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 warm and welcoming, and a climate that is hot and humid. Expats will experience a country that is generally safe and with a relatively low cost of living.

Although Malawi's culture is more conservative than many western countries, the people are friendly, helpful and vibrant. Making friends is likely to be a breeze with both Malawians and expats, who can help expats settle-in and provide local advice. While this limits culture shock, expats will have to adjust their lifestyle. Expats should understand that many goods and services, such as many clothing stores, are not as easily available as in their home country and they will face frequent power cuts. However, expats are always able to get what they need and import what they cannot find in the country.

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, tea, sugarcane and coffee are major exports, and expats often work in these industries.

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. It is the third-largest lake in Africa and covers about a fifth of the country. The possibility to relax, take in beautiful sunsets and all that nature has to offer while enjoying water sports, hikes or casual strolls on the beach lure in many tourists. Several expats who work in conservation are based around the national parks in Malawi which offer a unique experience of Malawi's wildlife and natural environment for both day trips and a weekend away.

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, the US, 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.

There are many housing options for expats in the cities to please families and individuals alike. Accommodation tends to be in houses or gated complexes, although apartment-living is growing. Houses tend to have large garden space, which is great for families, hosting guests and having pets. Oftentimes, the company an expat works for will help organise accommodation.

Companies expats work for may help direct expats with help for visas and banking. Malawi's currency is the Kwacha, which often fluctuates. However, dealing with money is eased by the fact that banking is simple and several banks are based in South Africa and have offices in other African countries. This helps expats from these countries.

Although healthcare and education have improved in recent years, they are still well below what many expats may be used to. There are both public and private hospitals and clinics in Malawi, although they often lack resources and enough medical staff. While general health issues and 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 emergency airlifting out of the country.

For expat families, there are a handful of private and international schools in Malawi, while homeschooling offers an alternative that is both cheaper and more convenient for many families. The international and private schools, mainly in Lilongwe and Blantyre, provide children with a strong educational environment to grow and learn in. These follow the British national curriculum of IGCSEs and A Levels or offer the International Baccalaureate. 

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.

Overall, expats relocating to Malawi will encounter a slow pace of life and are likely to face a range of wonderful experiences as well as frustrating challenges. With patience and understanding, expats can easily adapt to their new lives in the Warm Heart of Africa.


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 and Islam

Main languages: English and 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: 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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