Abuja is the seat of Nigeria’s federal government. The Garki district in particular is the city’s principal business district. Compared to Lagos, Abuja is a much less densely populated city, and an easier place for foreigners to get their arms around.
Because most visitors to Abuja are there for some type of interaction with the federal government, or to participate in large regional conferences or conventions, most major hotels in Abuja are oriented towards the business traveler.
The unequivocal top of the heap is the Transcorp Hilton Abuja, located in the heart of city, and within an easy distance to all federal ministries. The hotel is a mini city within itself, offering several dining options, 24-hour room service, shops and a bank. The hotel rooms are the newest and nicest in Abuja. It also has an excellent business center that provides internet access with a reasonably fast connection, printing and copying, as well as secretarial services. The conference facilities are first class, and supported by able professionals who offer the full suite of audio visual services. Free wifi is available throughout the public areas of the hotel. There is a well equipped fitness center. If you have a choice of hotels in Abuja, this is the one to choose.
If you can’t stay at the Hilton, second on our list is the Sheraton Abuja Hotel, also located in the center of the city. Even though the rooms are below global Sheraton standards and in need of renovation, the hotel provides comfortable lodging at a minimally acceptable standard. Although the lobby and public areas have been updated, be prepared to feel as if you have gone back in time to the 1970s when you step inside your hotel room. Nonetheless, the hotel has a solid business center with internet access at a reasonably fast connection. Wifi is available in the public areas. The Sheraton Abuja Hotel has several dining options including 24-hour room service. There is a reasonably equipped fitness center.
Our third choice for business travel to Abuja is the new Protea Abuja. It is a small hotel with only 28 rooms, but it scores well because the rooms are much, much nicer than the Sheraton. While a small hotel, business customers are clearly the target here, as this is the only 28 room hotel we know of with a 24-hour business center, including access to secretarial services. The wifi at the Protea is top notch as this is a new hotel with new infrastructure. The strength and reliability of the wifi connection in the rooms is the best we have experienced in Abuja. Dining choices are reasonable as well for such a small hotel. There is one restaurant open from 7 AM until 11 PM, but if your international flights find you needing a meal at 3 AM, there is 24-hour room service. There is a small room with fitness equipment. All and all, a very solid choice from this mid-priced chain headquartered in South Africa.
Fourth on our list of places to stay in Abuja is Hawthorn Suites by Wyndham which opened in 2009. Located in the city center, it’s another solid choice. The value, relative to the big hotels in Abuja, comes in two forms: wifi in the rooms and breakfast. Many of the rates quoted by the hotel include in-room wifi, which is a real value compared to what the big hotels charge, and given that the hotel is relatively new, its wifi connection is also one of the better ones in the city. Secondly, breakfast at the big hotels can set you back $30-50 a head, while breakfast at the Hawthorn is always included in the room rate. The one cautionary tale, however, is that while the rooms are newish, there have been many complaints about the quality of the construction, and depending on which room you get, you may experience maintenance problems. All told, however, it is a very decent choice for business travelers. There is a business center and a modest fitness center.
Unlike Lagos, landing at the Abuja airport is a far less chaotic experience, and you could possibly find your way to officially sanctioned transportation. That being said, and Nigeria being Nigeria, we would strongly recommend that you arrange the transfer to your hotel in advance, and double check to ensure that the person greeting you at the airport is indeed who the hotel sent to collect you.
Getting around Abuja by taxi is fairly simple, and all four of the hotels mentioned above can arrange for taxi service. You can easily inquire if your taxi driver can wait for you, as it is easier to get a taxi from the hotel than it is to call one to the government ministry buildings. We would suggest hiring a driver to stay with you throughout the day. The pricing for this type of service is not exorbitant.
While all of the hotels listed here indicate that they take credit cards, do not be surprised if using your credit card to settle your bill becomes a 30-minute mission, even at the best of hotels – it has happened to us more than once.
American Express is still not widely accepted in Nigeria, and we would recommend that you travel with a Visa or Mastercard.
Because many international credit card processors block transactions from Nigeria, it is best to advise your credit card company before you travel that you will be in Nigeria.
You will want to take more cash to Nigeria than you would were you traveling elsewhere. While the government has announced an aspiration to move to a cashless economy, the country is not there yet, and many transactions in restaurants, shops, taxis, hotels, etc. are still conducted in cash.
Hard currencies, like US dollars, euros and pounds are widely accepted. For a short business trip of a few days, we get away with not changing currency to the local naira. Instead, we travel with about 50 $1 bills, about 10 $5 bills, about 10 $10 bills, etc. We use these to pay for taxis, tips, etc. Most people are happy to accept US dollars. You will want to have exact change because you are not likely to get change in dollars, and hence we like to have the exact amount at the ready.
