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Moving to Nigeria

In truth, very few foreigners relish the prospect of moving to Nigeria. Expats are normally posted to Nigeria under some form of career duress or strong financial enticement, with their family joining out of necessity.

The mining and oil sectors are the largest employers of expats in Nigeria, while many foreigners are also employed in the banking, telecommunications and construction industries. The most popular destinations are the capital, Abuja, and the major commercial centre of Lagos. Nigeria’s more isolated, oil-rich Niger Delta region also attracts many foreign workers.

There is no doubt that Nigeria has a dubious reputation when it comes to safety, with persistent reports of crime, corruption and kidnapping in the press, and endlessly inventive 419 advance fee scams. 

Nevertheless, attempts are being made to give Africa’s most populous country, and one of its most significant economies, a face lift for the future, and expats moving to Nigeria may find themselves pleasantly surprised by a few of its positive realities. The Nigerian people, for one, are famously hospitable and friendly; and the diversity of cultures makes for consistently interesting discoveries begging to be stumbled upon by the more inquisitive expat. As such, those willing to break the expat bubble may find their relocation to Nigeria a richly rewarding cultural experience.

Another frequently reported positive to expat life in Nigeria is the camaraderie and sociability of the expat community. Presuming one is living in a city such as Lagos or Abuja, there are many sports, social activities, restaurants and bars to enjoy; and expat social circles are mostly receptive to new members. However, the typical expat lifestyle in Nigeria sees many foreigners living in somewhat isolated expat enclaves, far removed from the reality of Nigerian life.

​​​​​These positives are compensations for what is certainly a challenging expat destination to live and work in. Crime, pollution, congestion and a crumbling infrastructure are realities for which expats moving to Nigeria should prepare, and for which they should make sure to be financially compensated for. Comprehensive health insurance is imperative, as are allowances for accommodation, schooling and transport.

Essential Info for Nigeria

Official name: Federal Republic of Nigeria

Population: Around 190 million

Capital city: Abuja

Largest city: Lagos

Neighbouring countries: Situated on the Gulf of Guinea in West Africa, Nigeria is bordered by Benin, Chad, Cameroon and Niger.

Geography: Nigeria has a large and varied landscape from coastal plains to mangrove swamps and tropical rain forests. It is home to the Niger Delta, one of the world's largest river deltas, and is very rich in natural resources, most notably large deposits of petroleum and natural gas.

Political system: Federal presidential republic

Main languages: English is the official language. Other languages include Igbo, Yoruba, Fulfulde and Kanuri.

Major religions: Christianity, Islam, and numerous traditional/tribal religions

Time: GMT +1

Electricity: 230V, 50 Hz. Round and square three-pin plugs are used.

Currency: The Nigerian Naira (NGN), divided into 100 kobo. ATMs are available in Nigerian towns and cities, but not all will accept foreign cards. Credit card fraud is a concern in Nigeria and expats should keep a close eye on their bank and credit card statements.

Tipping: A standard 10 percent in restaurants and taxis

International dialling code: +234

Emergency number: 199

Internet domain: .ng

Driving and transport: Vehicles drive on the right-hand side of the road. Road safety and traffic are major concerns in Nigeria and most expats have a car and driver provided for them by their company rather than driving themselves.

Weather in Nigeria

In line with its close proximity to the equatorial belt and the Atlantic Ocean, the climate in Nigeria is tropical and the weather wet (which may come as a surprise to expats who associate Africa with only a desperate dryness). 

Temperatures are generally high and consistent, and seasons are more aptly characterised by the difference in rainfall than a change in the mercury. For example, in Lagos, the average high in January is 88°F (31°C) and in June it’s 82°F (28°C); though June is the season with peak rains and in January one would be lucky to see the smallest drop of water squeezed from the sky.

In the south of the country, a coastal region that includes Lagos and the oil-rich area of Port Harcourt, it’s incredibly humid, but it rarely gets hotter than 90°F (32°C). This area is defined by two rainy periods, one short period and one long period.

The long rainy season begins in late February or early March and lasts until July. The short rainy season starts in September and runs through October, though rains are not nearly as heavy as in the long season.

Inland and in the north of Nigeria, a large region that includes the capital of Abuja, the weather is incredibly hot, and the skies clear and blue for most of the year. The good news for foreigners moving from more moderate climes is that humidity is much lower than near the coast; still, expect temperatures that reach from the mid-90s (mid-30s in Celsius) to over 100°F (40°C) during the day, and then anticipate a considerable decline during the evening (down to 72°F (22°C)). In this area of Nigeria, the rainy season only starts in July and ends in September.

It follows that expats moving to Nigeria would do well to bring light, loose-fitting clothes and, most importantly, an umbrella. In general, one can leave the winter jackets and long underwear behind and can pack a favourite swimming costume and a high-SPF sun cream.

