Lagos, Nigeria Report of what it's like to live there - 03/19/18

Personal Experiences from Lagos, Nigeria

Lagos, Nigeria 03/19/18

Background:

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

Yes.

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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?

USA- about 14 hours flight time, but much longer when you factor in connection times, and how early you have to leave for the airport because of traffic. Usually about 24 hours door-to-door.

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3. How long have you lived here?

One year.

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

US government.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

It's nice. Almost all USG employees (singles and couples with 1 or no kids) live in Regents Tower, a brand new complex with huge, open-plan apartments and a tennis court, or in Cameron, which is mostly higher-ranking employees and families with several kids. A few others (mostly singles) live in Glover, which is the only compound that includes non-Americans. All housing complexes have pools and gyms.

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

You can find almost everything you need, but you might have to go to several stores to find it and you probably won't find the brands that you're used to (or you will pay a serious premium). Meat is expensive. Chicken is fairly affordable, but beef is either of dubious quality or very expensive, e.g., $30/steak. Dairy is very expensive. Local produce is generally available and affordable, but imported produce gets very expensive very quickly: $15 for a head of cauliflower, $12 for asparagus, $10 for broccoli. You do have to bleach your produce.

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

I think I was grossly misled about what it was like here. I was essentially told to ship half of Trader Joe's with me, but most things are available here, they're just a bit more expensive and/or harder to find. I'm happy with what I shipped: quality peanut butter, jam, canned black beans, good olive oil, good wine, and enough shampoo/conditioner. All other dry goods you can order online.

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

Lagos has a couple really good restaurants and a lot of mediocre ones. Nok does West African fusion and was just written up in the NYTimes. RSVP is also nice. Pizze-riah is good for brick oven pizza, and others seem to like Orchid House (Thai), Thai-Thai (Thai... obviously), Jade Palace (Chinese), Izanagi (Japanese), the Syrian Club, Craft Gourmet, Lagoon, Sherlaton (Indian), and Casa Lydia (Nigerian and "continental"). "Fast food" options are Domino's and Johnny Rockets. The GQ also has a decent menu and they deliver (plus, you can put your orders on your account, so no cash necessary). Jumia is an online ordering platform that usually takes 60-90 minutes to deliver. Including wine/cocktails, a decent meal at a nice place can run from $40-$70/person.

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

Not really. I've had a few roaches, but that's about it.

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Daily Life:

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

Pouch only. Flat mail takes about 2-3 weeks to arrive at Post, and about 6-8 weeks to reach its destination in the U.S. People traveling to the U.S. usually offer to take flat mail back in their suitcases and mail it for you from there.

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

Very affordable and very good. It seems that most Americans pay their household staff about 2x-3x what Nigerians pay, but it's worth it. Most people employ stewards at least part-time, and many use drivers part-time as well. Going rate is about $3/hr. Childcare costs a bit more.

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

Each compound has a small gym with free weights and a couple of machines, and the GQ has a decent gym as well which is free with membership. The membership fees run about $100/adult or $250/families with children. Some people do CrossFit and yoga at the GQ or at studios in town.

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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?

Ha! No.

In all seriousness, you can use your cards at a couple high-end places (most nice hotels, a few nice restaurants, Deli's Supermarket), but a) the exchange rate is much worse b) most places only accept Nigerian credit cards, not international credit cards c) even if they do accept international cards, the card readers are often broken. Get used to carrying around stacks of naira.

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

I assume services for most Christian denominations, but sure about others.

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

English is the national language, but the accent can take a while to get used to. Phone conversations can be very, very trying. Understanding Pidgin helps a lot, and Nigerians LOVE when you greet them in their other languages (primarily Yoruba and Igbo).

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

Yes. Sidewalks have enormous gaps and steep inclines and declines, potholes are horrendous, and most buildings are not wheelchair accessible.

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Transportation:

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

Consulate staff are not allowed to take them. This is a self-drive and Motorpool only post. There is a limited area in which we are allowed to drive without prior RSO approval. Also, we take a boat to/from work.

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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?

Something with higher clearance is better for the rainy season, but people seem to get by with sedans as well. Japanese brands seem to be the most popular. New car parts are difficult to come by even for popular brands and should be shipped in your HHE if possible. I don't think I'd want an American car here for those reasons. You will probably get into at least a couple of fender benders. There have not been many cars for sale within the diplomatic community for the last few months, but that may change when people PCS. A few people recently bought cars on the local market.

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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?

Depending on your compound, yes. Glover and Cameron both have wifi access; Regents is apparently having the network installed right now. You can set it up in a couple of days after arrival or have your social sponsor do it for you. It's about $45/month. It has been known to go out for hours during heavy rainstorms. Regents residents seem to all use internet hotspots.

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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?

Local provider or Google Voice. There are 4 main networks in Nigeria, and they all frequently go down for minutes to hours at a time. Some locals have different phones with different networks to avoid this problem. The Consulate gives all USG direct hires a phone; most are getting iPhones now.

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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?

There is at least one good vet that most of the Consulate uses. Animals do not need to be quarantined, but there is a complicated and expensive registration process that you need to do to register them ahead of time.

