13 Things You Should Know Before Visiting Nigeria
I just got back from a week of teaching at a medical conference in Akwa Ibom State, Nigeria. This was my first visit to Nigeria, and I didn’t really know what to expect before going. A lot of the articles and forums I found online were outdated or didn’t provide very practical information, which is why I decided to make this list (in no particular order) of 13 things you should know before visiting Nigeria.
Disclosure: Some of the links below are affiliate links. That means at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission from your purchase which will go toward bringing you more travel tips, tricks, and tidbits!
You need to get vaccinated.
Aside from your routine vaccines, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that all travelers be vaccinated against Measles, Yellow Fever, Polio, Hep A, Malaria, and Typhoid.
I recommend carrying proof of your vaccinations with you. My father and I were stopped at the airport in Lagos by 2 airport workers who demanded to see proof of our vaccinations. They acted like they would not let us pass when we did not have them, but after some persuading they finally did.
You also need to get a visa.
There are only a few countries that do not require a visa to enter Nigeria. If you are not on that list, then you need to start the process at least a month before your trip. You can read about how to get a Nigerian visa HERE. The process is a little lengthy and pricey, including a lot of paperwork, a brief interview, and biometrics. Once all that was completed though, it only took 7 days for my 2 year visa to arrive.
Everyone speaks English.
I had at least a dozen people ask me before I left if I was going to have to get an interpreter. English is the official language in Nigeria. There were times when they had a hard time understanding our Southern twang, but we were all able to carry on conversations just fine. Nigeria also has several native languages. It is not mandatory that you learn how to speak in them since everyone there can speak English, but they will appreciate it if you try to learn a few phrases from the region you are visiting. My class was thrilled when I walked in and said “Good morning” in Ibibio, one of the languages spoken in Akwa Ibom State.
Save money by doing things yourself at the airports.
Men with carts stand waiting at baggage claim, eager to help you retrieve your luggage and take it to your car. If you use their services, please tip them. However if you don’t want to, don’t let yourself be pressured into it. I also advise you to go ahead and fill out your customs form when you get it. I saw people waiting and when they got close to the immigration desks, airport staff would appear and say they needed to “help” travelers fill out the cards. After “helping” they expected a tip. Save yourself the hassle (and money) by just doing it yourself and politely declining assistance.
If given the option of paying in Naira or U.S. dollars, choose Naira.
No matter where you go, it is generally better to pay in the currency of that country instead of the currency of your own. A lot of businesses accepted USD and Naira. However, there were a few times when I realized that whatever I was buying was cheaper if I paid in Naira. The salesperson was hoping I wouldn’t notice the inaccuracy of the exchange rate they were touting.
Never accept the purchase price.
Unless you are in the duty free store at the airport or a chain, prices are negotiable. Haggle until you can get a price that you are comfortable with. If you cannot reach that price, walk away. The salesperson will usually chase after you, reluctantly accepting the amount you offered. If the seller can tell that you are not Nigerian, you might have to haggle a little more. However, you can usually get the price down to something you’re comfortable with, or you will be able to find the same item cheaper from a different vendor.
You can get attractive tailored clothing for a good price.
African fashion is full of fun patterns and stylish designs. Our driver’s preacher’s daughter was a tailor. She came to our classroom one day, took my measurements, and less than a week later gave me 4 tailored shirts in different patterns and designs for $50. They fit perfectly and are my favorite things I brought back from my trip. I highly recommend seeking out a tailor for a unique and authentically Nigerian gift for yourself or others. Keep an eye out for “fashion houses” or designers while driving around, or simply ask a local who they recommend.
Wearing one of my tailored Nigerian shirts. Praiz and Rich took excellent care of us at the hotel. It was so nice chatting with them in the mornings and every night after class. We quickly became friends!
You will likely experience some power outages during your trip.
Nigeria’s economy is rapidly growing and expanding, and with it so does the problem of providing power to businesses and homes. This problem stems from a variety of sources including high tariffs from privatized energy controllers, lack of regulation in the energy sector, and the energy that is available being distributed in a poor manner.
It is not uncommon for the power to go out for several minutes every few hours. Because of this though, a lot of people have invested in generators. The power outages did not negatively affect my trip in any way, other than the time it went off while I was in the restroom -_- When the power went out at the hotel, the generators quickly kicked in and restored power to most of the building until the power came back on again. I kept a flashlight in my purse just in case, but I never had to use it.
Nigerian food is spicy.
If you like spicy foods, you will not be disappointed with Nigerian cuisine. Traditional Nigerian food packs a spicy punch that will nearly knock you to the ground. My first taste of Nigerian spices came in the form of the country’s national dish, Jollof Rice. It looked unassuming in its carefully plated form, but after every bite I was having to take a sip of my drink to cool my mouth off. I was thankful for the blessed little sweet plantains that accompanied my meal. If you don’t like spicy foods, ask for your meal to be prepared with fewer peppers.
KFC is better in Nigeria than it is in the USA.
“Regular, hot, or extra hot”, the lady behind the counter at the KFC in Lagos asked me when I ordered my chicken tenders. Naturally, I chose the extra hot. Everything else in Nigeria had been spicy, why shouldn’t my last meal at the Lagos Airport be any different? Best. Decision. Ever. I’m a chicken tender connoisseur, and these tenders were bomb diggity. The others in my group thought they were too spicy, but I couldn’t get enough of them. The tenders looked ordinary enough, but beneath the crispy skin was a layer of spices that set my mouth on fire (in the best way). They were way better than the ones I’ve had at KFCs in the states. Another thing that sets Nigerian KFCs apart is that you can get Jollof Rice as a side.
Traffic is hectic.
With no lines drawn on the roads and continuous horn honking, traffic is confusing and a lot to take in. At most intersections, vendors weaved in and out of cars trying to sell “Versace” watches, plantain chips, phone chargers, waters, and even bras at one point! We politely shook our heads no, and they would carry on to the next vehicle. A lot of people ride around in okadas (AKA Tuk Tuks). The three wheeled vehicles add to the confusion, often driving too slow for the patience of the other drivers on the road which results in more horn blaring, dramatic hand gestures, and yelling in African languages. It reminded me a lot of when I visited Cairo, though the congestion in Nigeria wasn’t nearly as bad. Even though traffic was chaotic, there was some sort of method to the madness that Nigerians were accustomed to expertly navigating. I’m so glad I did not have to get behind the wheel there, but I enjoyed observing it all.
Don’t make any plans before noon on Sundays, because Sunday is the Lord’s day.
Nigerians are very religious. If you say good morning to someone, they might respond with “Yes, the Lord has blessed me by allowing me to see another day”. When we were leaving Nigeria, one of our sweet guards asked if he could give us a blessing, and then said a nice prayer for our safe travels back home. One day of class, it was someone’s birthday. After singing the person “Happy Birthday”, the class then broke out singing “May The Good Lord Bless You” to the tune of “Happy Birthday”. I never heard anyone curse while I was there. Everyone dressed modestly (no hems above the knees), and everyone was incredibly respectful. On Sunday mornings, Nigerians don their Sunday best and head to worship services. Businesses tend to open later because of this.
Nigerians are the nicest people you will ever meet.
I am not exaggerating when I say that out of all the places I’ve visited, Nigeria has the nicest people. I was only there a week, and I cried telling many of my new friends goodbye… not just because I was leaving such lovely people, but because I was also leaving a sort of wholesome innocence and optimism that American culture seems to lack in comparison. Nigerians exude optimism, positivity, and hope. They have a wonderful sense of humor and quickly open up to sharing it with strangers. They take joy in the little things in life, and just radiate kindness in a way that is infectious.