Nigeria isn't particularly well known as an expat destination, but it’s becoming more popular. And there are plenty of reasons. Aside from the natural beauty of the country, Nigeria holds great promise for expats. In fact, surveys have found that the best-paid expats in the world are to be found in Nigeria, as people move to pursue career opportunities in sectors such as banking, mining and oil.¹ ²
If you’re moving to Nigeria for work - or are planning on setting up your own company there - a local bank account is essential. Even if you’re simply expecting to travel frequently to Nigeria, for business or pleasure, a Nigerian bank account might make life easier and cheaper.
This guide tells you all you need to know about how to get set up with the Nigerian bank account that’s right for you.
Banks can offer financial products to non-residents, although each bank will decide which accounts it makes available and to whom. For example, some non-resident products are specifically designed for non-resident Nigerian citizens and open only to Nigerians living abroad. Make sure you check the suitability of an account when you’re researching it.
To open a Nigerian bank account you'll need to visit your local branch to submit an application with supporting documents. You should check the arrangements with your chosen bank, as you might have to make an appointment to open your account with an advisor. You should simply just need to submit your paperwork and it’ll then take a few days to have your bank card prepared.
If you’re planning to open a Nigerian bank account, you’ll need to provide a stack of paperwork, and - sometimes tricky for expats - a reference, or employer letter. In many cases, the bank will want one or two references to vouch for your good character, usually from people who already hold an account with that bank. If you’re opening an account to pay your salary into, then you’ll probably need an employer letter confirming you're employed.
The exact requirements will vary depending on the bank and the account type, but expect to be asked for the following³:
- Passport or another proof of ID such as a national identity card
- Application form, and minimum account balance if relevant
- One passport photograph of authorized signatory
- One or two reference forms or an employer letter
- Recent proof of your address such as a water bill, rent receipt or phone bill
- Residence permit proving you’re in the country legally
Most banks have the exact requirements set out on their website.
Whether or not you can open an account without being in the country will depend on your situation. In most cases, you’re expected to attend a bank in person, with original documents, and give signature samples for your account to be opened. You can also ask your employer if they offer support for opening a bank account to expats that they hire.
When you choose your bank to use, you should take into account the fees which will be applied to the transactions you make. Although you can get some accounts which don't have regular monthly maintenance charges, most accounts will have some fees attached for services. Even if these look pretty small, they can add up quickly.
Nigeria is a country in which most transactions are done in cash. You're going to need to use ATMs frequently, but you might find that your chosen bank will levy charges if you withdraw cash from an ATM which isn't in its network. To give you the best chance of avoiding any excess charges, choose a large banking network which offers many ATMs.
Many of the banks operating in Nigeria also have branches elsewhere in the region outside of Nigeria. By choosing a bank with a regional or global presence, you could benefit from reduced charges at ATMs in your network while you travel, too.
If you’re using your home card in Nigeria, make sure your bank knows you’re travelling there. Because Nigeria has had problems with card fraud, unexpected transactions originating here might mean your card is blocked.⁴ A final pitfall to watch out for, if you choose to use your home bank card in Nigeria, is the hefty charges applied due to dynamic currency conversion (DCC). You can read more about DCC - and how to avoid it, here.
There are lots of different bank accounts available in Nigeria and some of the charges and features might not be familiar. It’s important that before you choose, you read the small print about account fees.
Which account is best for you will depend very much on how you intend to use the account once it’s active. Some accounts levy a monthly maintenance charge or a one-off or regular fee for holding a debit card against the account. Others levy a fee if you have your salary paid into the account, or insist on a minimum balance which you must maintain. The fees are set out on the individual bank websites, but it’s not always easy to find the information you need. If in doubt, ask at a local branch or contact customer services.
Chances are, that as an expat living in Nigeria, or a non-resident Nigerian, living away from home, you’re going to need to make an international money transfer sooner or later. You might need to transfer an opening balance to get your Nigerian bank account operational, for example - or you might want to send money to friends or family overseas as a gift.
When it comes to moving money abroad, often your home bank won't offer you the best deal. Banks usually add an administration fee, which might not be clearly advertised. And often regular banks don’t use the mid-market rate to process international transfers. Instead, they add a markup to the rate and pocket the difference as their own profit. This isn’t always made entirely clear when you place the transaction. Even if a bank says a transfer is ‘fee free’, you really want to pay close attention to the rate that you're getting.
A better option can be to place your international money transfer with a specialist service like TransferWise. TransferWise uses only the mid-market rate for international transfers, and are upfront about the small, transparent fee charged for each transaction. Find out more about the mid-market rate, and check how fair your bank’s offer really is.
Nigeria has a fairly well-developed banking sector, with plenty of choice. Banks available include local brands and those operating all over the region. If you intend to travel outside of Nigeria often, choosing a bank with a presence in other countries in West Africa might make sense, as you can usually get cheap or free ATM withdrawals if you use banks in the same network outside of Nigeria.
Some of the largest retail banks in Nigeria:
First Bank of Nigeria
Guaranty Trust Bank
Zenith Bank⁵ has been established since 1990 and has over 500 branches all over the country.⁶
Helpful products they offer:
- Wide variety of accounts for savings and everyday use ⁷ ⁸
- Online and mobile banking available
- Specialist corporate and business accounts available⁹
- Credit and debit cards ¹⁰
First Bank of Nigeria¹¹ has been established for well over a century and now has over 750 offices, and 10 million customers, in addition it has business locations across Africa, Europe, Middle East and Asia.¹² There are also specific banking options for people looking for more specialised financial expertise and for products suited to Nigerians living abroad.
