Lagos, Nigeria Report of what it's like to live there - 12/01/11

Personal Experiences from Lagos, Nigeria

Lagos, Nigeria 12/01/11

Background:

1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?

Iraq, China, Haiti, Thailand, and Rwanda.

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2. What is your home city/country? How long is the trip to post from there, with what connections? How easy/difficult is it to travel to this city/country?

Washington DC. 22-24 hours. Connecting Flight at Atlanta to Lagos directly. Europe is an alternative.

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3. How long have you lived here?

3 Years.

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4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, military, teaching, retirement, etc.)?

U.S Diplomat.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?

Town Houses, Condos and apartment compounds are common on the islands. Two bridges connect Ikoyi and Victoria Islands, and rush hour traffic can be awful (30-40 minutes to move around the islands). But generally, if you live and work on the islands, your commute is under 30 minutes. Indian and Lebanese grocery stores, restaurants, bakeries and stores are all within 20 minutes. Many expats use the waterways to travel from home to work. It is exotic, convenient, and you avoid the "go slows", vendors, beggars, and crime.

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2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?

Three imported goods stores (Park 'n' Shop, Goodies, Game) carry almost everything one might need -- but for outrageous prices. LaPointe sells a good selection French cheeses. Most brands are European; some US brands are available, but at hugely inflated prices. Veggies tends to be old and small. Fresh vegetables and tropical fruit are better bought at the local market or fruit stand, where one can haggle. Regarding ethnic ingredients, one can get Indian and Mediterranean supplies, but very little Chinese, Japanese, or Latino ingredients.

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3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?

More olive oil and cleaning products (which are very expensive here), like detergents. If you have a baby, stock up on diapers and wipes, as local options are imported, costly, and in small packs.

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4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?

You can get Indian, Thai, pizza, and Lebanese. Delivery is available in certain areas. Also there are new chains of KFC around Victoria-island. These are not of the same quality as the ones back home.

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5. What kinds of organic, vegetarian and allergy-friendly foods are available, such as organic produce, gluten-free products, meat substitutes for vegetarians, etc?

It's very expensive where expats shop.

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6. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?

Mosquitoes are the greatest treat to expats and diplomats; malaria medication is a must. There are also roaches and flies, but not in abundance like the malaria-carrying mosquitoes.

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Daily Life:

1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?

Diplomatic pouch. Can only receive.

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2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?

Widely available, though quality of service varies. Cost ranges from US$80-$150 per month. Most embassy housing includes detached live-in space for domestic help. Drivers are also very useful as traffic and road conditions are horrendous.

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3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?

All foreign missions and expat companies had their own gyms.

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4. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?

Don't even think about it.

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5. What English-language religious services are available locally?

Abundantly.

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6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?

Yes. Int'l Herald Tribune is available as a subscription (to your door), but is very costly. CNN and other new channels are broadcast over the Armed Forces Network free of charge to embassy housing. The Economist and other current magazines are available on the streets, but are also expensive.

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7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

None. English is the nation's official language, but American accents can throw Nigerians for a loop. But you can learn few words for breaking the ice with the locals, especially the Yorubas that own Lagos.

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8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?

The lack of paved roads, no ramps for wheelchairs; this is not a modern city with accessible and safe amenities.

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Transportation:

1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?

Taxis are available everywhere, but you have to be careful and study the driver. Trains and buses are available,cheap but off limits to expats and diplomats.

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2. What kind of car do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car do you advise not to bring?

SUVs.

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Phone & Internet:

1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?

Yes, but access is difficult during the middle of the weekday since bandwidth is limited and lines get clogged. Cost is high -- $80/month for unlimited access.

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2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?

Bring an unlocked GSM phone and buy charge cards on the street. Black market GSM phones are good (available online), as are phones from Cingular and T-Mobile. If your GSM phone is locked, a Nigerian guy on the corner can unlock it for a fee. Verizon phones are useless, as they are not GSM.

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Pets:

1. Are qualified veterinarians and/or good kennel services available? Do animals need to be quarantined upon entry to the country? Are there other considerations regarding pets that are particular to this country?

No.

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2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?

Very few.

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Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:

1. What types of jobs do most expatriate spouses/partners have? Locally based or telecommuting? Full-time or part-time? Can you comment on local salary scales?

Most Embassy dependents who want to work can find jobs in the Consulate. Opportunities vary from CLO, to GQ Manager, to Budget Assistant. The school offers other possibilities, as well. On the actual "local economy," there is very little unless you can hook up with contract positions or volunteer time at NGOs.

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2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?

Nigerians like to dress up. The men like to wear suits, and the women can look very impressive in their native dress. Friday at the consulate is native dress day, when most Nigerians and many Americans wear traditional Nigerian outfits to work. Every time I try dressing up in a Nigerian outfit, my wife says something like, "Oh, is the circus is in town?" So I usually hang it back up in the closet. Some American men wear shirt and tie to work, but others wear casual dress. The climate is warm and humid year round, and it makes sense to wear light cotton clothes whenever possible, which is always for me.

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Health & Safety:

1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.

