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Moving to Lagos

Expats moving to Lagos often have a less than flattering idea of life in this burgeoning Nigerian city.

A series of scathing superlatives have cast the city in a permanent shadow, including the 2016 Economist Intelligence Unit’s evaluation of the city as among the three worst destinations for expats, coming 138th out of 140 cities surveyed. Cities were scored on factors such as political and social stability, crime rates and access to quality healthcare.

Nigeria’s financial and economic capital is fraught with overpopulation, deteriorating infrastructure and sweeping unemployment rates. Traffic, sanitation and pollution problems are also ever-present, and severe crime rates certainly should not be looked upon lightly.

Nonetheless, more and more expats are moving to Lagos, and the American, Indian, Filipino and Lebanese communities are sizeable, and growing. So, if life is so bad in this mushrooming urban centre, why do foreigners continue to uproot and relocate to Lagos?

The answer is simple – money. Lagos is a city driven by the promise of wealth.

Lagos is the business hub of West Africa, and it claims the region’s largest and most impressive banks, ports and markets. Furthermore, multinationals and massive corporations, many of them mining the oil-rich Niger Delta, have set up shop, and are continuously looking to lure foreigners to the city with lucrative expat packages.

It follows that expats offered a job in Lagos should expect not only a sizeable salary that more than makes up for Nigeria’s hard-to-ignore hardship ranking, but also a handful of accompanying perks. If a company does not outright insist on financing accommodation, health insurance, a driver and car, flights home and education, expats should make sure to negotiate allowances or an appropriately inflated salary that covers these costs.

Though it may be surprising to many, the cost of living a typical expat life in Lagos is sky-high. While nearly 75 percent of locals live in slums, the large houses on Ikoyi and Victoria Island that act as home to foreigners, imported Western-style groceries and private hospitals and schools of a Western standard come with a hefty price tag.

Needless to say, living in Lagos is not necessarily the nightmare it’s chalked up to be. Expats often find themselves able to afford far more luxuries than in their home country, and many take solace in the tight-knit, though slightly insular, communities they form within their carefully secured compounds, places of work and via networks and social clubs.

Despite the inconveniences of near-constant power and water supply problems, working in a world where bribery and corruption are still commonplace, and adjusting to the culture shock of life in a bustling, congested African city, many expats report that life in Lagos is vibrant, colourful and fruitful.

Accommodation in Lagos

Expats are likely to have their accommodation in Lagos arranged through their employer.

Ownership of property in Nigeria is highly regulated by the government and it’s rare for expats living there to buy. Most expats live in rented apartments or houses in Lagos and most companies not only finance their foreign employee's accommodation, but also secure it and assume responsibility for any leasing logistics.

For expats who are not having their accommodation arranged and paid for by their employer, it’s best to work with a real estate agent or relocation specialist who will assist in the house-hunting process.

Lagos has been named amongst the most expensive cities in the world for expats to live in and the prices of rental properties reflect this. Landlords often demand a two- to three-year lease be signed and this is sometimes expected to be paid up front. Expats should ensure that they factor this into any employment contract negotiations for their relocation to Nigeria.

Due to shortages of accommodation, it’s not unusual for expats who arrive to work in Lagos to initially stay in a hotel, before being transferred to their permanent accommodation. Expats staying in Nigeria short-term are often housed in hotels for the duration of their stay.


Types of housing in Lagos

Fully furnished, semi-furnished and completely unfurnished housing is available in Lagos. In some cases, companies own properties specifically designed to accommodate their expat employees.

Expats living in expat compounds often find themselves in very insular expat communities, far removed from the reality of life in Lagos. Company compounds, apartment blocks and established private and gated housing complexes for expats in Lagos are usually located on Victoria Island and Ikoyi, just east of Lagos Island. Most international schools are also located within these areas. 


