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Malawi

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Summary

  • Exercise normal safety precautions in Malawi. Pickpocketing and other petty crime occurs, including on public transport. Use common sense. Look out for suspicious behaviour, as you would in Australia.
  • Exercise a high degree of caution in the Mulanje district. There have been incidents of unrest, property damage, intimidation and violence, including against foreigners. See Safety and security.
  • Demonstrations can be spontaneous and attract large crowds. Avoid demonstrations and large public gatherings. See Safety and security
  • Driving is dangerous, particularly at night. Hazards include poor road conditions, poorly maintained vehicles and inadequate street lighting. See Local travel.
  • Shortages of petrol and diesel have occurred, resulting in long queues at fuel stations. Factor this into your planning, especially for long journeys by road. See Local travel.
  • The rate of HIV/AIDS infection is high. Exercise appropriate precautions if engaging in activities that expose you to risk of infection. See Health
  • The Australian Embassy in Zimbabwe provides full consular assistance to Australians in Malawi. See Where to get help.
  • See Travel Smart for general advice for all travellers.

Entry and exit

Visas

You'll need a visa to enter Malawi.

Malawi has a Consulate in Australia located in Melbourne that can provide advice on visas and accepts online visa applications. To make an application for a visa visit the Consulate of Malawi in Australia website.

If you cannot apply in Australia you should contact the nearest Malawi Embassy which is in Tokyo. The Malawi embassy in Tokyo can provide up-to-date information.

Immigration officials have fined, arrested and deported foreign nationals who have entered the country on a tourist visa and proceeded to conduct other activities such as business or volunteer work. Make sure you get the correct visa for your visit and comply with all visa conditions.

Other formalities

Immigration and customs services at land borders only operate during daylight hours. To avoid being stranded, confirm beforehand what time these services are available.

You'll need a valid Yellow Fever Vaccination Certificate to enter Malawi if you're arriving from an area or country where yellow fever is present. More information: Yellow fever risk and certification requirements (by country, WHO)

Passport

Make sure your passport is valid for at least six months after the date you intend to return to Australia.

Your passport is a valuable document and attractive to criminals who may try to use your identity to commit crimes. Always keep it in a safe place.

Be aware of attempts to obtain access to your passport by deception. If you are forced to hand over your passport, contact an Australian Embassy, High Commission or Consulate for advice.

If your passport is lost or stolen, you must notify the Australian Government as soon as possible.

Money

The local currency is the Malawi Kwacha (MWK). You must declare all foreign currency you are carrying when entering and leaving Malawi. If you don't declare foreign currency on entry, it will be confiscated on departure. Currency declared at entry can be exported. You can seek approval from a bank to export up to $US3,000 per visit, in addition to any foreign currency you declared on entry. There are also limits on the export of Kwacha. Any amount in excess of your approved limit will be confiscated at departure. If you wish to export currency, seek advice from Malawian authorities.

The US dollar is the most widely accepted currency for exchange. Credit cards and travellers cheques aren't widely accepted in Malawi. Check with your accommodation provider or tour operator on the best methods of payment before your arrival.

The number of ATMs is increasing. Some ATMs accept some Australian cards. ATMs often run out of cash so can't be relied upon. Contact your bank to check that your cards will work in Malawi.

Safety and security

Crime

Pickpocketing, bag snatching, robbery and other petty crime occurs, including on public transport.

Burglaries in residential areas are common. Perpetrators of these crimes are frequently armed and may resort to violence if provoked.

Carjackings, particularly of four wheel drive vehicles, occur frequently in urban areas. Carjackers are also active between the borders of Malawi and Zimbabwe along the Tete Corridor in Mozambique. In the capital, Lilongwe, the majority of attacks take place on Kenyatta Drive. 

Bus stations in Lilongwe and Blantyre are criminal hotspots, as are the main ports for the Ilala ferry. Tourists are often targeted when walking from Lilongwe Old Town to the Capital City.

Thefts from lodges have occurred outside main cities. Criminals have been known to pose as tour guides in major cities and at tourist destinations.

Food and drink spiking happens. Victims of spiking can be targeted for theft and/or assault.

Since September 2017, the Malawi police have reported frequent incidents of unrest, property damage, intimidation and violence in the Mulanje district, including against foreigners. Risks increase after dark.

  • Carry only what you need. Leave other valuables in a secure location.
  • Don't tempt thieves – avoid displaying expensive watches, jewellery, phones and cameras.
  • Avoid walking at night, particularly in urban areas.
  • Secure your accommodation against intruders, including when you're in it.
  • Keep vehicles doors locked, windows up and valuables out of sight at all times, including when moving.
  • Never offer a lift to strangers.
  • Don't resist if your vehicle is attacked.
  • Never leave your drinks or food unattended.
  • Don't accept food, drinks, gum or cigarettes from strangers or new acquaintainces.
  • Pay close attention to your personal security and be alert to anything suspicious, especially in Blantyre and Limbe.
  • Exercise a high degree of caution in Mulanje district, especially after dark.
  • Contact the Mountain Club of Malawi for safety advice before climbing Mount Mulanje.
  • Due to the high prevalence of HIV/AIDS, if you're a victim of violent crime, especially rape, seek immediate medical assistance.