Kidnappings is the major threat to foreigners, especially expats with the oil companies. Carjacking comes second. Scams, cyber crimes, fraud, and theft. Many locals are robbed at gunpoint while using local transportation. Expats are often robbed while stuck in traffic, known as "go slows." Armed and often violent home invasions are common in the expat community. 24-hour armed guards, supplemented by locally hired police (MOPOL'S) armed with AK-47s, are a must. Any night travel to the mainland of Lagos is extremely dangerous. Armored vehicles are recommended. Ambulance/Police/Fire services are virtually nonexistent. Mugging is rare, if you keep to the safe part of Lagos to do your walking on Ikoyi and Victoria Islands during daylight. All trips to and from the airport require an armed escort vehicle after dark.

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2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?

Malaria. Typhoid. Unsafe drinking water. Medical care is very, very, expensive and not reliable. Do not count on an ambulance: the traffic will delay it with hours.

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3. What is the air quality like at post (good/moderate/bad)? Are there seasonal air quality issues? Does the air quality have an impact on health?

The air is moderate; it could be very humid sometimes. But during the raining season, June-August, the air is crisp and fresh after the rain, which is mostly heavy.

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4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

Dry and wet season. Hot: 28-35 degrees C., very humid.

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Schools & Children:

1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?

The oil-industry-supported American International School is top rated, with excellent facilities and worldwide recruited teachers. I knew many people who were happy with the school. It is also a center of community events: softball games, swimming competitions, soccer, and other events.

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2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?

None that i know of.

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3. Are preschools available? Day care? Are these expensive? What has been your experience with them, if any? Do the schools provide before- and/or after-school care?

It's available, but quality varies. But I would not recommend bringing children to this post due to the crime.

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4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?

It's not advisable to bring your kids.

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Expat Life:

1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?

Very large -- not sure of numbers, but considering the oil companies and associated service contractors, plus Embassy communities, Lebanese entrepreneurs, and groups like the U.N., Red Cross, etc. There are lots of expats in and around Lagos.

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2. Morale among expats:

Extremely variable. People either love it or hate it. Those who love it often extend; those who hate it count the days like inmates. Life here is fast-paced and busy, and fun if you are flexible and adaptable. It is also often difficult and frustrating -- even for those with considerable West Africa experience. In my opinion, three years is just about right.

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3. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?

Restaurants, games, shopping mall and others.

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4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?

Families and couples seemed to do pretty well and kept themselves busy. Singles seemed to have a hard time dating locals. We attended concerts, drove to nearby countries (Ghana, Togo, Benin), went to game parks and beaches, and spent many good times in the local bars, clubs, and filthy drinking stands at Bar Beach, Tarkwa Bay, and Eleko beach. I think it is a great post for couples and singles, with lots of parties, beach trips, book clubs, and tennis lessons. It's all about what you make it.

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5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?

Nigerians generally frown on public display of affection, and a bill was recently passed forbidding Gay/Lesbianism.

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6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?

Nigeria as a whole is a Male dominated society. Nigerians are very prejudiced towards members of other tribes. Some tolerate each-other though. For example, the Yorubas relate quite well with both the Igbos and Hausas. Those are the three major tribes. But the Igbos and Hausas are hostile to each other most of the time.

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7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?

Shopping for local fabrics and making them into elegant styles, like some of the Yoruba tribes attire, with the help of the local tailors of course. Shopping for arts and crafts at the local markets. Local dishes comes in great varieties. Some of the Beaches are worth visiting, but you have to drive a long way out of the city to get a clean and less crowded ones. The nightlife is mostly clubs and some sleazy bars for ladies of the night with the oil rich expats. The diplomatic community usually sticks together and organizes events and dinners at each-others residences. The locals are very friendly towards Westerners, except the Northern tribes, which tend to be suspicious of people, being majorly Muslims. But you should be mindful of your wallet and cellphones if you are taking a stroll on the street. Get used to being stared at and called 'Oyinbo' meaning white person in the Yoruba Language, which Lagosians speaks.

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8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?

House parties, swimming, private dance classes, eg. Salsa or Ballet, tennis, dinner parties, beach trips, road trips to neighboring countries. Outdoor: surfing, yacht club sailing, baseball league, tennis. Social: casual bbq's; visit to beach huts outside of the islands.

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9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?

Baskets, table cloths, small trinkets, and leather items. African beads, too. Wooden and rattan furniture can be made to order. African fabrics. Animal carvings and paintings.

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10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?

Touring to various parts of the country is available, but most of the sites are not well-maintained. They have diverse cultures in Nigeria as a whole and this contributes to many things to see. You can save money, if you only eat out twice a month, because the cost of living for Diplomats and Expats is high.

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11. Can you save money?

You can save money with the bonus/differential pay, unless you travel out of Nigeria a lot. And if you don't go to the import stores, restaurants, or anywhere else often.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?

Yes, it is challenging, but also full of adventures.

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2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:

Winter Clothes, bicycle, and your driving etiquette. People drive aggressively, but they are not as cut-throat as in Manila or Jakarta. They will let you in if you wave. Also leave behind your thoughts of living a normal life in this place.

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3. But don't forget your:

4x4 dark windows vehicle, preferably armored. The roads are terrible and during the rainy season all Victoria Island is a huge lagoon.

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4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

Half of a Yellow Sun
and Purple Hibiscus: A Novel
by Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche. Lagos State in Pictures by 'Dayo Adedayo.

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5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

Nolly-wood Movies.

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6. Do you have any other comments?

Every post comes with its own challenges.

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