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Living In Nigeria: A Guide To Moving To Nigeria As An Expat

Living In Nigeria: A Guide To Moving To Nigeria As An Expat

Nigeria is Africa’s most populous country. Its climate is tropical, with wet and dry seasons. Oil and gas industries continue to thrive along its Atlantic coast, and a large number of new and emerging sectors include mining and construction, telecommunications, IT, and financial management.

Due to long standing political and cultural unrest, widespread corruption remains a major challenge to the country’s global reputation. But despite this, Nigeria has a growing number of expat communities who report a high quality of life, enjoying many luxuries not accessible at home.

Zuma Rock - a large monolith near Abuja in Nigeria - Living In Nigeria: A Guide To Moving To Nigeria As An Expat
Zuma Rock is a large monolith near Abuja, Nigeria / GETTY IMAGES

What to expect from living in Nigeria as an expat

Due to the highly dense populations in Nigerian cities, expats’ first impression may well be crowds and chaos. The pace of life is fast, and congestion and poverty are everywhere. However, Nigerians are outgoing and friendly, and welcome new arrivals with open arms.

Nigeria is a country of contradictions. While there are huge problems with overpopulation, outdated infrastructure, and high unemployment, Nigeria remains an up-and-coming destination for expats. Many who have already made the move describe their new home as vibrant, and colourful, and a survey by InterNations found that Nigeria has more expats earning over $250,000 than any other country on earth.

The expat community is close, but those making the effort to get to know the Nigerian people will make new and interesting friends. Beyond the urban industrial centres, the country boasts fabulous landscapes and wildlife reserves all waiting to be discovered.

How to become an expat in Nigeria

Many expats in Nigera have been relocated by employers. Overseas packages usually include accommodation, and many companies own properties or complexes for their overseas staff.

Another option is to sub-let from a colleague or friend, but if you don’t have accommodation or employment, moving to Nigeria as an expat is not advised.

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Is Nigeria safe for expats?

Nigeria has a reputation for reported incidents of kidnapping and crime, and safety can be a major concern for expats moving to the country.

UK Government travel advice states that foreigners in Nigeria should be vigilant at all times and keep others informed of your travel plans.

If you’re working in Nigeria you should follow your employer’s security advice, make sure your accommodation is secure and review your security measures regularly.

Accommodation compounds usually have 24-hour security, which may include armed guards, security cameras and access control.

Gridlocked traffic in African megacity, Lagos in Nigeria - Living In Nigeria: A Guide To Moving To Nigeria As An Expat
Traffic in African megacity, Lagos in Nigeria / GETTY IMAGES

How is the political situation in Nigeria?

Under the 1999 constitution, executive power is vested in the President who is directly elected to a four-year term. There are two tiers of government below the federal level, state and local. The Nigerian Police Force is known for being inefficient, and corruption is widespread, threatening the country’s long term stability.

However, increasing inward investment by overseas companies, supported by their own measures to support and protect employees, mean that, to some extent, expats are protected from the endemic threats to Nigeria’s growth and prosperity.

Language in Nigeria

The official language in Nigeria is English, which is used for all official communications. However, there is a rich and diverse range of indigenous languages, including the most common, Hausa, Igbo, and Yoruba.

How did Nigeria deal with COVID-19?

Sub-saharan Africa has, so far, escaped the predicted high numbers of cases and deaths from Covid-19. Nigeria, with a population of over 200 million, reported just 33,000 cases and 750 deaths.

These numbers are subject to question, as testing and control across all 36 states have been difficult to mandate and implement, but fears of overflowing hospitals have failed to materialise. Numbers are currently rising, but not exponentially, testing programmes are being rolled out, and restrictions on gatherings, distancing, and mask wearing, are still in place.

Ariel photo of the man made Suleja Dam in Abuja, Nigeria - Living In Nigeria: A Guide To Moving To Nigeria As An Expat
Suleja Dam - Abuja, Nigeria / GETTY IMAGES

Where will you find expats living in Nigeria and how can I find accommodation?

Where do expats live in Nigeria?

The top locations for expats in Nigera are the two largest cities; Lagos and Abuja.

Those heading for Abuja, which is increasingly commercial, may find the cost of living particularly steep. Meanwhile, the most affluent areas of Lagos are Ikoyi, popular among expats in the oil and gas industries, and Victoria Island, where some of the most expensive real estate can be found. The seaport of Apapa, with its old colonial houses, and apartment complexes, is a more economical choice for expats in Nigiera.

