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Moving to Abuja

Abuja lies in the very heart of Nigeria, within the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). Centrally located, it was a planned city, strategically placed to unify an impressively diverse population. Today, expats moving to Abuja will find a welcoming metropolis buzzing with activity.

With a cost of living much lower than Lagos, and with just as much to offer, Abuja is the natural choice for many expats who relocate to the Giant of Africa. For some, the move may be daunting, given negative media coverage and the warnings of crime and conflict issued by various foreign governmental authorities. Of course, safety and security issues are not to be taken lightly, but most expats agree that by taking the usual precautions, they feel just as safe in Abuja as in any other major city.

An open mind helps expats adjust and come to terms with culture shock. Not blinded by the negatives, new arrivals in Abuja can see a contemporary city with sweeping boulevards, clover-style interchanges and modern, skyward-climbing buildings. Despite being a rapidly growing city, greenery and tree-lined streets have not disappeared from Abuja’s neighbourhoods.

While rental prices often go far beyond the average Nigerian professional’s wages, those working for international companies and organisations find themselves in expat enclaves and secure gated complexes. Impressive mansions with swimming pools, electric gates (and sometimes armed guards) are squared away for assignee accommodation well before their arrival.

In fact, expat life in Abuja can feel surprisingly luxurious, and many foreigners enjoy the closeness of a community made up mostly of foreigners, as well as a variety of good shops, bars, cinemas and nightclubs. Maitama and Wuse 2 are among the more affluent areas of the city, with Millennium Park around the corner allowing residents to take in the fresh air and beautiful landscape while watching butterflies and tropical birds.

Abuja is only a hop, skip and a jump away from some of the more naturally splendid areas of the country, such as Gurara Waterfalls. Closer still, Jabi Boat Club offers exclusive dining experiences as well as jet ski rides on Jabi Lake, while Mpape has also gained recognition as a tourist hotspot with its abandoned quarry.

Abuja experiences what is known as a tropical wet and dry climate, with a humid rainy season distinct from its dry season. Along with the tropical temperatures, expats report that the people are equally warm and friendly. As the country’s capital, it boasts a cosmopolitan lifestyle. While English is the official language, Abuja is said to be home to over 200 ethnic groups, and several key languages including Ibo, Yoruba and Hausa are spoken.

As with ethnicity and language, religion is just as significant, and about half the population are Muslim and 40 percent Christian. The National Mosque stands as an iconic landmark in Abuja against the backdrop of Aso Rock, a key monolithic geological feature defining the city’s landscape, along with Zuma Rock.

Unfortunately, the wealth and luxury arguably act as a glossy veneer to the city’s problems. The wealth disparity that permeates much of the nation is far from absent here, the electricity supply is inconsistent and unreliable, and navigating the roads through unpredictable traffic can be intimidating and frustrating. To add to these issues, despite well-trained medical professionals, healthcare in many hospitals is not always up to standards.

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. Given all the pros and cons of living in Abuja, with an open mind, it’s possible to work hard and live comfortably in this West African capital. 

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 2020 Cost of Living Survey, which placed the city as the 68th most expensive out of 209 cities. This often comes as a shock to expats, especially those who were intending to save, rather than spend, money in Nigeria.

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

The cost of accommodation in Abuja if often priced well beyond the average professional’s wages. The majority of rental contracts are only available on a two-year lease – with most landlords demanding rent in an annual lump sum, rather than in monthly instalments.

While this can seem outrageous and unattainable, fortunately, for many expat workers, housing will be provided as part of their relocation package. 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, as well as additional expenses, including generators and general repairs.


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 transport services of a 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 and motorcycles (okadas) are partially banned, traffic wardens are plentiful and the government has taken care to cover most of the potholes. 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, given the low standards of facilities. So most expats send their children to an international school in Abuja or a boarding school back home. Within the city, among 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, such as from the US 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 a decent chunk more for many standard Western groceries, such as 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 by a local tailor, or buy second hand from any of the clothes dealers in Abuja. For those who want to splurge, several modern malls have emerged in the city where expats can find numerous international fashion brands. 


Cost of living in Abuja chart

Prices may vary across Abuja, depending on product and service provider. The list below shows average prices in January 2021.

Accommodation (monthly rent)

Three-bedroom apartment in city centre

NGN 160,000

Three-bedroom apartment outside of city centre

NGN 60,000

One-bedroom apartment in city centre

NGN 65,000

One-bedroom apartment outside of city centre

NGN 25,000

Shopping and groceries

Milk (1 litre)

NGN 600

Chicken breasts (1kg)

NGN 2,700

Dozen eggs

NGN 525

Loaf of white bread 

NGN 380

Rice (1kg)

NGN 910

Pack of cigarettes (Marlboro)

NGN 500

Transport

One-way public transport ticket

NGN 100

Taxi rate per km

NGN 190

Petrol (per litre)

NGN 160

Eating out

Big Mac Meal

NGN 1,600

Coca-Cola (330ml)   

NGN 200

Cappuccino

NGN 715

Local beer (500ml)

NGN 350

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

NGN 8,000

Utilities

Mobile call rate (per minute)

NGN 22.50

Internet (per month)

NGN 5,500

Basic utilities (per month for standard household)

NGN 15,000