Embassy Contacts for Nigeria


Nigerian embassies abroad

  • Nigerian Embassy, Washington DC, United States: +1 202 516 4277

  • Nigerian High Commission, London, United Kingdom: +44 20 7839 1244

  • Nigerian High Commission, Ottawa, Canada: +1 613 236 0521

  • Nigerian High Commission, Canberra, Australia (also responsible for New Zealand): +61 2 6215 8500

  • Nigerian High Commission, Pretoria, South Africa: +27 12 342 0668

  • Nigerian Embassy, Dublin, Ireland: +353 1 660 4366


Foreign embassies in Nigeria

  • United States Embassy, Abuja: +234 9 461 4000

  • British High Commission, Abuja: +234 9 462 3100

  • Canadian High Commission, Abuja: +234 9 461 2900

  • Australian High Commission, Abuja: +234 9 461 2780

  • South African High Commission, Abuja: +234 9 462 4200

  • Irish Embassy, Abuja: +234 9 462 1083

Public Holidays in Nigeria

 

2020

2021

New Year's Day

1 January

1 January

Good Friday

10 April

2 April

Easter Monday

13 April

5 April

Worker's Day

1 May

1 May

Id el Fitr

24 - 25 May

13 - 14 May

Democracy Day

12 June

12 June

Id el Kabir

31 July - 1 August

20 - 21 July

National Day

1 October

1 October

Id el Maulud

29 October

18 October

Christmas Day

25 December

25 December

Boxing Day

26 December

26 December

*Islamic holidays are subject to change based on sightings of the moon

Safety in Nigeria

Nigeria is notorious for the poor level of safety and security found within its borders, and it comes as no surprise that even well-seasoned expats with years of travel behind them will be concerned about their personal safety in Nigeria.

Many Western governments, including the US and the UK, have issued warnings to their citizens to avoid all but essential travel to certain parts of Nigeria due to safety concerns, particularly in the northern states due to sectarian violence, and in the southern oil-producing states due to the activities of rebel groups.

To say that Nigeria is not dangerous would not only be foolish, it would be an outright untruth; but to say that foreigners that move to this West African country live their lives paralysed by fear and are consequently incapable of enjoying themselves due to their perpetual concern for their personal safety, would be nearly as blatant a lie. Expats living and working in various areas of Nigeria report that, though they acknowledge the risks at hand, they do, in general, feel safe in Nigeria.


Crime in Nigeria 

Both violent and petty crime rates remain high throughout the country. Assault, burglary, mugging, carjacking and home invasion exist as serious threats everywhere, and many expats have reported being a victim of such crimes.

In these situations, the Nigerian police or the area’s relevant law enforcement authorities may not respond at all, or may do so too slowly to matter. What’s more, these officials have even been pegged as perpetrators, coercing expats at checkpoints and elsewhere into paying bribes under the threat of jail time. In short, the police are not always dependable, and are not necessarily an expat's friend. 

Expats should take certain precautions while living in Nigeria in order to stay safe. It goes without saying that they should remain alert, take notice of the people around them, and put in practice the same safety measures they would in any big city. It’s best to lock all doors and windows when leaving home. Though many expats are fortunate enough to be accommodated within apartment complexes, compounds or gated communities protected by 24-hour security (some even with armed guards), this action is an easy deterrent and a good rule of thumb, especially since robbers have been known to scale high walls and divert the attention of guards.

Note that most armed attacks in Nigerian urban centres happen at night. Thus, expats should carefully consider their need to travel after dark, and if they do indulge in the vibrant nightlife, they should stay alert at all times and keep to well-lit city centre areas. 


Fraud in Nigeria

No discussion of safety in Nigeria would be complete without mention of the ever-popular 419 scams, named after the section of the Nigerian penal code that relates to financial fraud. These scams, often involving an email by someone claiming to be a relative or in great distress and begging for a deposit into their bank account, commonly originate from Nigeria and its neighbouring countries.

Needless to say, this is just one of the many faces of financial fraud in Nigeria, and though the banking system has become more secure over the past few years, expats must still be vigilant when it comes to checking bank and credit card balances.


Terrorism and conflict in Nigeria

There is a threat of terrorism in Nigeria, and expats working in the oil industry in the Niger Delta region, in particular, should realise the implications of their employment choice.

The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) has presented the greatest threat in this region. MEND aims to assume control of Nigeria’s energy resources in the Niger Delta and has carried out a number of attacks against oil installations in the region. As a result, many foreign oil companies have instated “essential travel only” policies for their employees, forbidding movement throughout certain Niger Delta states, namely Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Delta and Rivers.

Sectarian violence continues in Nigeria’s northern states and related terrorist attacks have been carried out, particularly against churches and mosques in the region. For this reason, many governments advise their nationals against all travel to the northern states of Borno, Yobe, Adamawa, Gombe and Bauchi, and against non-essential travel to other states in the region. The main terrorist threat in northern Nigeria stems from Boko Haram, an Islamist extremist group which aspires to establish Islamic law in Nigeria. There is a high risk of attacks against international bodies and Western targets, and expats should be vigilant at all times, particularly in the vicinity of places of worship and government and military installations.


Road safety in Nigeria

Road safety in Nigeria is well below standard, with incidents of armed robberies and hijackings carried out by gangs, and extortion perpetrated by the police. Expats should avoid driving at night.

In general, road conditions and dense traffic make driving around cities a stressful and hazardous experience. Most expats hire a driver, the cost of which can be negotiated as part of one’s employment package. When arriving at the airport, expats should be sure to be met by someone they know, and avoid taking a taxi unless prearranged through a reputable provider.

Working in Nigeria

Nigeria has overtaken South Africa as the largest economy in Africa and work prospects for highly skilled expats are good, with opportunities available in a variety of sectors.

Nevertheless, despite its wealth, Nigeria remains somewhat of a hardship destination, and expats working in Nigeria will most likely find themselves embittered by the daily struggle, despite the country's continued efforts at reform within the business world.


Job market in Nigeria

Nigeria's economy is still largely chained to its oil sector, which accounts for around 95 percent of its foreign exchange earnings, though the government is starting to take slow steps to diversify its economy. As a result, most expats working in Nigeria are in oil and mining companies or work in the banking, telecommunications and construction industries. Popular expatriate jobs within these sectors include project management, business development, engineering, human resources management, IT systems management and chartered accountancy.

