Malawi

Latest update

This Advice was last issued on Tuesday, 28 October 2014.   This advice contains new information in the Summary and under Entry and exit and Health (travellers suspected of being infected with Ebola Virus Disease have been detained at airports). We continue to advise Australians to exercise normal safety precautions in Malawi.

Malawi overall

Summary

  • We advise you to exercise normal safety precautions in Malawi. Exercise common sense and look out for suspicious behaviour, as you would in Australia.
  • Demonstrations in Malawi can be spontaneous and attract large numbers. You should avoid all demonstrations and large public gatherings. If you are in an area where demonstrations are occurring you should leave if it is safe to do so.
  • Shortages of petrol and diesel have occurred in Malawi, resulting in long queues at fuel stations. Travellers to Malawi should be aware of these difficulties when planning to hire vehicles or travel by road to and from Malawi.
  • The outbreak of Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) in west Africa is the most serious in recorded history. In an effort to prevent the spread of the disease into Malawi, authorities have introduced health screening at airports and land borders for passengers arriving from west Africa. Travellers suspected of being infected with EVD have been detained at airports. For more information on the outbreak and other travel restrictions and preventative measures, see the Ebola outbreak in West Africa travel bulletin.
  • The rate of HIV/AIDS infection in Malawi is high.
  • Australia has a Consulate in Malawi headed by an Honorary Consul who can provide limited consular assistance. The Australian Embassy in Zimbabwe provides full consular assistance to Australians in Malawi, see the Where to Get Help section.
  • See also our general advice for business travellers.
  • Be a smart traveller. Before heading overseas:
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Entry and exit

A 30 day visa may be issued to Australian citizens at the port of entry. Immigration and customs services at land borders only operate during daylight hours. To avoid being stranded, travellers are advised to confirm beforehand what time these services are available. Visa and other entry and exit conditions (such as currency, customs and quarantine regulations) can change at short notice. The nearest Embassy of Malawi is in Tokyo. You should contact the Embassy of Malawi for the most up to date information.

A Yellow Fever vaccination certificate is required for entry into Malawi for travellers arriving from a yellow fever affected country. The World Health Organization (WHO) can provide a list of yellow fever affected countries.

The outbreak of Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) in west Africa is the most serious in recorded history. In an effort to prevent the spread of the disease into Malawi, authorities have introduced health screening at airports and land borders for passengers arriving from western Africa. Travellers suspected of being infected with EVD have been detained at airports. For more information on the outbreak and other travel restrictions and preventative measures, see the Ebola outbreak in West Africa travel bulletin.

Make sure your passport has at least six months' validity from your planned date of return to Australia. You should carry copies of a recent passport photo with you in case you need a replacement passport while overseas. Australian travellers are advised that Provisional Travel Documents are not accepted for travelling or transiting through South Africa.

Safety and security

Civil unrest/Political tension

We advise you to exercise normal safety precautions in Malawi. Exercise common sense and look out for suspicious behaviour, as you would in Australia. You should avoid all political rallies and demonstrations, and monitor the local media for developments which may affect your safety.

Demonstrations in Malawi can be spontaneous and attract large numbers. If you are in an area where demonstrations are occurring you should leave if it is safe to do so. You should exercise particular caution in market areas.

Demonstrations occurred most recently in Lilongwe in early October. Street vendors clashed with police while protesting the removal of vendor stands.

Terrorism

Terrorism is a threat throughout the world. See our Terrorist Threat Overseas bulletin for more information on terrorism and our General advice to Australian travellers for tips on staying safe overseas.

Crime

Petty crime, including robbery, pickpocketing and bag snatching is prevalent in Malawi, including on public transport. There has been an increase in burglaries in residential areas throughout Malawi. Perpetrators of these crimes are frequently armed and may resort to violence if provoked. Residents of Blantyre and Limbe should pay close attention to their personal security and be alert to anything suspicious.

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. When travelling by car you should keep your car doors locked, the windows up and keep valuables out of sight. Never offer a lift to strangers. You should not resist if your vehicle is attacked.

In the capital, Lilongwe, the majority of attacks take place on Kenyatta Drive and around the bus station. Tourists are often targeted when walking from the Old Town (shops and craft stalls) to the nearby new Capital City (nature sanctuary and embassies). You should avoid walking at night, particularly in urban areas.

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

Be wary of food and drink spiking. Never leave food or drink unattended.

Due to the high prevalence of HIV/AIDS, victims of violent crime, especially rape, are strongly encouraged to seek immediate medical assistance.

