1st Time Travel Advice

We’ve compiled this step by step guide of everything you need to get yourself and your family into Nigeria.

All the info we have collected comes from our own personal experiences and from stories we’ve swapped in the pub.

Send us your travel stories or photographs for inclusion on the site. We love to hear from you. Share your story and help other Fresh Fish travellers. We were all new once remember.

Getting A Visa

The Federal Democratic Republic of Nigeria – as it likes to be known – has Embassies, High Commissions and Consulates in most major countries. Foreign nationals – or Oyibos as we like to be known – can apply for all categories of Nigerian visas through these outlets.

Nigerian Embassies are advertising 3 working days to complete an application. We’re not saying that they’re lying but when did you ever encounter a Government Office in any nation that worked to schedule?

We have heard employees of some Foreign Embassies here bemoan their salaries. They seem to operate on a “The government pretends to pay us so we pretend to work” type strategy. We haven’t experienced the Nigerian offices to be any different. Our advice? Leave some extra time.

Keeping the this in mind, we suggest that you contact the Nigerian Embassy or High Commission nearest you for more localized information on timeframes etc. We’ve listed the absolute minimum requirements you’ll need to meet to successfully obtain a visa.

Most of the people that we encounter here have had their visas arranged by the company that is bringing them in. If you are one of them then relax. The rest of this section doesn’t apply to you so feel free to skip ahead.

The general requirements are as follows:

  • A passport valid for at least 6 more months prior to application.
  • Non-refundable visa application fee (contact Nigeria’s mission in your country for actual amount).
  • Correctly completed application form. The Mission in your country should be able to supply you with their local web site where you can download the forms.
  • Anything from one to four passport pictures, depending on type of visa application.
  • Evidence of sufficient funds for the period of your stay in Nigeria or proof of other satisfactory arrangements for your support while in the country.
  • All other information deemed necessary by the visa officer.  This is usually a letter of invitation from the company who will be sponsoring you in Nigeria or a letter from the person you are intending to visit. They want to see that you will be taken care of whilst you are here and that you will be no financial burden on the state.

Checking The Visa

First, if you’ve survived the trauma of getting a visa, you can handle anything. If you’re lucky, your company has done it for you and you skipped the last section so you have no idea what we are talking about.

OYIBO ALERT

One note to be careful of…….. When you receive your visa, check it. Find the entry date; make sure it’s at least the day of your arrival or earlier (note: Nigerians abbreviate dates as day/month/year). Now take a look at the expiry date. That’s the last day you can legally stay in Nigeria.

If these dates aren’t right, you may not be allowed to board the airplane. Even worse, if you do manage to get on board, you can be certain of having to do an about face at your destination airport, thus missing out on the whole adventure. If you’ve ordered a multiple entry visa, be sure it says that on the visa. Otherwise, you’ve paid a king’s ransom for only a single or double entry.

Also, check if you’ve been granted a work visa or a tourist visa. What you have in your passport will dictate what you can do when you land. You do not want to get caught at passport control looking to start work the next day on a tourist visa. Trust us… we’ve tried it!

With that bit over and done with you can now feel free to wander down to your local airline office and book your tickets.

Are you getting excited yet?

What To Pack

Many first-time visitors wonder what they should bring. As you plan your packing, we recommend that you keep in mind the following:

Bring with you all prescription drugs and any special brand-name medications; even ibuprofen, which is difficult to find in Nigeria, and can be very expensive once found.

You can try and substitute a Nigerian pharmaceutical but you risk side effects – or no effect at all. Many of the drugs sold here are fake not to mention the differences in the quality and the strength of the active ingredients.

If you have a favorite food or special dietary requirement, bring a stash. Stocks of popcorn, brown sugar, and peanut butter come and go, and may not be on the shelves when you want to buy them.

The same goes for any secret ingredients for family favorite recipes you hope to whip up to impress your Oyibo and Nigerian friends, or celebrate a national holiday. Just try being an American in search of grandma’s favorite poultry seasoning, without which it just wouldn’t be Thanksgiving.

Personal care products can be found in abundance but not necessarily your brand. If you can’t live without a particular flavor of additive-free toothpaste or scentless deodorant, bring it with you.