Apart from jobs in these industries, expats who possess exceptional skills in the IT, journalism, communication and health sciences sectors will have more work opportunities available to them. The NGO sector is also a significant employer as several agencies and UN projects use Nigeria as their West African operations base.

Nigeria is notoriously associated with scams that pivot around job offers. For this reason, expats offered a position in Nigeria should confirm that the employer is legitimate by consulting with their local Nigerian embassy, and by attempting to contact expats on the ground.

Employers hiring foreign workers must obtain an Expatriate Quota and a Business Permit from the Ministry of Internal Affairs. Only workers coming from other Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) do not need a work permit.


Work culture in Nigeria

With over 250 different ethnic groups and a multitude of foreign-owned multinational companies, expats working in Nigeria will find themselves in a very diverse, and mostly welcoming, business environment. However, adjusting to working life here may require a great deal of flexibility and patience, especially when it comes to dealing with local counterparts.

The corporate structure in Nigeria is hierarchical and managers, and especially elders, are respected. It won't be long before expats find themselves a victim of the workforce policy on punctuality –  "hurry up and wait". The country functions at a relaxed pace, even when it comes to doing business, meaning that a meeting scheduled for 10am may very well only happen at 3pm, if at all. Prepare accordingly and learn to be as flexible as possible.


Challenges of working in Nigeria

Corruption is commonplace in Nigeria, and it’s likely that expats working there will be exposed to this at one point or another, particularly when negotiating business deals or even jockeying for work contracts. Connections with ministers and government officials are all-important and readily dictate levels of success or failure.

Those lured to work in Nigeria for high salaries should weigh this against the high cost of living, particularly when it comes to accommodation, healthcare and schooling, and should ensure that provisions are made to cover these costs when negotiating a contract for relocation to Nigeria.

Hardship and safety factors are particularly important considerations if working in the insecure and volatile Niger Delta or the northern areas of the country, especially if moving to Nigeria with a family.

Doing Business in Nigeria

Expats looking to do business in Nigeria, and especially those who have never done business on the African continent before, will certainly have to prepare themselves for some unique challenges.

Although great strides have been made within the corporate world in Nigeria – one of the most oil-rich countries in the world and Africa's largest economy – the country still suffers from massive corruption and a debilitating lack of infrastructure; two factors that can make doing business difficult, to say the least.

However, expats should remember that a tremendous amount of business does get done in Nigeria, and jaded or pessimistic views about the country are not always well deserved.

Nevertheless, doing business in Nigeria is challenging, as illustrated by numerous international business surveys. Most notably, Nigeria ranked 146th (out of 190 countries) in the World Bank's 2019 Ease of Doing Business Survey. This marked a solid improvement from its previous ranking of 169th and the country performed well for factors such as ease of getting credit (12th) and protecting minority investors (32nd), but it continues to rank extremely poorly for factors such as getting electricity (171st), registering property (184th) and trading across borders (182nd).


Fast facts

Business language

In a country that claims many different ethnic groups and dialects, English has emerged as the de facto language of business in Nigeria

Hours of business

Office hours are usually 8am to 5pm, from Monday to Friday.

Business dress

Smart and stylish; dark colours are preferred.

Greeting

Extended, warm handshakes are the traditional greeting amongst men. However, for women, since Nigeria has a large Muslim population and observant men are forbidden from shaking hands with women, a safe, traditional greeting would be for a man to bow his head slightly when introduced. 

Gifts

There is no standard practice for gift giving in Nigeria. However, if receiving a gift, be sure to reciprocate.

Gender equality

Nigeria remains a patriarchal society, with traditional roles for men and women largely adhered to. However, there are plenty of opportunities for women and many women can be found in senior positions within both the corporate and political sphere.


Business culture in Nigeria

Business culture in Nigeria is subject to a number of variable forces; over 250 different ethnic groups co-exist in the country and many foreign-owned multinationals have operations there. Business etiquette, therefore, demands that expats remain flexible and willing to improvise.

Since it is vital to cement a working business relationship with associates, be prepared to be patient and to wait for this trust to develop before diving into the nuts and bolts of business discussions. For this reason, business meetings in Nigeria are very social occasions, providing the framework for the creation of solid interpersonal connections.

Management style

The management style typically found in Nigeria is extremely hierarchical. The boss – invariably male, and almost always of an older generation – will expect and will receive respect from all those working beneath him, and will never be publicly criticised. However, this does not necessarily mean that all decisions are made from the top down; business relationships are extremely important in Nigeria and, often, compromises can be reached.

Nigerian business leaders tend to lead strongly, giving their employees instructions that are expected to be followed closely. Teamwork and the ability to work together toward clearly defined goals are considered more valuable assets in the Nigerian workplace than independent thinking or individualistic efforts.

Attitude to foreigners

Nigerians are famously friendly and hospitable people who take a genuine interest in the lives and experiences of foreigners. If one makes an effort to get to know the locals, this friendliness will be repaid tenfold.

Bribery and corruption

Perhaps more than any other country in Africa, Nigeria has a horrendous reputation for bribery and corruption. These are systemic problems, observable from the highest levels of government to the lowest level of street sales. It is unfortunate, though unavoidable, that expats will experience this corruption in some form or another while living and working in Nigeria.

Forming connections with prominent ministers and governors is essential for those wanting to be successful at business in Nigeria. Although not advocated, it’s an unfortunate reality that many companies have a very wide margin written into their budgets for bribes, given not just to legislators and decision-makers but also to their assistants, and often security guards and even receptionists.

It’s best to be wary of empty promises when tabling an offer – it is quite unusual for Nigerian officials to give their internal business to non-Nigerian companies and if they can avoid doing so, yet still find a way to keep a tender, they probably will.