Helpful products they offer:
- Basic and specialist accounts and loan products ¹³ ¹⁴
- Online or app-based banking ¹⁵
- Specialist business accounts available ¹⁶
- Credit and debit cards ¹⁷
Guaranty Trust Bank¹⁷ has a presence in 9 different countries in Africa and also has an office in the UK.¹⁸ There are over 230 Guaranty Trust Bank branches and 1165 ATMs across the region.¹⁹
Helpful products they offer:
- Wide variety of accounts ²⁰
- Online banking in English²¹
- Credit and debit cards²²
- Mobile banking²³
Access Bank²⁴ offers basic and specialist banking products, including accounts aimed at senior citizens²⁵, and accounts for parents saving on behalf of their children. Access has branches in 8 sub-saharan countries and an office in the UK.²⁶
Helpful products they offer:
- ATMs and branches across the area
- Good range of products including loans and insurance²⁷ ²⁸
- Online banking²⁹
- Specialist bank accounts available³⁰
If you’re an expat, a non-resident Nigerian, or a freelancer working with companies based in different countries, managing your cash across multiple currencies can be a challenge. If this sounds like you, then a Borderless multi-currency account from TransferWise might be just what you need. With a Borderless account, you can hold your money in multiple different currencies, including EUR, USD and GBP, and then just convert it when you need it, using TransferWise to get the best rate available. From Winter 2017, you'll also be able to get a debit card to use in ATMs and to make payments.
Better yet, there are no monthly account fees, and you get local bank account numbers which can be used in the eurozone and the UK. You can bank like a local wherever in the world you are, so your money is as flexible as you are.
Getting a local bank account is usually pretty high on the list of priorities for any expat. In Nigeria, you’ll have no problem finding an account that suits your needs as there’s plenty of choice. However, the requirements around references can be tough for new arrivals. Start your research as soon as you can, so you can find an account that works for you, and then you can get on with enjoying your new life in Nigeria.
1. http://www.expatarrivals.com/article/salaries-expats-nigeria (October 9, 2018) 2. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/personalfinance/expat-money/11616082/Expats-in-Africa-earn-most-but-work-worlds-longest-hours.html (October 9, 2018) 3. https://infoguidenigeria.com/open-bank-accounts/ (October 9, 2018) 4. https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice/nigeria/money (October 9, 2018) 5. https://www.zenithbank.com/ (October 9, 2018) 6. https://www.zenithbank.com/about-us/ (October 9, 2018) 7. https://www.zenithbank.com/personal-banking/bank-accounts/savings-account/ (October 9, 2018) 8. https://www.zenithbank.com/personal-banking/bank-accounts/current-account/ (October 9, 2018) 9. https://www.zenithbank.com/corporate-banking/ (October 9, 2018) 10. https://www.zenithbank.com/personal-banking/cards/#featuresbenefits (October 9, 2018) 11. https://www.firstbanknigeria.com/ (October 9, 2018) 12. https://www.firstbanknigeria.com/about-us/ (October 9, 2018) 13. https://www.firstbanknigeria.com/personal-banking/accounts/ (October 9, 2018) 14. https://www.firstbanknigeria.com/personal-banking/loans-and-mortgages/ (October 9, 2018) 15. https://www.firstbanknigeria.com/personal-banking/ways-to-bank/ (October 9, 2018) 16. https://www.firstbanknigeria.com/business-banking/ (October 9, 2018) 17. https://www.gtbank.com/ (October 9, 2018) 18. https://www.gtbank.com/about (October 9, 2018) 19. https://www.gtbank.com/uploads/financial-information/June-2016-Investor-Relations-Presentation.pdf (October 9, 2018) 20. https://www.gtbank.com/personal-banking/accounts (October 9, 2018) 21. https://www.gtbank.com/personal-banking/ways-to-bank/internet-banking (October 9, 2018) 22. https://www.gtbank.com/personal-banking/cards (October 9, 2018) 23. https://www.gtbank.com/personal-banking/ways-to-bank/mobile-app (October 9, 2018) 24. https://www.accessbankplc.com/ (October 9, 2018) 25. https://www.accessbankplc.com/personal-banking/savings-investment/evergreen-account.aspx (October 9, 2018) 26. https://www.ghana.accessbankplc.com/AccessBankGhana/media/Press-Releases/4%20%20Access%20Bank%20Commits%20to%20GRI%20Sustainability%20Reporting%20Standards.pdf (October 9, 2018) 27. https://www.accessbankplc.com/personal-banking/loans/personal-loan.aspx (October 9, 2018) 28. https://www.accessbankplc.com/private/our-products-and-services.aspx (October 9, 2018) 29. https://ibank.accessbankplc.com/RetailBank/#/ (October 9, 2018) 30. https://www.accessbankplc.com/personal-banking.aspx (October 9, 2018) --- *This publication is provided for general information purposes only and is not intended to cover every aspect of the topics with which it deals. It is not intended to amount to advice on which you should rely. You must obtain professional or specialist advice before taking, or refraining from, any action on the basis of the content in this publication. The information in this publication does not constitute legal, tax or other professional advice from TransferWise Limited or its affiliates. Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome. We make no representations, warranties or guarantees, whether express or implied, that the content in the publication is accurate, complete or up to date.*
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