How I got my Nigerian Visa (and why that’s likely the most difficult visa so far)

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Nigeria (like Angola) is a big African country that has been super-charged by oil money. Nigeria produces 2.5 million barrels a day; not so long ago that was a revenue of $250 million a day, and it's still $125 million at current prices. Even now, that's 45 billion a year at current prices and more than $100 billion for most of last year. This has made a big impact on a country with a GDP of just $2,500. Nigeria has a full-blown First World economy inside a Mumbai-style Third World one.

Nigeria seems to suffer from high prices, menacing bureaucracy and a general level of craziness - and that's exactly how the visa process went for me, so take it as a warning.

The Nigerian government has outsourced the online visa application process to Innovate1, which runs such services for many countries - so far, so good!

The trouble starts when you start filling out the online application. The Visa on Arrival process looks enticing until you read that it needs an invitation letter from the Ministry of Justice in Nigeria, which is something you can get as head of state, but NOT as a tourist.

A few calls to the (very responsive) Innovate1 hotline and you discover that you need to click on 'Freezone' visa, so your browser can then take you through the online application process. It's six long pages to fill out, but nothing crazy, so you should be done in about 15 minutes.

You are able to make payment online with any Visa or MasterCard (though the payment instructions come with hundreds of lines of disclaimers). The total varies, depending on your passport nationality; for my German passport, it was $96 plus fees, but for my American passport it was $180 plus fees. So you can guess which passport I chose...

The payment was promptly denied by Chase, but after a quick call, the agent helped me get the charge through and I saved the two different (!!) payment receipts provided by the website. The application would only print in a horrible HTML format instead of like a nice PDF, but I guess this is all about content and not style.

Now the trouble really starts after you are done with the online application.

You then NEED TO SUBMIT IT TO A CONSULATE for processing and pay ANOTHER FEE. The express fee is $85 and the regular fee is $35. However, most consulates warn of AT LEAST 3 WEEKS for standard processing and it's likely to take longer - OMG! The express processing is, of course, faster, but still takes 5 to 7 business days. Someone is busy!

Nigeria maintains three consulates in the US - in Atlanta, Washington D.C. and New York. I tried calling them all, but no-one bothered to pick up the phone. They all lead to non-existent numbers and/or full mailboxes. I eventually decided to send my application to Washington D.C. simply because I thought the embassy might have superior staffing.

The consular section shows a long list of requirements for any kinds of visa, including tourist ones. Most confusingly, it lists a letter of invitation as mandatory for a tourism visa. Now I called InterContinental Lagos and they said they had never heard of it and couldn't provide any assistance. I also called Innovate1 and they said that it is usually NOT required, but sometimes is by some consulates.

I called at least a dozen other consulates around the world and finally a VERY friendly lady in Buenos Aires picked up the phone. She mentioned that while Nigeria requires you to apply in your country of residence, she would not need such a letter if she processed my application. Since it was impossible to speak to the consular department at the Nigerian Embassy, I decided to just give it a go and included the following:

  • The application form (which looked terrible, but it came right off the website), signed on every page

  • An $85 money order from the Post Office

  • The two payment slips

  • My inbound and outbound flight reservations

  • My hotel reservations

  • A recent bank statement

  • A copy of my US passport

  • My German passport with 6 month+ validity and a blank page for my visa

  • A return prepaid FedEx envelope, including a label

Now the waiting began and after a week of my passport being at the Embassy I grew a bit nervous (remember that I had paid for the express service).

When you call the Embassy of Nigeria, the automated system runs you through a number of extensions and no-one ever seems to pick up. Finally, I got through to friendly consular worker called 'A.' on a random extension. While she did not work in the visa department, she offered to check on my application and exchange my FedEx label, as the one I had attached had now expired, according to FedEx.

Much to my surprise, the next afternoon my FedEx alerts started popping up with my package in transit.

So all in all, the visa application took me 3 weeks (including transit time) and cost about $200. However, I feel it only worked because of my insistence and the check-up by my friendly consular worker 'A.'. If you are going to Nigeria, plan 6 weeks to be on the safe side (and this also might save you the express visa fee).
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