Know before you go: advice on moving to Nigeria

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Expat Clementine Wallop offers some tips based on her experience of moving to the Nigerian capital, Abuja

Look behind the gloomy headlines and Nigeria proves to be an amusing and interesting place to live, according to the writer.

Nigeria may be an increasingly popular destination for expats, but preparation for life in the West African country is key.

First and foremost: be aware, but don’t be afraid. Nigeria’s reputation for terrorism, crime and internet fraud masks much of what makes it an amusing and interesting place to live. Put aside sensational press coverage and talk to Nigerians and long-term expatriates about life here.

Paperwork

Nigeria’s visa process for British nationals is improving, with efforts at the High Commission in London to make applying easier.

Still, it can be difficult securing a resident’s permit: ensure your employer is taking advice from Nigeria-specific immigration lawyers and that the terms of your visa and contingency for failure or delays are laid out in your contract.

Take out a health insurance policy that will cover you in Nigeria or check that your existing company insurance covers you adequately.

You may also choose to take out kidnap and ransom insurance, depending on where you’re living (oil workers in Port Harcourt are at higher risk than development workers in Abuja). Note that not all companies will tell employees that they’re covered for kidnap and ransom.

Health

Go to a specialist travel medicine clinic to discuss vaccinations and to talk through your options for long-term antimalarial medication if you choose to take it.

Many drugs sold at some Nigerian pharmacies are counterfeit, so buy a large first aid kit at the travel clinic that includes broad-spectrum antibiotics.

Take a job lot of Coartem for malaria, paracetamol, diarrhoea medication, cold and flu sachets, mosquito repellent, bite cream and Vicks VapoRubwith you.

If you need to see a doctor, be prepared to pay in cash up front at the clinic.

 

Most business in Nigeria is conducted using cash rather than cards, so get used to carrying naira around.

Banking

Talk to your UK bank about the implications of a move to Nigeria. Some banks will stop credit card transactions coming via Nigeria because of the prevalence of credit card fraud, and some will also prevent withdrawals from Nigerian ATMs.

Local banks include Zenith, GT Bank, UBA, Ecobank, Access Bank and Stanbic. Setting up an account can take time and can depend on having a local form of identification such as a Nigerian driving licence, so bring cash when you arrive to tide you over.

The Nigerian naira isn’t convertible, so you’ll have to bring in money and change it here. Local money changers prefer pounds sterling to US dollars and they like them in big denominations, so bring 50 pound notes to secure the best rate.

Nigerian Naira

Nigerian Naira

Most business in Nigeria is conducted using cash rather than cards, so get used to carrying naira around for errands like renewing a monthly Wi-Fi subscription or buying fuel.

 

Housing

If your employer is not providing accommodation in one of their own buildings and is not covering your rent (this is very unusual), note that Nigerian rents are generally paid two years up front.

Rents are high, so think carefully through the financial implications of a move where the cost of living may cancel out an increased salary. Lagos ranked number 20 and Abuja number 35 on Mercer’s Cost Of Living Survey 2015, which compares the cost of living for expats in more than 200 cities around the world.

If you’re shipping furniture, paperwork problems and congestion at Nigeria’s major ports can hold up your container. We waited nine months for ours to arrive. Don’t pack anything in your container that you might need in a hurry.

Nigerian houses tend to be spacious compared with London and you’ll be able to buy most things you need for the home once you’re here, but Nigeria relies heavily on imports so you’re likely to pay a hefty premium over UK prices.

Nigeria has frequent power cuts; it is essential your property has access to a well-maintained generator and a borehole.

Ask your landlord to fumigate the property and spray any garden areas a week before you arrive and arrange repeat fumigation every quarter.

Buy a water cooler and several refills as your first order of business when you arrive.

Transport

For expats coming to Lagos, many companies provide a car and driver. Lagos traffic demands an expert hand.

Abuja, the capital, was a built as a motor city and most expats drive its expressways with relative ease. If you decide to buy a car I’d recommend a 4×4, especially if you’re planning to take road trips outside the city.

Always carry complete car paperwork including registration documents, insurance and licence in the car with you in case you need them at police or military checkpoints.

Safety

Day-to-day, apply the same rules you would anywhere unfamiliar: don’t be conspicuous with cash, be careful walking alone at night, make sure friends or family know your plans if you’re travelling out of town.

If you’re in a kidnap prone area, avoid a daily routine and keep your schedule unpredictable.

At airports arrange a car transfer via your hotel or colleagues before you fly; get the driver’s name, number plate and mobile number ahead of time.

Corruption

Nigeria’s new government is pledging a crackdown on the country’s infamous corruption, so we’re hoping to see this change for the better over the coming months.

You may encounter occasional requests for “dash” [a small bribe], including from the police. If someone asks “what do you have for me?” it’s usually fine to offer regards rather than cash. Be courteous rather than angry.

It’s polite to give something to someone who has gone out of their way to help, for instance by helping carry water barrels at the supermarket, or by smoothing your way at a land border checkpoint.

Communications

The majority of mobile phones are pay-as-you-go, and you’ll find vouchers for calls, texts and data for sale on any street corner.

Home Wi-Fi is expensive compared with Britain and your service may be slower than you’re accustomed to.

Clothing

Bring fine, cool clothing, with long trousers and sleeves for the evenings to avoid bites. Desert boots or canvas trainers with thick soles are best for tramping about the city.

Pack modest clothing suitable for wear in areas of the country where Islam is the dominant faith.

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