Most visits to Malawi are trouble-free. Visitors should nonetheless exercise common sense during their time in country.
Seek medical advice before travelling to Malawi. Ensure you have comprehensive travel insurance, including personal medical insurance, including cover for medical evacuation.
Road safety is a serious concern. Be cautious on Malawi’s roads.
Public rallies, demonstrations and large gatherings should be avoided.
Safety and Security
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade strongly recommends that comprehensive travel insurance, including personal medical insurance, is obtained before travelling to Malawi, including cover for medical evacuation.
Intending travellers should note that the Irish Government is not responsible for any personal expenses incurred by medical treatment abroad, emergency medical repatriation or repatriation of remains.
Visitors should seek medical advice before travelling to Malawi and ensure that all appropriate vaccinations are up to date. Bring sufficient supplies of medication for the duration of your stay. It is advisable to carry a doctor's note or a pharmacy receipt with your prescription drugs. Only drink boiled or sealed bottled water.
Healthcare standards, particularly in the rural areas, are generally poor. Should a medical emergency arise, it is advisable for the patient to be to be medically evacuated as soon as they are stable. Visitors should therefore ensure they have adequate health/travel insurance.
Malaria is a potentially life-threatening disorder that is endemic to Malawi. Malaria prophylaxis is strongly advised and should be initiated prior to arriving in Malawi. Visitors should consult their physicians to learn which prophylaxis would suit them best and review possible side-effects. In addition, other personal protective measures (such as the use of insect repellents, sleeping under nets, covering-up during evenings) will help to reduce the risk of malaria. Travellers who become ill with a fever or flu-like illness while travelling in a malaria-risk area, or up to one-year after returning home, should seek prompt medical attention and tell the physician their travel history and what anti-malarial medications they have been taking.
Schistosomiasis (also known as bilharzia) is present in most lakes and rivers in Malawi, including Lake Malawi. The disease is caused by a tropical flatworm that is found in water and is parasitic in humans, is present in certain heavily populated beach areas of Lake Malawi. Swimming, wading or bathing in fresh water is not recommended.
Malawi has a high HIV/AIDS infection rate. Travellers are advised to take appropriate precautions to limit the risk of transmission through blood or sexual contact.
Diarrhea and other food borne illnesses can be a problem among travellers. Avoid tap water, ice cubes, and raw fruits and vegetables. (Bottled water is recommended for drinking and food preparation.)
Outbreaks of gastric intestinal infections and cholera can happen, especially during the rainy season (November to April).
Rabies is endemic in all areas of Malawi, visitors should avoid contact with dogs. Dogs in Malawi are often kept as guard dogs, as opposed to pets, and can be aggressive.
Kasungu National Park, Nyika National Park and Vwaza Marsh Wildlife Reserve are home to tsetse flies carrying sleeping sickness.
Traffic drives on the left. The traffic-related death rate is high. Poor road conditions, poorly maintained vehicles, and inadequate street lighting can make driving dangerous. Potholes, pedestrians, animals, abandoned vehicles, and vehicles travelling at night without lights also pose risks. Driving outside cities after dark is not recommended. Emergency roadside assistance is very limited.
Fuel (petrol & diesel) shortages can occur in Malawi and when they do, there are often long queues at fuel stations. Travellers to Malawi should be aware that in-country travel plans when hiring vehicles may be affected during times of shortages.
When driving in Malawi – a valid driving license should be carried at all times, as you may be required to produce it at police check points.
Do not drive under the influence of alcohol. Beware of the dangers of speeding. The Malawi Police Service has breathalyser tests. Drivers caught drink driving or speeding can have their licences and/or vehicles confiscated on the spot, for return only after appearance before a magistrate. Convicted drivers face a fine and/or imprisonment. The blood alcohol limit is 0.08g per 100ml of blood.
Drivers are encouraged to slow down in all built-up areas. Traffic police often place speed cameras in some built up areas where there are no signs showing the speed limit. For such traffic offences, the police impose on the spot fines. It is illegal to talk on a mobile phone while driving.
