The Nigerian experience is physical, emotional, and sometimes international. No one knows it better than our features on #TheAbroadLife, a series where we detail and explore Nigerian experiences while living abroad.

The subject of today’s Abroad Life spent five years working at Microsoft as a software engineer before leaving for Texas in America. He tells us his motivations for leaving the country, his experiences, and how he built Vesti, a financial service app that has helped more than 120,000 immigrants.

What motivated you to move to the United States?

I considered moving to the US in 2016 but finally moved in 2019. This was because of my previous exposure at Microsoft, where I worked for about five years in Nigeria. This gave me an idea of what the American economy looked like and the kind of value that I could provide. And for me, it was a relatively easy decision because there were things I wanted to achieve. 

Nigeria was making my opportunities limited. My earning potential was lower than I wanted it to be. I was working in an advisory role where my colleagues in the US were getting paid like 20 times more. 

I also wanted to give my kids a head start by giving them passports to a country like America where they can get the best education and a bright future. 

Overall, I wanted to multiply my earning power and achieve what I wanted globally, and America was the best place to do it.  

Nice! But why did it take four years before you made the move?

This was because I was unaware as of 2016 that I was qualified for the work permit, which is part of why I do what I do today. I had been qualified for the permit. They told me I had been qualified eight years prior, but I just didn’t know how to do it. 

How did that happen? 

When I was qualified, I was still two or three years into my job at Microsoft Nigeria, so I wasn’t planning to move permanently. But the moment I learned about the qualification in 2018, it would take me only four months to complete the work permit.

The four months were even a result of personal delays. It took two weeks for the US government to approve my work permit. 

That’s fast! Can you give us a step-by-step process of your migration?

One needs to look for a first-world country with your skill set. I was a software engineer at Microsoft, so I knew relocating to the US wouldn’t be difficult. 

The first thing to do is to narrow down your search and find out their popular job vacancies so that you can use your skill set to fill it up. Also, find out what visa type you’re qualified for. 

In my case, it was the O-1 visa, and all I needed to do was to find an attorney who could file the petition for me, gather the documents submitted, and the petition got approved. 

I then appeared at the embassy, the visa was granted within a couple of days, and I could move in with their family. 

To check your eligibility, visit websites like WeVesti and check under visa. You’ll then participate in an eligibility test ranking from 1-7. If you scored high or above three, they are qualified. You have a call with the attorney. Then you pay a deposit and start working on a petition. You can move to the United States with your family within two or three months. It’s that basic. But I didn’t know back then. 

Why did you decide to live in Texas? 

Previously, I had gone to the East Coast, New York. DC was part of the Cold States of the US that I moved to when I first visited in 2015. I knew that the cold weather was not for me. So I wanted to stay in a place that has better weather. Texas allows you to feel tropical, like you’re in Africa. Also, there is a good number of Nigerians here. It’s a diverse area. Diverse with Indians with, Nigerians, Pakistans, and Mexicans. 

I also have a great network of business partners, friends and mentors who moved to Texas long before I did and have been a source of great support.  

What were the culture shocks you had in America?

There were several culture shocks, but there’s the fact that you can’t just bring your money and pay for stuff. Everything has a process. For instance, you can’t just rent a house in the US if you have the money. You have to apply for the house and be selected; then, they run background checks on you before you pay.

I also learnt that “takeaways” in Nigerian or UK restaurants are known in America as “to-go” boxes. 

Did the rest of your family have culture shocks?

My spouse experienced a lot of culture shocks. She had to go to school to be a cosmetologist to get a license. This was a job she was doing without a license in Nigeria. That’s the thing about America; you need a license for everything here.

Regarding acclimatisation, she was also very lonely at first because our friends are not based here. Getting domestic help here is also extremely expensive; only wealthy people can afford it. Hence, she had to take care of two little girls alone. It was hard at first.

Now she has older friends who have families here she can connect with. For her business, she started attending events, getting referrals and flyers to public places. Even though it’s been five years since we moved, it’s still a journey for us. We are still learning new things every day about America. 

What are the advantages of you living in America? 

Yeah, I’ll talk about the advantages. It helps me to clearly understand what it means to work in an enabling environment. So from an economics standpoint, my finances changed. I started earning what my global peers earned. The value of a software engineer in the US is twenty times more than that of a Nigerian software engineer. 

The economy here changes your perspective. It is where you feel like you can become anything you want to be. Of course, there’s power, internet access, and the ability to finance things right and buy them outright. You don’t have to wait to be super rich to drive a brand-new car or to be able to live in a good house. You can build your credit; you have a lot of finance and low-interest financing. You get to send your kids to good schools at affordable prices. Also, getting a travel visa from here to other countries is so much easier than in Nigeria.

Any disadvantages? 

So in terms of disadvantages, the taxes here are much more enforced than in a country like Nigeria.

However, it also serves as a good thing because paying taxes here means the money will be deployed towards public works and the public good. So, we’re happy to be paying those taxes. And US taxes isn’t as stifling as the UK of taxes. 

Can you go more into how taxes are paid?

It depends on what kind of work you do. You would be obliged to pay between 20-25% of your income now, and your income taxes are important. We pay Social Security taxes, which you contribute to the Social Security pool, which is eventually used when you are unemployed or for subsidising healthcare for the common good.

Usually, if you are working and employed, you’d be paid W2, which is anything between 25-30% of your income as taxes. If I am also a business owner, there are ways for you to reduce your taxes based on your experiences and donate to non-profits. 

Opening bank accounts here is not easy as well. Most banks here are not immigrant-friendly, and it took a while before we could acquire one. The mistakes I made with this were part of why I made Vesti, to make immigration processes smoother.

Nice. So what was your motivation for starting a bank for immigrants?

When I moved to the US, I moved as an entrepreneur. I wanted to come and build a talent marketplace for software engineers to be able to work. But remote work is one thing; being in person is another. 

During the pandemic, we started helping many folks get advice on getting school admission, getting access to jobs abroad and moving here, moving with a special talent visa, etc. It started as a Telegram group for advising people on immigration and admissions. Soon, people started asking to pay for admission, visa, etc. From there, we saw it as a huge opportunity to build migration and financial services. We made the first version of our app in 2021.

Nice! What have the successes been since then?

We had 7,000 app downloads within the first couple of weeks, and we saw that is a huge opportunity here to help people transition. We then started building operating systems, both legal and financial, for the next one billion immigrants. You know, it’s been incredible. Last 12 months, we have processed nearly 15 million dollars on the platform. One hundred twenty thousand customers using the platform, and we could well get to like 500k immigrants. 

They’re 53 million immigrants in the US. It’s a very, very immigrant-welcoming country. The UK is welcoming a lot of immigrants as well. So is Canada, mostly coming from Africa, Pakistan, India, and other countries. So this could be a huge opportunity for us to serve hundreds of millions of people with information, community and ultimately, a smooth transition to a new life in a new country. 

How could you register a business like Vesti in America as an immigrant?

 It’s easy to register a business. Register your incorporation online, complete documents, and open a bank account.

Funding the account took work, as we first had to use our money and borrow from family and friends. As time went on, we got some venture capital companies. With the help of referrals that spoke of us highly, we got our first funding of $500,000. We’ve raised a million dollars, which will help us grow more than ever. 

Would you ever want to retire to Nigeria or America? 

Nigeria. I believe seriously in the potential of Nigeria. I still have a lot of investment in Nigeria. My eventual work is to impact the education sector. So eventually, yes, I will move back home.



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