These areas, together with the luxurious man-made Banana Island, are among the safest, though most residences are within expat compounds, or walled enclosures, complete with armed guards, which may make for a less-than-inclusive experience.

How can I find accommodation in Nigeria?

Finding a property as an expat in Nigeria can be difficult. Demand outweighs supply and even professionals will struggle to find Western standard accommodation on a rental budget. The most settled Nigeria expats are those who have been relocated by their employers, many of whom own or secure suitable homes for their staff, and cover rent and expenses.

If accommodation hasn’t been arranged prior to your arrival, you may have to stay in a hotel near your place of work for a while after you arrive.

Can expats buy property in Nigeria?

The Nigerian Land Use Act of 1978 reverted all land ownership back to the State, therefore land cannot be owned privately.

However, foreigners can obtain leases for the use of land, for a maximum of 99 years. This requires a certificate from the relevant State Governor, which gives permission for occupation and improvement of property, but does not include the rights to sell, give, or sub-let.

Purchasing property in Nigeria also carries additional risk. Under national and state laws, the Government can re-take land without compensation, and there are reported examples of people re-assigning land they do not own. Borders between states are not necessarily established, so demarcation of ownership/responsibility may be disputed.

Bustling market street in Lagos, Nigeria -
Bustling market street in Lagos, Nigeria / GETTY IMAGES

Jobs, visas and working in Nigeria

Expat jobs in Nigeria

Nigeria’s biggest industry is oil, and most multinational oil companies have a major presence, contributing over 95% of the country’s foreign exchange earnings. Expats also find opportunities in other growing sectors, such as mining, construction, IT, telecommunications and general business.

Most expats are highly skilled and qualified, working in project management, HR, engineering or IT. Those with skills in journalism, communications and health sciences are also seeing increasing opportunities, and several NGO agencies and the UN use Nigeria as their West African base.

Expat salary in Nigeria

Salaries for expats in Nigeria can be up to 45% higher than those in the UK. This is to cover higher rental prices and the costs of safety measures that come with working in an African country. However, some benefits packages for expats also include free or subsidised accommodation and chauffeured transport.

Income tax in Nigeria is calculated on a progressive scale from 7 to 24% on total income.  Expats may be eligible for double-taxation exemption if their home country has a tax agreement with Nigeria, and other relevant factors are duration of stay and location. It’s a complex system and referring to a qualified tax consultant is recommended.

Do you need a visa to live and work in Nigeria?

Unless you are from an exempted country, you will require a visa to live and work in Nigeria.

Visas need to be arranged before arrival, and applications can be made online via the Nigerian Immigration Service. Applicants will need to visit their nearest Nigerian consulate with the relevant paperwork for an interview.

There are six types of visa in Nigeria:

  • Transit
  • Direct Transit
  • Business
  • Tourist
  • Official/diplomatic, temporary work
  • Subject to Regularisation (STR)

The STR visa is required for expats who are planning to work in Nigeria. This is a single-entry visa that is valid for 90 days, at which point holders can apply for a long-term work permit or the equivalent of a Nigerian green card. To apply for an STR visa, expats need to have confirmed a job with an employer beforehand, and the employer must have received Expatriate Quota approval from the Ministry of the Interior.

Documents required:

  • Valid passport with minimum of 6 months validity
  • Letter of employment
  • Expatriate quota approval
  • Credentials of the applicant
  • Duly completed form IMM 22
  • Curriculum Vitae or Resume
  • For chief executive officers (CEOs) of corporate organizations, an extract of the minutes of the Board’s resolution is required. This is only obtainable from Nigerian Missions in the countries where applicants must have been living for at least six months

In addition, expats planning to drive in the country must apply for a Nigerian driving license, as an international license is not recognized. This will involve a test at an accredited driving school. However, driving is not recommended and most Nigeria expats hire the services of a driver.

Wurara waterfalls on Wurara River in Nigeria - Living In Nigeria: A Guide To Moving To Nigeria As An Expat
Wurara waterfalls on Wurara River in Nigeria / GETTY IMAGES

Cost of living and moving to Nigeria

The cost of living in Nigeria is relatively high. The costs of utilities and security are often covered by employers, but there may be extra expenses to consider. For instance, the country’s poor power supply means many Nigeria expats need to invest in a generator, which is expensive to buy and maintain.