Clothing is everywhere as well but tends to be sold by the side of the road and is quite often second hand. This can make a K-Mart blue light special seem like a sale at Nieman Marcus. Also, shoppers at these outdoor markets look as if they are joining in a rugby scrum. Sizes can be a problem. If you’re at all fussy, come prepared. There is no such thing as stopping by a Walgreens or a Boots for a pair of panty hose on the way to that important client meeting.

Dry Cleaners are few and far between. The quality and standards of some are so poor that we wouldn’t risk a shirt never mind a Hugo Boss Suit. Be warned and for the first timer – only bring clothes that you don’t mind being destroyed in the wash. It will get better once you’ve sussed out your new home but do you really want to risk that favourite silk tie or blouse right at the outset?

 

English language books and magazines are available, although quite pricey, so you might want to bring a supply of your favorites if you don’t have a Kindle.

Now You’re Airborn

Let’s assume you’ve made it this far and are now on the airplane.  Most likely, the majority of the passengers will be Nigerians, and they will be in a festive mood.

Shoes will come off, slippers will emerge – and they will have the crew running up and down the aisles serving them every free thing they can get.

Why are these people so happy to be leaving our prosperous, well ordered societies? Probably because they are tired of all the strictures of our over-regulated, humorless homelands. Maybe they are impatient with people who do not regard bush meat as a delicacy?

Let their joy comfort you. If they’re so happy to be going home, it can’t be that bad in Nigeria, right?  Sit back, order a cocktail and enjoy the flight. In fact – have a few cocktails – you may need them

Happy Landings

As you near your destination airport, your fellow passengers will begin to wake up. A sense of excitement will fill the air. You may wonder why.

The process of landing a jetliner these days is largely automated, and usually goes smoothly even in the worst weather. But remember – this is Nigeria. It’s different here.

If you’re lucky there is not a power cut in progress and the runway lights are on. Hopefully security have cleared any stray animals from the path of your aircraft and the rainy season is not in full swing so you shouldn’t be hit by lightening. Feeling better about flying yet?

Touchdown!

While the plane is taxiing to the terminal, you’ll hear the standard greeting, and the warning to stay in your seat until the plane has completely stopped.

Note the way the locals completely ignore this injunction.

There are two theories to explain this behavior. One thought is that it indicates the dawning of a healthy spirit of rebellion against arbitrary authority, and a bold stand for individual rights. Others see it as the mark of a people immersed in a war with the natural law of self-preservation, and plain common sense.

In short, they understand that to be first off the airplane means that they won’t stand in line for an hour at passport control. You may find this little conundrum pops up occasionally during your stay, giving you something to ponder on long rainy evenings. We suggest, at this point, that you keep your seat.

Many people wonder what they should do once the plane finally stops. Again, there seem to be two theories. One holds that you should calmly wait in your seat until most of your fellow passengers have disembarked. You can then grab your overhead luggage without wrestling with anyone, and calmly sashay off the plane, looking all cool and swinging, or whatever. Most Nigerians find such behavior incomprehensible, and as such, an affront to their national identity. The other is to go native from your wheels hit the tarmac and join in the fray.

Coming off the plane, be sure to thank the flight attendants for your safe arrival. The God-fearing among you should feel free to make the sign of the cross.

An Oyibos’ observation

A friend once told us that exiting the plane into Lagos airport reminded him of that scene in Saving Private Ryan when the ramp drops on the boat. We feel that he’s exaggerating…. That’s what it feels like when you get through customs…. Leaving the plane is like entering the maze scene from The Shining.

Passport Control

The best thing now is to hurry. In Lagos, you’ll go down a flight of stairs. In Port Harcourt you’ll just be funneled into a queue. You’ll find yourself in a badly lit hall in front of the passport control desks. If your flight is the only one arriving at the time, the line should be quite reasonable. Otherwise, get ready for a shock.

Imagine a massive flock of intelligent, wily, ill-tempered, bipedal sheep. Do not, under any circumstances, let anyone barge in line ahead of you. People will pretend to step ahead just to read some sign or another, and stay. They’ll kick their bags ahead of you, and step boldly up to them when you aren’t looking. They’ll do everything up to and including slithering on their bellies to get ahead of you, but I beg you, please, don’t let this happen.

