocco were too. Most people I meet in Morocco are kind and caring people. They don’t want their country’s reputation tarred either, but unfortunately, their customs officers seem to have other ideas.

      Taking drones to most African countries is a no-no. Some countries don’t even grant permission to take them in, but Morocco does have a program to allow people to request permission to use them ahead of time. If your friend had applied for permission, he would have been fine. Just turning up with.a drone in Africa is generally not a good idea.

      Thanks for the well-wishes. I feel fine now, although my voice is still a little groggy. ๐Ÿ™‚

      Cheers,
      Martin.

      • Elie Z
        Posted at 20:49h, 04 December Reply

        Glad you are well.

        The Arabic on the paper just says:

        MINISTRY OF COMMUNICATION

        • Martin Bailey
          Posted at 23:41h, 04 December Reply

          Hi Elie,

          I thought it would. Thanks for letting me know.

          Very much appreciated!

          Regards,
          Martin.

  • Raico
    Posted at 01:14h, 05 December Reply

    On the back of the note it said “only joking welcome to Morocco :-)”

    I was in Morocco for a whole month in 2010 travelling through with my mate who sells 2nd hand goods there. Your experience pretty much sums the place up. If it wherent for my experienced mate I would have easily gotten eaten alive there. Sorry to say it was the worst African country we drove through. (Yes there where lots of amazing times and nice people but the bad outweighed the good).

    • Martin Bailey
      Posted at 08:48h, 05 December Reply

      Hi Raico,

      That would have been nice if it did say that. ๐Ÿ™‚

      We must manage to steer clear of the bad a little better than you did, but I can certainly see where you are coming from. We have our share of negative experiences too, but for me, it’s the nice people that I’ve met in Morrocco that I chose to remember.

      Unfortunately, I now have one bad face that I will never forget, and it came attached to the customs suit that provided me with a bad enough experience to have to consider whether or not I really want to go back there.

      Cheers,
      Martin.

  • Bryan Hudson
    Posted at 01:31h, 05 December Reply

    Good stuff Martin! Thanks for sharing. Itโ€™s a shame that one over zealous agent can make the customs experience so bad. This is the reason why Iโ€™m very hesitant to take my best cameras or Mavic pro drone into some of these places. I just returned from a two week trip to Kenya. Your experience has given me courage and hope to do so in the future!

    • Martin Bailey
      Posted at 08:54h, 05 December Reply

      Hi Bryan,

      Believe me, it was not just one. There were two to three officials in that room and they were all set on ruining my visit. Plus, the guy that took me over there. That whole group was rotten. Completely undertrained and they just set out to get me with their leading question. They were thugs and should hold the positions they’re in.

      You definitely shouldn’t take your Mavic Pro to any African country unless you have prior authorization. Most of them require authorization before you land, and some African countries will just not grant it. If you don’t have a pass, leave the Mavic at home. As for which camera, I don’t own any other cameras. My two 5Ds R bodies are it, and I wouldn’t want to shoot with a lesser camera just to avoid this kind of situation. Really, if I can’t get my gear in, the country isn’t worth visiting.

      Regards,
      Martin.

      • Bryan Hudson
        Posted at 10:19h, 05 December Reply

        Thanks for the reply Martin and for giving us this insight.

        • Martin Bailey
          Posted at 15:18h, 05 December Reply

          You’re very welcome Bryan. Thanks for stopping by.

  • Tim L
    Posted at 06:38h, 05 December Reply

    Wow! It stresses me out just reading about this encounter. I’m glad things ultimately worked out. Ridiculous though…

    • Martin Bailey
      Posted at 08:55h, 05 December Reply

      Hi Tim,

      Sorry to stress you out! ๐Ÿ™‚

      Thanks though. It did work out OK and we had a great trip, as I’ll relay from next week.

      Cheers,
      Martin.

  • Jamie Zartman
    Posted at 15:32h, 05 December Reply

    Sorry to hear this Martin. However, great photo of the camels in the dunes.

    • Martin Bailey
      Posted at 15:54h, 05 December Reply

      Thanks, Jamie,

      Yeah, you know, I added that to show that the tour was still a great success and the photography was wonderful. I almost had to do it all with my iPhone, but luckily I’m stubborn enough to have not let that happen. ๐Ÿ™‚

      Cheers,
      Martin.

