Nigeria’s currency, the naira, has been beset by problems since oil prices began falling in 2014 and 2015. The currency plummeted dramatically after militants blew up pipelines in 2016. That caused the currency to plunge by nearly half its value.
Given Nigeria's currency issues, there’s a big premium on foreign currency. But with demand high for euros, pounds, and dollars, the supply is frequently low. Those banks who do have dollars on-hand can be hesitant to sell them.
What is the Naira?
The naira’s abbreviation is NGN. Each naira broken down into 100 Kobo (like cents). With the currency so devalued, the only coins currently in use are the 50 Kobo, the 1 naira, and the 2 naira. Beyond that all currency is in banknotes. For bills, the denominations come in 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200, 500, and 1000 naira notes.
What’s It Worth?
That’s a good question. There are as many as eight different currency valuations available in Nigeria at any point in time. The difference between legal exchange and blackmarket value can be as much as 25 percent. The value’s different if you’re a religious pilgrim heading to Mecca, Rome, or Jerusalem. The rate’s different again if you’re sending a money transfer. Buying and selling also have wildly different rates.
Getting the Naira
Bringing American dollars into Nigeria could be both wise or foolish. It never hurts to have a stable currency in your wallet, especially one in demand, but it’s also possible it can make you a target for theft.
If you do bring dollars, be aware that many places will not accept USD dated before 2009. Smaller denominations are often valued far lower than higher denominations, so there's no real predicting what your bills would be worth. Ultimately, whether to bring American dollars with you is a choice you need to make for yourself.
Getting the naira is as simple as making a withdrawal from a bank machine. There will be a conversion fee and probably a transaction fee, but it’s the simplest way to get the local currency in hand.
When using a bank machine internationally, the smart thing to do is to always only use an ATM attached to an actual bank – and only during business hours. First, it’s safer to do a bank withdrawal in daylight, and second, if anything should happen to your card, the bank will be able to access the machine. Another plus to this is that you can ask the bank two things – one, what’s the current exchange rate on a withdrawal, and second, can they buy excess currency back from you for USA dollars at the end of your stay? If so, it makes the next question much simpler to deal with – what do you do with leftover naira?
Exchanging the Naira
Exchanging the naira to dollars upon leaving can be a challenge. For the fairest rates and highest likelihood of having dollars to sell to you, the Central Bank of Nigeria is the best bet. With locations in over 35 cities, there’s probably one near you. Before going out of your way, look the bank up on their website and contact the branch nearest to you to inquire if they have dollars on hand. If they don’t, ask them for advice on where to go. The local CBN should have an idea of who nearby is holding USA currency.
Another option is usually the airport money traders. With travelers arriving and selling currency to them, there is a fair chance they may have USD for selling. However, again, the current climate makes this a gamble.
You could plan ahead before leaving the U.S., of course, and inquire with local currency sellers in your hometown to see who might be willing to buy some Nigerian naira off you upon returning. If hitting the wall with those inquiries, then plan accordingly for your travels.
The Conservative Currency Solution
When dealing with unstable currencies, the smart move is to withdraw exactly what you think you’ll need for spending money. If you underestimate, you can always withdraw more later, and with a better idea of what your daily spending is. It’s usually worth paying a few more dollars in bank fees if you need a little more money versus risking getting stuck with a large amount of currency that may not be changeable at the end of your stay.