While there are a good number of ATMs available from the wide range of well-respected banks in Nigeria, we prefer to stay away from putting our bank cards in local ATMs. Fraud is still a problem in Nigeria, and we would prefer to avoid any problems by keeping our debit cards in our wallets. We may get flack for saying that, but, we are just trying to be real with Africa.com’s users by telling you what we do and don’t do on our business travel throughout the continent.
When traveling in most major cities in Africa, Abuja included, you have a choice of a) using your cell phone and phone number from home and making roaming calls or b) buying a local SIM card, thus operating with a local number, charging it with airtime locally. The difference in price is huge.
Mobile telephony is highly sophisticated in Nigeria, and many people you will come in contact with, from your taxi driver, to those with whom you are meeting for business, will expect you to have a Nigerian phone number.
Example, on one recent trip to Nigeria, two Americans pursued the two strategies above, making roughly the same number of local and international calls. The traveler who used roaming was greeted with a $1,000 bill when she returned to the US, and the traveler using the local SIM card spent a total of about $85.
For international calls to the US, Europe, etc., we highly recommend using Skype or Google voice. You should set up these accounts before you leave home. If, for example, you are in a hotel with free wifi, a Skype account that has been set up for unlimited calls to US phone numbers for a flat $4 month, will allow you to dial any number in the US with unlimited talk time. This is the best way to stay in touch with people in the US, Europe, South Africa, etc.
For local calls, we recommend purchasing an inexpensive cell phone that is “unlocked” before you leave home (or using an old cell phone that you no longer use). Unlocked means that the phone can take a SIM card from any carrier. If you have a US or European phone that is locked (i.e., tied to a carrier), you can ask the carrier to “unlock” it. Alternatively, there are any number of websites that for a small fee of under $10, will provide you with specific instructions on how to “unlock” your cell phone. Simply Google the words “unlock cell phone” and you will find a large number of choices.
When you arrive in Abuja, you will be able to purchase a SIM card at the airport, hotel, or sometimes while waiting at traffic lights from individuals representing the mobile operators. The cost of a SIM card is usually less than $10. At the same time you purchase your SIM card, you can buy a scratch card that will allow you to load your card with a certain monetary value of talk time. With phone in hand, you can now call ahead to confirm your business meetings, use the phone to call your taxi driver to collect you at the end of your business meetings, follow up with those you are meeting for business etc.
The major cell phone operators in Nigeria are MTN, Glo, Etisalat, and Airtel. We recommend all four for your local calling needs.
Is it Safe to Travel There?
Africa.com’s editors travel to and from Nigeria frequently.
We find that the most informed, level headed, comprehensive and up to date information on travel safety to Africa is that published by the British government’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office. We advise business travelers to check their website frequently to get a sense of evolving dynamics in the country. Click HERE for a link to their Nigeria travel advice.
Another useful source for assessing safety and security is the Ibrahim Index, founded by Sudanese businessman Mo Ibrahim. The Ibrahim Index ranks African countries relative to one another, and ranks Nigeria’s personal safety as 51 out of 52 countries, in other words, 1 up from the bottom of the list. You’ll find more information on the Ibrahim Index score for Nigeria HERE.
The official is English, and most people, including cab drivers, hotel staff, etc. speak English.
Business attire in Nigeria is formal, as it often indicative of relative importance. Unless your business meetings are in a sector that has a clear informal dress policy, like the internet industry, expect your male counterparts to wear a suit and tie, or traditional attire which is generally considered to be formal, and a corresponding level of formality for women.
As a sign of respect, when meeting someone in business for the first time, and a handshake is anticipated, you should wait for your host to offer his or her hand first. To make sure that the other party knows that you are showing respect, and aren’t just “slow,” you can hold your hands behind your back until a hand is extended to you, and only then bring your arms around front for the handshake.
Should you want to be especially polite when meeting someone very important and/or older than yourself, a brief bowing of the head (akin to a nod) will go a long way in showing respect.
Do not assume that you can call the other person by their first name. If unsure, use Mr or Mrs (and if they are a Dr, by all means use that). Continue with that title until given permission or asked to use the first name.
Nigeria uses type D (“Old British plug” with three round, large pins in a triangular formation) and type G (British three-pin rectangular blade plug, also known as the 13-amp plug) electrical outlets. Electrical outlet: voltage: 240 V, frequency: 50Hz.
Additional reporting by Dexter Padayachee