    • Jeffrey Chang
      Posted at 05:53h, 25 April Reply

      Thanks.

      I have contacted their consulate in my nation to seek clarification in this issue of DSLRs.

      I hope to get ahead of any trouble and if faced with it by Customs I am sure a letter from Consular officials will help.

  • Alan Mermelstein
    Posted at 03:49h, 06 December Reply

    Martin,

    I just listened to your podcast, and I truly hope you are feeling better. I hope I don’t sound like a sycophant, but I appreciate all your years of service to our photographic community.

    • Martin Bailey
      Posted at 09:09h, 06 December Reply

      Thanks so much, Alan!

      I really appreciate it. Thank you for following my antics and taking the time to comment.

      Regards,
      Martin.

  • Mark Anthony
    Posted at 04:24h, 06 December Reply

    Was there 3 months ago, bag full of cameras, no probs, just luck of the draw I guess, tho if u go looking like a photographer, I think u will get picked on. . Sitting and waitin @ LHR, next stop India, going back f seconds, now that could be interesting.

    • Martin Bailey
      Posted at 09:14h, 06 December Reply

      Hi Mark,

      For sure, I had no problems last year, and none of my guests did either, thankfully.

      This is what makes it feel so bad. For a country making so much money on tourism and photography tours now, they certainly need to do a better job of training their airport staff. It was a complete fiasco.

      Safe and pleasant travels to you!

      Cheers,
      Martin.

  • Peter Clark
    Posted at 23:09h, 09 December Reply

    Hi Martin
    This is not a recent policy change, after listening to the episode I happened to be watching one of my favourite car channels on Youtube. He had driven to Morocco from the UK a couple of years ago. Getting off the ferry, customs in Tangier searched his Ferrari and they found a small video drone he wanted to use to film the car in the desert. This was impounded. He had to pay a helper to ensure he obtained a receipt at the port in order to get it back, when he left a few days later. The cameras in the cabin were ignored. It seems there are rogue elements on certain shifts at the ports who pick on ‘rich’ travellers.
    regards
    Peter

    • Martin Bailey
      Posted at 23:11h, 09 December Reply

      Hi Peter,

      Drones are banned without a permit in most African countries.

      This is unrelated to that, but I completely agree about the rogue elements.

      Regards,
      Martin.

  • David Glazebrook
    Posted at 05:09h, 10 December Reply

    Morocco has been on my bucket list for a long time and your experience Martin is certainly alarming. I wonder if the big non-photographic tour companies clients are subjected to the same scrutiny? Do cruise ships go there? The mind boggles. What is it with africa and video? You’ve open a real can of worms in my mind regarding africa!! Thanks ๐Ÿ˜‰

    • Martin Bailey
      Posted at 09:47h, 10 December Reply

      Hi David,

      The main problem with Africa and drones is that a drone is a very useful tool for a poacher trying to find rhino etc. I have a drone and wanted to take it to Namibia last year, but the process to get a permit is pretty much impossible to complete. I heard from the person that gives out the permits and was told basically if you are not National Geographic, forget it.

      As for video (non-drone) this was my first experience with this kind of issue, and from what I can tell it’s very uncommon. I have never had problems anywhere else, so unless you intend to bring a drone (which I recommend you don’t) then please don’t worry about this too much for other African countries. Even for Morocco, I’m hoping it was just a one-off attack on an innocent photographer.

      Regards,
      Martin.

  • Mark Friedman
    Posted at 07:27h, 10 December Reply

    Hi Martin,

    Obviously a terrible experience. You mentioned that the first question was something like “are you a photographer?” I’m wondering if, since English is not their first language, that is their way of asking are you a commercial photographer? If so, by answering yes and then saying that your equipment is video capable, perhaps they had some vague notion that a permit was required.

    Glad you’re feeling better.

    Regards,
    Mark

    • Martin Bailey
      Posted at 09:50h, 10 December Reply

      Hi Mark,

      They definitely had a very strong notion that a permit is required, but it was based on two questions. Are you a photographer and do your cameras shoot video? The answer to both of these questions is yes, although I showed them my photos from last year and told them multiple times that I was not there to shoot video. I honestly don’t think it was a language problem. They decided to pick on me, and they did a very good job of it.

