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Are birding optics banned from entry in Morocco?

Are birding optics such as telescopes banned in Morocco? Are there any new rules regarding this subject? The answer is NO.

Please read until the end, share with your friends and colleagues and contribute your feedback (after your visit to the country).

Are birding optics banned in Morocco? The short answer in NO.
Are birding optics banned in Morocco? The short answer in NO. Photo by Elisabeth Ortner / Wikipedia Commons.

Morocco has been visited by several kinds of people over the years, from the hippies (in the past decades) to the birders, trekkers and other tourists. Morocco has always been a welcoming land (those of you with interest in history will understand more). Overall, Moroccans are remembered as generous and helpful people. (Well, there is some hustle and bustle in some popular places, which is inevitable in my opinion. While this irritates some people, others are not bothered at all and consider this as part of the experience). Note: it’s difficult to stay impartial when writing about your own land and people, but you can find plenty of accounts online far more positive than the few words above.

The administration (from the Customs to the Police,…etc.) is mostly helpful as well. Some would even dare to say that some foreign visitors and members of the Moroccan diaspora get some kind of preferential treatment. Generally, there have been no interference with the movement of people and their goods as long as everything is within the law. So far, so good!

Recent incidents with birding equipment

However, over the past years, we hear now and then that some birders are not allowed to bring in their birding equipment (mainly telescopes). Different birders use terms like “confiscated” to describe these incidents. In reality, the equipment is not technically confiscated, but not allowed into the country. The equipment stays at the port of entry (airports or ports), and is returned to their owners when they leave Morocco.

‘Now and then’ used above is probably an exaggeration. We only knew three cases. The first incident was with the Swedish birders of the ‘Big Year WP 2017’ at Rabat Airport in 2017 (We don’t agree with the reason they gave in their website, because we know more about this land!!). In this case, the official mentioned the ‘need of a permit from the Ministry of Communications’, which means he thought that the equipment is for filming (For professional film makers, they need a permit from the Moroccan Cinematographic Centre).

The second case happened to a German birder at Casablanca Airport in 2018. He didn’t get his birding gear until the day he left Morocco. Luckily for him, he borrowed the binoculars and a telescope from the colleagues at GREPOM in Rabat (But borrowing equipment from the locals is not a solution for everybody!!).

The third case happened in late August 2019 to two birding brothers from the UK and other members of the Andalucía Bird Society. They arrived by ferry to Tangier from Tarifa. Upon arrivals, they got their telescopes ‘confiscated’ by the Customs. See this tweet:

Below is a letter sent to Morocco’s Ministry of Tourism by Peter Jones, the president of the Andalucia Bird Society, regarding this incident.

Letter to Morocco's Ministry of Tourism
Letter to Morocco’s Ministry of Tourism

Reactions to the latest incident

If the first two cases didn’t receive a lot of attention from birders, the third one has been widely discussed in twitter and birding forums.

Some birders are talking about the “new rules” as if they were true, and started warning fellow birders to be aware of this new situation (We dont’t blame them!). Two examples below:

While other birders are saying they won’t visit Morocco under these circumstances, and warned the Moroccan National Tourist Office that these ‘decisions’ or ‘new rules’ are bad for the ecotourism sector in Morocco. Two examples below:

I am almost certain that the official twitter account of the tourism office (@Visit_Morocco_) never replied to the tweets where they were mentioned (examples above). They just didn’t bother to reply and help put an end to this bad publicity for the country.

No new rules regarding birding optics

So, are there any new rules banning telescopes from entry in Morocco as mentioned online (and quoted above)?

The short answer is no. We visited two Customs offices, one located in the north and the other in the centre of the country. The officials at both offices told us they are not aware of any new rules of this kind. At one of the offices, we also asked about the specific case of @WildAlmeria birders: they told us that the birders should ask the same official who made that decision. See the @MoroccanBirds tweet below:

We also checked the website of Moroccan Customs administration; there is nothing that says telescopes are banned. To the contrary, telescopes and other birding equipment (cameras, binoculars) are mentioned in several documents as normal items that should be taxed.

In the website, there are several documents that deal with banned items and items under special restrictions. Examples of these include: weapons and war ammunition, narcotics, some live animals, certain plants and plant products likely to be carriers of harmful organisms that could threaten the national flora, parasites of plants like live insects and eggs, some kind of carpets, …). Telescopes and other birding equipment are nowhere to be found in these documents dealing with the banned items.

Telescopes, binoculars and big cameras have never been banned in Morocco and hopefully will never be banned. The duty of the Customs officials is to make sure that taxes are paid for expensive optics ‘imported’ in Morocco. But their dilemma is how to tell if that equipment is for personal use or is going to be sold in Morocco (without paying taxes!). Because the incidents like those mentioned above are so rare means most experienced Customs officials know the difference (most likely, they have seen, over the years, that these telescopes enter but also exit Morocco).

Note: The section named “Legal solution to bring your birding optics to Morocco” in which we talked about the ‘ATA carnet’ is no longer needed. Instead of deleting it completely, we moved it (as it was) to this comment for the record.