Local produce is generally cheap and available at local markets. Nigeria is a multi-ethnic society, with huge variation in foods and flavours across the different regions. Expats will find meat, seafood, and many exotic fruits, all year round at colorful markets in towns and cities. However, the costs of imported Western food items are significantly inflated.

Nigeria’s cities are filled with high-end shopping malls, where luxury items and international fashions are readily available, but these will come at a cost.

The vast majority of expat children attend international schools, at significant expense, whilst others are home schooled.

Banking and finance in Nigeria

The official currency of Nigeria is the Nigerian naira (NGN). One naira is divided into 100 kobo. There are eight naira notes, and coins are 1 and 2 NGN and 50 kobo.

Nigeria is the financial capital of Africa. It has seen huge financial growth over recent years, and many Nigeria expats are now returning from abroad to benefit from the strongest economy of any African country.

Local and international banks, including Ecobank Nigeria, Access Bank, Citibank, Standard Chartered Bank and Union Bank of Nigeria offer services to expats, but due to security concerns and the unreliable nature of Nigerian banking systems, most expats prefer to maintain an offshore bank account, using a local account for day-to-day living.

Cash is still necessary for many purchases. ATM and credit card fraud are prevalent, and expats in Nigeria should take care when withdrawing and carrying cash, and monitor their bank statements and transaction history closely.

Drone captures photo of the Lekki-Ikoyi Link Bridge in Lagos, Nigeria - Living In Nigeria: A Guide To Moving To Nigeria As An Expat
The Lekki-Ikoyi Link Bridge in Lagos, Nigeria / GETTY IMAGES

Healthcare and insurance in Nigeria

Despite Nigeria being a developed country, diseases such as cholera, tetanus and polio, malaria, HIV, and tuberculosis are still common.

Health facilities in the country are limited, and are well below Western standards. Public healthcare is adequate for routine treatments and check-ups, but is hugely underfunded. Expats in Nigeria are advised to secure health insurance to cover anything more than basic medical treatments, including medical evacuation.

Culture and customs in Nigeria

In Nigerian culture, it is common to build close personal relationships. Business meetings may be preceded by personal questions. It’s worth noting that the concept of personal space is almost non-existent for Nigerians, so try and be tolerant when people stand close to you.

Whether in urban or rural areas, the family is the central institution. Business structures are hierarchical and largely paternalistic.

There are plenty of modern restaurants in Nigerian cities serving both local and international cuisine. The majority of northern Nigeria’s population is Muslim, so pork is difficult to come by, and even forbidden in some areas.

Nigerians are extremely social people. Alcohol is widely available, except in specific Muslim areas. However, expats should refrain from drinking in public during the holy month of Ramadan.

Your handy “moving to Nigeria” checklist

Before moving to Nigeria, make sure you check the following:

Accommodation

  • ☐ Have you researched places you’d like to live?
  • ☐ Has your employer secured your accommodation?
  • ☐ If you’ve found an apartment or house you’d like to rent, have you contacted the company offering the accommodation?
  • ☐ If you’ve agreed a place to live, have you received your rental agreement?

Work

  • ☐ Have you received a job offer from a Nigerian employer?
  • ☐ Alternatively, do you have proof of income and your eligibility to work overseas from your existing employer?
  • ☐ Have you started your application for your residency visa?
  • ☐ Do you have the proof of income or proof of savings required to apply for a visa?

Healthcare

  • ☐ Have you found your local public health service in Nigeria, and are you aware of any costs of using that service?
  • ☐ Have you taken out international health insurance before moving to Nigeria?
  • ☐ Have you looked into other forms of health insurance to support your life in Nigeria, such as life insurance and income protection?
  • ☐ Does your health insurance cover emergency evacuation to another country with better medical facilities?

Banking

  • ☐ Do you have all the paperwork necessary to complete your application for a bank account?
  • ☐ Do you have the minimum deposit available in cash?

Relocation

  • ☐ Have you researched the cost of relocation? If you’re bringing your own furniture from home, have you received a reliable quote from a shipping company?
  • ☐ Have you looked into schooling for your children? If you are relying on state education, you may need to contact schools to see if they have places available.

Before you go…

Moving to another country can be challenging, but you can ensure peace of mind by making sure you have the right international health insurance.

For 30 years, we have helped expats like you move and settle into their new lives overseas, with the peace of mind of knowing their families are covered by a comprehensive and flexible health insurance policy.

Speak to us today to find out more about how international health insurance could benefit you and your family – and good luck moving to Nigeria!

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