      Thanks for your concern though. I am about to start preparing travelogue #1 of the trip, so I hope you enjoy the images etc. later.

      Regards,
      Martin.

  • David Glazebrook
    Posted at 11:16h, 10 December Reply

    Poaching … of course, an absolute scourge, and now that you’ve said that I completely get it. I’ve never been a fan of drones as a photographer. This is mainly due to the noise they make when you’re enjoying the peace and quiet, working out your composition of the landscape before you and then this supersized blowfly hoovers nearby completely disrupting your mojo. On the counter side, different POV they provide can been awesome. Just not within my earshot ๐Ÿ˜›

    • Martin Bailey
      Posted at 12:13h, 10 December Reply

      I’m totally with you David. I love the different perspective, but don’t really like them buzzing around while I’m doing my landscape work. ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Goodtourist
    Posted at 07:05h, 23 February Reply

    I just returned from Fez and had an unpleasant experience there. I’m your average middle aged western male solo tourist. I was leaving downtown on the public bus to the airport. I do NOT recommend doing this unless extremely cash poor and have time to kill. I use public transit everywhere and wanted to experience it in Fez. After some delay, and changing of buses, I had an uneventful ride in a crowded and very beat up bus. I was the first person off through the rear door, and paused about 40 feet beyond the front of the bus and snapped a picture of the bus with a pocketable digital camera. After walking about 200 feet toward the air terminal across a very large and empty parking lot, I hear someone calling out. It’s the driver of the bus and he’s waling briskly toward me! He’s ranting in French, which I do not understand. And the word photo is generously peppered in there. I’ve done nothing wrong so I do not stop or answer, except to indicate I do not know what he is saying. He walks along side me all the way to the terminal, going on the whole time, about two or three minutes. There is a security check point operated by what seem to be official police. He complains to them that I took his picture, The word video is never uttered by anyone. No suggestion of payment is made either. Security does not prevent me from entering, But they also let him in as well! They ask to see me passport and to look at my camera playback. I comply, and they eventually get rid of him and say I am always welcome to return to Morrocco. Of all the petty annoyances during my one day trip in their country, this was the worst. So I guess I am lucky that nothing worse happened, but it seems that the potential for trouble is not insignificant.

  • Philip Rogers
    Posted at 00:42h, 30 October Reply

    Bit late with a comment here Martin but I’ve only just read this. It is still a very common occurrence. I come to Morocco very frequently and every time I arrive to Tangier airport I get stopped at the security scanner and they sk me to open my bag and also want to know if I’m carrying a drone. They are super hyper-sensitive about security and there are many plain clothed police on the streets. It is very difficult to open up a tripod in any city.. They don’t seem to think that if anyone wanted to take sensitive pictures to do the country harm that they would probably use an iPhone and certainly not a D750 and manfrotto tripod.

    • Martin Bailey
      Posted at 09:11h, 30 October Reply

      Hi Philip,

      Thanks for the comment. I honestly think that Morocco has to train its airport security staff much better than they currently do if they want to remain viable as a destination. People, in general, are really struggling with photographers there, but are usually manageable, but you have to get in with your gear first, and that is becoming a real pain.

      As you say, there are so many ways for people to take sensitive shots if they want, so picking on every-day photographers the way they are doing is completely counter-productive. I really enjoyed the two tours that I did there, but I have skipped this year, and probably won’t be going back until I hear that things are improving.

      Regards,
      Martin.

  • WorldTraveller
    Posted at 08:32h, 24 November Reply

    Hi Martin

    What would be the situation for YouTube filming and social media blogging, does that also need permits.

    Thank you

    • Martin Bailey
      Posted at 09:12h, 25 November Reply

      Well, you have to see the irony in the comment I made, that I would go outside and shoot a video with my iPhone, knowing that a very large percentage of visitors that were not being hassled was entering Morocco with an iPhone or similar phone that can shoot perfectly good if not amazing video!

      In all seriousness, I imagine it would not need a permit, because it was not for commercial use, but they could have read anything they want into my comment. At that point, I was just trying to think of how to get out of there with my gear, and that one worked!

      Regards,
      Martin.

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