Lagos, Nigeria Report of what it's like to live there - 09/19/08

Personal Experiences from Lagos, Nigeria

Lagos, Nigeria 09/19/08

Background:

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

Cape Town, Pretoria, New Delhi, also lived in Hong Kong, London.

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2. How long have you lived here?

1 year.

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

U.S. Consulate.

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4. Travel time and best routes to this city from Europe or the US:

About 22-24 hours including transit; best to fly through Europe.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

Consulate families with children generally lived on Ikoyi. Singles and those without school-aged children lived on either Ikoyi or Victoria Island (consulate is on the latter). Most housing is 2-storey town-house style, with about 6-8 units per compound. Some were 2-3 bdrm apts -- advantage if you're lucky to get one of the higher floors, disadvantage if the electricity (i.e. elevator) is not working as is often the case. CG, Marines and Non-State agencies have large detached houses. Commute time 45 mins from Ikoyi if you drive; 10 mins if you take the Consulate boat. Nigerian construction can look good externally, but is shoddy beneath the paint. Expect plumbing, electrical and structural problems; GSO works overtime to keep facilities up.

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

3 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. Brands are European; some US brands available, again hugely inflated. Veg tends to be old and small. Fresh veg & tropical fruit is better bought at the local market or fruit stand, where one can haggle. Re: ethnic ingredients, can get Indian, Mediterranean supplies; very little Chinese, Japanese, Latino ingredients.

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

Extra virgin olive oil; non-electric ice cream maker. Art supplies.

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

No good fast food. There is one decent pizza place on VI. Better restaurants are very expensive (US$200+ range): one each good japanese; Korean, Lebanese, Chinese, Mexican. There is one good bakery/donut shop that also sells ice cream scoops.

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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 receive/send flat mail; cannot send packages out, only receive packages, subject to pouch restrictions. We also sent and carried letters via travelers.

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

plenty of people needing work, not all reliable. Cooks, housekeeper/steward, houseboy/girl, driver, gardener. Cost is relatively inexpensive (US$100-150 range for full-time, live-in housekeeper). Best to get referral & check references carefully.

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3. 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.

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

Catholic, protestant (non-demoninational expat church). Good expat bible study groups on both islands. Lots of local churchs on every corner - Redeemed, Baptist; Nigerian churchs can be very large.

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

Consulate can provide AFN, if current MSG gunny agrees. One english language daily paper-- not much good.

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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?

None; can get by with English. Yaruba helps but not necessary.

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

Do not expect any disability-friendly attitude or facilities: no ramps, no handbars, wide-berths, handicap-accommodating cars. I never saw a Nigerian help another person who had an obvious physical need. Consulate building can make adjustments. The environment can be very loud (generators going all the time).

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Transportation:

1. Do you drive on the right hand side of the road or the left?

Right, theoretically. People drive all over the road, wherever there's space.

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

Affordable, yes. Safe or recommended, no. Large buses are not allowed on the islands owing to congestion; only minibuses.

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3. 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?

Nigeria only allows newer model cars to be brought in. Get something with high clearance -- lots of potholes, monster speed bumps, obstacles and floods. I drove both left-hand and right-hand cars there. Traffic is horrendous and not for the faint hearted; parking is a nightmare too. Many have drivers to act as human parking meters.

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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?

Can be done in residences, but expensive; costs $500 set-up plus monthly use. Consulate has 3 terminals for family members to use with high-speed internet access. Family members use these a lot for internet courses and shopping.

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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?

Must have for emergencies and general communication as land-lines are not as common or reliable. Buy an all-band phone when you get here, for all family members old enough to use one. Use pre-paid cards; widely available.

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3. What is the best way to make phone calls back home?

From phone at consulate. We had Skype at home; quality was inconsistent. Can also use cell phone.

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Pets:

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

Pets are a strange concept to Nigerians. There is one German vet who makes house calls for reasonable rates. She brings her meds from South Africa; is pretty good. No kennels; no animal hospital.

