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The Cost Of Surviving Abroad, As Told By A Nigerian Student In The UK

It’s one thing to japa. It’s another to japa well. A new life begins the moment you land in a new country and that life requires money. 

To find out just how much that could cost, we spoke to a young woman who relocated to the UK a year ago. She gives an insight into the cost of surviving abroad, shares some surprises and offers financial advice for those seeking to japa, too. 

What did you do before leaving Nigeria?

I was a licensed medical professional.

What was your reason for leaving?

I felt unfulfilled in Nigeria, working really hard and not getting paid my worth. I couldn’t even blame my bosses because they could only give as much as they were getting. I had the best bosses, and I could see their desire to do more, but they needed to keep the business running.     

So I used the school route. I got admission to study Public Health in the UK, and it was my ticket out.

How much money did you leave Nigeria with? 

I came here with about £1,000. And I planned, of course, to get a job to keep sustaining myself and paying bills.  

Were your school fees paid in full?

No. The thing is that you don’t have to pay your complete school fees at first. You pay a certain amount as acceptance fee, and then you have to pay at least 50% of the total amount before you’re enrolled and eligible to attend classes. Plus, you get an international student discount of £1,500. So, instead of £14,000, my total fee dropped to £12,500. 

School started in January, and we were given from January till April to pay the rest of the money. Though not everyone meets up with this deadline, a time will come, towards the end of the school year, when the school will rescind the admission status of those still in debt. 

Have you paid in full now?

Yes. I completed my payment before the deadline.

How long did your £1,000 last?

Omo. It lasted really long. I think that’s another difference between here and back home. I get value for every penny in the UK. 

In what ways?

I came here with lots of foodstuff, so I didn’t have to start buying things to eat. Things are very affordable here. If you go to a supermarket, you can get stuff worth ₦150,000 for £50. I don’t think I spend over £50 on groceries on a regular month. Maybe £70 to £100, when I need to restock bulk purchases like rice and other things. 

A large chunk of that £1,000 was spent on rent. The money lasted beyond 3 months, and I got a job the month I came, so I didn’t have to worry about running out of cash.

No dulling. 

At all o. No time!

What job do you do?

Support work.

What’s the job description?

I’m like a guide; I support people that have challenges with going about their daily activities. Our job is to encourage them to do things for themselves. 

Like people with reading disabilities or people who need assistance going outside or making choices. We help them make decisions, or, in the case where they can’t do that, we can choose what we think is best for them. 

Does it pay well?

I work at a different place now, but when I started my take home was about £10/hour. As a student, you’re also restricted to working 20 hours weekly when school is in session, and that in itself limits you to minimum-wage jobs because a student’s schedule is too flaky for organisations that need full-time workers. 

Being a student means you’re unreliable due to assignments, impromptu classes, presentations or exams — these are your priorities. It means organisations that hire you will have to hire another person to fulfil the responsibilities of that role. 

During the school season, you might not be able to save much. Sometimes I end up saving only £50 to £100 monthly.

How much do you earn now?

£11/hour. It’s another minimum wage job and they pay around £9 – £15 per hour, depending on your job description. 

Does earning this way mean you have to live on a budget?

Not necessarily. But again, I always say I’m working for rent. 

So rent takes up most of your income.

Basically. But it’s different for everyone, depending on where you live. Rent can go from £250  – £700 monthly for a single room. It also depends on whether the utilities are included in your rent or not.

When I first came to the UK, I lived in student accommodation, which was cheaper than where I live now. My rent was about £394, utilities included.

Why did you leave?

The student housing was okay, but I just didn’t enjoy living with some of the people in the house. 

Why?

Let’s chalk it up to cultural differences. You know, we Nigerians like our spaces, like our kitchens or general living areas, to be a certain way. But my housemates weren’t of the same opinion. So I and another housemate moved out and got a new apartment.

How much is your current rent?

Approximately £450. I don’t like to worry about paying utility bills after rent, so it covers everything. 

What other recurring bills do you have?

