Moving to Malawi

Malawi is a small country in southeast Africa bordered by Zambia, Mozambique and Tanzania. Affectionately known as “the Warm Heart of Africa”, expats moving to Malawi will find a population that is friendly and welcoming. Expats will also experience a country that is generally safe and with a relatively low cost of living. 

As a poor, landlocked country, Malawi is among the world’s least developed places. The economy is heavily based on agriculture, with more than 80 percent of the working population employed in this sector. Tobacco is the largest export earner, accounting for the majority of export revenues. Other exports include tea, sugarcane and coffee.

Malawi is heavily dependent on foreign aid, which is the sector that attracts the largest number of expats to the country. 

The capital and largest city is Lilongwe, while Blantyre, the second largest city, is Malawi’s commercial capital. Most expats in Malawi will find themselves in these two main cities. Malawi's expat population is mainly from the UK, Europe, America and South Africa. In these two cities, the expat scene is a mix of diplomats, teachers, doctors, missionaries, businesspeople, hospitality and NGO workers and government officials.

The tourism sector accounts for a small percentage of expats living in Malawi. Most expats in the tourist sector will be concentrated near Lake Malawi, which is the third largest lake in Africa and covers about a fifth of the country. Several expats work in conservation and are based around the national parks in Malawi.

Although healthcare and education have improved in recent years, they are still well below what many expats may be used to. While general emergencies may be catered for in Lilongwe and Blantyre, anything more serious may require air evacuation to a nearby country like South Africa, which has better facilities. Expats should ensure they have adequate medical insurance to cover this.

There are a handful of private and international schools in Malawi, many of which are in Lilongwe or Blantyre and mostly following the British curriculum. A number of these schools offer boarding facilities, which may be suitable for expats living in more remote areas of Malawi. As space may be limited, parents should ensure they apply early to ensure their children get a place at the school of their choice.

Fast facts

Population: About 19 million

Capital city: Lilongwe

Neighbouring countries: Malawi borders Mozambique to the east, south and south-west, Zambia to the northwest and Tanzania to the northeast.

Geography: Malawi is a small landlocked country characterised by central plateaus and rugged highlands in the north and south. The Great Rift Valley traverses the country. Lake Malawi, which takes up a huge portion of eastern Malawi, covering about 20% of Malawi's total area.    

Political system: Unitary presidential republic

Major religions: Christianity, Islam

Main languages: English (official), Chichewa

Money: The Malawian Kwacha (MWK), which subdivides into 100 tambala.

Tipping: Tipping is obligatory but not necessary. Tipping is usually at 10 percent if a service charge is not included. 

Time: GMT+2

Electricity: 230 volts, 50 Hz. 'Type G' three-pin plugs with flat blades are used. 

Internet domain: .mw

International dialling code: +265

Emergency numbers: 997 (police), 998 (ambulance), 999 (fire department) 

Drives on the: Drive on the left. Minibus taxis and buses service Malawi fairly extensively. The main city roads are fairly well maintained, so driving in Malawi is viable. As the roads can be poorly illuminated, it's best to avoid driving at night. 

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