Money and valuables

Credit cards and travellers’ cheques are not widely accepted in Malawi and there are very few ATM machines, even in tourist locations. The US dollar is the most widely accepted currency for exchange. You should check with your accommodation provider or tour operator on the best methods of payment before your arrival.

Travellers are required to declare all foreign currency, regardless of the amount, when entering and leaving Malawi. There are limits on the export of local and foreign currency. Any amount in excess of the limit will be confiscated at the point of departure. The limits on currency export do not apply to currency declared at entry. Australians wishing to export currency are advised to seek advice from Malawian authorities.

Your passport is a valuable document that is attractive to criminals who may try to use your identity to commit crimes. It should always be kept in a safe place. You are required by Australian law to report a lost or stolen passport. If your passport is lost or stolen overseas, report it online or contact the nearest Australian Embassy, High Commission or Consulate as soon as possible.

Review the General advice to Australian travellers for further information on being safe and prepared abroad.

Local travel

Shortages of petrol and diesel have occurred in Malawi in the past. Travellers to Malawi should be aware of possible difficulties when planning to hire vehicles or travel by road to and from Malawi. There are no roadside assistance networks for stranded drivers in Malawi.

Driving in Malawi is dangerous, particularly at night, due to poor road conditions, poorly maintained vehicles and inadequate street lighting. Road traffic accidents are a common cause of death for travellers to Malawi. Additional safety risks include pedestrians and animals that stray onto roads, vehicles travelling at night without lights and vehicles abandoned on roads. For further advice, see our road travel page.

Paths on Mount Mulanje are not marked. We strong advise using a registered local guide.

The Malawi Police has breathaliser tests for drivers. The blood alcohol limit is 0.08. Speed cameras also exist on main roads. Drivers caught over the legal alcohol limit or speeding can have their licence and/or vehicle confiscated immediately. Other punishments include fines and/or imprisonment. Police roadblocks are located throughout the country and you may be required to show personal identity and vehicle registration and ownership papers.

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

The safety standards you might expect of transport and tour operators, including adventure activities, may not be of the same level as in Australia. Sufficient safety equipment may not be provided and recommended maintenance standards and safety precautions may not be observed. If appropriate safety equipment is not available, you should use another provider. Always use available safety equipment, such as seatbelts, even if the locals don't.

Airline safety

The Australian Government does not 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.

Please also refer to our general air travel page for information on aviation safety and security.

Laws

When you are in Malawi, be aware that local laws and penalties, including ones that appear harsh by Australian standards, do apply to you. If you are arrested or jailed, the Australian Government will do what it can to help you but we can't get you out of trouble or out of jail. Research local laws before travelling.

Information on what Australian consular officers can and cannot do to help Australians in trouble overseas is available from the Consular Services Charter.

It is illegal to purchase or export uncut precious stones, or to import ivory or pornographic material.

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

Homosexuality continues to be illegal in Malawi, despite an informal moratorium on the existing law. Penalties include imprisonment of up to 14 years. The local community is generally intolerant of same sex relationships. See our LGBTI travellers page.

It is illegal to photograph government buildings, airports, churches or synagogues, bridges and military installations.

We recommend you carry your passport and visa or immigration permit at all times. Police and immigration officials can request to see your passport and immigration stamp/visa at any time. Failure to produce these documents may result in detention. Failure to adhere to immigration requirements could result in arrest, imprisonment and/or deportation.

Some Australian criminal laws, such as those relating to money laundering, bribery of foreign public officials, terrorism, forced marriage, female genital mutilation, child pornography, and child sex tourism, apply to Australians overseas. Australians who commit these offences while overseas may be prosecuted in Australia.

Australian authorities are committed to combating sexual exploitation of children by Australians overseas. Australians may be prosecuted at home under Australian child sex tourism and child pornography laws. These laws provide severe penalties of up to 25 years imprisonment for Australians who engage in child sexual exploitation while outside of Australia.

Local customs

There are strict standards of dress and behaviour in some areas of Malawi and you should take care not to offend. Women should especially cover their legs and shoulders with loose-fitting clothing. Tightly-fitted clothing may offend.

Health

We strongly recommend that you take out comprehensive travel insurance that will cover any overseas medical costs, including medical evacuation, before you depart. Confirm that your insurance covers you for the whole time you'll be away and check what circumstances and activities are not included in your policy. 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 a traveller's medical expenses overseas or medical evacuation costs.

