Using a credit card in Nigeria
Use our guide to get the best out of your plastic, and your cash, on holiday in Nigeria.
Nigeria hasn’t moved with the times as fast as other African countries, so it’s worth getting clued up on how to get the best out of your plastic.
The two major credit card networks are Visa and Mastercard, but due to widespread financial fraud, cash is still king in Nigeria. The country has only just started to offer American Express after years on the provider’s black list, so you may find it hard to use your Amex.
While many of the big hotels and businesses may affect credit cards, you are more likely to come across vendors that only accept cash payments.
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Cash in Nigeria
Nigeria remains a cash-based society, so it’s recommended to have enough naira (NGN) on you to cover your back at all times. This might be especially necessary within smaller establishments, or in lesser-known towns across the country. You may also still need to pay in cash for smaller purchases, as many shops, restaurants and other businesses are keen to avoid the processing fees charged to vendors who accept credit card payments.
You’ll hear the word “dash” a lot in Nigeria – it can mean a bribe or a tip. You’re more likely to be asked for a “dash” as a tip rather than a bribe and it’s often appropriate to “dash” someone who provides a service for you, such as a taxi driver or a tour guide.
Cash machines in Nigeria
Cash machines are far more sparsely spread in Nigeria than you’re likely to be used to in the United Kingdom or other developed countries, so you face a bit of a journey if you need to use one.
Because they are so few and far between, you can expect a bit of a queue and it’s relatively common for these machines to be out of cash too. GTB is the most reliable.
For this reason, you may want to exchange plenty of pounds for naira before you fly out to Nigeria.
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Chip and PIN
Nigeria has moved from magnetic-stripe to chip cards, and all banks in Nigeria now issue the latter. You’ll still be able to use your magnetic-stripe card in Nigeria, although you can expect some confusion. In the switching of technology, some retailers falsely believe that they can no longer accept magnetic-stripe cards while some others will not let you use them, to do their bit in reducing credit card fraud. All they basically need you to do is swipe your card instead of inserting it into the machine, and then get you to sign for the purchase.
If you use a chip-and-signature card, you can use it in Nigeria just about everywhere you find a manned credit card machine. However, some businesses are hesitant in accepting them because they’re not sure if it’s allowed and some others don’t accept them to cut down on credit card fraud. If you’re getting tickets from a machine, you’ll need to enter a PIN, in which case your chip-and-signature card won’t work.
Potential credit card fees
Credit card fees can leave a noticeable dent in your pocket when you’re travelling overseas, so know what you’re up against well in advance and choose a card with no or low fees.
Foreign transaction fees
British credit card issuers typically charge a fee equivalent to 1% to 3% of your transaction, so carefully review your card’s fine print to avoid statement surprises. Some cards designed for travel come with no foreign transaction fees, so this could be a good time to switch.
Currency conversion fees
If a retailer offers to bill your credit card in sterling, dynamic currency conversion comes into play. While this might sound like a good deal, you’ll actually end up getting a worse exchange rate, and you might also end up paying currency conversion fees. Whenever you’re presented with an option, choose to pay in the local currency.
Cash advance fees
Using your credit card to withdraw money from an ATM may not make sense unless it’s a bona fide emergency. Each time you withdraw funds from an ATM, you’re likely to pay a cash advance fee. Your APR for cash advances is normally higher than your purchase APR. Typically, you get no grace period and will start paying interest immediately. Again, some cards designed for overseas spending will waive this fee.
The table below serves as an example of how much extra you may pay to use your credit card in Nigeria.
What is a cash advance fee?A cash advance fee is calculated (and charged) when you withdraw cash from your credit card. It’s usually the greater of a flat fee or a percentage of the transaction. For example, “2.5% of the transaction, minimum £3.00”.
Is it safe to use my card in Nigeria?
By exercising some caution when using your credit card in Nigeria, you’ll have a relatively trouble-free experience.
- Keep your PIN safe. Use one hand to enter the PIN and the other to shield it from prying eyes and hidden cameras.
- Select ATMs with care. Try and stick to ATMs in banks and avoid using ones in the street.
- Watch out for “skimmers”. When installed in an ATM, a card skimmer works by stealing information from credit and debit cards. If you feel the card slot is not as smooth as it should be or if there is a problem with the keypad, cancel your transaction and look for another ATM.
Keeping your credit card (physically) safe
Remain alert to street crime, especially where two or more people work in distracting victims before decamping with their valuables. Instances of theft at airports are not uncommon, so stay vigilant while arriving and departing. There have been numerous instances of thefts from hired cars so don’t leave your wallet or purse in a parked car.
How to prepare before travelling to Nigeria
- Go with Visa or Mastercard. Carry at least two cards on your trip to Nigeria, preferably connected with Visa or Mastercard. If you just take an American Express card, you may find it difficult to use in many places.
- Think no foreign transaction fees. When there are cards that come with no foreign transaction fees, using ones that charge 2% or 3% of each overseas transaction does not make sense. Some of these cards don’t charge an annual fee, either.
- Keep your bank informed. Banks, in their efforts to thwart fraudulent transactions, block credit cards if they detect suspicious activity such as unexpected overseas transactions. Due to the large amount of fraud scams in Nigeria, most banks have made the country a red flag for transactions. To make sure this does not happen to your card, let your bank know about your travel plans before you leave the UK.
- Keep the emergency number handy. Know which numbers you’ll need to call if you end up losing your card or if you need an emergency replacement.
- Know where you’ll get cash from. Consider using your debit card to withdraw cash from cash machines. If you need to exchange money, stick to banks or official money-exchange offices because possessing counterfeit money in Nigeria is a serious crime. Try to avoid exchanging money at airports and popular tourist destinations because of typically poor exchange rates.
- Prepare for online purchase complications. For some online transactions within Nigeria, such as buying internal flights, your credit card may be refused. You may have to ask a trusted local to make the transaction for you, then reimburse them.
Ask yourself these simple questions before you leave so your spending in Nigeria does not hit any roadblocks.
- Which cards will I take? Visa and Mastercard are the most commonly accepted cards. If you’re planning a trip, check out cards which give you complimentary airport lounge access. If you’re planning well in advance, consider earning air miles for your trip with a frequent flyer credit card.
- Have I let my bank know? If you don’t inform your bank about your travel plans, you may end up with a temporarily suspended card.
- What fees do I need to pay? If your existing cards come with foreign transaction fees, look for one that does not. Paying in sterling outside of the UK might come with currency conversion fees.
- How will I get cash? Using your debit card at an ATM is the simplest way to access your own money. You can carry cash with you. Exchanging sterling to naira is simple enough and you’ll get several options.
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