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Moving to Abuja

If Lagos is the notorious and ill-perceived thorn so unceremoniously twisted in Nigeria’s side, expats moving to Abuja will quickly realise that this capital city is the glossy veneer the nation has haphazardly tried to use to cover its wounds.

Only created in the late 1970s with petrodollars and under the auspices of three watchful American company planners, Abuja was constructed as the answer to the sprawling slums, unsightly infrastructural tragedies and uncontainable overpopulation of the commercial centre, Lagos

It was meant to delve out a comfortable space for civil servants to complete their duties and was intended to act as a neutral, strategically placed force to unify an impressively diverse nation.

As a result, it’s not strange to find Western-seeming, sweeping boulevards, clover-style interchanges and modern, skyward-climbing buildings; but be forewarned, the wealth disparity that permeates much of the nation is far from absent here.

Furthermore, many of the same crippling problems that plague Lagos are found in Abuja. The electricity supply is inconsistent and unreliable, the roads can be chaotic and congested for those unaccustomed to such madness, and healthcare, even in private hospitals, is well below international standards.

The good news is that the abominable crime rate that’s come to characterise Lagos isn’t a statistic shared by the capital. Expats living in Abuja will be happy to find themselves in a relatively safe city, and as long as one acts sensibly, there shouldn’t be too much to worry about in the way of safety.

Many foreigners find their largest concern is negotiating the surprisingly steep cost of living in Abuja. Accommodation, in particular, is incredibly expensive and is well beyond the average Nigerian professional’s wages. Plus, demand far outweighs supply, and lengthy waiting lists for sought-after properties are commonplace.

That said, many expats moving to Abuja do so within the graces of a lucrative employment package and, in most cases, the sponsoring company foots the bill for housing, health insurance, transport needs and even flights home. In some cases, domestic help is even thrown into the deal, and looming mansions with swimming pools, electric gates and armed guards are squared away for assignees well before their arrival.

Expat life in Abuja can feel surprisingly luxurious, and many foreigners enjoy the closeness of a community made up mostly of foreigners. Not to mention, though still developing, the city claims shops, bars, cinemas and nightclubs, and is only a hop, skip and a jump away from some of the more naturally splendid areas of the country, like Gurara Falls.

Outside of the rainy season, skies are blue and clear, and temperatures are hot, soaring up to 105°F (40°C) on some days. So, the weather is good, and many expats report that the people are equally warm and friendly. 

Of course, it’s important to maintain some perspective and to realise that expat life in Nigeria’s capital can be challenging, and one of extreme and unbalanced privilege. However, as most people don’t end up spending long periods of time in Abuja, as they may do in destinations in Europe, Asia or America, it’s possible to quite easily work hard and live well, and in an unaffected manner. 

Cost of Living in Abuja

The cost of living in Abuja is deceptively high. Although cheaper than Lagos, the city is more expensive than other African giants such as Johannesburg and Nairobi, as can be seen in Abuja's ranking in Mercer's 2019 Cost of Living Survey, which placed the city as the 85th most expensive in the world.

Such a fact often comes as a shock to expats, especially those who were intending to save, rather than spend money, while working abroad.

Foreigners moving to Nigeria should realise that this is a developing country with a vast gulf between rich and poor. While many of its citizens live in poverty, a select few experience a very different lifestyle, utilising their wealth to fund international business ventures, unlimited shopping sprees and private education. Nigeria’s well-to-do are not just millionaires, they are billionaires. And naturally, this has a skewing effect on the country’s economy.


Cost of accommodation in Abuja

Since the 1990s, the cost of accommodation in Abuja has been well beyond the average professional’s wages. 

The majority of rental contracts are only available on a two-year lease. It's also not uncommon for the landlord to require the total amount be paid up front, rather than in monthly installments.

Fortunately, for the majority of expat workers, housing will be provided as part of their relocation package. Very often the accommodation will also include a security guard and a housekeeper.