Help needed

Please share this with your friends and colleagues and with anyone interested in birding in Morocco. Individual birders, or birding companies. All.

To monitor the situation, we need to know not only about the incidents where the equipment got ‘confiscated’, but also when birders visited Morocco without any problem. To do this monitoring, please share with us your experiences (from now on) at Morocco’s points of entry (which we hope will be all positive ones). You can send us an email or mention @MoroccanBirds in twitter. Thanks!

Feedback (after publishing the blog)

We got the first good news this morning (tweet below). Please keep them coming! Thanks everyone!

Jorge Orueta from SEO/BirdLife crossed from Spain (and went back) by ferry this month and didn’t encounter any problem (Jorge’s tweet reply). Javi Elorriaga (Birding the Strait) also crossed from Tarifa to Tangier and didn’t encounter any problem (Javi’s tweet).

11 thoughts on “Are birding optics banned from entry in Morocco?”

  1. The article was very reassuring and helpful until the final section – Legal solution to bring your birding optics to Morocco – which baffled me completely. Are you saying that I will need an ATA carnet, or not?

    1. It really isn’t so hard to understand. Legally, you don’t need it. But it is advised that you do get one in case you find unexperienced officers who may think you are selling goods in the country. So to be safe, it’s best to do it. But it’s not illegal to not do it, just potentially risky.

      Great article.

    2. The solution that involves the ‘ATA carnet’ is no longer needed and should not be in the main body of the article. Instead of deleting it completely, we will paste it here for the record:

      Legal solution to bring your birding optics to Morocco

      This “legal solution” is an international standard that will help you with the Customs everywhere not just in Morocco.

      In the Customs’ website, we can find this question in the “professional equipment” section (translated): Do we have to declare to the customs the equipment that we carry in the context of a professional trip to Morocco?

      Below is the response they gave to the question (translated):

      “If you temporarily import your professional equipment (for filming, educational and scientific purposes, equipment to be presented or used during an exhibition, fair, congress, etc.), you must declare it to the Customs. For this, two options are available to you:

      1) Either present to the customs services at the borders an “ATA carnet” issued by the guaranteeing association approved by the customs authorities of your country of residence. This document will allow you to introduce in Morocco your professional equipment with suspension of duties and taxes.

      2) Or file a legal “transit bond-note” declaration subscribed by the company located in Morocco to welcome you as part of your business trip.

      At the end of your stay in Morocco, you will need to re-export the professional equipment in the same condition as the one in which it was imported”.

      The use of the term “legal solution” above does not mean bringing in equipment without the ‘ATA carnet’ is illegal. It only means that having this document will help you even with the most inexperienced official who came straight from school. You are always safe with the experienced officials who know how to differentiate between birders (personal use) and traders (who import stuff to sell it).

      Because birding guides can bring with them many items (probably more than one telescope, camera,…), I think they should try the ATA carnet (often referred to as the “Passport for goods” according to Wikipedia).

      We know that many birders won’t describe themselves as ‘professional birders’ doing professional birding. Therefore this solution was added as a helpful tip which should be considered only as a last resort in case these incidents become more frequent (see ‘Help needed’).

      Note: the Customs’ website is very complex, and linking to the exact location of the text translated above is not possible (I think the links are dynamically presented to every new visitor).

  2. Excellent writeup, it would indeed be a shame if birders chose to not go to Morocco due to misinformed customs officers. Maybe a translation of this post in Arabic or French might help the next group that encounter a pedantic custom officer.
    Cheers /klacke (Of bigyear wp fame)

  3. Thank you Mohamed and very much appreciate your research and time spent on this subject. It not only is informative, but reassuring too. I will do my best to widely publish the link to this blog. With your permission I will also add it to the Andalucia Bird Society website, twitter, Instagram and other SMs.

    1. Peter, you are most welcome!
      We did (me and my friend who asked in the second office) what we did for the love of this land and its people, and to help our fellow birders, like you, who visit our country.

  4. Yes, thanks, Si Mohamed. I’m updating the Lonely Planet guidebook and am relieved to know I don’t need to tell birders not to bring scopes when visiting Morocco.

  5. Hans Schekkerman

    I had a similar ‘bad’ experience in Tunisia in February 2017, with a group of 5 Dutch birdwatchers. We were flying back from Mauritania to The Netherlands but our flight connection in Tunis failed and we were forced to make a one-day stopover there. Here too, the customs officials did not allow us to bring into the country our telescopes, binoculars, some camera lenses and recording equipment, and put it away in a store-room until we left again. As a reason they never mentioned import/export issues but uncertainty/suspicions about what we were going to use them for. In this instance we happened to leave again just two hours later as we managed to reschedule to a different flight once through the customs. However even then the officials were fussy and we found ourselves being interrogated about the equipment by some ‘safety officials’ just 10 minutes and 75m after we got the stuff back.

  6. I think this can happen in those countries with a poor democracy and lot of corruption. Morocco is a very beautiful country, but also corrupt. It is sad but it is true.

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