Prior to departing to Malawi you should ensure that you are up to date with your home country immunization recommendations (measles, TB etc.) and are vaccinated against Hepatitis A & B, Rabies, Tetanus and Typhoid. Should your travels take you to areas prone to flooding then Cholera immunization should also be considered. If you are arriving in Malawi from a country with a risk to Yellow Fever transmission then a Yellow Fever vaccination certificate will be required for presentation on arrival in Malawi.
Malaria is prevalent, to varying degrees in most of Malawi. Anti-malaria tablets are a must (atovaquone/proguanil OR doxycycline OR mefloquine is usually recommended). Anti-malaria courses require to be started prior to your departure to Malawi especially since each of the options has its own side-effects and you should be aware of your specific sensitivity to them. Malarone is a good solution with a lower degree of side-effect but is the most expensive option.
In October 2015 Malawi initiated a reciprocal program whereby nationals of those countries that require Malawian visitors to have a visa, would be required to obtain a visa to visit Malawi. For citizens of the majority of countries this involves submitting a form and paying the requisite fees (in US Dollars cash) on arrival in Malawi (if arriving by air in Blantyre or Lilongwe. Visas can however be obtained in advance at the appropriate Malawian consulates, embassies or high commissions and if arriving by road this is to be recommended. Obtaining a visa in advance is a must however for citizens of Bangladesh, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Central Africa Republic, Chad, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Iraq, Khazakhstan, Lebanon, Libya, Mali, Nigeria, Pakistan, Palestinian National Authority, Russia, Rwanda, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria and Tunisia.
Countries not required include its neighbours in South Africa, Hong Kong, Ireland and Israel amongst others. Check for updated details at Malawi Immigration or nearest Consular Services.
Applications for Temporary Employment Permits and Temporary Residency Permits should be initiated through their respective employer before taking up employment.
Malawi has a sub-tropical climate divided into 3 seasons. Rainy season extends from December to March (to April in the Mzuzu area). The months from May to August are comparatively cool and dry while the months September through November are warm and dry. November is generally the warmest month. The Lilongwe area sees about 1/3rd less total annual rainfall than either Blantyre or Mzuzu.
The lakeshore and the Shire valley are generally a few degrees warmer than the higher altitude plateau areas. Blantyre averages 2-4 deg C warmer than Mzuzu.
The Bradt Guide to Malawi is a useful planning tool and knowledge resource when you are in-country.
Bring insect repellant (containing >/= 50% DEET for prolonged protection). Should you be sensitive to DEET containing repellants then Cutter Lemon Eucalyptus Insect Repellent has been found to have efficacy in repelling mosquitoes. Suncream and any medication that you typically take should also be in your bag.
Malawi's electrical supply has a standard voltage and frequency of 230 V and 50 Hz respectively. Type G electrical plugs are used. If bringing sensitive electrical equipment then a surge protector is recommended. The electricity supply system is occasionally prone to outages and electricity coverage is limited so a head-torch makes sense.
Lilongwe and Blantyre are served internationally by South African (via Johannesburg), Kenya (via Niarobi) and Ethiopian (via Addis Ababa) Airlines and in addition Fast Jet (from Dar es Salaam). South African and Ethiopian are members of Star Alliance while Kenya Airlines is a member of the Sky Team Alliance. Through tickets to Malawi are possible therefore from many starting points.
By road Malawi can be accessed through its neighbours Mozambique (Muloza, Nayuchi, Chiponde), Tanzania (Songwe Bridge) and Zambia (nr Chipata).
Remember to take your anti-malaria tablets (daily or weekly as required), cover-up and / or use a insect repellant containing 50% DEET later in the day (malaria is carried by the female Anopheles mosquito which tends to bite between late evening and early morning, with a peak around midnight) and sleep under a mosquito net.
Schistosomiasis, a parasitic infection that can be spread in fresh water, is found in Malawi. Avoid swimming in fresh, unchlorinated water, such as lakes, ponds, or rivers near to areas of habitation. Areas of Lake Malawi maybe clear of this infection but there is no good data to map exactly where or not. Swimming and diving at open rocky shores and around islands with little human water contact is associated with a minimal risk of infection. As a precaution Schistosomiasis can usually be treated successfully with a short course of a medication called praziquantel taken 6 - 8 weeks after your last exposure to suspect waters.