Be like a man of steel and let the tempering process begin here. If you don’t learn to stand up for yourself, your stay here will be a misery. Most people, if you don’t take any of their guff, will back down.

Check that you have your passport and your landing card handy. You should have been given a card to fill out on the plane. If you slept through that bit of your flight after too many of those little mini Gin things then we would suggest that this is a good time to go off in search of one. Fill it in and get back in line.

When your turn comes at passport control, it helps to stand up straight, look straight ahead, and be as friendly and accommodating as a night spent in an economy class seat will allow you to be.

Baggage Claim

Congratulations, you are now in Nigeria!

Try not to be too depressed at the baggage claim area. Expect to see people three deep at the carousel with their shins pressed up against the edge. Be prepared to watch your bags go around a few times before you will finally be able to elbow your way in to get them.

We hate that we still have to say this but at this point you will probably also have your first encounter with infamous Nigerian Dash System. The uninitiated Oyibo would call a dash a bribe but we prefer the term ’Facilitating Fees’.

So here you are, faced with the baggage handlers mafia. These charming lads will offer you a cart and then help you to fill it and push it. You will be expected to ‘Dash’ them once you are outside.

The guys who load the conveyer belt may also look for a fee too. This would be for locating your bags and putting them on the conveyor belt. No! We are not joking. We suggest you use the long flight to practice your scoffing, and give it your haughty best right here.

Keep a sharp eye peeled for your bags; pilferage is no worse here than in any major airport, but that’s not saying much. This is also a good time to pull out the baggage receipts that they gave you when you checked in your luggage back home. You are more than likely going to be asked to produce them any time from now.

Once you have everything, your next challenge is to get through customs. This can be a bit tricky. Remember that bit in the ‘Happy Landings’ section? You may want to try that crossing yourself thing again.

Clearing Customs

Seasoned Nigeria-Hands usually do a quick mental calculation before deciding whether to slip some Naira, (the local currency,) into their passport or not.

The factors at play in making this calculation are the contents of the baggage they are bringing in versus the amount of time they want to spend having them searched.

We don’t recommend this for the novice, the non-seasoned Oyibo or especially the tourist. Attempting to bribe a public official is a very serious offence.  Unless you absolutely know what you are doing, suffer through whatever you are subjected to and smile.

Getting Into Town

You’ve finally made it, and you can’t wait to get out into the open air and begin your big adventure – but the exit is blocked by a mass of people. Excited family members, taxi thugs, more luggage cart wise guys and brutal looking police and soldiers.

You’re also likely to see a bunch of those ubiquitous guys with hand-marked signs – and if you’re lucky enough to be a business traveler coming to visit a well-heeled employer, your name will hopefully be on one of them.

Having planned ahead—you did arrange for some one to pick you up right? There will be a driver waiting to take you to your hotel or staff house? Right?

Be Warned – Check his ID. Do not, under any circumstances, get into a vehicle unless you are completely sure you know the driver.

Another thing to note here is never give out your name or your company’s name until you are sure who you are talking to. We have heard stories of people being whisked off in cars that they thought had been sent by a friend only to be held at gun point later and having to pay just to be taken back to the airport where they started.

But, however you negotiate your way into town, you are now ready for your first look at Nigeria. More than likely, you’ll get stuck on the way in an enormous traffic jam. Take this as conclusive proof that Nigeria is well and truly into the automobile age. Just use the time to take in the sites.

One of the first things you’ll see by the roadside (besides lots of broken-down cars; evidence that the automobile age is not something they’ve mastered quite yet) is the predominance of the rusty tin roof phenomena. We have looked everywhere to buy some of this for our Oyibo Gang Hut but to no avail…….. The only stuff we could find was all shiny with no holes in it.

But Finally…

Something to remember…

The worst mistake foreigners living in this city ever make (and granted, some of you are not here by choice) is to get too wrapped-up in their work, or their fear, and miss the opportunity of really seeing a town unlike any other in the world.

Enjoy your stay!

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