So you’re heading off to Lagos! Prepare for bright lights, vibrant colours, lots of sun and the occasional Noah flood if you’re on the Island. And some parts of the Mainland. OK much of the Mainland too. But seriously, pack some rain boots. Anyway, so depending on whose statistics you choose to pay attention to, Lagos is either an extremely expensive city for an expat like yourself, or a very cheap place. This year, Lagos has been ranked as the world’s 13th most expensive city for expats, just behind some usual suspects like Luanda, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Shanghai and Geneva, amongst others. Somehow, this same year, Lagos has also been ranked as the world’s 2nd cheapest city for expatriates, just one place above Almaty in Kazakhstan. The reason given for the second ranking is the poor performance of the Naira against the US Dollar, which has made everything priced in Naira cheaper in Dollar terms. So who do you believe? How much does stuff actually cost in Lagos, and how expensive is it to live in this West African land of wonder and opportunity?
Well for starters, you’re going to need somewhere to stay. Typically, expats in Lagos tend to gravitate toward the Island and Lekki axis for a number of reasons – it’s the half of Lagos that is relatively well planned, there is a large and established expat population there, most of the expat jobs are typically located there, and the standard of infrastructure and services available there is closer to what expats will be accustomed to in their home countries. So if you choose to stick with the tried and tested formula, you get no arguments. It’s all about what makes you comfortable. If you choose to rent an apartment in Ikoyi, Victoria Island, Lekki or Eko Atlantic you should be prepared to budget nothing less than N3,000,000 (about $9100) annually at the lower end of the scale, going up to about N20,000,000 (about $57,000) for a 2-bedroom residence. You should bear in mind that rents in Nigeria are paid annually as a bulk sum, as against monthly which is the practice elsewhere.
Now if you want to try something different and perhaps even come up in credit at the end of your stay in Lagos, you might look into purchasing your own property outright. If you are prepared to do what some expats have done and scout for property as far afield as Ilupeju or Ajah, you just might be able to buy a 2-bungalow for about N25,000,000 ($71,000). Due to the unique economic situation of Lagos, real estate generally does not lose value, even during the occasional rare economic recession as we witnessed recently. What that means is that when it is time for you to leave Lagos finally, you can put your property on the market and recoup the amount you might otherwise have spent on rent, plus a tidy profit. If you do choose to go down this road, you want to spend a lot of time educating yourself about real estate law and reputable agents in Lagos, so you do not get scammed. You are an ‘Oyibo’ (white person) after all, so the perception on the street is that you have a pile of Dollars burning a hole in your pocket! Before deciding to do this, also bear in mind that unlike with most high-end rental property on the Island, you are responsible for servicing the property you own, which includes generating your own power (that’s a big thing in Nigeria as we shall see shortly!), paying your waste disposal and electricity bills, installing and using a borehole, installing satellite TV and Internet services, etc. There is also the risk that your investment may have remained the same or declined in Dollar terms despite gaining in Naira, because the Naira is a rather temperamental currency.
Services and Amenities
When it comes to service delivery and social infrastructure, Lagos is likely to be very different from what you are used to. You will probably not use a government hospital, or register your child in a government school, or make use of public water mains, or a public sewage system, or just about anything provided by government. Except maybe the roads you walk on, and even then you will probably find yourself using toll roads a lot. You especially will not use public electric power supply much, mostly because there isn’t much of it available at all. There is no way to sugarcoat it – public services in Lagos are not great. If it is any consolation, they are much better than what is obtainable across the rest of the country, but if you are coming from say, Birmingham, there will be quite the culture shock. Fortunately, as the jetset, globetrotting ‘Oyibo’ you are, with a wallet full of itchy USD, you will likely be able to afford one of a number of excellent private alternatives.
There are several schools, hospitals, gyms and private property developments that can offer you a standard of living that generally approximates to what you are used to. Some private schools offering British or American syllabi include Grange School, British International School, American International School and Greensprings School. A year of tuition at any of these schools starts from an average of about N5,000,000 ($14,300) for boarding students, with a significant reduction for day students. If your employment package does not come with a healthcare plan, you can register yourself on a flexible, pay-as-you-go basis at one of a number of high quality private hospitals such as Reddington, Gold Cross, St. Ives and Eko Hospital. If you choose to rent on the Island, there is a good chance that your service charge covers power supply and essential services, so you don’t need to stress about any of that.
If you need to transport yourself around in Lagos, practically 100% of said transportation will take place by road. Roads are the only real mode of transport in this sprawling city, which is where the legendary traffic jams come from. If your employer has not made transportation available to you, you will need to budget approximately N2,000,000 ($5,700) for a sensible sedan, and a further N40,000 ($114) monthly for a driver. Yes, this is one of the few perks of living in Lagos – you get your very own chauffeur on the cheap, but be careful! Make sure to only go through a recognised staffing agency, and trust your sixth sense. If you feel like something is amiss, don’t overlook it. Your life may depend on it. Lagos is just that kind of place at the end of the day. And if you feel like you’re up to it, then hey – who needs a driver? You can join the ranks of full-fledged Lagosians, like many other expats have done. It’s fun, I promise J.
This is one of the few points on which Lagos does not disappoint at all. Whether you’re a hipster foodie, or a home cooking buff, or a continental cuisine aficionado, there is no type of culinary taste that Lagos cannot cater to without breaking the bank. Victoria Island has one of the widest selections of themed bars and restaurants on the continent, at an average plate price of roughly N7,000 ($20). There are several supermarkets offering food items you are already familiar with, and if you’re feeling particularly adventurous, you might want to take a hike to a local open air market to get some cheap fresh produce and experiment with it. One such visit shouldn’t set you back anything more than N10,000 ($28), and if you take the time to learn a few words and phrases in the local language, you can negotiate a big discount on that.
Retail & Shopping
The big box retail shopping experience is practically identical around the world and Lagos is no exception. Most of the items in the big discounters are probably imported, and you will find the prices more or less identical to what you are already used to. A full sized monthly shopping trolley for a family of 3 should cost on average about N35,000 ($100) at Shoprite or Spar. You could also try something different with open air retail markets like Balogun Market, near the Marina on Lagos Island, which is the largest street market in West Africa, offering a great selection of cheap merchandise. A pair of jeans here goes for about N2,000 ($5), while a pair of shoes generally starts from about N5,000 ($14). If you are feeling intrepid, these (‘Oyibo’ adjusted) figures are open to vigorous negotiation.
Entertainment, recreation and nightlife
Lagos is the relaxation capital of West Africa. If you are looking for a good time of any description, chances are you will find it in Lagos, from Indian specialty restaurants to arthouse cinema. Depending on your taste and budget, you can explore the bright lights of the Island and Lekki and experience the wide selection of nightclubs, bars, restaurants, live performances and themed events available every night. A budget of about N70,000 ($200) should be enough to take you around most of the bars on Victoria Island on a birthday pub crawl, and there is a consistent pipeline of excellent live performances at the Eko Convention Centre, ranging from N5,000 ($14) for regular tickets to N500,000 ($1,430) for VIP or table tickets. The mainland offers a brilliant mix of prosaic and bohemian nightlife, with regular conventional hangouts and entertainment spots interspersed with everything from skateboard scenes to pop-up comedy clubs. Whatever you need to relax and get your creative juices flowing, Lagos has it in spades.