As a relatively small country that doesn't appear in the news often, Malawi presents expats with a mixture of excitement and apprehension. The country has a fairly substantial expat population, a large portion of which relocate with the intention of only staying in Malawi for a couple of years but often end up extending their stay.
As in any country, life in Malawi has its ups and downs. To help expats get a clearer idea of life in the 'Warm Heart of Africa', we've listed some of Malawi's pros and cons below.
Accommodation in Malawi
+ PRO: Housing in Malawi is affordable
Expats moving to Malawi from more developed countries will find accommodation to be well priced. Expats are often able to settle in spacious houses with large gardens, the cost of which usually equals that of a small apartment in a European city.
- CON: Rental agreements in Malawi may be unfamiliar
When renting a property in Malawi, expats must be sure that they understand the rental agreement before signing. Landlords may ask for more than just one month’s deposit, and expats should therefore budget accordingly. Indeed, initial costs may be surprisingly high, as the substantial deposit and the first month's rent are usually required up front.
Cost of living in Malawi
+ PRO: Low cost of living in Malawi
The cost of living is reasonable in Malawi. The price of rent, groceries and eating out is low, as is hiring a domestic worker. In fact, most expats will have someone who helps clean and cook, as well as someone who provides gardening services.
- CON: Many products aren't available
Many products, brands, shops and restaurants that expats may be used to back home are considered luxuries in Malawi. This includes clothing, sports equipment, toiletries and cosmetic products. Other than locally-produced food, many products are imported, which means that they are expensive. Expats will have to plan and pack effectively when travelling into the country, particularly when it comes to electronics.
Lifestyle and culture in Malawi
+ PRO: Friendly people
It's certainly no accident that Malawi is known as the 'Warm Heart of Africa': the country is famous for its friendly people and warm culture. Malawians are compassionate and helpful, which means expats are greeted with the biggest smiles and are able make connections and build friendships quite easily.
- CON: Slow pace of life
If expats are used to a fast-paced life, then Malawi will take some getting used to. Even if expats are normally relaxed, they'll still notice that things rarely happen on time in Malawi. This is the case with formal business meetings, casual social events or even for arrangements for a plumber or electrician to resolve a household problem. This is often a cause of frustration for expats.
- CON: Electricity and water supplies are problematic
Along with the slow pace of life, expats will have to adjust their lifestyle to the many power cuts and water shortages that occur in Malawi. Expats will have to get used to using inverters to power essentials at home, while workplaces would often have generators. Some houses have boreholes to circumvent the water-supply issue.
Healthcare in Malawi
+ PRO: Skilled healthcare practitioners
There are many skilled expat and local doctors who provide high-quality healthcare in a few of the country's hospitals.
+ PRO: Good supply of medication
Pharmacies in Malawi are decent, and most medications are available. If something isn't available, it can usually be ordered.
- CON: Access and availability of hospitals
Outside of the major cities, the number of doctors is low and access to hospitals is limited. We'd also recommend expats consider health insurance that covers emergency evacuation to South Africa, or elsewhere, in the case that practitioners in Malawi can't provide the level of treatment needed.
- CON: Diseases like malaria are a big concern
Health cover is important as there are high rates of disease in Malawi, especially with regards to malaria. Expats will need to take the necessary precautions to avoid malaria, such as the use of prophylactics, mosquito repellents and mosquito nets.
Safety in Malawi
+ PRO: Malawi is peaceful
Malawi is generally rather peaceful. That said, poverty is high and crime is therefore a reality. Crime is most often opportunistic, and many expats opt to have guards stationed outside their properties, which is usually enough of a deterrent for break-ins.
- CON: Political tension
Despite the normal tranquil laidback lifestyle, Malawi faces political tension, especially around election time, and protests have been known to turn violent. Expats will need to be cautious during these times and stay in touch with the community in their city to stay updated.
Education in Malawi
+ PRO: Excellent international schools
Malawi has a small selection of excellent international schools situated in Lilongwe and Blantyre, which provide high-quality education. Teachers at these schools are often a mix of Malawians and expats, and both the International Baccalaureate (IB) and IGCSE/A-Level curricula are available.
- CON: Exorbitant fees of international schools
International schools come with international fees, which are often based in US dollars. Malawi’s currency fluctuates frequently and fees can change dramatically from term to term. Expats getting paid in kwacha will feel the heavy cost of international education.
Getting around in Malawi
+ PRO: Cars give great freedom to travel
Cars are the most common form of transport among expats, as they provide the most independence and freedom to travel. There is so much to see in Malawi, from the city life to the lake and beautiful national parks, and a car is therefore vital.
- CON: Poor road networks
Despite recent work to improve the country's road system, the roads are narrow and any existing potholes are not sign-posted. Roads in rural areas also may not be tarred, and expats are encouraged to drive 4x4s rather than sedans. Driving at night in rural areas is also not advised, due to the prevalence of people and animals in the road.
► For an overview of life in Malawi, see our Moving to Malawi guide.
"Bring an open mind and a laid-back attitude. You can’t spend your days getting frustrated with bad drivers and slow workers. Learn to be like a Malawian and smile your way through the challenges and have a laugh. Appreciate the smaller pleasures in life." Read about Gabrielle's eye-opening experience living in Malawi.
"I do miss the ease of things at home, like the fully stocked supermarkets, food delivery and 24-hour electricity. But a quick trip home a few times a year sorts that." Have a look at Chloe's take on the pros and cons of life in Malawi.
Are you an expat living in Malawi?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to Malawi. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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