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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

Area:

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

Population:

17,749,826 (UN estimate 2016).

Population density:

151.6 per sq km.

Capital:

Lilongwe.

Government:

Republic.

Head of state:

President Lazarus Chakwera since 2020.

Head of government:

President Lazarus Chakwera since 2020.

Travel Advice

Coronavirus travel health

Check the latest information on risk from COVID-19 for Malawi on the TravelHealthPro website

See the TravelHealthPro website for further advice on travel abroad and reducing spread of respiratory viruses during the COVID-19 pandemic.

International travel

Commercial flights to and from Malawi may be subject to short-notice change. Check with your travel company for the latest information.

Due to increasing numbers of COVID-19 cases recorded in Malawi, and the emergence of a new strain of the virus, Malawi has closed its land borders to all foreigners until further notice. Malawi airspace remains open to a limited number of commercial flights.

All travellers wishing to leave Malawi are required to produce a negative PCR test obtained within 72 hours prior to departure from Malawi.

Entry and borders

See Entry requirements to find out what you will need to do when you arrive in Malawi.

Everyone should comply with the measures put in place in Malawi to limit the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19).

Returning to the UK

When you return, you must follow the rules for entering the UK.

You are responsible for organising your own COVID-19 test, in line with UK government testing requirements.

Be prepared for your plans to change

No travel is risk-free during COVID. Countries may further restrict travel or bring in new rules at short notice, for example due to a new COVID-19 variant. Check with your travel company or airline for any transport changes which may delay your journey home.

If you test positive for COVID-19 you will need to self-quarantine either at home if you are resident in Malawi, or a Government Treatment Centre if you are a visitor. You will be responsible for paying any costs. If self-isolating at home, government officials will regularly check that you are not breaking the terms of self-isolation. People under the age of 18 are treated the same as adults.

Plan ahead and make sure you:

  • can access money
  • understand what your insurance will cover
  • can make arrangements to extend your stay and be away for longer than planned

Travel in Malawi

Public transport continues to operate throughout Malawi with some restrictions and COVID-19 related measures in place. Face coverings in public are mandatory.

Accommodation

Hotels and private rentals continue to operate with some restrictions and coronavirus precautionary measures in place. We advise that you contact your accommodation provider before booking to confirm what restrictions are in place.

Public places and services

Gatherings of more than 50 people are banned. The majority of shops, banks and restaurants continue to operate, with some restrictions and coronavirus precautionary measures in place. Hand washing is compulsory before entering shops, banks, restaurants, bars, etc. Face coverings in public are compulsory.

Healthcare in Malawi

If you think you have COVID-19 symptoms:

  • You should stay at home. If you are residing in a hotel or lodge please inform hotel management or your tour operator.
  • If you need to seek medical attention call the toll free number +265 887 371 288 or the District Health Office +265 999934523 (Lilongwe) or +265 999520319 (Blantyre). A full list of contacts can be found on the Ministry of Health Facebook page.
  • If you test positive for COVID-19 you will need to self-quarantine and may be transferred to a Government Treatment Centre.

For contact details for English speaking doctors visit our list of healthcare providers.

General medical facilities throughout Malawi are unable to provide the same standard of healthcare as in the UK, with sophisticated equipment and intensive care facilities being very limited. View Health for further details on healthcare in Malawi.

Your emotional and mental wellbeing is important. Read guidance on how to look after your mental wellbeing and mental health.

See also the guidance on healthcare if you’re waiting to return to the UK.

COVID-19 vaccines if you live in Malawi

Wherever possible British nationals should aim to be vaccinated in the country where they live. As further information is available about the national vaccination programme, this page will be updated. Sign up to get email notifications.

British nationals living in Malawi who fit the priority groups set out in Malawi’s National Vaccine Deployment Plan (NVDP) will be eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.

