World Travel Guide > Guides > Africa > Malawi

Malawi travel guide

About Malawi

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.

Key facts


118,484 sq km (45,747 sq miles).


17,749,826 (UN estimate 2016).

Population density:

151.6 per sq km.





Head of state:

President Lazarus Chakwera since 2020.

Head of government:

President Lazarus Chakwera since 2020.

Travel Advice

The Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) provides advice about risks of travel to help British nationals make informed decisions. Find out more about FCDO travel advice.

Before you travel

No travel can be guaranteed safe. Read all the advice in this guide and any specific travel advice that applies to you:

Follow and contact FCDO travel on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. You can also sign up to get email notifications when this advice is updated.

Travel insurance

If you choose to travel, research your destinations and get appropriate travel insurance. Insurance should cover your itinerary, planned activities and expenses in an emergency.

This advice reflects the UK government’s understanding of current rules for people travelling on a full ‘British citizen’ passport from the UK, for the most common types of travel.

The authorities in Malawi set and enforce entry rules. If you’re not sure how these requirements apply to you, contact the Malawi High Commission in the UK.

COVID-19 rules

There are no COVID-19 testing or vaccination requirements for travellers entering Malawi.

Passport validity requirements

Your passport must have an ‘expiry date’ at least 6 months after the day you arrive in Malawi.

Check with your travel provider that your passport and other travel documents meet requirements. Renew your passport if you need to.

You will be denied entry if you do not have a valid travel document or try to use a passport that has been reported lost or stolen.

Visa requirements

If you are travelling to Malawi for a visit of 30 days or less on a British passport you do not need a visa.  

If you wish to live, work or study in Malawi, visit the Malawi Immigration website for further information.

Travelling with children from South Africa

If you’re travelling with children aged 17 and under and passing through South Africa, see what documents you need in South Africa travel advice.

Vaccination requirements

At least 8 weeks before your trip, check the vaccinations and certificates you need in TravelHealthPro’s Malawi guide.

Depending on your circumstances, these may include:

  • a yellow fever vaccination certificate
  • a polio vaccination certificate

Customs rules

There are strict rules about goods you can take into or out of Malawi. You must declare anything that may be prohibited or subject to tax or duty.


There is a high threat of terrorist attack globally affecting UK interests and British nationals, including from groups and individuals who view the UK and British nationals as targets. Stay aware of your surroundings at all times.

UK Counter Terrorism Policing has information and advice on staying safe abroad and what to do in the event of a terrorist attack. Find out how to reduce your risk from terrorism while abroad.

Terrorism in Malawi

Terrorist attacks in Malawi cannot be ruled out.

Political situation

There can be demonstrations related to political and economic issues. Avoid large crowds and demonstrations. Monitor this travel advice and local media for updates. Keep local and international travel plans under review.


Protecting yourself and your belongings

There is a risk of mugging and bag-snatching. Take sensible precautions to protect yourself such as:

  • avoiding walking in quiet areas, especially after dark
  • leaving valuables and cash in a hotel safe if possible
  • keeping copies of important documents in a separate place

Most thefts from tourists take place around main bus stations in urban areas. Report any thefts to the police as soon as possible.

Be cautious if over-friendly people approach you offering to act as guides, selling goods, or claiming to know you and asking for a lift.

Drink and food spiking

People have been robbed after eating drugged food. Do not accept food or drink from strangers.

Burglary and violent assault

There is a risk of house burglaries, including by armed gangs. 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.

Carjacking and criminal kidnapping

Armed carjacking is a risk, especially for drivers of 4-wheel-drive vehicles. Lock your doors and keep windows closed. Do not offer lifts to strangers and look out for obstructions in the road ahead.

Be very wary if another car signals you to pull over or blocks your progress. In recent years there has been a small number of incidents where criminals have kidnapped foreign nationals (including a British national in 2021) from their vehicles.

The long-standing policy of the British government is not to make substantive concessions to hostage takers. See kidnappings or hostages abroad.

Climbing Mulanje Mountain

If you plan to climb Mulanje Mountain, get security advice from the Mountain Club of Malawi.

Laws and cultural differences

Personal ID

Police sometimes ask to see ID. Always carry a copy of your passport and visa.

Clothing sensitivities

Outside the main tourist areas, you should dress conservatively to avoid offending local sensitivities.  

Illegal drugs penalties

Penalties for drug use and smuggling can be severe. This includes cannabis.

Uncut gemstones

It is illegal to buy uncut precious gemstones.

LGBT+ travellers

Homosexual acts are illegal.

Read more advice for LGBT+ travellers.

Wildlife, animal products and souvenirs

It is illegal to buy, sell, kill or capture any protected wild animal or trade its parts without a licence. Buying or selling ivory is illegal. If you are caught buying or carrying these items, you will be prosecuted and get a prison sentence or a fine.

