Business visas in Nigeria: their use and limitations compared to required work permits

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Christian B Denton
City Law Associates, Lagos


In this age of globalisation, people and commerce move from one jurisdiction to another to conduct business or seek employment. Countries have formed economic blocks such as the European Union and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to guarantee the free movement of goods and people. Nevertheless, most countries require business visas and work permits for foreigners who wish to enter their country for business or employment. To establish this topic it is important to make the distinction between a business visa and a work permit.

A business visa is for tasks that cannot be considered work or gainful employment,[1] whereas a work permit is meant for services that would be considered a job or labour.[2] This is a basic distinction but it is crucial to note that each jurisdiction has its own set of rules as to what is considered labour or worthy of compensation.

This article defines and outlines the use of business visas in Nigeria, how to obtain them and their limitations.

Business visas

Strictly speaking, a business visa is meant for business relations and meetings that do not involve anything that could be considered labour or gainful employment.[3] What this means is a business visa is not an employer-employee type of visa and is solely for conducting business in another country.

A business visa is one of the categories of visas issued to foreigners by the Nigerian Immigration Service. It is a major immigration requirement of an expatriate intending to conduct business in Nigeria. Applications must be made at a Nigerian Diplomatic Mission, and a foreigner wishing to come to Nigeria for business must have a valid visiting permit not exceeding 90 days.

A business visa enables business visitors to undertake the following activities in Nigeria: to visit Nigeria for the purpose of meetings, conferences, seminars, contract negotiations, marketing, sales, musical concerts, purchase distribution of Nigerian goods, trade fairs, job interviews, emergency/relief work or to train Nigerians in areas such as humanitarian services. A business visa also applies to airline and ships’ crew members, the staff of NGOs, INGOs and researchers.

Once an expatriate has obtained a business visa from the Nigerian Embassy/High Commission in their jurisdiction, the next step is to obtain a business permit, which will enable them to conduct business in Nigeria.

Work permits

A work permit is for people who wish to earn an income or compensation overseas.[4] They are for expatriates who wish to earn a living in another jurisdiction or be remunerated, and will be under the work permit category and therefore require the above-mentioned visa.

The Temporary Work Permit (TWP) is the most common type of work permit in Nigeria. It is specifically for immigrants who enter Nigeria to undertake a specific job for a temporary period, usually three months. A TWP needs to be approved by the Minister of Interior before the expatriate travels and is only for specific jobs. Mostly, it is only for jobs where there is a lack of labour supply in Nigeria. This visa is available to skilled workers and contractors whose skills are being paid for by corporations or non-profits.[5]

The lists of documents required for a TWP are:

  • current passport;
  • completed visa application form;
  • confirmation of online payment;
  • two passport-sized photos;
  • copy of the Comptroller-General’s approval cable visa that lists the applicant’s name;
  • letter of introduction from host organisation in Nigeria; and
  • covering letter from employer bringing employee into the country.[6]


There are no limitations for TWPs and foreign nationals who meet the visa application conditions and they may apply as many times as required.[7]

Long-term work permits are called Subject to Regulation Permits (STRs). They are a variant to TWPs. This visa is normally issued to expatriates working for non-profit organisations, corporate bodies, private firms, private investors and even private individuals.[8] To ensure that the applicant is in the country solely for the purpose of work, the Nigerian Immigration Service will issue the visa based on the dates specified in the applicant’s employment contract.

Some of the requirements for STR visas include:

  • formal application for an STR visa from the employer/institution accepting immigration responsibility;
  • valid passport with a minimum six-month validity;
  • two passport-sized photographs taken within the last six months;
  • expatriate quota approval;
  • evidence of financial support;
  • letters of offer of appointment and acceptance of offer;
  • educational qualifications and CV; and
  • four copies of company memorandum and articles of association.

Expatriates should note that any STR visa application should be made at their country of residence. Once an expatriate is issued an STR visa, they will be informed that the visa is for a duration of 90 days and is for a single entry.


It is safe to say that expatriates should be precise about what type of visa is needed to enter Nigeria. Business visas are strictly for business purposes and are not meant for employment or remuneration matters. Work permits are for employment purposes only and the foreigner must have obtained a letter of consent from both the prospective employer and the Comptroller-General of the Nigerian Immigration Service before proceeding to enter the country. There are more documents needed for a work permit (especially for the STR) than a business visa. The STR visa application is a long strenuous exercise.


[1] Patty Johnson-Vazquez, ‘Work Permits vs. Business Visas: What’s the difference?’, Envoy Global, 21 November 2016, available at: https://resources.envoyglobal.com/blog/work-permits-vs-business-visas-what-s-the-difference, last accessed 21 April 2020.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] ‘Difference between STR and Business Visa’, Nigerian Visa Services, 4 April 2017, available at: https://nigerianvisaservices.com/blog/difference-between-str-and-business-visa, last accessed 21 April 2020.

[6] ‘Visas: online visa application requirements and procedures’, Embassy of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Washington, DC, available at: http://www.nigeriaembassyusa.org/index.php?page=visas, last accessed 21 April 2020.

[7] Edoabasi Udo, ‘Nigeria: Foreign Participation In Nigeria’s Business Environment: The Need For Business Permit And Expatriate Quota’, Mondaq Limited, available at: https://www.mondaq.com/Nigeria/Immigration/664004/Foreign-Participation-In-Nigeria39s-Business-Environment-The-Need-For-Business-Permit-And-Expatriate-Quota, last accessed 21 April 2020.

[8] ‘Difference between STR and Business Visa’, Nigerian Visa Services, 4 April 2017, available at: https://nigerianvisaservices.com/blog/difference-between-str-and-business-visa, last accessed 21 April 2020.


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