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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?

It seems that most spouses work at the Consulate or do not work outside the home, maybe a 50/50 split? At least one spouse works at the American school. It might be possible to work for a consulting or oil firm if you have the requisite skill set. There seem to be a fair number of NGOs and charities as well.

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

Not really sure, but it seems like there are a lot, particularly around women's and children's issues.

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

There is no such thing as too fancy here. Nigerian women frequently wear sequined ball gowns during the day. Office wear ranges from traditional Nigerian attire to typical Western business attire to ski jackets, and hats indoors. Most Americans wear business casual or suits depending on their positions/ranks. There are a few representational events that you should have formal attire for, but women could get away wearing cocktail dresses and men could just wear suits. The only time you might really want to have a ball gown or tux would be Marine Ball, and you could easily get those made here.

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Health & Safety:

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

Sort of? Local staff are much more likely to be affected than American staff. They frequently experience petty theft, carjackings, home invasions, etc., while Americans will probably just be asked for bribes. We are limited to a relatively small section of Lagos, but traffic is so bad that you probably don't want to frequently venture outside of that area anyway.

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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?

There is a good MED unit at Post, but anything serious would likely warrant a medevac to South Africa or the UK. People seem to have had good luck with local doctors, many of whom were trained in the UK or the U.S., but I wouldn't want to need serious medical care here.

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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?

Not great. There is a persistent haze of exhaust fumes, diesel, etc., and Harmattan (dust season) lasts for 2-3 months beginning in December. Running and biking outside will leave you smelling like exhaust. That being said, there are also lots of very lovely days with blue skies.

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4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?

Air quality isn't great; asthmatics and people with environmental allergies might want to do a little more research. Nigerian cuisine tends to involve a lot of shellfish. Almost everyone I know has gotten moderate-to-severe food poisoning at least a couple of times.

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5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?

Not that I'm aware of. The work can be draining, but there is a good group of people at Post that makes it a lot better. It also helps to leave every 2-3 months, if only for a weekend.

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

Hot. All the time. Rainy season is approximately May-August, with another less intense rainy season a few months later, and Harmattan is December-February.

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Expat Life:

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

Fairly large. Most seem to work for various diplomatic missions, oil companies, or consulting firms. I think it's generally pretty good - we all know that it can be difficult to live here at times, and some people seem to be counting down the days until they can leave, but most seem to make a pretty good go of it. Lagos has a lot to offer if you know where to look.

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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?

Lots of people entertain at home or go out to local restaurants. The GQ hosts bi-weekly trivia night, usually run by Consular officers, and there are events with other missions as well. The Nigerian Field Society hosts a few trips a year, as does the CLO, and there are a few exercise-related groups that draw a few people. There are also a couple of book clubs and the American Women's Club. A few officers belong to the Yacht Club and the Jet Ski Club. There's also a Cigar Club and a rather expensive country club.

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

Single people - eh. Not really. It can be hard to meet people here when the focus seems to be so singularly on getting visas. Others say that the cultural differences can be difficult to overcome when dating outside the expat scene. Couples and families seem to do better here.

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

Local staff are generally very accepting, but I would not feel comfortable being out in public. Nigeria is extremely religious and traditional.

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

Yes to all three. Re: religious prejudices, it doesn't seem to matter what your religion is as long as you have one.

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

The Yacht Club, the Lekki Conservation Centre, the New Afrika Shrine, the Consulate beach house- opportunities to get outside (both outside the bubble and in nature) are rare and you should take all of them. Affordable gem shopping and tailoring.

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

Bogobiri, Jazz Hole, Freedom Park, Nike Art Gallery, the Conservation Centre, Tarkwa Bay.

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

You could easily have a new wardrobe made here - clothes and jewelry alike. There are artisans who do very nice cloth art.

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

The differential is great, the work is interesting, the current group of officers is pretty solid, the local staff are wonderful, you can learn to sail/play tennis/etc for much less money than you could elsewhere, and you'll learn to drive in crazy traffic. I think it's a lot better here than most people think.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?

That you need to carve out three hours to do errands, that it's so hard to get out in nature, that traffic is so unpredictable that it might take you 15 minutes to get somewhere one day, and 3 hours to get there another day, and that traveling out of the country would be so difficult (expensive to get most places and very few direct flights within the continent). I also wish I knew how extreme the disparity is between the "haves" and the "have-nots," because it is truly mind-blowing. On a lighter note, the country has more than its fair share of problems, but the people are resilient, funny, and resourceful.

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

Yes. I wouldn't come back for another posting, but I think it's just fine for 2-3 years. Most of the tenured officers extend.

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

Impatience, naïveté, credit cards.

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4. But don't forget your:

Assertiveness, sense of humor, Tums, winter clothes (for when you want a reprieve from Lagos in a cold place).

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

Americanah; Half of a Yellow Sun- Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
This Present Darkness- Frank Peretti
The Wedding Party

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6. Do you have any other comments?

Lagos is fine (and often quite fun). Don't listen to the naysayers.

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