Civil unrest and political tension

Demonstrations can be spontaneous and attract large crowds, especially in market areas. Large crowds can become violent.

  • Avoid all large gatherings, protests and demonstrations.
  • Monitor the media for reports of planned or possible unrest. Avoid affected areas.
  • Be alert to possible unrest, especially in markets.
  • If you're in an area where demonstrations are occurring, leave if it is safe to do so.
  • Follow instructions from local authorities.

Terrorism

Terrorism is a threat throughout the world. More information: Terrorist threat worldwide

Local travel

Road travel

You're six times more likely to be killed in a motor vehicle accident in Malawi than in Australia. Driving in Malawi is dangerous, particularly at night. Hazards include poor road conditions, poorly maintained vehicles, inadequate street lighting, pedestrians and animals that stray onto roads, vehicles travelling at night without lights and vehicles abandoned on roads. Road accidents are a common cause of death.

Shortages of petrol and diesel have occurred. There are no roadside assistance networks for stranded drivers.

Police regularly conduct breathalyser tests on drivers. The blood alcohol limit is 0.08. There are speed cameras exist on main roads. Drivers caught over the legal alcohol limit or speeding can have their licence and/or vehicle confiscated immediately. Other penalties include fines and imprisonment.

Police roadblocks are located throughout the country. You may need to produce a valid drivers' licence and a copy of your passport and visa or residence permit if you're stopped by the police.

  • Check you have adequate insurance cover before driving.
  • Familiarise yourself with local traffic laws and practices before driving.
  • Be alert to possible hazards at all times.
  • Beware of animals and pedestrians straying onto roads.
  • Don't drive at night, unless necessary.

Driver's licence

You can drive in Malawi with a valid Australian driver's licence and an International Driving Permit (IDP). You must obtain your IDP before departing Australia. If you'll be in Malawi for an extended period, you'll need to get a local driver's licence.

Motorcycles

Check with your travel insurer whether your policy covers you when using a motorcycle, quad bike or similar vehicle. Your policy may not cover you for accidents that occur while using these vehicles. Wear, and ensure your passenger wears, a correctly fastened and approved helmet.

Use only registered taxis, preferably those arranged through your hotel.

Public transport

Public transportation is limited and unreliable, particularly in rural areas.

Air travel

The Australian Government doesn't provide information on the safety of individual commercial airlines or flight paths. See instead the Aviation Safety Network website for information on aviation safety in Malawi. See: Air travel

Tours and adventure activities

The safety standards you might expect of transport and tour operators aren't always met, especially for adventure activities. Recommended safety precautions and maintenance standards may not be followed. Safety equipment such as lifejackets and seatbelts may not be provided.

If you plan to participate in adventure activities:

  • first talk to your travel insurer to check if the activity is covered by your insurance policy
  • check operators' credentials and safety equipment before booking
  • use only reputable, registered tour operators
  • don't be afraid to ask about or insist on minimal safety requirements
  • always use available safety equipment, even if others don't
  • if appropriate safety equipment is not available, use another provider.

Mount Mulanje

Paths on Mount Mulanje aren't marked. Use a registered local guide.

Wildlife

Respect wildlife laws and maintain a safe and legal distance when watching wildlife, including marine animals and birds. Only use reputable and professional guides or tour operators. Closely follow park regulations and wardens' advice.

Laws

Research local laws before travelling, especially for an extended stay.

If you're arrested or jailed, the Australian Government will do what it can to help you under our Consular Services Charter. But we can't get you out of trouble or out of jail.

Drug laws

Penalties for drug offences, including those involving cannabis, are severe and include lengthy imprisonment in local jails. More information: Drugs

Other laws

Activities that are illegal in Malawi include:

  • purchasing or exporting uncut precious stones
  • importing ivory
  • importing pornographic material
  • photographing government buildings, airports, churches, synagogues, bridges or military installations
  • failing to produce your passport and visa or immigration permit when requested by a police officer or immigration official - carry your passport and visa or immigration permit at all times
  • failing to adhere to visa conditions or other immigration rules
  • driving a vehicle with a blood alcohol level at or above 0.08
  • homosexuality – more information: LGBTI travellers

Australian laws

Some Australian criminal laws apply overseas. If you commit these offences, you may be prosecuted in Australia. Laws include those relating to:

  • bribery of foreign public officials
  • child pornography
  • child sex tourism
  • female genital mutilation
  • forced marriage
  • money laundering
  • terrorism.

More information: Staying within the law

Dual nationals

Read Dual nationals.

Local customs

There are strict standards of dress and behaviour in some areas.

There is an informal moratorium on application of the existing law banning homosexuality. However, the moratorium could be lifted at any time. The local community is generally intolerant of same sex relationships.

  • Take care not to offend.
  • Dress modestly. If you are female, cover your legs and shoulders with loose-fitting clothing.
  • Avoid public displays of affection.