Access to the COVID-19 vaccine can be obtained through the following vaccination centres:

  • There are currently 4 centres operational in Lilongwe:

a. Seventh Day Adventist Church

b. Central Hospital

c. Lumbadzi Hospital

d. Bingu Stadium

  • In other districts throughout Malawi the approved vaccination centre can be located in the District Hospital/DHO of the respective district. Currently there are 29 Districts Hospitals providing COVID-19 vaccinations
  • Registration: You will need to provide proof, in the form of passport or medical records, that you are eligible for the first phase of Malawi’s vaccine programme. On-the-spot registration is required after verification of age and/or presence of co-morbidities conditions has been established.

Your local healthcare provider should be able to provide you with further information.

The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) is the UK authority responsible for assessing the safety, quality and efficacy of vaccines. It has authorised the Pfizer/BioNTech, Oxford/AstraZeneca and Moderna vaccines for temporary supply and use in the UK. Find out more about MHRA approval for these vaccines.

British nationals living overseas should seek medical advice from their local healthcare provider in the country where they reside. Information about vaccines used in other national programmes, including regulatory status, should be available from the local authorities. This list of Stringent Regulatory Authorities recognised by the World Health Organisation may also be a useful source of additional information. Find out more about COVID-19 vaccines on the World Health Organization COVID-19 vaccines page.

Finance

For information on financial support you can access whilst abroad, visit our financial assistance guidance.

Further information

If you need urgent consular assistance, contact your nearest British embassy, high commission or consulate. All telephone numbers are available 24/7.

Crime

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.

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.

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.

Local travel

Since March 2020 there have been reports of possible incidents of unrest and violence in rural areas of Mulanje, linked to rumours of bloodsuckers. This is further to similar incidents of violence and unrest reported during the period September to December 2017 and July 2018 in the areas of Mulanje, Thyolo, Chiradzulu, Phalombe and also in rural parts of Blantyre, Zomba and Nsanje districts. You should continue to exercise extreme caution if you’re travelling in these areas, especially after dark, avoid any demonstrations or large groups of people and follow local security advice.

Seek security advice from the Mulanje Mountain Club if you intend to climb Mulanje mountain.

Political situation

Spontaneous demonstrations related to governance and economic issues can occur. If you’re in Malawi, avoid large crowds or demonstrations, monitor this travel advice and local media for updates and keep any local and international travel plans under review.

Road travel 

You can drive in Malawi using a UK driving licence for up to 90 days or an International Driving Permit for up to one year. You should carry a valid driving licence, a copy of your passport and your visa or residence permit at all times when driving, as you may need to produce these at police check points.

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.

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.

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.

When driving, be very wary if another car signals you to pull over or blocks your progress. In recent years there have been a small number of kidnapping incidents involving foreign nationals (including a British national in 2021) taken from their vehicles in Malawi by criminals.

The long-standing policy of the British government is not to make substantive concessions to hostage takers. The British government considers that paying ransoms and releasing prisoners builds the capability of terrorist groups and finances their activities. This can, in turn, increase the risk of further hostage-taking. The Terrorism Act (2000) makes payments to terrorists illegal.

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).

Terrorist attacks in Malawi can’t be ruled out.

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 more about the global threat from terrorism.

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.

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. See our information and advice page for the LGBT community before you travel.

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.

Entry rules in response to coronavirus (COVID-19)

Entry to Malawi

Malawian airspace remains open for a limited number of commercial flights.

On 23 December, Malawi closed all its land borders to non-residents.

From 26 April, Malawi banned all but essential travel to and from Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Brazil. Entry to Malawi will not be granted to passengers who have been in these countries within the previous seven days. Those undertaking essential travel will be required to self-quarantine at designated hotel accommodation for 14 days on arrival at their own expense.

