Lagos, Nigeria Report of what it's like to live there - 06/24/19

Personal Experiences from Lagos, Nigeria

Lagos, Nigeria 06/24/19

Background:

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

Yes, this was our first expatriate experience.

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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?

We're from the New York area. A direct JFK-Lagos flight started not long into our time in Lagos, which was great for us; the flight itself is about ten hours. There's also an Atlanta flight that's a bit longer. The particular difficulty with flying into/out of Lagos is that even if, like us, you are lucky to not need any connecting flights in the US, the potential for traffic stretching what can be a 15 minute drive into a 4 hour one and the insanity of the airport means that you need to leave for your flight about six-eight hours before it's scheduled to take off. This also discourages the concept of quick weekend trips. Flying back into Lagos is better, though baggage claim can take a long time.

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3. How long have you lived here?

Two years (2017-2019).

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

My spouse worked at the US Consulate.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

During the time we were there, members of the Consulate community lived in one of four housing compounds. Most folks live in either Regents (high rise, the newest, predominantly singles and couples) or Cameron (mostly families, described very well by other respondents). Some live in the Bells (fairly random mix, only townhouses but no pool/gym) and Glover (down the street from Regents and similarly populated). All are on Ikoyi and have basically identical commute times of about 20-25 minutes door to door.

From what I observed, Bells and Glover have the fewest water/mold-related maintenance issues. It seems like the housing pool switches every few years, possibly because of the very low construction standards. However, construction issues aside, generally very nice. Each of the current units has its own strengths and drawbacks.

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

This really depends on how you shop, cook, and use your consumables allowance. For those who don't want to or have the time to think about it and are comfortable primarily shopping at the expat-oriented groceries (like La Pointe and Delis) purchasing imported everything, it's very easy to quickly spend hundreds of dollars a week; dairy, meat, and produce will quickly add up in cost. For others, who have the time and willingness to design meals around whatever they can get from Amazon, their consumables, and more local markets (particularly the produce market under Falomo Bridge), it can be very affordable, maybe about $45/week for two people? The latter model is a lot more workable in a two-adult household with only one person working, though, both because it's time intensive to shop at 3-4 places and because traffic really can be that bad.

Though it was a pain, I really loved the mini-relationships I established with my preferred fruit and vegetable vendors at Falomo and the baker at XO Boutique Bakery. I supplemented with meat and Lebanese deli items from Delis and surprisingly affordable romaine and broccoli at the GQ (not reliably available unless you figure out exactly when it's stocked; when I left, that was Fridays around noon.)

I also purchased a very nice cooler that fit into one of my pieces of luggage and filled it up with cheese/frozen items (berries, veggie burgers, Trader Joes dumplings) every time we were coming back into Lagos, which was both a big money saver and made cooking a lot more fun.

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

We shipped wine and beer, condiments/oils/vinegars, candles, Trader Joes goodies, bulk flour, dish/laundry detergent, and basic pantry items like nuts and grains. I don't think there was really anything I thought I shouldn't have shipped over, except for maybe the copious quantities of bugspray and sunscreen that went essentially unused.

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

Jumia is the main food delivery service, though a fair number of "start up" restaurants (and businesses in general) conduct delivery business entirely via Instagram and WhatsApp (no storefront.) Our mainstays were Viceroy's for Indian, Casper & Gambini's Asian chicken salad, Bottles for TexMex, and Thai Thai.

Our in-person favorites were the Executive Spot for suya and beers, the Backyard, Salma's, Nok, Pizzeriah, and Craft Gourmet. Art Cafe is pretty good for coffee/ambiance.

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

So many giant roaches. Just get used to killing them.

There's also the potential for lots of tiny tiny ants: essentially harmless, but happy to swarm onto any morsel of food you leave out (to say nothing of a full plate of cookies.) Being very tidy can help minimize their presence.

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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. We only sent mail via folks heading back to the US.

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

We paid our nanny the equivalent of $300 USD/month for not-quite-fulltime and our steward $75/month for cleaning once a week. I think many people pay their nannies a bit more.

We did not employ a driver during our time at post, though we were in the minority. It's pretty easy to borrow someone else's for occasional driving in less ideal situations (to Balogun/Lekki markets, out to dinner, etc.) Drivers make less than nannies and stewards.

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

All the compounds except for Bells have small gyms. There is also a gym at the GQ, and a good number of private gyms for those interested. I'd guess they're at least as expensive as nice US gyms, but don't know that for sure.

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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?

While officially we were told not to use credit cards at all, I eventually decided to designate one for Lagos-only use at restaurants and hotels frequented by expats, and never had any issue. Most businesses in Lagos don't have a machine that can process international cards, though, so if you don't want to carry around giant wads of Naira (and you don't, no one does), it would make sense to open a local bank account in order to get a debit card. We did not do this but I wish we had--it also would have made ordering food/services in general much easier. I would not use an ATM card unless you had literally no other option. This did happen to me once, though, and it was fine.

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

Very much so, even within USG housing. It's hard to imagine a more difficult built environment.

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Transportation:

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

Affordable but not allowed.

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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?

Don't bring a sedan or anything you care about. We purchased (and then later resold) a RAV4 from someone departing post, which worked well for us. It's pretty crucial to have something with high clearance since rainy season can turn the roads into rivers (seriously) in minutes.

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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, though the fastest option (IPNX) has frequent outages and poor customer service. We were lucky enough to have our social sponsor set our internet up on our behalf before we arrived. Those who were not so lucky, or who moved into Regents before it was wired, used wifi pucks until theirs was set up.