Dos and don'ts of doing business in Nigeria

  • Do remember that bribery, corruption, favouritism and nepotism are still unfortunate realities of doing business in Nigeria

  • Do be willing to improvise, and to make a real effort at getting to know Nigerian colleagues

  • Do try to remain patient and calm in all situations

  • Don’t disrespect elders or those in higher positions of authority

  • Don’t criticise colleagues in public – rather have a private word with them, if necessary

  • Don’t fall into the habit of thinking about or interacting with all Nigerians in the same way. Nigeria is an incredibly diverse nation, and expats should try to familiarise themselves with the nuances of dealing with the different ethnic groups.

Visas for Nigeria

All foreigners, whether going to Nigeria for holiday, on business or relocating there, need to have a visa for Nigeria prior to arrival. Only citizens of member-states of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) are exempt from this requirement.

It is not possible to obtain an entry permit at a Nigerian airport, so anyone promised visa-free entrance to Nigeria should be wary. Such false claims should raise a red flag, and it’s safe to suspect that the party doing the promising is up to no good.

The Nigeria Immigration Service has recently streamlined its system, so visas can only be applied for online through an ePortal.

Once payment is made and the application processed via this system, it’s still necessary for visitors to proceed to the Nigerian embassy in their country of origin, or if no embassy or high commission exists, then to the nearest appropriate Nigerian embassy responsible for the country (e.g. the Nigerian High Commission of Australia is responsible for New Zealand), to be interviewed and to collect the visa.  


Tourist (visit) visas for Nigeria

Though tourism is not a thriving industry in the country, it’s nonetheless simple and straightforward to get a tourist visa for Nigeria.

Start the application process by making payment and applying online via the ePortal system. Fees vary; citizens from developing countries are usually charged lower fees than those from developed countries. Once completed, applicants will be given an interview date at their local Nigerian embassy. Take the payment receipts from the ePortal system, a valid passport and the required accompanying documents to the interview. 


Business visas for Nigeria

Applying for a business visa is essentially the same process as applying for a tourist visa for Nigeria. The only difference is the documents required for presentation at the embassy, as expats will need an invitation letter from a business operating in Nigeria. 


Residency visas (Subject to Regularisation – STR) for Nigeria

Expats planning on working in Nigeria, or those planning on spending more than three months in the country, must apply for a Subject to Regularisation (STR) entry visa. This is a single-entry visa that is valid for 90 days after the point of entry, at which point expats must apply to be regularised. Only after successfully applying for regularisation are expats granted a long-term work permit or the equivalent of a Nigerian green card.

To apply for an STR entry permit, expats need to have confirmed a job with an employer beforehand, and that employer must have received Expatriate Quota approval from the Ministry of the Interior. This is required by the Nigerian government to prevent the indiscriminate employment of expatriates when there are qualified and suitable Nigerians that can fill the positions.

Once this part of the process has been completed, expats can use the ePortal system to pay for and file their application. An interview date at the corresponding embassy will then be set, and expats should bring their valid passport and the necessary documents.


Combined Expatriate Residence Permit and Aliens Card (CERPAC) for Nigeria

Expats who have legally entered Nigeria and who wish to take up employment there are required to apply for a Combined Expatriate Residence Permit and Aliens Card (CERPAC), which is a combined work and residence permit.

An employment contract is required to obtain a CERPAC, which is then tied to that specific job. The CERPAC is valid for two years and is renewable.

*Visa and work permit requirements can change at short notice and expats should contact their respective embassy or consulate for the latest details.

Cost of Living in Nigeria

Underestimating the high cost of living in Nigeria is one of the worst relocation mistakes an expat can make.

Expats with little knowledge of this West African country may be quick to assume life in Lagos or Abuja is provincial and therefore affordable. In actuality, Nigeria’s two largest urban centres are ranked as two of the most expensive cities in Africa.

Rural areas and smaller urban centres in Nigeria levy a far less expensive lease on life, but the majority of expats are concentrated in these two aforementioned locales, if not in one of the oil-rich and isolated southern Niger Delta states.

Many may wonder how an African country often reprimanded for its high levels of poverty, crime and corruption, can beat out global powerhouses like Berlin and Barcelona in cost of living calculations. The answers lie in the oil boom of the 1970s, which allowed economic expansion and population growth to explode and mushroom. As a result, private investment in luxuries and amenities catering for businesses and foreigners skyrocketed and prices followed.


Cost of housing in Nigeria

The cost of accommodation in Nigeria is indiscriminately high. In most cases, hiring companies will not only find and secure housing for their expatriate staff, they will also foot the bill.

In fact, many foreign companies have purchased or sub-let large quantities of housing in areas that have become known as expat enclaves, and are thus easily prepared to make the necessary home arrangements.

Additionally, due to Nigeria’s peaking crime rates and devastatingly unreliable electricity supply, expats will also need to prepare to account for security costs and extra facility (generator) costs.  


Cost of transport in Nigeria

Much like accommodation, the cost of driving and getting around in Nigeria can also levy some unexpected fees. Most expats prefer to hire a driver to negotiate the treacherous traffic and legendary gridlock that besieges roadways that are far below standard.

Thus, this individual’s monthly salary must be tacked onto the normal costs associated with transport (car payments, petrol and car insurance). Nevertheless, employers often will subsidise these costs.

Taking public transport in Nigeria is not an option. The ramshackle buses and improvisational motorbike taxis (okadas) are often not roadworthy and are risky.