Public transport is limited in rural areas. Travel by minibus between cities is not recommended, as they are overcrowded and poorly maintained. Hitchhiking, including talking informal lifts in the back of open vehicles is not advisable. Fatal accidents occur with regularly and emergency services are basic.
Armed car-jackings, particularly of four-wheel-drive vehicles, have occurred. Travellers should not resist if threatened by carjackers. Always wear seat belts. Keep windows closed and doors locked and never leave your personal belongings in a vehicle.
Wildlife & Water Safety
In National Parks, Wildlife Reserves and in the lakes and rivers, visitors should sensitise themselves to the dangers of local wildlife. There are inherent risks associated with viewing wildlife (both marine and on land), particularly on foot or at close range. Travellers should always maintain a safe distance when observing wildlife and avoid leaving the vehicle unless it is deemed safe to do so by professional guides and wardens. Visitors should only use reputable and professional guides or tour operators and closely follow park regulations and wardens’ advice. Hippos and crocodiles are common in many of Malawi’s lakes and rivers, including areas of Lake Malawi.
Areas of Lake Malawi can develop strong currents and the lake can become quite rough without warning. Local advice should be sought before swimming. Swimmers should also note that as a freshwater lake, buoyancy is much less than that of seawater and swimmers will tire more quickly. In areas, the lake becomes deep very close to shore, caution should be exercised, especially with young children.
Most visits to Malawi are trouble-free, but visitors should be alert to muggers and bag-snatchers. Avoid walking around quiet areas, especially after dark. Be alert to petty theft and pickpockets around the main bus stations in Lilongwe and Blantyre. In the event of a mugging, offer no resistance and hand over your possessions without question.
Take sensible precautions. Safeguard valuables and cash. Deposit them in hotel safes, where practical. Keep copies of important documents, including passports, in a separate place to the documents themselves. Lost or stolen passports are sometimes handed to the police within a few days. Report the loss to the nearest police station as soon as possible, and remain in touch with that station in case of recovery.
Residential break-ins, organised robberies and car-jackings are known to occur and may target foreigners. Car-jackings can occur when a vehicle is stopped (e.g. waiting to enter at a compound vehicle gate, at intersections, or in traffic). Car doors and windows should be locked/closed, especially when stopping your vehicle.
If you or someone you know becomes the victim of a crime abroad, you should contact the local police and the Irish embassy. If your passport is stolen we can help you replace it. Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime are solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find a lawyer, if needed.
The local equivalent to the “999” emergency line in Malawi is 199 or 997.
Irish citizens are urged to stay away from scenes of rallies, demonstrations and public gatherings. If you are in an area where you believe your safety is threatened, leave the area immediately. Be aware of your surroundings at all times.
Travellers should pay attention to local media and exercise caution with regard to large groups of people in major urban areas.
Local Laws and Customs
You are subject to local laws - a serious violation may lead to a
jail or death sentence.
Irish citizens arrested or detained have the right to contact the Irish Embassy. Arresting officials have a responsibility to assist you in doing so. Irish consular officials can provide a list of local lawyers upon request.
The procedures required in legal proceedings or police investigations may be different from the procedures in force in the Irish legal system. Irish persons wishing to undertake such proceedings can expect to face long delays and additional efforts in order to resolve their case. The Government of Ireland cannot intervene in ongoing legal proceedings in other countries or regions, unless requested to do so by local authorities.
As in many African countries, Malawian culture is generally conservative and respectful of elders. Common sense and discretion should be exercised in dress and behaviour. Outside the main tourist areas, women may be advised to cover legs and shoulders so as not to offend local sensitivities. Respect religious beliefs and social conventions to avoid offending local sensitivities.
Drug use, including use of cannabis, is illegal and punishment can be severe.
Same-sex consensual relations are criminalized in Malawi, with males receiving up to fourteen years imprisonment , and females up to five years of imprisonment.
It is prohibited to import ivory, drugs, and pornographic material.