Although the water is treated in the major cities using bottled (sealed) water is the safe solution. Similarly avoid eating unpeeled fruit and vegetables to minimize risk of stomach upsets or infections. Take care to minimize your risk from germs by:
Despite great progress in HIV / AIDS control the HIV+ rate in the country remains around 10% so avoiding sharing of body fluids is strongly advised.If you receive medical or dental care, make sure the equipment is disinfected or sanitized and avoid sharing needles or other devices that can break the skin.
There are Central Hospitals (tertiary referral hospitals) in Blantyre, Lilongwe, Mzuzu & Zomba. District Hospitals are located in each of the 28 districts of the country. There are also a number of Mission Hospitals spread about the country (operating under the Christian Health Association of Malawi umbrella). Health insurance (including medivac) is advisable.
Malawi's currency is the Kwacha and it is not possible to obtain it in advance of your arrival in the country. In recent years it has been significantly devalued against other major currencies. Against this background of depreciating value the Kwacha is relatively strong during March - September(the tobacco sales period). Major banks in Malawi include National Bank, Standard Bank and Nedbank. All operate ATM's in the 3 major cities at which foreign debit cards are accepted (advise your home country financial institution in advance if you plan to use). These banks plus Malawi Savings Bank operate foreign exchange counters. Additionally there are foreign exchange bureaus in the major cities which frequently have more attractive rates than the banks.
There are many Western Union outlets in the country where you can pick up money transferred from your non-Malawi bank account or debit card.
Car rental is possible through Avis and SS Rent a Car in Blantyre and Lilongwe but driving in Malawi can be hazardous. Traffic accidents are in the top 15 causes of death for Malawians. Especially avoid travel at night on unlit roads where animals, pedestrians and cyclists become more of a problem. Other vehicles may be on the road without lights and abandoned cars and trucks are always a problem. Avoid speeding as the police operate many speed traps on the main roads.
Axa Coach Service run a range of services within the country. A Super Executive service operates twice daily between Blantyre and Lilongwe and a Deluxe service twice daily between Blantyre and Mzuzu (stopping at Ntcheu, Dedza, Lilongwe, Kasungu, Jenda and Mzimba>. From Mzuzu there is an Axa service onto Karonga (exit at Chitimba for Livingstonia). The Lakeshore service runs between Blantyre and Mzuzu via Mangochi, Salima, Nkhotakota and Nkhata Bay. Other towns are served by more basic buses or minibuses from the main centres. If there is a group of you travelling then shared taxis can be a reasonably cost-effective way of getting somewhere more quickly (not waiting for a minibus to fill up) Journeys like Mzuzu to Nkhata Bay or Rumphi are suited to shared taxis.
However there may be some places where formal transport is not available (ie Chitimba - Livingstonia, travelling to Usisya etc.) and matolas are the only option. These are likely to be rickety minibuses or pick-up trucks. Note however the second highest group of road traffic deaths are passengers of cars / light trucks.
In some towns and cities bicycle taxis are an option. These are particularly prevalent in Mzuzu and are a popular method of getting around the city.
The two most popular mobile networks are those operated by Airtel and TNM . Vendors in the main cities sell SIM cards and "airtime" can be obtained through the purchase of scratchcards (available everywhere) and texting in the code revealed. The most economical solution is to purchase a "bundle" and the bigger / longer the "bundle" the more economical. Separate bundles for calls (local and/or international), texts, data and Facebook data are available. USB internet dongles can be purchased and loaded with "airtime" in the same manner as a mobile phone. 3G coverage is available in Blantyre and Lilongwe.
Note, due to the price differential between "in-network" and "out-of-network" calling many Malawians have both an Airtel number and a TNM number, often with a dual-sim phone.
Both DHL and FedEx have offices in the three major cities. There are >150 Malawi Post Offices across the country. Postal service is not always 100% reliable.
All anti-malarials require to be taken for a given period after you return home. Follow the instructions specific to your choice of protection. Note that malaria can have a long incubation period so if you experience fever within 12 months of your return then make sure your doctor knows that you have been in Malawi. If you have been exposed to Lake Malawi or other bodies of water and you are not sure whether or not you are at risk of being infected with Schistosomiasis then a course of praziquantel is advised (~ 6 weeks after your last exposure to potentially infected water).