Malawi travel guide
Little Malawi is dwarfed by its much bigger southern African neighbours and this has undoubtedly affected both its tourism and its economy over the years.
But thanks to a number of successful conservation and wildlife reintroduction programs, Malawi is fast developing a reputation as an up-and-coming safari destination, and tourists are slowly cottoning on to the wealth of other offerings to be found in the so-called warm heart of Africa.
Malawi currently has nine national parks and wildlife reserves, six of which are especially recommended for visitors. There are also many attractive and accessible forest reserves. All the parks and reserves are uncrowded and give visitors an excellent experience of unspoiled wilderness. In 2012, lions were reintroduced into Majete Wildlife Reserve after a 30-year absence, which means Malawi is once again home to the Big 5 (lion, leopard, elephant, buffalo and rhino).
As well as iconic African wildlife, Malawi also boasts diverse scenery, including deep valleys, evergreen forests and waterfalls, all presided over by the dramatic peaks of Mount Mulanje and the rugged and regal Zomba Plateau in the south.
Outdoor activities are central to any visit to Malawi. You can trek, mountain bike or horse ride in entirely natural surroundings or climb peaks and plateaus. But the vast Lake Malawi remains the shimmering jewel in Malawi’s crown. Cut into the Great Rift Valley and stretching from the northern tip of the country to Mangochi in the south, Lake Malawi is Africa’s third largest lake. Some of the world’s rarest tropical fish are found here, not to mention myriad bird species. It’s a dream destination for twitching, scuba diving and kayaking, or simply relaxing by the beach.
Though Malawi remains one of the poorest countries in Africa, unlike some its neighbours it is an inherently peaceful place. And what it lacks in economic capital, it more than makes up for with its natural riches and ubiquitous kindness.
118,484 sq km (45,747 sq miles).
17,749,826 (UN estimate 2016).
151.6 per sq km.
President Peter Mutharika since 2014.
President Peter Mutharika since 2014.
230 volts AC, 50Hz. British-style plugs with three square pins are standard.
Last updated: 10 October 2017
The travel advice summary below is provided by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the UK. ‘We’ refers to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. For their full travel advice, visit www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.
Since 16 September 2017, the Malawi police have reported incidents of unrest, property damage, intimidation and violence in the Mount Mulanje area. At least 6 people have been killed. This unrest has been linked to rumours of people coming to the area to steal blood from local residents for use in ‘black magic’ rituals. People not known to the local community are most likely to be the targets of violence. Tensions remain high and have spread to the neighbouring districts of Thyolo, Chiradzulu and Phalombe. You should exercise extreme caution in these areas, especially after dark.
From 1 October 2015 British visitors need a visa to enter Malawi. Details of the application process can be found on the website of the Malawian High Commission in London.
Most visits to Malawi are trouble-free, but you should take sensible precautions to protect yourself from muggers and bag-snatchers. Most thefts from visitors take place around the main bus stations in Lilongwe and Blantyre.
Although there’s no recent history of terrorism in the Malawi, attacks can’t be ruled out.
If you’re abroad and you need emergency help from the UK government, contact the nearest British embassy, consulate or high commission.
Safety and security
Most visits to Malawi are trouble-free, but you should take sensible precautions to protect yourself from muggers and bag-snatchers. Most thefts from visitors take place around the main bus stations in Lilongwe and Blantyre. Avoid walking around quiet areas, especially after dark. Leave valuables and cash in a hotel safe, where practical. Keep copies of important documents in a separate place Report any thefts to the police as soon as possible.
You should avoid all demonstrations and rallies, remain vigilant and follow the advice of the local security authorities and/your tour operator.
Lock car doors and keep windows closed. Armed carjacking is a risk, especially for drivers of four-by-four vehicles. Don’t offer lifts to strangers and look out for obstructions in the road ahead.
