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Moving to Nigeria
A comprehensive guide to moving to Nigeria
Moving to Nigeria is a big challenge for many expats. The InterNations GO! Guide offers information on the country’s paperwork-heavy immigration process, Nigerian cities, and other useful info you should be aware of before relocating to Nigeria.
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Relocating to Nigeria
: Due to recent terrorist activity, travel warnings are in place for certain areas in Nigeria. Read our section on Expat Safety in Nigeria for more information.
Expat Destinations in Nigeria
Most expats moving to Nigeria obviously choose Nigeria’s economic and industrial centers. The majority of these are found in the country’s southern coastal regions. Furthermore, many expats are living in Nigeria’s Free Trade Zones, which usually feature residence compounds for employees.
If you are not moving to Nigeria solely for business reasons, but also for the cultural experience, you might want to go explore the country in detail. Please consider the safety precautions we have compiled in our article on Living in Nigeria before you consider freely roaming the country.
Lagos is the largest city and thus the first choice for many expats moving to Nigeria. Though exact estimates vary, with a population in 2014 of around 21 million in the wider metropolitan area, it is considered the most populous city in Africa, surpassing even Cairo. The metropolis on the Gulf of Guinea has experienced rapid growth, as moving to the country’s economic and cultural center remains a big incentive for people from rural regions and abroad.
In many respects, Lagos is the most important Nigerian city. It is a large hub for banks, industrial enterprises, and the music and film industry. The three ports are the nation’s biggest transfer site for all goods, except for oil, which is shipped directly from the Delta. The metropolis also is home to the most modern international airport – you will have to at least change flights here when you arrive in Nigeria.
Lagos was the Nigerian capital until 1991. Most embassies, although now officially located in Abuja, handle visa applications from their Lagos offices. The city’s cultural and economic importance is unparalleled, as is the quality of life. Many expats moving to Nigeria opt for accommodation in the popular neighborhoods of Victoria Island, Ikoyi, Apapa, and Ikeja, where living is a more relaxed and safer experience.
Your employment contract permitting, you should try to relocate to Lagos. It will probably ensure the most comfortable and interesting experience for expatriates moving to Nigeria.
Employment in Port Harcourt means doing business in Nigeria’s oil production center. It is the main collecting point for oil produced in the Niger Delta and home to most of Nigeria’s refineries.
Ever since the first oil shipment in 1958, Port Harcourt has had considerable draw on the people of the Delta. This is both a blessing and a curse: The masses moving to Nigeria’s industrial centers from the rural regions have caused a housing shortage and infrastructural issues. Pollution is also quite severe in the area. While living in Nigeria, you have to come to terms with pollution, and Port Harcourt surpasses everything else in this regard.
Due to reasons we have outlined in our article on Working in Nigeria, the city has often been shaken by violence and by the illegal activity of militant gangs, who frequently target foreigners. Thus, for safety reasons, Port Harcourt should be avoided by expats if possible. Unless you sign with one of the large oil companies, which offer guarded compounds for their expat employees, moving to Nigeria’s other economic centers is a better choice.
The nation’s capital since 1991, Abuja is the unchallenged center of political power in Nigeria. Located right in the center of Nigeria between the Muslim north and the Christian south, Abuja has been built from scratch since the late 1970s; unfortunately, it shows.
Life in Abuja is a far cry from life in Lagos, both culturally and economically. There is very little industry located in Abuja, and the metropolis does not offer many incentives for expats moving to Nigeria. However, as construction is continuously going on and nearly all embassies have been relocated to the city, Abuja does have some opportunities for expatriates who are moving to Nigeria and making it their home abroad.
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Visa Requirements for Nigeria
Nigeria offers four different types of visas, each valid for three months. They differ in the purpose of visit and their requirements. If it is your first time in Nigeria, you have to visit the Nigerian embassy in your home country – or a country where you’ve lived for at least the last six months – for a personal interview. The different types of visas are as follows:
- Tourist visa: This visa is valid for touristic purposes or social visits only.
- Business visa: for all business-related purposes except actual employment (e.g. conferences, contract negotiations).
- Temporary Work Permit: This permit is intended for specific short-term work only, e.g. repairs to equipment, research, auditing, or installation work. It is employer-led, that is, the employer pays for the entire process and takes care of the application.