It is important to consider your physical and mental health before travelling overseas. We encourage you to consider having vaccinations before you travel. At least eight weeks before you depart, make an appointment with your doctor or travel clinic for a basic health check-up, and to discuss your travel plans and any implications for your health, particularly if you have an existing medical condition. The World Health Organization (WHO) provides information for travellers and our health page also provides useful information for travellers on staying healthy.

Public medical facilities in Malawi are limited. There are a number of private clinics in Lilongwe and Blantyre but the facilities and care do not always meet Australian standards. In the event of serious illness or injury, medical evacuation to a country with the appropriate facilities would be necessary. Medical evacuation costs could be considerable.

Malaria occurs widely and throughout the year in Malawi and other insect-borne diseases (including filariasis, plague and African sleeping sickness) are also common. We encourage you to take prophylaxis against malaria and take measures to avoid insect bites, including using insect repellent at all times, wearing long loose fitting light coloured clothing and ensure your accommodation is mosquito proof.

Water-borne, food-borne and other infectious diseases (including hepatitis, tuberculosis and rabies) are prevalent with more serious outbreaks occurring from time to time. It is recommended that all drinking water be boiled or that you drink bottled water, avoid ice cubes and raw and undercooked food. Do not swim in fresh water to avoid exposure to certain water-borne diseases such as bilharzia (schistosomiasis). Seek medical advice if you have a fever or are suffering from diarrhoea.

Outbreaks of cholera are common in Malawi during the rainy season, November to April. We advise you to drink water only from safe sources and maintain strict hygiene standards if travelling to Malawi. Further advice on cholera can be found on the WHO website.

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

The outbreak of Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) in west Africa is the most serious in recorded history. In an effort to prevent the spread of the disease into Malawi, authorities have introduced health screening at airports and land borders for passengers arriving from western Africa. Travellers suspected of being infected with EVD have been detained at airports. For more information on the outbreak and other travel restrictions and preventative measures, see the Ebola outbreak in West Africa travel bulletin.

Where to get help

Depending on the nature of your enquiry, your best option may be to contact your family, friends, airline, travel agent, tour operator, employer or travel insurance provider in the first instance.

If the matter relates to criminal issues, contact the local police. The national emergency number is 199 or 997.

If the matter relates to complaints about tourism services or products, contact the service provider directly.

The Consular Services Charter explains what the Australian Government can and can’t do to assist Australians overseas.

Australia has a Consulate in Malawi headed by an Honorary Consul. The Consulate provides only limited consular assistance (not including the issue of passports). Contact details for the Consulate are:

Australian Consulate, Lilongwe

Mr Greg Walker
Samala House, level 2, Section B Offices, City Centre
Lilongwe, Malawi
T: +265 1 774894 / 5
F: +265 1 774 896
E: mwhonconsul@gmail.com

You can obtain full consular assistance from the Australian Embassy in Zimbabwe:

Australian Embassy, Harare

1 Green Close
Borrowdale
Harare, Zimbabwe
Telephone (263 4) 853 235 55
Facsimile (263 4) 870 566
Website: www.zimbabwe.embassy.gov.au
Email: zimbabwe.embassy@dfat.gov.au

See the High Commission website for information about opening hours and temporary closures that may affect service provision.

If you are travelling to Malawi, whatever the reason and however long you'll be there, we encourage you to register with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. You can register online or in person at any Australian Embassy, High Commission or Consulate. The information you provide will help us to contact you in an emergency - whether it is a natural disaster, civil disturbance or a family issue.

In a consular emergency, if you are unable to contact the Australian Embassy you can contact the 24-hour Consular Emergency Centre on +61 2 6261 3305 or 1300 555 135 within Australia.

Additional information

Natural disasters, severe weather and climate

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

Malawi is subject to earthquakes. Information on natural disasters, including earthquakes, can be obtained from the Humanitarian Early Warning Service.

If a natural disaster occurs, follow the advice of local authorities.

Wildlife

Australians are advised to respect wildlife laws and to maintain a safe and legal distance when observing wildlife, including marine animals and birds. You should only use reputable and professional guides or tour operators and closely follow park regulations and wardens' advice.

Additional Resources

For additional general and economic information to assist travelling in this country, see the following link:



While every care has been taken in preparing this information, neither the Australian Government nor its agents or employees, including any member of Australia's diplomatic and consular staff abroad, can accept liability for any injury, loss or damage arising in respect of any statement contained herein.

Maps are presented for information only. The department accepts no responsibility for errors or omission of any geographic feature. Nomenclature and territorial boundaries may not necessarily reflect Australian Government policy.