Be cautious if over-friendly people approach you offering to act as guides or selling goods, or who claim to know you and ask for a lift. Don’t accept food or drink from strangers; people have been robbed after eating drugged food.
The Malawi police service reported 2 separate attacks on visitors to the Mount Mulanje area between 16 and 21 September 2017. Tensions in the area remain high and have spread to the neighbouring districts of Thyolo, Chiradzulu and Phalombe. You should exercise caution in these areas, especially after dark.
House burglaries, including by armed gangs, do occur though crime rates are low by regional standards. There has been an increase in break-ins in Lilongwe, Blantyre and Limbe, including violent assaults on residents. Review your security systems and watch out for anything unusual.
Seek security advice from the Mulanje Mountain Club if you intend to climb Mulanje Mountain.
Driving in Malawi can be hazardous. Always wear a seatbelt and avoid travel after dark. Potholes, animals, abandoned vehicles and cyclists can cause serious accidents, as can vehicles travelling at night without lights.
Malawi has a very high rate of fatalities on the road. Travel between towns by public minibus or pick-up truck isn’t recommended; vehicles are often in poor condition and overloaded. Emergency services are basic. Larger coach services do run between the major towns and are more reliable.
The Malawi Police Service has introduced breathalyser tests, and regularly stops vehicles for speeding. There are speed cameras on the main roads. Drivers caught drink driving or speeding can have their licences and vehicles confiscated on the spot. Convicted drivers face a fine and/or imprisonment. The blood alcohol limit is 0.08g per 100ml of blood (the same as in England, Wales and Northern Ireland).
When driving in Malawi you should carry a valid driving licence at all times, a copy of your passport and your visa or residence permit; you may need to produce it at police check points. You can drive using a UK driving licence for up to 90 days or an International Driving Permit for up to one year. Slow down in all built-up areas. Traffic police often place speed cameras where there are no signs showing the speed limit. The police can impose on the spot fines.
Spontaneous demonstrations related to governance and economic issues can occur. You should avoid political rallies and street demonstrations, and should monitor local media.
Although there’s no recent history of terrorism in the Malawi, attacks can’t be ruled out.
There’s a heightened threat of terrorist attack globally against UK interests and British nationals, from groups or individuals motivated by the conflict in Iraq and Syria. You should be vigilant at this time.
Find out more about the global threat from terrorism, how to minimise your risk and what to do in the event of a terrorist attack.
Local laws and customs
Drug taking and smuggling are offences. This includes cannabis. Punishment can be severe.
It is illegal to buy, sell, kill or capture any protected wild animal or trade its parts without a license. Malawi is a signatory to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) which bans trade in ivory. Those caught purchasing or trafficking such goods will be prosecuted and receive prison sentences or fines.
Buying uncut precious stones is illegal.
Outside the main tourist areas, women should cover legs and shoulders to avoid offending local sensitivities.
Homosexual acts are illegal.
Carry a photocopy of your passport and visa at all times.
The information on this page covers the most common types of travel and reflects the UK government’s understanding of the rules currently in place. Unless otherwise stated, this information is for travellers using a full ‘British Citizen’ passport.
The authorities in the country or territory you’re travelling to are responsible for setting and enforcing the rules for entry. If you’re unclear about any aspect of the entry requirements, or you need further reassurance, you’ll need to contact the embassy, high commission or consulate of the country or territory you’re travelling to.
You should also consider checking with your transport provider or travel company to make sure your passport and other travel documents meet their requirements.
You need a visa to enter Malawi as a visitor. You can find details of the application process on the Malawi High Commission website. The Malawi authorities strongly advise you to get a visa before travel. If you can’t get a visa before travel, you can get a visa on arrival at any port of entry. For more information check with the Malawi High Commission in London.
Your passport should be valid for minimum period of 6 months on arrival in Malawi.
UK Emergency Travel Documents
UK Emergency Travel Documents (ETDs) are accepted for entry, airside transit, and exit from Malawi. ETDs must be valid for 6 months for entry into Malawi if the holder is not a returning resident.
