Lagos, Nigeria Report of what it's like to live there - 07/28/20
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?
Previously lived in Europe and South Asia.
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?
East Coast Megalopolis - travel takes around 16 hours, you'll need to fly to New York or Atlanta for a non-stop flight to Lagos. The US to Lagos flight is about 10 hours.
3. How long have you lived here?
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, military, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
United States Diplomatic Mission
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Mission has four housing complexes, most are apartments, there are a few older townhouses. Housing is all at least three bedrooms with at least three bathrooms. All complexes (except the townhouses) have a pool and the housing is well-sized and secure. There are occasional mainenance issues, but local staff are very responsive to addressing any concerns. One of the complexes has had some flooding issues on occasion. There are rumors that new housing will soon be acquired.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
You can actually find a lot of groceries and supplies in Lagos, the issue is that many imported brands, particularly American brands, are really expensive. Lagos has a few large western-style grocery stores and a number of smaller specialty grocery stores catering to expats. With those options at the commissary, residents have access to most staples and a few luxuries/goodies, though supplies are uneven. Dairy products are generally imported and fresh milk is not available. Wine is imported, you can sometimes stumble on some pretty high quality booze at a low price at one of the grocery stores.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
USDH are given a consumable allowance, we were advised to focus on liquids like cooking oils and cleaners, and that worked out well. You can also send some dry food goods that may be hard to find in Lagos, if you really need milk on a daily basis and don't like the pre-packaged UHT that is only available in Lagos, consider shipping powdered milk. Nigerian flour tends to be mixed with cassava, so if you like baking, shipping flour and other baking mixes would be a good idea too. Good quality rice can be a bit expensive in Lagos, so that could be something to consider shipping, though a lot of Indian brands are available due to the large Indian population.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Lagos has a pretty robust restaurant scene and many of them deliver. You don't have the full spectrum of restaurants you may see in more developed cities, but there is a good variety available. There are a number of Indian and Lebanese restaurants that are pretty good. There is a Mexican place, even a sushi place, a Korean place, some Chinese options. American fast food is available but limited to Dominos, KFC, Johnny Rockets and Cold Stone Creamery. There is a nice French bistro chain that has recently opened up and is very popular with expatriates and well-off Nigerians. There is even a pop-up Ethiopian restaurant that will deliver on weekends. All in all, we were surprised by the wide variety and pretty good quality of restaurant food available.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
In our experience, housing was pretty well sealed against insects. The only time I saw a cockroach inside my residence was when our consumables arrived (I think the roach got in one of the boxes in the port). You will definitely see roaches outside, as well as mosquitos and all other types of critters.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Pouch only, usually takes about 3 weeks to receive mail from the United States. Nobody uses local mail, anything that needs to be moved within Nigeria is done by courier.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Mission employees usually employ a maid/nanny (called a steward here) or a driver. Mission employees tend to pay more than locals would and salaries are around US$250 a month. Work quality can vary, but a number of household help have been with mission families for a while and often get picked up by new families when old ones depart. Additionally, you can hire coaches for tennis and swimming for a decent amount.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Two of the mission building complexes have gyms, the American Club (called the GQ) has a decent gym. There are a number of local options as well, including a crossfit gym. The GQ also has a pool, tennis courts and a basketball court. Community members are good about setting up events like regular basketball games.
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?
Some people have no problem using credit cards, others try to avoid it. We generally used only cash, except at very high end restaurants and hotels. The issue is that you end up having to carry around a lot of cash just to go to dinner, so another possibility is setting up a local bank account and using a local bank card for transactions. Depositing money into the local account can be done through the cashier at the Consulate. There is an ATM as the consulate as well, but most people obtain cash from the cashier.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
All types of Christian services: Catholic, Protestant, Mormon and some local churches. There are a number of mosques as well, there appear to be Friday prayers on a street corner next to one of the housing compounds, but I don't know if the sermon is in English. There are no Jewish facilities in Lagos, though there is a small community, so there might be some private services arranged.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Everyone speaks some degree of English, though the Nigerian dialect may be hard for some Americans to understand. Nigerian pidgin also takes some time to fully decipher. Lagos is a multi-ethnic city, so you will hear various languages, but ultimately, most everyone communicates in English.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Yes, the infrastructure in general is lacking in Lagos.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Mission staff are not permitted to use local transportation.
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?
An SUV: size varies on how big your family is, but generally a Honda or Toyota will serve you well. A lot of RAV4, CRV, Highlander, Pilot and Sequoias are seen in mission parking. Some people have smaller cars and some people have American brands, but Japanese cars are most common and more easily repaired. Also, do not bring something you're invested in, there is a high likelihood your car will at least get scratched if not dented in the crazy traffic here. I'd also consider investing in a bullbar for the front of your vehicle.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
There is a "fiber" option available, it's generally adequate to stream movies though it does go down every month on a random weekend it seems. Our social sponsor had it set up for us when we arrived.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Local sim cards are cheap, bring a phone from the US. A lot of employees have Google Fi which works fine here.
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?
Limited veterinarians and exotic animals are banned. There isn't a lot of green space here for animals (or children) to run around 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?
