Morocco: Dirhams Vs. Riyals

There are two currency systems used in Morocco. One is that of the dirham, the official Moroccan currency that is printed on bills and coins. The other currency is the riyal, an old Moroccan currency which is no longer exists, but is still used by Moroccans to value purchases both small and large. 1 dirham is equal to 20riyals. 

In other words, the riyal is to the dirham, as the nickel is to the dollar. Only, imagine that nickels no longer existed in reality, but stayed in our minds as a way to describe the prices of things. So, the money in your pocket would be dollars, and you would use dollars to buy everything, but you think of prices in nickels.

Understanding the relationship between dirhams and riyals is key to making sense of Morocco's marketplaces. Knowing that sometimes the prices you hear are riyals and not dirhams can save you both money and frustration.

If the riyal were American...

Let's explore the alternate reality described above a little further.

Imagine that when you go to the store, the prices are listed in dollars but in your head you value everything in nickel. When you see the label on a $3.50 gallon of milk you think, "That's worth 70 nickels". In your mind, a $4.00 loaf of bread is 80 nickels.

At the mall, you ask a clerk how much a pair of jeans is worth. He tells you it's 600 nickels and you check the tag which reads $30. Every month your cell phone bill is 1600 nickels and your gym membership costs 1000 nickels. You got a great price on your new Prius, only paying 440,000 nickels. You live in Colorado and can't believe that your friends in pay 36,000 nickels a month for a 1 bedroom apartment in Brooklyn.

This is exactly how the riyal exists alongside the dirham in Morocco, and they are used in such a way in some of the same situations described above.

When riyals are used instead of dirhams:

·                Buying fruits, vegetables and other foods in the souq, especially foods sold by the kilo. For example, while the price of potatoes might be listed on a sign as 6 dirhams a kilo, the vendor may state the price as 120 riyals.

·                Buying used clothing and other used goods in the souq. Walking through a used clothing market you frequently hear prices in the hundreds. A pair of jeans might be 600, a sweater 400. But those are riyals not dirhams.

·                For small purchases whose totals are less than a dirham or include change. For example instead of saying something is 1.50dirhams one would say 30 riyals.

·                For apartment rent and other similar big purchases. Moroccans will describe their rent in the tens of thousands of riyals. 20,000 a month is 1000 dirhams, 40,000 is 2,000 dirhams. Sometimes these values are abbreviated to

·                Buying from or selling to illiterate or uneducated people. At least 40% of Moroccan cannot read or write. They still use paper money and coins but cannot understand their printed value in dirhams and rather understand them in their riyal value.

When riyals are not used:

·                Supermarkets and other 'fancy' stores do not use riyals. Supermarkets have to be precise with their pricing and will give change down to the centeme, the equivalent of a penny. Boutiques and touristy stores will also use dirhams.

·                Taxi meters are in dirhams and the decimals are centemes. Taxi fares are always rounded up or down to the nearest dirham.

·                Any price in a newspaper or magazine, or in an advertisement will be in dirhams.

·                Real Estate purchases, if not described in riyals, is also described incentemes. So it's not uncommon to hear prices in the millions and tens of millions. If a price sounds too high, convert it into eitherriyals or centemes, and ask for clarification.

How to convert riyals to dirhams and vice versa

To go from dirhams to riyals multiply by 20, and to go from riyals todirhams divide by 20.

This video features Moroccans describing the prices of various goods in riyals. Watching this video will help you to familiarize yourself with the riyal and will give you an opportunity to practice convert between riyals and dirhams in your head.

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Kim Greenberg
0 #8 Listen CarefullyKim Greenberg 2013-11-02 16:37
It is good to know and understand Ryals! Once in Essaouira I saw and heard man selling leather shoes on the street. He was calling out the price, "500 Ryals!" and then 40 Dirham!" To one who knows - these 2 prices are different. He knew that the tourists (this was during Gnaoua) would most likely not understand the Ryal price only the Dirhams price. And that the locals would understand the Ryal price. So the shoes had 2 prices - one for tourists and one for local (as many things do in Morocco). A person who knows and understands Ryals will be able to get a better price on the shoes and be able to haggle down from the Dirham price!
0 #7 "Funny" story about Ryal vs. DHA.M. 2013-11-01 00:08
I was recently in Jamaa L'efna in Marrakech. I went to buy some t'garmilat from one of of the small lined at the square with peanuts, almonds, and the rest. In front me, were three Israeli tourists buying things and one of them spoke adequate Darija some accent. He was obviously proud that he could speak Darija as his two other companions spoke none. When he wanted to pay, the merchant said 240 with specifying Ryal or DH. I don't think he did it on purpose. But our friend gave him 250 DH expecting 10 DH back. I was in a difficult bind. expose the merchant or expose the lack of knowledge of the tourist who was leading his friend as he knows Marrakech inside out. I thought it was a funny story to tell my older sister. When I told her, she was livid. She didn't think it was funny at all and was deeply disappointed that I didn't say anything. When I went back that same evening to Jamaa L'efna, the merchant had already closed his shop. There was a note saying: moul l'mlih baa' w'rah.
0 #6 RE: Morocco: Dirhams Vs. Riyalsriffi 2013-09-28 12:11
are you closed no more comments
0 #5 RE: Morocco: Dirhams Vs. Riyalsbachir 2013-09-03 18:37
This is plain funny n yet dead on! Had lots of fun watching the video. Kuddos to the history lesson on the comments.
Khalid M
+1 #4 RE: Morocco: Dirhams Vs. RiyalsKhalid M 2013-08-20 22:21
-The Dirham is the the Greek Drachma spread throughout the Arab world by Alexander the Great.
-The Ryial ( Spanish Real)was introduced to Morocco by the Andalusian emigration after the 15th century.
-The Guerch was an Egyptian Fatimide
-The Franc and the Centeme arrived with the French
- How about the Mouzouna, anybody knows?
Mustapha Azayi
-1 #3 More For YouMustapha Azayi 2013-08-19 23:57
If You are in the Dakhil as those living in the north of the country love to say see how much is 50 Reals, now take a bus to Tetouane in the north and ask them how much is 50 Reals?
+3 #2 MoroccanHamza 2013-08-19 19:50
There is a third currency which is the franc. Its equivalent to the centime. 1000 francs is 10 dhs...
-1 #1 RE: Morocco: Dirhams Vs. RiyalsBtayta 2013-08-19 16:34
The translation in the video is wrong. it translates denjal as Ginger, it's actually eggplant.

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