Factors to consider when house-hunting in Lagos

Security is an important consideration when deciding where to live in Lagos. Many complexes have 24-hour security, which may include armed guards, security cameras and access control into and out of the complex. On-site amenities, including wireless Internet, satellite television, gyms, tennis courts and swimming pools are also common.

Nigeria is notorious for its incredibly temperamental power and water supply, including in Lagos; no matter where one lives in the city, boreholes and generators are a must.

If possible, it’s best to live close to one's office or, if living in Lagos with children, close to their school. Traffic can be nightmarish, and expats can expect to spend hours commuting to and from work each day. Most expats hire a personal driver to navigate the traffic; this is often paid for by their employer.

Areas and suburbs in Lagos

Expats moving to Lagos will find themselves in a crowded, chaotic and noisy metropolis that is one of the fastest growing cities in Africa.

Lagos is made up of a collection of islands that are separated by creeks and the Lagos Lagoon. Bridges connect the islands to the Lagos mainland and smaller sections of some creeks have been sand filled and built over.

There are only a handful of areas and suburbs in Lagos that offer expats a reasonable quality of life in terms of accommodation, amenities and convenience. Most expats living in Lagos reside on Victoria Island, and in Ikoyi, Apapa and Ikeja.


Lagos mainland

Most Lagos residents live on the mainland of Lagos, which consists of the main districts of Ebute-Meta, Mushin, Surulere, Agege, Oshodi, Yaba and Ikeja.

Ikeja is the capital of Lagos State and is the most exclusive residential area on the Lagos mainland. Ikeja was once a well-planned and quiet residential suburb, initially built during the colonial period to house the upper classes. The Government Reserved Area (GRA) of Ikeja, in particular, is still home to a number of high-ranking Nigerian officials and their families. Large residential properties can be found here, with accommodation typically in the form of detached houses, bungalows or semi-detached duplexes.

Over the years Ikeja has also developed into a prime commercial and industrial area, with some houses being turned into office complexes. It is also home to Nigeria’s main airport, Murtala Muhammed International Airport. Most roads in Ikeja are paved and the neighbourhood is seen as fairly secure, largely owing to the presence of the Police College and the Ikeja Military Cantonment.

Ikeja also offers many entertainment options, including night clubs, restaurants and bars, the Lagos Country Club, and many fancy international hotels. The Ikeja City Mall, one of Nigeria’s newest and largest malls, is also located in the district and hosts many international brand shops.


Lagos Island

Lagos Island is the main commercial and administrative area of Lagos. It is the oldest part of the city and connected to the mainland by three large bridges: Eko Bridge, Carter Bridge and the Third Mainland Bridge. 

The central business district of Lagos is located on Lagos Island and the area is home to the offices of many multinational corporations. It is also home to the city's financial district and the Nigerian Stock Exchange. Shopping malls, clubs and supermarkets also litter the streets.

The western side of the island is the wealthy commercial side, while the poorer eastern side of the island hosts the main markets and poorer residential areas.

Lagos Island is overcrowded and traffic congestion remains a constant problem. Attempts have been made in recent years to ease congestion by building new roads out over the lagoon.


Victoria Island

Victoria Island (sometimes referred to as VI) is located to the west of Lagos Island. It is a residential as well as commercial area. There are many shopping centres, restaurants and offices here, and luxury apartments abound.

The island was once completely surrounded by water, but the colonial government began filling in the eastern swamps to reduce mosquito breeding areas, creating a land bridge between Victoria Island and the Lekki Peninsula. Successive governments expanded the development, culminating in the construction of a highway connecting Victoria Island to Epe.

This is one of the most affluent areas of Lagos, and has some of the most expensive real estate in Nigeria. Residents of Victoria Island include wealthy Nigerian business people and management professionals, and many of the city’s expatriates.

Once a peaceful and quiet part of Lagos, Victoria Island is now an important centre of banking and commerce in Nigeria, and many Nigerian and international corporations have their headquarters on the island. This redevelopment has left the island congested and traffic a constant problem.