Transport risks

Road travel

If you are planning to drive in Malawi, see information on driving abroad.

You can use a UK photocard driving licence to drive in Malawi for up to 90 days. If you still have a paper driving licence, you may need to update it to a photocard licence. If you get an international driving permit (IDP), you can drive for up to one year.  

Always carry your licence, and copies of your passport and your visa or residence permit when driving. You may need to show these at police checkpoints.

There are frequent fuel shortages in Malawi and there can often be long queues. Do not assume fuel will be available on your route. Plan ahead to make sure you can reach your destination.

Police use breathalyser tests and regularly stop vehicles for speeding. There are speed cameras on main roads, often where there are no speed limit signs. Police can give on-the-spot speeding fines. Drivers caught drink-driving or speeding can also have their licences and vehicles immediately confiscated. Convicted drivers face fines and possible imprisonment.

Driving standards and conditions

Driving in Malawi can be hazardous and there is a high rate of road fatalities. Potholes, animals, abandoned vehicles and cyclists can cause serious accidents, as can vehicles travelling at night without lights. Emergency services are basic.

Always wear a seatbelt and avoid travelling after dark.

Minibus and coach travel

Public minibuses and pick-up trucks are often in poor condition and overloaded. Larger coach services running between the major towns are more reliable.

Extreme weather and natural disasters

Rainy season

The rainy season runs from November to April and can make road travel difficult. Floods can make areas of Malawi inaccessible.

Monitor weather services, including the:

Check your route before travelling and follow the advice of the local authorities.


Earthquakes are a risk in Malawi. The US Federal Emergency Management Agency has advice about what to do before, during and after an earthquake.

Before you travel check that:

  • your destination can provide the healthcare you may need
  • you have appropriate travel insurance for local treatment or unexpected medical evacuation

This is particularly important if you have a health condition or are pregnant.

Emergency medical number

Call 998 and ask for an ambulance.

Emergency numbers are unreliable in Malawi.

There may be other numbers for the areas you visit – ask your hotel or the local police.

Contact your insurance company promptly if you’re referred to a medical facility for treatment.

Vaccinations and health risks  

At least 8 weeks before your trip check:

Altitude sickness is a risk in parts of Malawi. Read more about altitude sickness on TravelHealthPro.

In late 2022 and early 2023, Malawi experienced the largest cholera outbreak in its history. Cases are likely to rise again during the rainy season.

Tap water may not be safe to drink, especially in rural areas.

You should take normal precautions to avoid exposure to HIV/AIDS.


The legal status and regulation of some medicines prescribed or bought in the UK can be different in other countries.

Read best practice when travelling with medicines on TravelHealthPro.

The NHS has information on whether you can take your medicine abroad.

Healthcare facilities in Malawi

General medical facilities throughout Malawi are unable to provide the same standard of healthcare as in the UK. Facilities in rural areas are basic and emergency services are limited. You should carry basic medical supplies. Many medical facilities expect up-front payment. Make sure you have adequate travel health insurance and accessible funds to cover the cost of any medical treatment abroad, medical evacuation and repatriation.

FCDO has a list of English-speaking doctors in Malawi.

Travel and mental health

Read FCDO guidance on travel and mental health. There is also mental health guidance on TravelHealthPro.

The Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) cannot provide tailored advice for individual trips. Read this travel advice and carry out your own research before deciding whether to travel.

Emergency services in Malawi     

Ambulance: 998

Fire: 999

Police: 990 or 997

Emergency numbers are unreliable in Malawi.

There may be other numbers for the areas you visit – ask your hotel or the local police.

Contact your travel provider and insurer

Contact your travel provider and your insurer if you are involved in a serious incident or emergency abroad. They will tell you if they can help and what you need to do.

Refunds and changes to travel

For refunds or changes to travel, contact your travel provider. You may also be able to make a claim through insurance. However, insurers usually require you to talk to your travel provider first.

Find out more about changing or cancelling travel plans, including:

  • where to get advice if you are in a dispute with a provider
  • how to access previous versions of travel advice to support a claim

Support from FCDO

FCDO has guidance on staying safe and what to do if you need help or support abroad, including:

Contacting FCDO

Follow and contact FCDO travel on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. You can also sign up to get email notifications when this travel advice is updated.

You can also contact FCDO online.

Help abroad in an emergency

If you’re in Malawi and you need emergency help from the UK government, contact the British High Commission in Lilongwe.

FCDO in London

You can call FCDO in London if you need urgent help because something has happened to a friend or relative abroad.

Telephone: 020 7008 5000 (24 hours)

Find out about call charges

Risk information for British companies

The Overseas Business Risk service offers information and advice for British companies operating overseas on how to manage political, economic, and business security-related risks.

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