Cost of education in Nigeria

With local schools not being an option for expats, those moving to Nigeria with children need to factor the cost of private schooling into their budgets as well. Tuition fees for private international schools are incredibly high. Most of these schools’ fees will also not cover things like uniforms, textbooks or school trips. 


Cost of living in Nigeria chart 

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

Accommodation (monthly rent in expat area)

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 431,500

Groceries

Milk (1 litre)

NGN 575

Chicken breast (1kg)

NGN 3,175

Dozen eggs

NGN 470

Loaf of white bread 

NGN 365

Rice (1kg)

NGN 775

Pack of cigarettes (Marlboro)

NGN 500

Transportation

City centre public transport

NGN 275

Taxi rate per km

NGN 190

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 (per minute)

NGN 42.50

Internet (per month)

NGN 12,600

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

NGN 21,000

Culture Shock in Nigeria

Nigerian culture shock often precedes one’s departure. There is no doubt that Nigeria has a fearsome reputation for kidnappings, corruption and political unrest, all reported as common occurrences. It's therefore natural that expats may be concerned for their welfare before arriving in the country.

Nigeria's largest cities, Lagos and Abuja, are congested, chaotic metropolises that can incite considerable culture shock, even in seasoned expats. Nigerian drivers have a reputation for being aggressive and reckless, while local women can be very forward and, in general, Westerners will attract attention and therefore feel conspicuous.

That being said, many expats who move to Nigeria have successfully created their own insular bubble in the bustling city that surrounds them. Westerners generally live in compounds that recreate a familiar world quite apart from the maelstrom of Nigerian city life outside its electrified perimeters. Within these boundaries, expat life is a familiar blend of socialising, sports and entertainment.

The reality of living and working in Nigeria can actually be a welcome surprise; the people are friendly, the good weather is guaranteed and the food is delicious. Although it is not without its struggles, if expats take the relevant precautions, brush up on the dos and don’ts of the different areas and remember at all times that Nigeria is a developing country, then they will have a worthwhile and enriching experience.


Meeting and greeting in Nigeria

Respect for elders is important in Nigeria; indeed this is possibly the central tenet of life throughout the country. While an entrepreneurial spirit is encouraged across all generations, generally one will find that people in positions of power are likely to be a lot older than those in the Western world.

For all greetings it is necessary to be standing up, for both men and women. Men will generally shake hands on first greeting. Nigeria has a large Muslim population, so many men refrain from shaking hands with women.

If greeting an older male, then a safe and traditional greeting is to bow one’s head very slightly; this is seen as respectful and is an acceptable greeting across all religions and tribes throughout Nigeria. With an older Nigerian lady, or a lady who holds greater rank and seniority, it is advisable to rise and then curtsey slightly before her. More often than not, she will approach and put her arm around one’s waist and engage in conversation. It is appropriate when greeting Nigerians to take time and not rush through this process.

Queries should be made into the person’s health, and also the health of their immediate family. Nigerians naturally talk in short, abrupt sentences and when they are inquiring after someone’s well-being they use the term ‘what of.’ To be understood quicker it is advisable to start enquiries in the same manner, so the question. “How is your sister’s health?” would be “What of your sister?”


Socialising in Nigeria

Both Nigerian men and women are known for their friendliness and are open to meeting new people, so expats who take the time to get to know the locals will be richly rewarded. Within Abuja and Lagos, there are bars, clubs, shopping malls and cinemas showing all the big name Hollywood releases. However, outside of these two cities, manufactured entertainment is rare. There will still be bars which serve food and alcohol, but cinemas will be more scarce and the shopping mall will be replaced by markets in the centre of town.

Dancing is a popular pastime in Nigeria, which is understandable as Nigerians do it very well; nightclubs are usually full of people who really do just go to dance and have a good time. When out socialising, Nigerians will drink a lot less than is consumed in many Western countries. Drinking until drunk is incomprehensible to Nigerians and will be frowned upon.  


Ablutions in Nigeria

Even in Abuja, the country's capital and the most developed city in Nigeria, a good public toilet with a lock, toilet paper and a bin is hard to find. It's not unusual for expats in Nigeria to take their own toilet paper with them on many occasions, even in offices, as it will run out and won’t be replaced.

Outside of Abuja and Lagos, tampons are also hard to find as Nigerian ladies tend to favour sanitary towels. Female expats should therefore stock up before they arrive and ensure that they are always well prepared.

Accommodation in Nigeria

The housing situation in Nigeria is a dire one, with demand dwarfing supply, and with only limited accommodation available that would satisfy Western expat standards. As a result, the cost of renting an “acceptable” bungalow, duplex, apartment or house in the country can be high and well beyond the price range warranted by the average professional’s salary.

Thankfully, for expats, most hiring companies not only finance their employee’s accommodation, but also secure it and assume responsibility for any leasing logistics. In some cases, companies even own properties specifically designed to accommodate their foreign staff, as it proves cheaper to purchase a house in Nigeria than to rent one for years on end.

This commonality applies both to expats living in the big cities of Abuja and Lagos, as well as those lured to the more isolated, oil-rich areas of the Niger Delta, like Port Harcourt.

Foreigners contemplating a move to Nigeria should ensure that a housing stipulation has been included in their contract; this is standard practice and expats should certainly demand their company support them in some way.

It’s not unusual for expats who arrive to work in Nigeria to be put up in a hotel initially while the house-hunting process gets underway. If this is the case, the only way to guarantee a five-star experience is to stay in an international hotel, which can be excessively expensive. 


Types of accommodation in Nigeria

Accommodation for expats is usually concentrated in specific areas or suburbs of a city and within company compounds, apartment blocks or pre-established private housing complexes. Fully furnished, semi-furnished and completely unfurnished housing is available.

