As one of the largest countries in the world - 186 million people - and the 20th largest economy on the planet, Nigeria has already been identified as an emerging global power. It’s rich in natural resources, so agriculture, mining and oil are large sectors of the economy. The service and telecommunications sectors also bring in a large slice of the national income. With a rapidly developing economy, Nigeria is becoming a more common expat destination, as foreigners move to further their careers or build businesses of their own.
Whether you’re going to Nigeria for business or pleasure - for a short trip, or the long haul - you’re going to need some cash to make the most of your stay.
This guide explains all you need to know about Nigeria’s currency and banks, where to get your money, and how to spend it.
The naira is Nigeria’s national currency. You’ll find, however, that in airports, hotels, and tourist destinations, USD is commonly accepted. The exchange rates used will vary, though, so it’s worth checking you’re getting a fair deal before you decide to spend your dollars in Nigeria.
There have been some changes in recent years, to the naira notes and coins in circulation, with some smaller denominations being removed, or moved from banknotes to coins. Changeovers are phased, with currency being gradually withdrawn over time. Be cautious and make sure you’re familiar with which notes and coins are still being accepted when you visit Nigeria.
|Characteristics of the naira (NGN)|
|Names and nicknames||Naira|
|Symbols and abbreviations||NGN, ₦|
|1 NGN||One NGN is divided into 100 kobo|
|NGN coins||50 kobo, and 1 and 2 naira coins are in circulation in Nigeria|
|NGN banknotes||Notes which are used are 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200, 500 & 1000 Naira.|
A shortage of foreign currency in Nigeria has meant that there have been large swings in the value of the naira compared to USD and other international currencies. There’s also an active black market for currency conversion. However, if you’re changing money in Nigeria, you should only do so through a bank or official money exchange.
What you’re likely to find is that changing money from dollars or euro into naira is easy - but changing back excess naira to your home currency is harder.
- Sulah is one of the largest exchange services in Nigeria, with a network of branches covering major cities including Abuja and Lagos. There are branches at international airports, for convenience.
- Large hotels, particularly those in global chains such as Hilton and the Nordic Hotel, also offer currency exchange services.
- If you’re in the capital Abuja, you can try 313 Currency Exchange Services, at Oshakati Street, Zone 4; or Al-Mansur Bureau de Change at 528 Aminu Kano Crescent, Wuse
- If you’re in Lagos, then Everdon exchange services have a local office, and publish their exchange rates on line so you can see in advance what you’ll get for your cash
You’ll find no shortage of black market currency sellers on the streets, in hotels and in the airport. They’re highly unlikely to give a decent rate, and may even pass counterfeit currency to unsuspecting foreigners. However, even in official money changing offices, you need to be really sure of the deal you’ll get before you commit.
You might find exchanges which claim ‘Zero Commission’, or “Fee Free” - but of course they’ll make a profit somewhere. You’ll often find that they make their money by offering you a poor exchange rate. The only way you can know - and therefore make an informed decision - is if you understand the mid market rate. This is the only real exchange rate, and should be used to compare the tourist rates on offer.
It can be tricky to source naira in other countries, so before you travel, it’s smart to do a bit of research. You can find out if you can get your currency locally before you leave and also if exchange rates are better at home, compared to in Nigeria. In places with a large Nigerian diaspora you’re more likely to find banks and exchange services which offer this currency. However, rates vary widely across different exchange services in the UK, the US, Australia, and elsewhere in Europe, and whether there's a better deal on offer will depend on where you are in the world.
You could find it helpful to check the daily rates you might be offered at an Nigerian exchange office by looking at the Everdon website. Although each exchange service will set their own rates, this at least gives an idea of what deal you’ll get if you wait until you arrive in Nigeria to get your cash.
If you need currency straight away, for example to take a taxi from your flight to your hotel, you can change cash at the airport. This is a convenient option, but the rates on offer are unlikely to be the best in town, because competition is restricted. The same goes for your hotel currency exchange. If you do choose to change cash in the airport or hotel, it’s usually best to switch only a small amount, and then seek a better deal elsewhere. You’re likely to find that there are a large number of people offering black market exchange, but for safety you should always use an official exchange service. Otherwise, find an ATM to withdraw your cash directly at a reasonable rate.
