Anvaya, an Indian expat living in Lagos, Nigeria, sheds some light on all the misconceptions expats often hold about this notoriously troublesome nation. She talks to Expat Arrivals about the thriving Indian community, and what expats moving from the sub-continent should come to expect from life in Lagos.
Q: Where are you originally from?
A: Mumbai, India
Q: Where are you living now?
A: In Ikeja, Lagos (Nigeria)
Q: How long you have you lived here?
A: Two years
Q: Did you move with a spouse/ children?
A: Yes, I moved here with my spouse and my son (who is now 4).
Q: Why did you move; what do you do?
A: To accompany my spouse
About Lagos, Nigeria
Q: What do you enjoy most about living in Lagos, how’s the quality of life in Nigeria?
A: Lagos has a huge and thriving Indian community, which hosts many Indian functions. One does not feel they are staying outside of India. Indian groceries, vegetables and restaurants are present in the city. The Indian school offers a huge advantage, to those who eventually return to India.
Q: Any negatives? What do you miss most about home?
A: The freedom of movement is what I miss the most. One is too dependent on cars and drivers; I cannot walk freely, as I can in my own country. From my son's perspective, the city totally lacks parks so that children can play and run freely. I also miss the shopping malls in India, in Lagos the clothes in branded outlets are exorbitantly priced!
Q: Is Lagos safe?
A: Yes, Lagos is safe. I had a very different idea of Lagos before I moved here. Though we do hear gunshots occasionally, there is no real reason to panic; such incidences are common even in India, even in the capital city of Delhi, but we do not wish to acknowledge the same. That said, we do not move about much at night. My husband occasionally has gone out for official dinners, but we do not actively seek night entertainment. It is best to keep a relatively lower profile and not to flaunt money, especially in front of the house help.
About living in Lagos
Q: Which are the best places/suburbs to live in Lagos as an expat?
A: The best places to stay in Lagos are Victoria Island and Ikoyi, as most of the entertainment options (restaurants, malls, cinemas) are located there. Ikeja, specifically Maryland, is a safe place to stay. Many Indians also prefer Ilupeju, a typical Indian locality. The school, as well as Indian shops and the temple, is located in this area. Since commuting in Lagos is time consuming, it is best to stay close to the office, if possible.
Q: How do you rate the standard of accommodation in Nigeria?
A: Excellent! We have been given a large 4-bedroom duplex by the company. It is furnished beautifully and is equipped with all modern durables and appliances.
Q: What’s the cost of living in Nigeria compared to home? What is cheap or expensive in particular?
A: The cost of living per se is more as compared with India. The Indian groceries are imported into Lagos, hence are at a three times premium. Similarly, vegetables are also expensive. Eating out at an Indian restaurant would cost similar to any 4-star hotel in India. However, most reputed companies that hire expats, pay for most expenses such as the household help's/driver's salaries, fuel, education, medical etc. The expat thus needs to spend only on personal expenses. The money remitted to India is the bulk of the income and being tax free, offers huge savings.
Q: What are the locals like; do you mix mainly with other expats?
A: The locals are very warm and polite. While walking in my street, greetings are common, by strangers. Nigerian children are extremely well behaved, if I may say so, better than Indian children! We mainly socialise with Indians, given that language and interest areas are common.
Q: Was it easy meeting people and making friends?
A: Yes, Indians staying in Lagos are very friendly and helpful. The Indian school, multiple religious societies and social contacts, makes one at home even in Lagos.
About working in Lagos
Q: Did you have a problem getting a work visa/permit?
A: Since I am a housewife, I did not apply for a work visa/permit. The company arranged for my husband's work permit.
Q: What’s the economic climate like in Lagos, is there plenty of work?
A: Africa offers a great potential due to the growing economy; West Africa and particularly Nigeria, which is the most populous nation in the continent, also taps into this potential. Expats are in huge demand, however, those with work experience are required. Recruiting freshers is usually not common.
Q: How does the work culture differ from home?
A: The work culture is slow, usually Nigerians work at their own pace! There is also a short-term focus, rather than a long-term one. Indian work culture, especially in multinational corporations, consists of dedication, timely deliveries and a strive to do something different. The same is lacking here. For managers, developing patience and a strict disciplinary attitude would work well.
Family and children
Q: Did your spouse or partner have problems adjusting to their new home?
A: My son was just two years old when we came to Lagos. He had no problems adjusting, and in fact, loves Lagos. My husband needed to adjust to the different work culture, which he did successfully.
Q: What are the schools in Lagos like, any particular suggestions?
A: The Indian Language School (ILS) has a CBSE curriculum. It has more than 2,000 students and offers facilities like swimming, football, cricket, badminton and other sports. The effort taken by the teachers, not only in teaching, but also in leading extra curricular activities is simply commendable. The credit all goes to the principal. The junior school is very good; though the senior school does not share the same standard. Lack of good quality teachers is an issue for the senior school. Most children who desire to give competitive exams such as IIT/Medical, relocate to India in the 8th grade.
Other International schools are there in GRA, and there are British and American schools also. Most Indians can afford to put their children in ILS.
Q: How would you rate the healthcare in Nigeria?
A: Good doctors are few in Lagos, there are less than three Indian doctors. Most expats do not visit local doctors, there is an inherent disbelief in them. Hence, everyone carries Indian medicines with them during their annual trips. Healthcare is also very expensive here. Since most companies pay the medical fees, it is not an issue.
Malaria is common here, however, fever of any kind is referred to as malaria! A test for the same concludes in 10 minutes, while in India, it takes 3 days. Hence, it is better to visit a good doctor even with higher charges, than to risk one's health.
Q: Is there any other advice you like to offer new expat arrivals?
A: New expats should be cautious at first in going out at night. They should take all the precautions they would in a strange city; locking doors while in the car, not leaving money around, wearing excess jewellery etc.
Expats also should treat the locals, especially the house help, with respect. I am greatly distressed when I see expats not respecting the maids/drivers/cleaners, just because they are Africans. It re-enforces the point that Indians are closet racists, and bringing this to Lagos, would hamper their happiness in adjusting to the city and its warm people.
– Interviewed July 2011