Expat compounds in Nigeria usually include 24-hour security (in some cases even armed guards), wireless internet, on-site amenities like tennis courts and a pool, and even domestic help.

Nigerian housing can thus be incredibly spacious and equally beautiful for expats, though the surrounding squalor of nearby neighbourhoods can be devastating; low-income earners, who make up the majority of the Nigerian population, are the most affected by the inadequate supply of housing.


Security considerations in Nigeria

Expats who are lucky enough to secure the kind of accommodation found in Lagos’s luxurious Victoria Island and Ikoyi areas, or in Abuja’s Maitama or Mississippi districts, will find that security threats are kept at bay by adequate precautionary measures. However, they may also find that life in these areas can feel particularly isolated. On that same note, though, some expats take solace in the camaraderie that a tight-knit, insular expat community can provide.

Some issues can’t be avoided, regardless of where in Nigeria one lives – most notably, Nigeria’s incredibly temperamental power and limited water supplies. Boreholes and generators are a must; otherwise, residents can look forward to regular blackouts or water shortages with little or no warning.

Healthcare in Nigeria

The lack of quality healthcare in Nigeria is one serious drawback that expats and assignees have to begrudgingly accept. Though state-run hospitals, general hospitals, local dispensaries and private and non-governmental clinics exist, very few of them would qualify as offering anything other than poor to fair facilities, professionals and equipment.

Many diseases that are rarely seen in developed countries – such as cholera, tetanus and even polio – can still lead to deaths in Nigeria, as many healthcare facilities in the country lack resources and facilities.


Private healthcare in Nigeria

Expats should only use private clinics and hospitals in Nigeria, though even these will likely lack the creature comforts present in most Western facilities. Furthermore, as even the doctors and nurses in private institutions may lack specialised knowledge and the diagnostic equipment to pinpoint a complicated medical problem, expats in need of serious treatment should consider travelling to South Africa or Europe. For routine check-ups and minor issues, however, the private clinics in the urban areas of Nigeria are satisfactory.


Health insurance in Nigeria

Expats should note that immediate payment for healthcare is generally expected in cash upfront. It follows that private health insurance is essential, especially if a situation arises where one needs to fund an emergency evacuation abroad (expats should ensure this is part of their policy). In most cases, this is a stipulation included in negotiated contracts, and if it isn’t then expats should broach the subject with their employer.

The cost associated with private treatment can quickly escalate, even if a large-scale medical evacuation is not needed, so it’s best to ensure adequate coverage for any eventuality.


Pharmacies in Nigeria

Pharmacies are available across most Nigerian cities, although these may not stock many of the usual drugs that expats may be used to having access to at home. It’s recommended that expats bring a sizeable supply of any required prescription medication with them to Nigeria. Certain pharmaceuticals may not be available in the country, and the generic may not necessarily be trustworthy. The same goes for preferred name brand over-the-counter medication.


Health risks in Nigeria

Malaria is a concern throughout Nigeria. Expats are divided over whether or not to take malaria prophylaxes. These drugs do have some serious side effects, and long-term use is not recommended. Additionally, they mask the symptoms of malaria, which may impede rapid treatment. The best approach is to be proactive with prevention: use a mosquito net, cover arms and legs, fumigate the house twice a year and visit the doctor immediately if experiencing any flu-like symptoms. Malaria is easy to treat, as long as it’s caught early.

HIV and tuberculosis are also rife in Nigeria, so appropriate precautions must be taken. Tap water should not be consumed; water-borne diseases spread easily, and diarrhoea is a common ailment amongst expats.


Vaccinations for Nigeria

The following vaccinations are recommended prior to travel to Nigeria:

  • Tetanus

  • Diphtheria

  • Measles

  • Hepatitis A

  • Hepatitis B

  • Typhoid

  • Meningitis

  • Rubella

  • Yellow fever

The above list is merely a guide. Expats should ensure that all their routine vaccinations are up to date and should consult with a medical professional prior to departure for further information on vaccinations for Nigeria.


Emergency services in Nigeria

Emergency response times in Nigeria are notoriously slow. A number of private medical emergency services are in operation, although coverage in rural areas may be limited. It’s essential that expats have comprehensive health insurance that covers air evacuation by private means.

Education and Schools in Nigeria

Most expats send their children to private international schools in Nigeria. State-sponsored schools are a far cry from satisfying Western standards, and are plagued by staff shortages, lack of textbooks and materials, and a deficiency in learning tools and facilities.


International schools in Nigeria

Foreign nationals may initially be surprised at just how many international school options there are in Nigeria's major urban centres, namely the capital city of Abuja and the commercial capital of Lagos. As expected, rural areas are unable to support the same type of provision; expat parents living far from a large city may want to consider homeschooling or sending their child to a boarding school.

Most international school curricula in Nigeria follow British, American or International Baccalaureate standards. The quality of education tends to be high, and students need not worry about falling behind during their time abroad. Many are equipped with state-of-the-art facilities and offer a healthy choice of extra-curricular activities.

Although some international schools may follow the format of the school year in their home country, the school year in Nigeria runs from January to December, and is divided into three semesters. The school day in Nigeria runs roughly between 8am and 3pm; timetables are subject to changes according to age level and institution.

Fees and admission to international schools

Expats should be fully aware that such a posh education amid a sea of sub-standard state options certainly comes at a price. On top of inordinately high basic fees, other expenses can include school uniforms, textbooks, extra-curricular activities and transport. It's vital that expats moving to Nigeria with children secure subsidies and allowances for education in addition to their contracted salary.