Transportation is a major one. My options are bus or train. The train is cheaper but trains go from station to station, so it’s a lot of walking. I prefer to use a bus to school because it takes me closer to the location I’m headed. 

A good thing about this country is that there are many discounts for students. There’s a student rail and bus card, and we get massive discounts for rides. I only have the rail card though. Once I was going to London and I paid £50 instead of the £100 fare. 

Sometimes we get more than 50% discounts too. An £11 fare can become £2. For the bus, I buy tickets to cover the full week, thereby getting a discount. Five tickets for the price of four. But since I go to school twice a week, it lasts me two and a half weeks. 

Interesting.

So, £450 has already gone, and say another £100 for transportation. That’s £550. 

Then you have to think about feeding. Some people insist that food is expensive, but for me, it isn’t. My feeding in a month is around £50 – £100 as I stated earlier. You can buy things for as low as 80 pence and there are cheaper options and stores. Places like Aldi, Poundshop, Poundstretcher, or Poundland — or any shop with “pound” attached to its name — have stuff for around £1. 

For someone just coming into the UK, these are the best places to get things like pots. Places like Salsbury are pricier, and, as an African, you will shop from any of the African stores around a lot more. 

Since I came here, I’ve not had to buy many things like dry or soup ingredients. One of the best pieces of advice I received and I always give people coming over is: “Bring more foodstuff than clothes.” 

Great advice!

But remember I only have myself to worry about. Some people come here with their family, so things will be different for them. 

Of course.

Yes. There are also other things to consider. From necessities like feminine hygiene products to other “luxuries” like hair. Getting your hair done is super expensive so just pack as many wigs as possible from Nigeria. 

I won’t forget how I felt when I just came and had to pay £10 to weave my natural hair. And this was after a £5 “acquaintance discount” o! I just told myself, “All-back that I will pay ₦500 for at home?” Braids are like £100, so just forget about it. 

When you’re used to spending in pounds, these prices are not a big deal. But coming from another country, it was a shock.

Sorry about that. What other culture shocks have you experienced during your time in the UK?

Speaking of sorry, you only say sorry when you’re the cause of the event or mishap that took place. For instance, this colleague told me she was sick and I said “Sorry.” She didn’t react immediately, but on a random day, she pointed out to me and another Nigerian colleague how weird it was.

Colour me surprised. What else?

We address our lecturers by their first names, regardless of age. Then additionally, seeing older people wearing dresses, jeans and boots, unlike the way older people in Nigeria dress. Smoking and drinking are so normal here among people of all ages. The things we put age restrictions on don’t apply here.

Nigerian elders have left the group chat. 

[Laughs]

To ask the obvious question, will you say your quality of life has improved since leaving?

Ah! Yes o! The biggest thing for me is that I achieved my goal of japa-ing. I felt stuck and finally got to change my environment. My career options are broadened, and I can see a path ahead now.  

Love that for you! 

Thank you!

It’s almost like there are no downsides to this japa thing.

There are a few. Like loneliness. In Nigeria, there’s always somebody in your business. You have a support system you can call on at any time, you can go to your friend or neighbour’s house to eat when you’re starving. Here, nobody has your time. 

Secondly, you’re not at home. There’s this feeling of safety that comes with being at home. You have to follow protocol and do things as you should. The justice system works pretty well, but there’s nobody to vouch for you if things go wrong.

Some people complain about taxes, but it doesn’t affect me much as a student. We’re not taxed unless we’re working full-time, like in summer. But when you go back to working 20 hours or at the end of the tax year, you’re refunded your tax.   

What’s one piece of financial advice you will give Nigerians seeking to relocate?

Cut your coat according to your size, especially when you first arrive. Spend wisely. Have a budget, and even when you want to take a mental health day to spoil yourself, go for cheaper options. 

You need to have enough savings because staying back after school is not easy. The jobs that come with sponsorships are tough to get, especially when you’re not a professional. Consider the longevity of your stay, so that your village people will not win. 

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