Health

Travel insurance

Take out comprehensive travel insurance before you depart to cover overseas medical costs, including medical evacuation. Make sure your policy includes adequate coverage for any pre-existing conditions.

Remember, regardless of how healthy and fit you are, if you can't afford travel insurance, you can't afford to travel. The Australian Government will not pay for your medical expenses overseas or medical evacuation costs. This can be very expensive and cost you many thousands of dollars upfront.

Confirm:

  • what circumstances and activities are and are not covered under your policy
  • that you are covered for the whole time you will be away.

More information: Travel insurance

Physical and mental health

Consider your physical and mental health before travelling, especially if you have an existing medical condition.

  • At least eight weeks before you depart, see your doctor or travel clinic for a basic health check-up, and to discuss your travel plans and implications for your health.
  • Get vaccinated before you travel.

More information:

Medication

Not all medications available over the counter or by prescription in Australia are available in other countries. Some may be considered illegal or a controlled substance, even if prescribed by an Australian doctor.

Before you leave Australia, check if your medication is legal in each country you're travelling to and find out if any quantity restrictions or certification requirements apply. Consult your doctor about alternatives well in advance of travel

Take enough legal prescription medicine with you to last for the duration of your stay so you remain in good health. Carry copies of your prescription and a dated letter from your doctor stating what the medicine is, how much you'll take and that it's for personal use only.

More information: Prescription medicines

Health risks

Insect-borne diseases

Malaria occurs widely and throughout the year. Other insect-borne diseases (including filariasis, plague and African sleeping sickness) are also common.

Protect yourself against insect-borne diseases:

  • ensure your accommodation is insect proof, including with treated mosquito nets
  • take measures to avoid insect bites, including using insect repellent and wearing long, loose fitting, light coloured clothing
  • consider taking malaria prevention medication
  • seek medical advice if you have a fever, muscle pain, rash or severe headache.

HIV/AIDS

The rate of HIV/AIDS infection is high. Exercise appropriate precautions if engaging in activities that expose you to risk of infection.

Cholera and other infectious diseases

Outbreaks of cholera are common during the rainy season, from November to April. Other water-borne, food-borne and infectious diseases (including hepatitis, tuberculosis and rabies) occur, with more serious outbreaks occurring from time to time.

  • Maintain strict hygiene standards.
  • Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly.
  • Only drink water from safe sources.
  • Avoid ice cubes unless you know the water was from a safe source.
  • Avoid raw and undercooked food.
  • Don't swim in fresh water to avoid exposure to certain water-borne diseases.
  • Seek medical advice if you have a fever or are suffering diarrhoea.

More information:

Medical facilities

Public medical facilities are limited. There are a number of private clinics in Lilongwe and Blantyre but the facilities and care don't always meet Australian standards.

If you become seriously ill or injured, you'll need to be evacuated to a destination with appropriate facilities. Medical evacuation can be very expensive.  

Natural disasters

Malawi can experiences earthquakes and flooding.

If a natural disaster occurs:

  • secure your passport in a safe, waterproof location or carry it on you at all times (in a waterproof bag)
  • closely monitor local media and other sources such as the Global Disaster Alert and Coordination System
  • follow the advice of local authorities
  • contact friends and family in Australia with regular updates about your welfare and whereabouts.

Earthquakes

Malawi experiences earthquakes. Familiarise yourself with earthquake safety measures for each place you stay. More information: Earthquakes

Severe weather

The rainy season is November to April, when flooding may occur. Roads can become impassable.

Where to get help

Depending on what you need, your best option may be to first contact your family, friends, airline, travel agent, tour operator, employer or travel insurer. Your travel insurer should have a 24-hour emergency number.

Emergency phone numbers

  • Fire: phone 199 or 997
  • Medical emergency: phone 199 or 997 or go to the nearest hospital
  • Police: phone 199 or 997 or visit the nearest police station

Always get a police report when reporting a crime.

Tourism products and services

For complaints relating to tourism services or products, contact your service provider directly.

Australian Government

Read the Consular Services Charter for what the Australian Government can and can't do to help you overseas.

Australia's Consulate in Malawi has been temporarily closed. Appointments aren't available until further notice. The Australian Embassy in Harare, Zimbabwe, provides consular and passport services to Australians in Malawi. Where possible, the Embassy will advise registered Australian citizens via mass mailout messages when dates for visits to Malawi are confirmed.

For consular assistance, contact the Australian Embassy, Harare.

Australian Embassy, Harare

1 Green Close
Borrowdale
Harare, Zimbabwe
Telephone (263 24) 853 235 55, (263 24) 2852471-6, +263 772 572 035
Facsimile (263 24) 2870 566

Website: www.zimbabwe.embassy.gov.au
Email: zimbabwe.embassy@dfat.gov.au

Facebook: Australian Embassy, Zimbabwe  

Twitter: @AusEmbZim

Check the Embassy website for information about opening hours and temporary closures that may affect service provision.

If you're unable to contact the Australian Embassy in a consular emergency, contact the 24-hour Consular Emergency Centre on +61 2 6261 3305 or 1300 555 135 within Australia.

Additional information

Additional resources