Victoria Island is also a diplomatic centre of Nigeria, with numerous foreign embassies and consulates located in the area. There are also good hospitals on Victoria Island and most of the international schools in Lagos are also located here – yet another drawcard for expats.


Ikoyi

Ikoyi is located to the east of Lagos Island and is joined to it by a landfill. It’s a quiet and peaceful cosmopolitan residential area of Lagos and is home to the most established expat community in Lagos.

Once a middle-class neighbourhood, Ikoyi is now the most affluent area of Lagos. It has many high-rise apartment buildings, five-star hotels, and one of Africa’s largest golf courses. Extravagant mansions built during the colonial era stand next to modern luxury condos and apartments. 

Many multinational corporations in the oil and gas industry rent or own property in Ikoyi for their expat staff. The area is also popular with the diplomatic community. Ikoyi is home to good schools, golf courses and country clubs, making it an attractive location for foreigners living in Lagos.

Ikoyi is also home to luxury shops, pharmacies and supermarkets, many of them concentrated on Awolowo Road. The commercial section is found in the southwest of Ikoyi. The Kingsway and Dolphin shopping centres are also located in Ikoyi.

Although utility provision is sometimes better in Ikoyi than the rest of the city, poor road infrastructure and shortages in electricity and water supply are fairly common.


Apapa

Located to the west of Lagos Island is the important port area of Apapa. This area offers cheaper accommodation than the other more popular expat areas of Lagos. Apapa has large, old colonial houses and some modern apartment blocks. The area is popular with local professionals and, due to the fact that it is Nigeria’s main sea port, security is high.

Healthcare in Lagos

The standard of healthcare in Nigeria remains poor, and Lagos is no exception. Public healthcare facilities in Lagos are grossly underfunded, understaffed and underequipped. Although private healthcare facilities offer a better standard of care, this is still average at best.

Expats requiring serious medical treatment are likely to require air evacuation to a country with better facilities, such as South Africa, or somewhere in Europe. As such, comprehensive medical insurance, which makes provisions for international medical evacuation, is advised for all expats living in Lagos.


Private hospitals in Lagos

Below is a list of the more popular private hospitals in Lagos for expats:

 

Lagoon Hospital Apapa

www.lagoonhospitals.com

Address: 8 Marine Road, Apapa

 

Paelon Memorial Clinic

www.paelonmemorial.com

Address: 22 Musa Yar’Adua Street, Victoria Island

 

Reddington Hospital Victoria Island

www.reddingtonhospital.com

Address: 12 Idowu Martins St, Victoria Island
 

St Nicholas Hospital

www.saintnicholashospital.com

Address: 57 Campbell Street, Lagos Island

Education and Schools in Lagos

Due to the poor standard of the local education system, expats choose to send their children to private international schools in Lagos, of which there are a number to choose from. The majority of these schools follow the British, American or International Baccalaureate (IB) curriculum.


International schools in Lagos

The quality of education at international schools in Lagos tends to be high. Many of these schools are also equipped with state-of-the-art facilities and offer a healthy choice of extra-curricular activities.

Expats living in Lagos should be fully aware that education at international schools comes at a high price. It's therefore vital that expats moving to Lagos with children stipulate subsidies and allowances for education when negotiating their employment contract.

Admission to the best schools in Lagos can be competitive and, in some cases, preference is given to students of a certain nationality or those who have parents employed by a certain company, organisation or government body. Sometimes these organisations will have pre-reserved places in these schools for their employees’ children.

Some companies also provide transport to and from particular schools for the children of their employees; an important perk considering the traffic and congestion that parents would have to personally contend with if driving their children to and from school every day. Expats should enquire within their company about this before enrolling.

International Schools in Lagos

Most expats will opt to send their children to international private schools in Lagos, of which there are a number to choose from.