Most EFMs work at the Consulate, a few have found limited jobs in the local economy. Local salaries are low, but the work can be fulfilling for an EFM.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
A lot of opportunities: orphanages, cleaning up bottles from the water way; the issue is that you may not be able to travel to all of them due to RSO restrictions on where we can go.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Depends on section, but generally business casual to business at work. Formal dress is seen at fancy events, Nigerians like to dress up. Some will wear bow ties to visa interviews.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Lagos is a high crime post. Most people will not experience any crime however as the Islands are the wealthiest parts of Nigeria; but the truth is that anything can happen. Some colleagues have been robbed, as noted by a prior reviewer, there have been past instances of armed robbery. The Nigerian police are not very capable, so you really need to be smart - for example avoiding going out at night and following RSO alerts and restrictions on where travel is allowed.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Malaria is endemic. COVID continues to spread and nobody is sure if/when/how it will come under control in Nigeria.
Any serious injury or illness would require medevac. Medical care is lacking here, the Health Unit is able to take effectively take care of common issues, but if something requires surgery or inpatient treatment, medevac would be in order.
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 an issue here, particularly during the dry season (harmattan). Some people who never suffered allergies in the United States had a hard time getting through harmattan. Harmattan makes it harder to go outside as the air is constantly dusty.
When Harmattan isn't in effect, Lagos is constantly hot and humid. The weather is always hot, a few times in the winter it will be very pleasant early in the morning, but it doesn't last.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
It's a good idea to bring allergy medicine as you may start reacting to Harmattan despite never experiencing allergies before.
5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?
No winter blues, but living in Lagos can be difficult for people who aren't used to big city life. Assertive driving is required here and being passive is seen as being a sign of weakness. Staying in Lagos for too long can also be mentally taxing as you work and live with the same people and small issues can flare up.
6. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Lagos is constantly hot, expect it to be at least 80F degrees on a daily basis, generally much higher. It will be humid for most of the year until the winter, but the lack of humidity in the winter is met with a dramatic rise in dust in the air from harmattan.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
The American International School is well regarded, particularly for elementary and middle school. Most parents are happy with it.
There has been some concern expressed over the lack of challenging coursework or attention for gifted students. If your child is gifted, you will likely have to provide supplemental learning on your own.
2. 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?
Preschools are available, there are a number of options including a Montessori.
3. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Sports and activities are offered through the American School. Parents can also hire coaches to teach kids how to swim or play tennis. There are also some camps that take place at the GQ during the summer, like a basketball camp.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Lagos has a large expat community. As the largest city in Africa, it draws in expats from different sectors of the economy. There are particularly large populations of Indians and Lebanese who are prominent in the local business community. There is also a significant population of Americans outside of the Consulate due to the presence of oil companies. Morale seems to be good, people are able to build relationships here and take advantage of the creature comforts afforded to expats by virtue of their being very wealthy compared to average Nigerians.
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?
Within the Consulate community, there are almost weekly social events organized by the GQ or the CLO. People like to get together for dinner parties, or game nights, or trying new restaurants together or going to bars. There are options to mix with other expatriates through the British Club or the Yacht Club. A lot of expats come to the GQ, so that is a great place to meet other expats and well-off locals.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
It's a great city for all. Singles can have a lot of fun as Lagos is renowned for its nightlife. Families do well here as well as a lot of activities are based on relationships made at school. It may be a little harder for couples, but there are enough childless couples here that they can find plenty to do with other couples.
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
It's fine for LGBT expatriates as local attitudes will not affect you by virtue of the privilege you have as an expatriate. For local members of the LGBT community its an entirely different story.
5. Is it easy to make friends with locals here? Are there any prejudices or any ethnic groups who might feel uncomfortable here?
It really depends on your personality. Some community members have developed really strong friendships with locals by jumping head first into exploring Lagos by joining local sports clubs or befriending local staff and absorbing their networks. Others find it harder as they live in an expat bubble where their only interactions with local staff are colleagues at the Consulate.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Nigeria is a very diverse country that exists solely because the British drew lines on a map. Lagos reflects this diversity. There do not appear to be overt tensions on the surface, and many Nigerians will in fact not express these issues to an expat without knowing them well, but issues do exist between the different ethnic groups and increasingly between religious groups. Gender equality remains a serious issue in the local community.
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Living in Lagos has been interesting in general. This is going to be the world's largest city within a decade or two. There is a real energy here, its a strange energy that sometimes feels like the edge of chaos, like a small thing may happen that will just lead to everything collapsing. Being in Lagos does make it easier to travel within Africa, though travel isn't that easy. Just getting to the airport can be an odyssey. That said, we've enjoyed the camaraderie of the community here and communal experiences from beach trips, trying new foods and various Nigerian cultural events.
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Everyone makes at least one trip to the Lekki Conservation Center, it's an oasis in the otherwise crowded chaos of Lagos. A lot of people travel to Benin for a long weekend and the difference between Benin and Nigeria is pretty stark. Another option is to join the Nigerian Field Society, they sponsor trips throughout Nigeria and Lagos. Visting Makoko with the NFS was fascinating.
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
People like to have clothing made here. Some find good homemade furniture.
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
You get to live in a rapidly growing city at a historic time and live as a relatively wealthy person, experiencing a lifestyle you may not experience at home.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
Lagos' reputation is a lot worse than it actually is. I was very apprehensive about coming here, but once you build a routine, life is fine here.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
No. As much as I was able to eventually come to appreciate aspects of Lagos, it does remain a hardship post for a reason, and without the ability to travel out at regular intervals, it would be much harder to stay.
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Winter clothes, passive driving