- Subject to Regularization (STR) visa: This is the one you need for taking up paid employment as an expat in Nigeria. Please keep in mind that having an employment contract is a requirement for this visa!
- Other visas: These relate primarily to those transiting through Nigeria or visiting for diplomatic reasons and include the transit visa, direct transit visa (airside), and official diplomatic visa.
Please be aware that taking up employment in Nigeria involves a fair bit of red tape. Fortunately, the STR visa is employer-led, i.e. your future company will provide you with the necessary paperwork. You still, however, have to apply for the visa yourself. The application involves two steps: One can be completed online on the website of the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS); the other involves the embassy in your home country.
Getting an STR visa is only the first step towards working and living in Nigeria. The desired outcome is the CERPAC, Combined Expatriate Residence Permit and Aliens Card, which is a combined residence and work permit, and valid for two years.
The STR visa alone does not entitle you to take up employment in Nigeria right away; your employer must first apply for the regularization of your stay after you arrive in Nigeria. If everything is in order, you will be given the CERPAC. Then, you are able to start working. It is very uncommon for expats to be denied the CERPAC once the STR visa has been granted, so there is no need to worry.
Planning ahead is a wise decision, as is being quick about the necessary steps once you arrive in Nigeria. Both the regularization and the CERPAC also involve a number of forms. Additionally, you have to apply for an Aliens Registration Card at the immigration office of your destination within 21 days.
In summary, there are six steps to be taken before you can start working and living in Nigeria.
Steps to be taken from home:
- Sign an employment contract
- Fill out the online application on the NIS homepage
- Contact your local embassy with the necessary paperwork
Steps to be taken in Nigeria:
- Apply for Regularization
- Apply for CERPAC
- Apply for the Aliens Registration Card
We realize this might seem like a lot, but your employer will help you with most of the process.
Healthcare in Nigeria
Health Issues: Immunization
Please consult your doctor in order to get your routine vaccinations checked up and renewed, if necessary. Bear in mind that some of these need to be done up to six months in advance of your moving to Nigeria. The immunizations include:
- Hepatitis A and B
- Varicella (chickenpox)
- Measles-Mumps-Rubella (MMR)
Other vaccinations might be advisable depending on the location and on the duration of that stay, e.g. meningitis (meningococcal disease), and rabies. Additionally, a recent yellow fever vaccination is one of the prerequisites for the STR visa and thus for your new life in Nigeria.
Health Issues: Common Diseases
Please keep in mind that malaria is quite common in Nigeria. Unfortunately, there is no immunization, although there are some anti-malarial drugs on the market. In order to avoid malaria you should wear long sleeves as well as long pants in light or pastel colors, and use insect repellants containing 30% to 50% DEET. Whenever possible, sleep under a mosquito net.
Generally, you should make sure to take necessary prescription drugs with you, as they might not be readily available in Nigerian pharmacies. Sometimes, bootleg versions of well-known drugs are offered, often without the desired effects of the original. Please abstain from using these pharmaceuticals.
Diarrhea is a problem that befalls many Westerners on their first trip to Nigeria. It is also problematic for many Nigerians, especially children. Please ensure you have an adequate supply of diarrhea medicine. Stick to bottled water or freshly brewed hot beverages and thoroughly cooked foods in order to avoid stomach trouble. Also, avoid food from street vendors or any served at room temperature, as well as unwashed or unpeeled fruit and vegetables, and ice (unless you’ve made it from bottled water).
The quality of Nigerian healthcare institutions is generally considered rather poor. There might also be shortages of medical supplies, and the blood supply of the country is not considered safe. Hygiene conditions are problematic, especially outside the large cities.
A major problem afflicting the healthcare system in Nigeria is the so-called “brain drain” of doctors and medical staff. It is estimated that there are four doctors for every 10,000 inhabitants. Highly-trained experts often leave the country in order to pursue their profession in countries with better infrastructure or higher wages.
Expats are not covered by the Nigerian healthcare system. Speak to your future employer about company health plans, as many corporations have medical staff available for their expats and offer special insurance policies. You can also ask about international healthcare programs that your insurance company might offer. Please make sure you are fully covered for any eventuality.