If you do plan to exchange your currency once you arrive in Nigeria, carrying a globally accepted currency like GBP or USD is a good bet. Expats writing about life in Nigeria suggest that you bring cash in large denomination notes for the best exchange rates - so £50 or $50 banknotes are ideal. However, you must make sure that the notes you’re carrying for exchange are clean, crisp, and in good condition. You might be refused if you try to change up damaged, marked or torn currency.
A great way to get simple access to your money abroad - with transparent fees for a fair deal - is to use TransferWise. TransferWise is the new way to move your money around the world, as easily as possible, for as little as possible. Welcome to money without borders.
If you have a local Nigerian bank account, or know someone who does, you can transfer money between accounts using the real mid market exchange rate. It's a quick and convenient way to get your cash. No tricks. No hidden charges. Just money transfer, as it should be.
Travellers cheques aren't widely used in Nigeria. It could be difficult to find a service willing to change them, and even if you do, the rates and fees applied make them a poor deal.
Generally travellers cheques aren't a good option. Most travellers find it simpler to use ATMs to rely on cash and credit/debit cards during their trip. By taking out only what you need for a day or two, you also avoid the risk of having to carry around large amounts of cash.
Credit and debit cards are generally accepted in larger Nigerian towns and cities, especially in tourist areas. In places used to foreign visitors, major providers such as Visa, Mastercard/Maestro/Cirrus, and Amex are accepted in ATMs, shops and restaurants. However, it’s a good idea to keep some local cash with you, for smaller purchases, tipping, and in the event you find yourself somewhere where cards aren't accepted.
Because there have been frequent issues of credit and debit cards being cloned, or otherwise used fraudulently, many travellers choose to use a prepaid card, with a limited amount of cash loaded on at any one time. This means that in the event that their card is cloned, the thief can’t get access to your main bank account, but only to the currency loaded onto the card.
If you do use a credit or debit card abroad, you might be asked if you want to be charged in your home currency. This is because of something called Dynamic Currency Conversion (DCC).
Banks will tell you that DCC is a customer service because you can see the cost of the transaction in your home currency when you’re making a payment. However, DCC transactions leave you exposed to hidden fees. Often, the exchange rate used won't be very good because additional charges are often added into the headline number. You’ll get a better deal if you always opt to pay in the local currency instead.
If you’re planning using your card abroad, you might need to let your bank know in advance. This is especially important when travelling to Nigeria, as there have been high levels of fraud and other issues originating in the country, meaning that some banks’ anti-fraud technology will suspect suspicious activity if they see a sudden spike in spending there. This can mean that your cards are blocked or limited, which can be very frustrating and inconvenient. In most cases it’s really easy to inform your bank of your plans ahead of time with a simple online form or by calling into a branch.
In Nigeria’s towns and cities you won't struggle to find an ATM in a bank, hotel, station or shopping mall. However, if you’re headed off the beaten track, then it’s worth checking in advance to make sure there's an ATM somewhere convenient for your stay. Bear in mind that remote villages won't be covered. Check out the locators below to find your nearest ATMs.
You might come across DCC, which we discussed above, at ATMs as well as when you spend using your bank credit or debit. That means you might be asked by an ATM, if you want to be charged in your home currency for the withdrawal. Just the same as with credit and debit cards, always select to be charged in local currency, or you'll be ripped off due to a poor exchange rate.
The banking sector is fairly well developed in Nigeria with brands such as First Bank of Nigeria having been in existence for well over a century. It’s worth checking if your regular bank operates in Nigeria, or works locally with another banking brand though. This might mean you can access reduced or fee free cash withdrawals, or other services.
- Zenith Bank
- First Bank of Nigeria
- Guaranty Trust Bank
- Access Bank
Because of external pressures and fluctuations in currency exchange rates, getting a good deal on your exchange to naira might be tricky. You also have the added complication of an active black market - which should be avoided - and some fairly common scams involving card cloning.. You can protect yourself and your money by checking out your options before you go. Simple tricks like using a pre paid card and avoiding street corner currency exchanges should keep you safe - and then all you need to do is relax, and enjoy your trip.
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