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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?

No. Many volunteer oppurtunities, but hard to find paid work given the high unemployment rate.

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

Business smart casual; suit not required at Consulate most of the time, but needed for official meetings. Women wear dresses, long skirts, covered shoulders; no shorts in public.

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Health & Safety:

1. Pollution index (Good, Moderate, Unhealthy, or Very Unhealthy)?

Moderate, depending on where you live. During the harmattan, the dust makes for worse conditions; during rainy season the air is cleaner when it's not raining.

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

Crime and civil unrest is a big problem and the constant vigilance makes for a stressful posting, especially if one has children. There were home invasions within the diplomatic and expat communities and carjackings.

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

Medical facilities are poor by western standards, pediatric equipment even worse. No good dentists or orthodontists.

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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?

Hot and hotter. Rainy season during May-August.

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Schools & Children:

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

My kids attended grades 4, 6 at the American International School of Lagos (AISL) which has a good academic reputation, high standards, pretty good facilties for Africa. Good international mix and lots of extra-curricular activities. Some kids found the strict methods and standards difficult. One of our children had a good experience while the other was miserable. The former was lucky in friends/teacher matches but the latter was not so lucky. Since there are no parks or playgrounds outside of school and the one consulate-run rec center in Lagos, a large part of a child's positive adjustment depends on his/her getting on well at school. There isn't much for kids to do outside of school. AISL does not offer any special needs or gifted programs; uniform is required. Big downer: while school security is tight, the school is located in a area that had a lot of unrest while we were there (street riots, buring tires, gangs, gunshots).This was majorly stressful for parents and kids alike.

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

None, either gifted/talented or learning disabilities. There are no psychologists, speech therapists, occupational therapists. AISL has a school counselor who can do testing when referring a child back to U.S. school.

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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?

Yes, but good facilities were limited and there were waiting lists.

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Expat Life:

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

Relatively large (several thousand?) given the presence of many oil companies.

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2. Morale among expats:

Ok for those without kids; more shakey for parents who worry about kids' safety. Consulate itself was quite close and socialized well together. One can make very good friends here as everyone depends on everyone else. If one is not outgoing, one can become very depressed quickly.

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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?

It is what you make it. We had frequent informal parties, both large and small, to keep morale up. Good pool parties, group visits to beaches; spouses lunches etc. Singles went dancing and bar hopping. Some ventured out to rock concerts in local stadium. Marine Ball is the social event of the year for all expats.

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

OK for singles and couples with a good sense of humour, an appetite for adventure and a good ability to adapt and be flexible. Not good for school-aged kids, although those with healthy toddlers (who didn't go out much) had an OK time.

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

No problem within the consulate & expat community. Manifest affection, whether hetero- or homosexual is generally frowned upon in Nigerian culture.

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

There is palpable tension between Nigerian tribes, and social classes. Status is very important. Nigerian men (particularly Muslim) tend to ignore instructions and requests given by females -- whether said female is an officer or a spouse or a colleague.

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

Outdoors: surfing, yatch club sailing, baseball league, tennis. Social: casual bbq's; visit to beach huts outside of the islands. Travel: Benin. Clubs: active American and International Women's Clubs; bible studies; book and sewing groups; cheap movie night; yoga, salsa dance classes.

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8. 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. Wooden and rattan furniture can be made to order. African clothing.

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9. Can you save money?

Yes if you don't go to the import stores, restaurants or anywhere else.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

No.

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

Fancy clothes, jewelry and high expectations.

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3. But don't forget your:

Sense of humour and adventure; love for the unusual. A small change purse to hold the stinky currency. Reusable sturdy grocery shopping bags.

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

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

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6. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

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7. Do you have any other comments?

I flew to Abuja once a week. Abuja was comparatively less crowded and spacious with less obvious urban decay. It also had less to do, and was more sterile.

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