Lagos, Nigeria Report of what it's like to live there - 05/17/16
Personal Experiences from Lagos, Nigeria
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
Asia, Africa, and Central America.
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. Delta flies nonstop to Atlanta, about 11 hours. United flies into Houston, 13 hours. Arik Air (a local carrier) flies into New York City, 10 hours. Connections to the U.S. are available through London, Frankfurt, and Paris.
3. How long have you lived here?
About a year.
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
There are three main housing compounds for consulate staff and their families. One building tends to get the families, the other all the single and childless couples. The third is a mix and is the only one which includes non-Consulate residents. All of the complexes have pools, barbecues, and gym facilities. These are kept in reasonable shape. Lagos is one of the few posts in the world where the regular commute includes a boat ride. There are shuttles in the morning that run people to the dock. From there, there's a ferry to the Consulate. A typical commute is about 20 minutes if timed right.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Everything is available but everything is expensive. Amazon Pantry will be your friend. Locally-sourced meat such as chicken isn't too bad, but fresh fruits and vegetables are difficult to come by and risky to eat unless thoroughly and properly cleaned. Things like cleaning supplies, pet food, bathroom supplies, and kitchen basics can be found for a price.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Good beer and power tools.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
There isn't a lot of fast food. There's no McDonald's (the closest one is South Africa). Lagos loves its chicken: there's a KFC and Chicken Republic. It also has Dominos, Cold Stone, and Johnny Rockets. Some local pizza joints are good for the money. There's Lagoon, Casa Lydia, and the suya place down the block from one of the complexes. Expect to pay $30 per person unless you find some hidden gems.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
The usual insect problems given it's a tropical environment. Ants, roaches, and mosquitoes are plentiful. It's important to keep the house clean and to carry some mosquito repellent.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Packages and mail come through diplomatic pouch. Very small packages and returns can go out. Getting a package is like Christmas.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Very affordable. Most people pay around $25 a day for help. This includes a full apartment cleaning, laundry, ironing, and assorted duties. Drivers cost about $300 per month. Nannies are more expensive but are worth it.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Every residence compound has a gym. The American General Quarters (GQ) club has a decent one. These are either free as part of the housing allowance or part of the GQ membership fee. There are private gyms but there's no point in doing that.
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. The only safe place is the the GQ.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
Nearly all religious services are in English.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
English is the local language, though the accents can be difficult to understand for an American English speaker. Nigerians can't understand us, either.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Yes, someone with physical disabilities would have a terrible time in Lagos. The sidewalks are often cratered with very high steps -- often a foot or two above the pavement. There's a construction method where large 2x3 cement blocks serve as rain catches. These are always falling apart and have huge holes between them. The power goes out often which includes the elevators.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Consulate staff are not allowed to use public transportation, including Uber. You are literally risking your life if you do it.
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?
Most people have small SUV's like Rav4's and CRV's. The clearance helps especially during rainy season. But there are people with sedans who get by OK. That said, everyone -- everyone -- has gotten into an accident of some sort. Expect to get dinged up. There are local mechanics and shops. Some people have had extensive work done on their cars and seem happy with the results. Check with CLO as to the latest information on what to bring.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
No, Internet access for up to 1 mb/s is about $100 a month. It can run Netflix and music streaming, but it's slow and expensive. On the plus side, Nigeria does not block anything.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
The Consulate provides family members and non-essential staff with a basic phone with some time loaded onto it. Direct hires can get a smart phone but new management has deemed that a waste.
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, but pets need to be registered with the ministry. It's a long, convoluted, confusing process, so if you plan to bring a pet, start early or take a risk in sneaking Fido in.
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?