Expats who have only been allocated an accommodation allowance should make sure the amount promised is enough to secure appropriate housing in Abuja.


Cost of transport in Abuja

If moving to Nigeria for work and employed by a large company, expats are quite likely to be offered the services of a complimentary driver as part of their package.

Although this may sound excessive, it is necessary, especially to get anywhere on time and unharmed. Abuja’s roads are among the best in Nigeria – rickshaws are banned, traffic wardens are plentiful and the government has taken care to cover most of the potholes. However, despite this, the main roads are chaotic, congested and a hazard to the inexperienced foreign driver.


Cost of schooling in Abuja

Public schools are not really an option for expats living in Abuja. So, most expats send their children to an international school in Abuja or to boarding school back home. Within the city, the most sought-after schools for private education are the Lead British and the American International School. The alumni of both schools mainly consist of the sons and daughters of Nigeria’s leaders, as well as a good proportion of overseas students from the USA and the UK. Fees at these schools can reach exorbitant levels. Expats should ensure that their salary package makes provision for this.


Cost of shopping in Abuja

Groceries

The cost of Western food items in Nigeria is significantly inflated. Expats can expect to pay about a third more for many standard Western groceries like cornflakes and chocolate.

That said, local produce is cheap. Nigeria has an excellent climate, so an array of fruits and vegetables are available all year round. Wuse Market in Abuja is the best place to go food shopping.

Clothes

As is the case with food, prices for Western clothes are high. Expats who want value for money should either select the material and have clothes made, or buy second hand from any of the clothes dealers in Abuja.

For those who want to splurge, a number of modern malls have emerged in the city in recent years where expats can find numerous international fashion brands. 


Cost of other expenses in Abuja

Generator

The power supply in Nigeria is inconsistent and unreliable. There may be times, generally in the afternoon, when the power supply goes off completely.

Many expats therefore invest in a generator. These convenient power supplies can be one of the biggest drains on one’s finances. They are expensive to buy and install and incredibly costly to run.

Generators will need to be refuelled regularly and checked consistently to ensure they are safe. Many small businesses decide to do without generators and find it easier and more economical to close for a few hours. If a generator is absolutely vital then the cost needs to be balanced carefully against the income, as quite often, generators are a false economy that can cause small businesses to operate at a loss.

It is impossible to give an accurate cost of running a generator as it depends on the quantity of fuel purchased and the amount of power required.

Repairs

This is a hidden cost that can really put a dent in the bank balance. Although Nigerian electricians, plumbers and roofers will do the best they can with the knowledge they have, every job can be an expensive and time-consuming process. Repair work is often carried out by young men who diagnose the problem through a process of elimination, and even then, repairs are not likely to be a long-term solution.


Cost of living in Abuja chart

Prices may vary across Abuja, depending on product and service provider. The list below shows average prices in October 2019.

Accommodation (monthly rent)

Three-bedroom apartment outside of city centre

NGN 602,500

Three-bedroom apartment in city centre

NGN 1,110,000

One-bedroom apartment outside of city centre

NGN 167,500

One-bedroom apartment in city centre

NGN 432,000

Groceries

Milk (1 litre)

NGN 571

Chicken breasts (1kg)

NGN 3,200

Dozen Eggs

NGN 470

Loaf of white bread 

NGN 370

Rice (1kg)

NGN 775

Pack of cigarettes (Marlboro)

NGN 500

Transportation

City centre public transport

NGN 275

Taxi rate per km

NGN 187

Petrol (per litre)

NGN 146

Eating out

Big Mac Meal

NGN 1,500

Coca-Cola (330ml)   

NGN 185

Cappuccino

NGN 535

Local beer (500ml)

NGN 385

Three-course meal at a mid-range restaurant for two

NGN 8,000

Utilities

Mobile call rate (one minute)

NGN 43

Internet (per month)

NGN 12,600

Basic utilities (gas, electricity etc., average per month for standard household)

NGN 21,000