Admission to the best schools can be competitive and, in some cases, preference is given to students of a certain nationality or those who have parents employed by a specific company, organisation or government body. Sometimes, organisations will have reserved spots in particular schools for the children of their employees. Before they begin applying to schools, expats should enquire within their company to find out if they offer such provisions.

It is often required that children sit for an entrance exam, submit up to two years of their past records, or even go for a personal interview.


Homeschooling in Nigeria

Expats wishing to keep their children out of the Nigerian schooling system, or those who are relocating to Nigeria on a short-term contract, may choose to homeschool their children. Homeschooling is permissible in Nigeria, although there is very little policy to regulate this.

Transport and Driving in Nigeria

Getting around in Nigeria can be challenging. Driving is often a dangerous and painstaking affair, and though public transport is available, it is usually best avoided.

Most expats lured abroad to a posting in this African destination are provided with a car and driver, but it's still best to familiarise oneself with the rules of the road and the common laws that underlie them.


Driving in Nigeria

Most companies provide their expat employees with a car, a driver and, in some cases, a security escort. While expats are allowed to drive, most prefer to employ professionals to take on the Nigerian traffic. Congestion in Nigeria’s urban centres can last hours and some commuters will even leave the house as early as 4am to avoid it. Additionally, instances of kidnapping and armed robbery have been reported, and are not points of threat to be taken lightly.

Foreigners are advised to ensure that if they are being collected by a driver, that they do not give their name or their employer’s name until they have verified their driver’s identification. A friendly face and plenty of distractions may lull one into thinking they have climbed into the right vehicle, only to find they are being held up, relieved of all their cash and delivered right back to the pick-up point.

Expats can drive in Nigeria with their national driver's licence for up to three months and on an international driver's licence for up to a year, after which time they are required to have a Nigerian driver's licence. Most employers can make the necessary arrangements for this.


Public transport in Nigeria

There are numerous options when it comes to public transport in Nigeria, but, generally, these are unsafe, unreliable and not recommended for expats.

Buses

Numerous bus companies operate in Nigerian cities, but again, safety is a concern due to poor maintenance of vehicles and low driving standards.

Danfo, which are yellow minibus taxis, are the most popular means of getting around most Nigerian cities. However, the government is currently in the process of implementing a new system to replace the Danfo buses with more modern, larger, eco-friendly and air-conditioned buses.

For travel between Nigerian cities, Molue buses operate along fixed routes in and between urban areas.


Taxis in Nigeria

Taxis are plentiful in Nigerian cities and offer a viable means of transport for expats. Taxis are either metered or have fixed fares. It is possible to hail a cab from the street, but a safer option is to phone and order one ahead of time. It’s best to negotiate the fare before entering the taxi, or make sure that the meter is working.


Okadas in Nigeria

Okadas, motorbike taxis that hurtle down highways weaving in and out of traffic at breakneck speeds, regularly transport locals in and around Nigerian cities. Although these are arguably one of the fastest and cheapest ways to get around, they are best avoided due to safety concerns. In some Nigerian cities these vehicles have been banned from operating in certain areas or at specific times of the day.


Air travel in Nigeria

Due to Nigeria’s vast size, as well as numerous safety concerns, travel between cities is best done via air travel. The country’s two main international airports are Murtala Muhammed International Airport in Lagos and Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport in Abuja. Kano, Port Harcourt and Enugu also have international airports.

A number of international and regional airlines offer services to and from Nigeria and smaller charter services offer transport to more remote destinations. Expats should choose their airline carefully, though, as local Nigerian airlines have a dubious safety record, and most are included on international blacklists and forbidden from flying within the European Union.

Frequently Asked Questions about Nigeria

Expats considering a move to Nigeria will naturally have many concerns about life in this West African country. From their personal safety and security to the transport system and being able to keep in touch with friends and family back home, here are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about expat life in Nigeria.

How reliable is the electricity supply in Nigeria?

Power supply in Nigeria, even in the larger cities, is notoriously unreliable and most expats have a petrol generator to cope with frequent power outages. 

How safe will I be in Nigeria?

Although Nigeria has a dubious reputation when it comes to safety and security, the majority of expats enjoy a trouble-free stay there. Companies view the safety of their foreign staff as a priority and most expats live within secure compounds with access control and good security features. Many expats have a car and driver provided so they don’t have to navigate the treacherous Nigerian roads alone, and some may even provide armed escorts, depending on the position and seniority of the employee and their location within Nigeria.

How good are internet and cell phone services?

Mobile phone services are plentiful, cheap and reliable. South African operator MTN has the largest cell phone network in Nigeria and offers good value and great coverage. Internet access typically runs off the wireless cell phone network, using 3G or similar protocols, but internet access can be very expensive in Nigeria.

Do I need a car in Nigeria?

Yes – it is absolutely essential. While the thrills and adventure of public transport are relished by some, having one’s own car is vital for safety and comfort. Cars are also a mark of status in Nigeria. By having a driver, the status quotient is further enhanced, with the added bonus of having someone who actually knows their way around navigating the chaotic Nigerian roads.

Banking, Money and Taxes in Nigeria

Nigeria has a developed banking sector and both local and international banks have a presence in the country. Nevertheless, most expats prefer to keep an offshore bank account in a country they are comfortable with, opening a local account primarily for day-to-day living.


Money in Nigeria

Nigeria's currency is the Nigerian Naira (NGN), which is divided into 100 kobos.
 