No. The Consulate has a bilateral work agreement but it's nearly impossible to find something on the local economy. There are some NGOs, oil companies, and consulting firms in Lagos. The Consulate has limited jobs available for family members.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
Volunteer opportunities can be found within the Consulate. Orphanages and churches sometimes advertise for help.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Nigerians like to dress up, but their idea of dressing up isn't always what a Westerner would think. For example, tuxedos are worn out and about going shopping. The short sleeve suit is popular. A typical Nigerian will wear jeans and a soccer jersey. At work, it's business casual. Most of the men wear ties without a jacket and the women wear business attire.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Yes. It's Nigeria. While Lagos doesn't have the security concerns as the Northeast or even Abuja, it's still stifling. The security apparatus does a good job of keeping us safe, but it often feels too restrictive. Walking around at night isn't advised.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Malaria is prevalent. All sorts of shots are required to come here. Visitors need about $500 - $1000 worth of shots. It's easy to get digestive problems. Everyone has had at least one bout of diarrhea. Medical care is questionable at best. Anyone with more than a minor injury will be medically evacuated. The bottom line is: don't need medical care.
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?
Air quality is OK but during the Harmattan months (December through March) there's a layer of dust that goes everywhere. It can get very hot and humid.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
The main seasonal issue is the Harmattan. This is Sahara sand blowing down from the east, covering everything in a layer of dust. Some people wore masks. The people who could leave, left.
5. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
The climate is Africa-hot. It's always around 80-100F degrees and muggy. There's a rainy season between May and September when it rains just about every night, and often during the day.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
There's an American school where everyone goes. Some of the direct hire staff have family members teaching there. The facilities are excellent. Sometimes the Consulate arranges sports programs on school grounds. Everyone I know who has a kid there is OK with it.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
The school is good for special needs kids, but the specifics of that should be discussed with the school staff.
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?
Yes, there are preschool and daycare options (called "creches"). Quality varies but it's possible to get into a good one. Nannies are also cheap and plentiful if a parent would rather keep the kid at home.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Soccer is by far the most popular sport. The school also hosts baseball, softball, volleyball, and basketball leagues.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
It's a fairly large expatriate community given the oil and diplomatic population. Some people love it here and some people count down the hours. It's important to make friends and do things outside of the apartment.
2. 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 and bars can be fun, especially the places on the water. But most entertaining is done in people's apartments or on the compounds. The beach trips organized by the CLO are a great way to spend a weekend. The biggest problem is getting around, whether due to security or traffic.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Lagos gets a terrible reputation, some of it deserved. But it's not a bad city for families and couples. Singles might have a tough time with the dating scene. Females will have no problem getting attention and in fact will probably want to stay home most of the time to avoid it. Men with blue passports will have no problem finding women but caution would be advised.
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
No. Homosexuality is illegal here and punishable by fines and jail time. There is an underground scene but overt homosexuality is not practiced.
5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Nigerians are intolerant. Ethnic divides run deep and locals can tell various tribes immediately. It's hard to say there's a prejudice because everyone is equally disliked. It is an extremely religious society (about 50/50 Christian/Muslim). Outright prejudice is rare (such as targeted abuse or attacks), but anyone who isn't Nigerian is "oyinbo" which translates to "white." This includes Chinese, Spanish, and Indian people.
6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
The expatriate community knows how difficult it can be living here. Being able to share this experience with those "in the know" is a highlight.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Visitors here go on the Lagos tour: Lekki Market, Lekki Conservatory, Yacht Club, Nigerian Field Society, Community Liaison Office (CLO) events, the Shrine, events with the British, trivia night, and sports such as volleyball and basketball. Certain restaurants serve decent food and are affordable. The hidden gems are what you make of it.
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Not much. Some of the art is OK but nothing expressly "Nigerian."
9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
There's a little money boost living here as well as an equity boost for those who can take advantage of it. There's some "street cred" back at the home office.
10. Can you save money?
Yes. With not a lot to do, careful spending can yield pretty good savings. However, you will want to splurge on trips out of the country.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
How aggressive a typical Nigerian is. Even when just talking, they sound like they're fighting. Small issues can quickly escalate into a full-fledged riot. Road rage is common, which includes a mob breaking the car window and pulling you out to beat you.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
No. There are far too many nicer places in the world.
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Winter clothes, sense of personal space.
4. But don't forget your:
Sense of adventure, board games, VPN, and Amazon prime account.
5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:
6. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
Things Fall Apart, There Was a Country, Americanah.
7. Do you have any other comments?
Lagos is what you make of it. It has a well-deserved reputation as somewhere people don't want to go, but you could do worse.