On 12 June Malawi introduced the following restrictions on entry at all borders:

a person who:

(a) is not a citizen of Malawi;

(b) does not hold a resident permit for Malawi;

(c) does not have a permanent home or is not ordinarily resident in Malawi;

(d) is not part of a team of medical personnel that is required to provide medical services in Malawi;

(e) is not a member of the diplomatic or consular staff of a country that is accredited to Malawi or is in transit to another country; or

(f) is not a spouse, child or dependent of a person referred in paragraphs (a) and (e),

shall be refused entry into Malawi, unless they are:

a) a member of an organisation intending to support, supporting or implementing any COVID-19 related intervention;

b) a driver of a vehicle, cabin crew of an aircraft or vessel transporting essential goods.

Testing/screening on arrival

If you’re eligible for entry, you will need to provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours of your arrival.

You should not use the NHS testing service to get a test in order to facilitate your travel to another country. You should arrange to take a private test.

You may also be tested for COVID-19 on arrival at your own expense. Passengers may be required to remain at the airport or a testing centre until their COVID-19 test results are known, usually within 24 hours.

Current information is available from the Malawi Ministry of Health Facebook page.

Quarantine requirements

Individuals testing positive for coronavirus on arrival may be taken for treatment at a government facility.

All other individuals will be required to self-monitor for COVID-19 signs and symptoms for 14 days after arrival. This allows the traveller to interact with others but they will be required to strictly observe physical distancing and hand hygiene, and must always use a mask in public.

Testing/screening on departure

Anyone departing Malawi needs to provide a valid “Travel Certificate” to immigration showing that a negative COVID-19 test has been taken at any of the five government-designated testing centres within 72 hours of departure.

Testing centres are located at a number of Government approved facilities, including: Mzuzu Central Hospital (Mzuzu), Kamuzu Central Hospital (Lilongwe), Public Health Institute (Lilongwe), Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital (Blantyre) and Zomba Central Hospital (Zomba).

Please seek guidance from your local medical provider on how you can obtain a COVID-19 test. Mandatory COVID-19 testing will also take place on departure if you fail to produce a valid negative test certificate or if the airport staff judge you to display COVID-19 symptoms. This test will be at your own expense and may delay your departure.

Regular entry requirements

Visas

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.

Passport validity

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.

Coronavirus (COVID-19)

Check the latest information on risk from COVID-19 for Malawi on the TravelHealthPro website

See the healthcare information in the Coronavirus section for information on what to do if you think you have coronavirus while in Malawi.

At least 8 weeks before your trip, check the latest country-specific health advice from the National Travel Health Network and Centre (NaTHNaC) on the TravelHealthPro website. Each country-specific page has information on vaccine recommendations, any current health risks or outbreaks, and factsheets with information on staying healthy abroad. Guidance is also available from NHS (Scotland) on the FitForTravel website.

General information on travel vaccinations and a travel health checklist is available on the NHS website. You may then wish to contact your health adviser or pharmacy for advice on other preventive measures and managing any pre-existing medical conditions while you’re abroad.

The legal status and regulation of some medicines prescribed or purchased in the UK can be different in other countries. If you’re travelling with prescription or over-the-counter medicine, read this guidance from NaTHNaC on best practice when travelling with medicines. For further information on the legal status of a specific medicine, you’ll need to contact the embassy, high commission or consulate of the country or territory you’re travelling to.

While travel can be enjoyable, it can sometimes be challenging. There are clear links between mental and physical health, so looking after yourself during travel and when abroad is important. Information on travelling with mental health conditions is available in our guidance page. Further information is also available from the National Travel Health Network and Centre (NaTHNaC).

Health risks

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.

Medical treatment

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 to be paid up-front for treatment. Make sure you have adequate travel health insurance and accessible funds to cover the cost of any medical treatment abroad, medical evacuation and repatriation.

Earthquakes

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.

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, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) in London on 020 7008 5000 (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.

Travel safety

The FCDO 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 FCDO 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 FCDO travel advice

If you’re looking for a previous version of the FCDO travel advice, visit the National Archives website. Versions prior to 2 September 2020 will be archived as FCO travel advice. If you can’t find the page you’re looking for there, send the Travel Advice Team a request.

Further help

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.

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