Yellow fever certificate requirements
Check whether you need a yellow fever certificate by visiting the National Travel Health Network and Centre’s TravelHealthPro website.
Travelling with children via a South African airport
If you’re transiting through a South African airport with children (under 18), see our South Africa travel advice page for information and advice about the documents you’ll need to carry.
Visit your health professional at least 4 to 6 weeks before your trip to check whether you need any vaccinations or other preventive measures. Country specific information and advice is published by the National Travel Health Network and Centre on the TravelHealthPro website and by NHS (Scotland) on the fitfortravel website. Useful information and advice about healthcare abroad is also available on the NHS Choices website.
Outbreaks of gastric intestinal infections including cholera are also common, especially during the rainy season (December to March). Cholera outbreaks are particularly common in border areas with Mozambique and Tanzania. You should follow the health advice issued by the National Travel Health Network and Centre.
Tap water may not be safe to drink, especially in rural areas.
The UNAIDS 2013 Report on the Global AIDS Epidemic estimated that around 950,000 adults aged 15 or over in Malawi were living with HIV; the prevalence percentage was estimated at around 10.8% of the adult population compared to the prevalence percentage in adults in the UK of around 0.25%. You should exercise normal precautions to avoid exposure to HIV/AIDS.
If you need emergency medical assistance during your trip, dial 997, 998 or 999 and ask for an ambulance. You should contact your insurance/medical assistance company promptly if you are referred to a medical facility for treatment.
In 2009, there were a series of earthquakes in northern Malawi around Karonga. Some of them registered up to 6.2 on the Richter scale, and caused deaths and damage to buildings. The US Federal Emergency Management Agency has advice about what to do before, during and after an earthquake.
Travel advice help and support
If you’re abroad and you need emergency help from the UK government, contact the nearest British embassy, consulate or high commission. If you need urgent help because something has happened to a friend or relative abroad, contact the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) in London on 020 7008 1500 (24 hours).
Foreign travel checklist
Read our foreign travel checklist to help you plan for your trip abroad and stay safe while you’re there.
The FCO travel advice helps you make your own decisions about foreign travel. Your safety is our main concern, but we can’t provide tailored advice for individual trips. If you’re concerned about whether or not it’s safe for you to travel, you should read the travel advice for the country or territory you’re travelling to, together with information from other sources you’ve identified, before making your own decision on whether to travel. Only you can decide whether it’s safe for you to travel.
When we judge the level of risk to British nationals in a particular place has become unacceptably high, we’ll state on the travel advice page for that country or territory that we advise against all or all but essential travel. Read more about how the FCO assesses and categorises risk in foreign travel advice.
Our crisis overseas page suggests additional things you can do before and during foreign travel to help you stay safe.
Refunds and cancellations
If you wish to cancel or change a holiday that you’ve booked, you should contact your travel company. The question of refunds and cancellations is a matter for you and your travel company. Travel companies make their own decisions about whether or not to offer customers a refund. Many of them use our travel advice to help them reach these decisions, but we do not instruct travel companies on when they can or can’t offer a refund to their customers.
For more information about your rights if you wish to cancel a holiday, visit the Citizen’s Advice Bureau website. For help resolving problems with a flight booking, visit the website of the Civil Aviation Authority. For questions about travel insurance, contact your insurance provider and if you’re not happy with their response, you can complain to the Financial Ombudsman Service.
Registering your travel details with us
We’re no longer asking people to register with us before travel. Our foreign travel checklist and crisis overseas page suggest things you can do before and during foreign travel to plan your trip and stay safe.
Previous versions of FCO travel advice
If you’re a British national and you have a question about travelling abroad that isn’t covered in our foreign travel advice or elsewhere on GOV.UK, you can submit an enquiry. We’re not able to provide tailored advice for specific trips.