The naira is available in the following denominations:

  • Notes: 1,000 NGN, 500 NGN, 200 NGN, 100 NGN, 50 NGN, 20 NGN, 10 NGN and 5 NGN

  • Coins: 2 NGN, 1 NGN and 50 kobo


Banking in Nigeria

The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) is the main bank in Nigeria and the institution that regulates banking in the country. Other banks in Nigeria include, amongst others, Ecobank Nigeria, Access Bank, Citibank, Standard Chartered Bank and Union Bank of Nigeria.

Banking systems in Nigeria, such as internet banking, do exist and offer standard services but are often down, and during these times only one’s bank balance will be available. Not to mention, personal information is not guaranteed to be safe, and the perception is that the system itself is unreliable and way behind the times.

Opening a bank account

Expats are able to operate both foreign and local accounts in Nigeria. As previously mentioned, foreigners generally prefer to maintain their foreign accounts and to open a local one for small amounts of cash. Expat salaries are usually paid into foreign accounts and then changed over into the currency of choice by the employee, usually from the US dollar.

It's important to note that the costs involved in managing a foreign account are huge; transaction fees are astronomical. Still, these accounts tend to be simpler and more secure, and accepting the extra charges as necessary evils is, unfortunately, a reality.

Alternatively, operating a local account will require expats to have patience, and they will need to know all the risks involved before choosing this route.

ATMs and credit cards

ATMs are available at some banks, but not all of them accept foreign cards. Most ATMs have a daily withdrawal limit of around 150,000 NGN. ATM fraud is prevalent in Nigeria, so vigilance is essential when drawing cash.

Nigeria is largely a cash-based society, so cash will still be necessary for many purchases. More establishments are starting to accept debit/credit cards as standard forms of payment for goods and services, but be sure to be extra wary when paying with a card, as fraud is a major concern.

If using a credit card for any transactions, expats should carefully look at their bank statements to ensure there has not been any credit card fraud. Expats should notify their bank before moving to Nigeria and using their card, as many banks will automatically cancel a card after just one Nigerian transaction.

419 scams

419 is the section of the Nigerian Criminal Code that deals with financial fraud, and due to the countless related scams and fraudulent activities in the country, it's become a common name for any illegal monetary activity. Expats should be careful of any suspicious transactions or proposals.

Domiciliary accounts

A domiciliary account is a local, foreign currency denominated account. This means it accepts and moves other currencies, not just the Naira. Many expats recommend GTB (Guaranty Trust Bank) as the best and safest option to receive salaries locally and move money out to the country of their choice.


Taxes in Nigeria

Income tax in Nigeria is charged at progressive rates of up to 24 percent on total income. Whether an expat is liable to pay taxes in Nigeria depends on their resident status in the country. Residents are taxed on their worldwide income. Expats should confirm whether they are eligible for double-taxation exemption if their home country has a tax agreement with Nigeria.

Expat Experiences in Nigeria

When considering a move to a new city, there is nothing more useful than hearing real life stories and experiences from other expats who are living there. We'd love to hear about your expat experiences. Please contact us if you live or have lived in Nigeria and would like to share your story.

Vena Namukasa is an American who relocated to Nigeria in 2015 with her husband.  She shares her experiences of meeting people, being safe and other perceptions about life in Nigeria.  Read more about her experience in Nigeria here.

Clementine Wallop is a British expat who lived with her husband in Singapore before moving out to Nigeria in 2014. Both journalists, they decided to relocate to the city of Abuja to add variety to their lives and Clementine now works as a freelance writer and consultant and says she's enjoying getting to know the friendly people in her new home. Read more about her expat experiences in Nigeria.

British expat in Nigeria

Kim Kloppers is a South African expat who moved to Nigeria with her husband and son in 2013. They live in the southwestern Nigerian city of Ibadan and moved there due to her husband’s job. Learn more about her expat experiences in Nigeria.

Kim Kloppers - A South African expat living in Nigeria

Ann is a British expat living in Abuja. She initially moved to Nigeria with her husband, who subsequently returned to the UK. Ann loves every aspect of her life in Nigeria and has no intention of returning to her country of birth. Read about her expat life in Nigeria.

Ann - A British expat living in Nigeria

Keli is an American expat living in Lagos with her husband and young daughter. She is slowly finding her way in this bustling and exciting African city. Read about what she has to say about her expat life in Nigeria.

Keli - An American expat living in Lagos

Meredith Salinas is an American expat who lived in Lagos with her husband and two children for three years. Although now back in the States, Meredith looks back on her expat life in Nigeria with fondness and shares some of her insights about life in this West African country.

Meredith Salinas - An American expat in Nigeria

Anvaya Ingle, an Indian living in Nigeria, sheds some light on all the misconceptions expats often hold about this notoriously troublesome country. She talks about the thriving Indian community, and what expats moving from the sub-continent should come to expect from life in Lagos.

Anvaya - an Indian expat living in Lagos

Celia Jarvis is an expert on international public relations and has developed a thorough understanding of Nigeria in her time living and working here. Read about her take on expat life in Nigeria and her ongoing love affair with this hugely underrated expat destination.

expat nigeria

Josephine, a British expat living in Lagos, has yet to scrape the city's surface; but thus far, she describes life in Nigeria as far better than expected. For those who feel like their upcoming transition to Nigeria is about as concrete as a crystal ball's prediction, reading what Josephine has to say is a great way to see what settling into life in Lagos is really like.

Josephine - A British Expat in Nigeria

Susan Cooke is a British governess who left the Queen's island over thirty years ago for life in the expatriate sphere. Having just moved from Cairo, Egypt, to Abuja, Nigeria, she reflects on the differences between the two African countries, and gives expats some insight into what they can expect from living in Nigeria.

susan cooke - an british expat living in nigeria