It is illegal to purchase uncut precious stones and they should not
Photography of government buildings, airports, bridges, churches, and military installations is prohibited.
Natural Disasters and Climate
The rainy season extends from November to April. Secondary roads may be impassable to all but four-wheel-drive vehicles during this period. Stay informed of regional weather forecasts and plan accordingly.
If intending to visit flood-affected areas, ensure you have sufficient quantities of potable water in reserve.
Malawi is located in a seismic zone. Although infrequent, earthquakes do occasionally occur – notably in the Northern Region (Karonga District). A series of earthquakes there in December 2009, included one of magnitude 6.0, lead to significant numbers of casualties as well as substantial property damage. A 4.6 magnitude earthquake struck east of Phalombe, in the Southern Region, on 13 May 2012.
Earthquakes may cause landslides in affected areas. Strong aftershocks are possible up to a week after the initial quake.
Additional Country Info
Irish citizens do not require visas for tourist visits. Passports should be valid for at least 6 months from the proposed date of entry. During your stay you should carry a photocopy of your passport at all times.
A passport, return ticket, and having adequate funds are required for entry into Malawi. Irish citizens travelling to Malawi for tourism, transit or business for 30-days or less can receive a visitor’s permit at the airports or border points of entry. Please note however that the onus is on the visitor to ensure they are granted the correct number of days for their stay. Overstaying a visa can lead to a court appearance, fine and deportation.
The 30-day permit may be extended twice up to an additional 30 days each renewal prior to expiration at Immigration Offices in Lilongwe or Blantyre. Currently, the Malawi Immigration Department is charging for all permit extensions as follows:
· A 30-day visitor’s permit (or less) is granted at any port of entry and is Free
· Application for a permit extension for an additional 30 days (or less) is MK 5,000
· Application for a second permit extension for an additional 30 days (or less) is MK 5,000
A permit extension application must be submitted prior to the permit’s expiration date. There is no guarantee the request will be granted.
Irish citizens wishing to volunteer, study, conduct research or business for more than 90 days in Malawi are responsible for requesting the correct type of visa/permit from the Malawi High Commission in London, prior to travelling to Malawi.
There is no guarantee requests for changing one's immigration category (e.g. from visitor permit or tourist visa to Temporary Employment Permit) will be granted.
Foreign citizens whose primary purpose of travel is to participate in religious activities (voluntary or paid) should obtain a Temporary Employment Permit (TEP) rather than a visitor’s permit through their sponsoring organization or business.
Malawian immigration authorities have fined, arrested, and deported foreign nationals who entered Malawi with a tourist visa or on a visitor’s permit and proceeded to conduct other activities inconsistent with their tourist status (e.g. business or volunteer services).
Travellers arriving from a yellow fever affected country are required to carry a yellow fever vaccination certificate.
The Malawi High Commission in London can advise on other types of entry requirement (including for volunteers) and the procedure for longer stays.
According to law, travellers must declare all foreign currency when entering Malawi – regardless of its purpose or amount. Travellers should only exchange foreign currency at the bank or approved Foreign Exchange bureaus. Any currency declared at entry may be expatriated without further authorization.
With bank approval, an individual may export up to US$2,000 per trip. Otherwise an individual is not permitted to expropriate currency and it will be confiscated at the point of departure. People leaving the country are only allowed to take out a maximum of 3,000 Malawi Kwacha in cash.
Credit cards are not widely accepted in Malawi. Money can be changed at the airports, banks or commercial bureaux de change. Some ATMs will accept international visa cards, but be advised that there are very few ATMs outside of the main urban centres.
Assistance for Irish Citizens
The Embassy of Ireland to Malawi is located in Lilongwe. Contact details are as follows:
· Arwa House (Floor 3), Capital City, 13/14 Lilongwe
· Telephone: +265-1-776-405 or +265-1-776-408
Irish citizens resident in or intending to travel to Malawi are strongly advised to register their details with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. You can access the Travel Registration system here.
For contact information on all Irish Embassies, on a country-by-country basis, please click here.