Below is a list of some of the most popular international schools in Lagos:

 

American International School Lagos

www.aislagos.org

Curriculum: American and International Baccalaureate (IB)

Gender: Co-educational

Ages: 3 to 18

 

Avi-Cenna International School

www.avi-cenna.com

Curriculum: British

Gender: Co-educational

Ages: 5 to 16

 

British International School

www.bisnigeria.org

Curriculum: British

Gender: Co-educational

Ages: 11 to 18

 

Children’s International School

www.cislagos.org

Curriculum: British

Gender: Co-educational

Ages: 2.5 to 16
 

Grange School

www.grangeschool.com

Curriculum: British

Gender: Co-educational
Ages: 4 to 18

 

Lagos Preparatory School

www.lagosprepikoyi.com.ng

Curriculum: English National Curriculum

Gender: Co-Educational

Ages: 1.5 to 13

 

Lekki British School

www.lekkibritishschool.org

Curriculum: British

Gender: Co-educational

Ages: 4 to 18

 

Lycée Français Louis Pasteur

www.lflp-lagos.com

Curriculum: French

Gender: Co-educational

Ages: 4 to 18

 

Netherlands International School Lagos

www.nislagos.org

Curriculum: English National Curriculum, Dutch Curriculum and IB Primary Curriculum

Gender: Co-educational

Ages: 4 to 18

 

St Saviour’s School Ikoyi

www.stsavioursschikoyi.org

Curriculum: British

Gender: Co-educational

Ages: 4 to 11

Lifestyle in Lagos

Lagos is a vibrant and bustling city and expats first arriving will most likely have their senses overwhelmed by the chaos, noise and traffic. The lifestyle in Lagos is fast paced and, as the fastest growing city in Africa, hustle and bustle abound.

In the 2016 Economist Intelligence Unit’s Global Liveability Survey, Lagos was ranked as the third worst city in the world for expats to live; political and social stability, crime rates and access to quality healthcare were all factors that cities were judged on. It’s therefore no surprise that expats moving to Lagos will contend with, and will be compensated for, the hardship factor. Nevertheless, once expats get over the initial culture shock, there is more to Lagos than overcrowding, power cuts and traffic jams, and there is much to explore and enjoy in the city.

Despite the chaos and poverty, expats can’t deny that Nigerians are a friendly people, and Lagosians are no exception. Nigerians have pride in their cultural identity and are usually eager to share information about their country and people. Although most Lagosians live in poverty and occupy the city’s slum areas, there is still a thirst for life, and energy and creativity ensure that locals do what they must to survive. The streets are littered with vendors selling whatever they can get their hands on. Beggars are also common and street children can hound foreigners on the assumption that they are wealthy.


Shopping in Lagos

Shopping in Lagos is a colourful affair; whether it involves markets, malls or boutique stores. Western-type shopping malls can be found across the city and are full of local and international fashion brands. Fashion in Nigeria is a unique mix of African and Western styles, and it’s common for expats to have clothing made by tailors.

The Ikeja City Mall, one of Nigeria’s largest malls, is located on the Lagos mainland, while other shopping areas close to expat neighbourhoods include the Kingsway and Dolphin shopping centres. There are also many markets across the city, where bargaining is essential. A general rule of thumb is to offer a third of the asking price and go from there. Most seasoned hagglers will agree that starting at a third of the asking price and settling at half is the best approach.


Eating out in Lagos

Lagos is a cosmopolitan city and a melting pot of African, Asian and Western cultures. This is evident in the cuisine on offer in Lagos, where there are plenty of modern restaurants serving both local and international dishes. Indian, Chinese, Lebanese and West African restaurants are largely concentrated in the more affluent areas of the city, and food vendors line the streets of the commercial districts. The traditional staples are a variety of green vegetables and stews eaten with processed cassava or yam flour.


Nightlife and entertainment in Lagos

Art, entertainment and music form an integral part of Lagos culture and the city has a thriving nightlife. Lagos is famous throughout West Africa for its music scene – there are dozens of nightclubs and live music venues across the city. Western music, hip hop and traditional African bands are popular forms of entertainment.