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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?

Google Fi is great, particularly if you have a dual-SIM phone. Get a local phone number quickly. It's cheap and will make your life much more simple. I used 9-Mobile and topped off data via purchase at the GQ.

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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?

Many people bring their pets, so it can be done. We did not bring our dog, since we had a family member willing to take care of her during our tour, and while that made me sad I don't regret the decision. There is really no green space (really) in Lagos.

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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?

Many spouses work at the Consulate; some telecommute. I don't know of anyone who worked on the local economy during my time at post, though that's not to say it couldn't be done.

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Health & Safety:

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

Yes, definitely. The overwhelming majority of people will leave Lagos without experiencing anything scary, though, since the Consulate community isn't a particular target. That said, I don't think it's accurate to say that the same situational awareness you'd employ in large US cities will keep you as comparatively safe in Lagos. During my time in Lagos, there were two instances of armed robbery of Consulate community members in cars, neither of which took place in a situation that would read as even remotely dangerous in New York or DC, and both of which took place within one-tenth of a mile of a stationed police presence. Unfortunately, I think you just have to hope you're part of the lucky majority.

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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's relatively decent medical care for routine issues, including many specialists.

That said, I left post a strong believer in the necessity to be one's own personal health advocate, even at the expense of conflict with the (very nice, but flawed) Med Unit. For example, I was pregnant while in Lagos. Med requested that I redo a blood typing test so they could double check what they had on file. I complied with this, but later realized that the results of the second test provided by their partner lab were inaccurate. That the lab returned an inaccurate result is less concerning to me than that I figured this out myself, months later, and that Med did not. I was lucky (for many reasons) that I did not need a blood transfusion during my pregnancy/while in Lagos, as this simple clerical error could have cost me and/or my child our lives. Be your own advocate!

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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?

Harmattan is very difficult for many, though it didn't particularly bother me. The heat and humidity do not help matters.

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

The physical space most Consulate community members inhabit is very limited, due to both logistical and security restrictions. It's also a city that requires a lot of assertive behavior, particularly when driving (both as a driver and, particularly, in interactions with traffic cops looking for bribes and people begging and selling things.) These things wear on pretty much everyone. To the extent financially possible, making a point to periodically leave Lagos and have amazing travel experiences in other countries can make the monotony and difficulty of life in Lagos much more bearable.

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

Broadly, it's hot and humid the whole year. Within that, there are seasonal shifts. Harmattan runs from (roughly) December to March, and is dry, overcast, beige, and very unpleasant. There's a month or two after Harmattan ends and before rainy season begins where it's just very very hot and sunny. Rainy season lasts through most of the spring and summer, and is well named. The fall is the nicest time of year in Lagos--some rain, but not so much that it's cloudy all the time, a good breeze, and less extreme temperatures than the period between Harmattan and rainy season.

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Expat Life:

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

We very much enjoyed spending time at the Yacht Club, which is positioned on land that somehow always feels ten degrees cooler than the rest of the city. My wife enjoyed the opportunity to spend time with people outside of the Consulate community.

Beyond the Yacht Club, the overwhelming majority of our socializing took place in apartments or the communal pool areas. Lots of games, dinner parties, and cocktail hours.

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

I don't think it's inherently good or bad for any of those groups. I do think being single and someone who didn't enjoy going to bars/clubs would be very difficult, as would any financial situation that made it difficult to leave the country and travel when possible.

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

Our experience as a relatively femme presenting same-sex couple was, on the whole, positive. Many many Nigerians who interacted with us as a couple believed we were sisters (even after we had a child), and we generally did not dissuade them from that misperception. With a few notable exceptions, local staff and those who did get it were surprisingly inclusive and kind, or kept their mouths shut. Our experience with young, wealthy Nigerians was uniformly positive.

That said, there is no way we didn't benefit from some level of deference to all the privilege we carried with us as white Americans associated with the Consulate, and I have no idea what it would be like to be single, less gender normative, trans, male, and/or so on.

Lagos is giant, and there are definitely existing communities folks could cautiously find and tap into.

The primary place the Consulate directs pregnant people towards (George's) for checkups is also a very affordable fertility clinic.

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

Unfortunately, there were no CLO trips out of Lagos offered while we were at post. It is possible to drive to Benin, with RSO support, where there are beach resorts--hire a driver to get you to the border.
There is tons of fabulous travel to be had outside of the country, particularly within Africa. We had a series of ridiculously amazing experiences that we would never have been able to logistically or financially manage if not posted to Lagos.

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

Getting clothes made can be very fun, as are the local markets. I wish we'd signed up for/ever gone on any of the trips planned by the Nigerian Field Society, which include a tour of Makoko.

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

Many people have furniture made. Almost everyone has clothing made. There are tons of things to buy, if that's your thing and you're willing to do a little investigative work to find them. Instagram is a great resource for finding small businesses making everything from shoes to ultra modern chairs.

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

It's fascinating. The ability to travel elsewhere, the warm Consulate community, and how affordable it is to live like the very wealthy.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

Doing it again would be a stretch, and there are definitely many many nicer places to spend a few years of your life. That said, it was fascinating, we made great friends, and we got to do all sorts of amazing travel we would never have otherwise done, so I'm glad we went. I think Lagos is likely best as a first post, before you have much to compare it to.

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2. 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 Americanah more than any others. There is a huge wealth of excellent modern Nigerian literature to explore.

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