Lagos is the heart of Nigeria’s film industry, often referred to as 'Nollywood'. It’s the largest film industry in Africa, and most major studios are located in Lagos.

Expats moving to Lagos may take a while to get used to living in such a large African city, and many will find themselves living in insular expat communities behind high walls and security gates, far removed from the reality of life in Lagos. But for those eager to explore and leave the expat bubble, Lagos offers a true taste of African lifestyle and culture, and expats should take the opportunity to experience all that this vibrant city has to offer.

Getting Around in Lagos

The growing population and rapid development of Lagos have placed strain on the city’s public transport system, and traffic congestion and pollution add to the chaos of this massive city.

The most common forms of public transport in Lagos include taxis, buses and motorbike taxis, known locally as okadas. All of these forms of transport are generally unsafe and unreliable due to poorly maintained vehicles and reckless drivers.

Most expats don’t use public transport in Lagos, rather opting to have a personal driver.


Driving in Lagos

Most companies provide their expat employees with a car, a driver and, in some cases, a security escort. While expats are allowed to drive in Nigeria, most prefer to employ professionals to drive them around. This is generally the safest option, as the driver is able to navigate the city easily and is familiar with the local environment and road conditions.

Traffic congestion is a massive problem in Lagos, and despite recent improvements to public transport and road networks to try and ease this, it can still take hours to travel just a few kilometres. Expats should therefore plan their journey well in advance and ensure they give themselves plenty of time to get to their destination.

Expats wishing to drive in Lagos should note that international driving licenses are not recognised in Nigeria, so while they are able to drive for the first three months with their national licence, foreigners will need to apply for a Nigerian driving licence to continue driving thereafter.


Public transport in Lagos

Okadas

Okadas are motorbike taxis that can carry one passenger, although it’s not unusual to see several squashed on with the driver at one time. They are generally cheaper than regular taxis and are the fastest way of getting around Lagos. However, travelling on an okada can be a hair-raising experience as they weave through the congested roads at high speeds, often ignoring the rules of the road.

There have been a number of attempts to restrict okadas on major roads and bridges in Lagos and they are banned from the city’s roads at night. This has been met with much resistance in recent years, with okada drivers protesting these regulations.

Buses

A number of buses are in operation in Lagos, including Danfo buses, Molue buses and a Bus Rapid Transit system (BRT).

Danfo buses are yellow minibuses that travel set routes around the Lagos mainland and on the islands. These buses are often overcrowded and not always reliable. Due to safety concerns, the local government has attempted to restrict or ban danfos on Lagos streets, but they remain one of the most popular modes of transport.

Molue are larger commercial buses, also painted yellow. These buses are also usually overcrowded, and it’s not unusual to have preachers shouting the gospel or hawkers trying to sell their wares to passengers inside the bus. Pickpocketing is common on these buses and expats should keep a close eye on their valuables at all times. Due to numerous issues, Molue buses have been banned from operating in certain parts of Lagos, including the city's central business district.

The BRT is a relatively new system that has somewhat improved the transport and eased traffic congestion in Lagos. BRT vehicles, painted red or blue, operate on segregated or priority lanes between the mainland and the islands of Lagos. Travelling on the BRT can be a frustrating experience, as long queues are common at BRT stations and the buses are very overcrowded, particularly during rush hour. Many BRT buses are also in a poor state and in need of maintenance.

Taxis

There are a number of taxi companies that operate in Lagos; these are either metered or have fixed fares. It is possible to hail a cab from the street, although a safer option is to phone and order one ahead of time. Expats should negotiate the fare before entering the taxi, or make sure that the meter is working.

Ferries

Despite the abundance of waterways in Lagos, ferries are not as popular as road transport to get around the city. There are a few regular ferry routes between Lagos and Victoria islands and the mainland. Private boats also operate some passenger services on the lagoon and on some creeks. The local government has been working to promote water transport in Lagos and ease road congestion by building a number of jetties.