Malawi

Latest update

This Advice was last issued on Wednesday, 17 September 2014.   This advice contains new information in the Summary and under Entry and exit and Health (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). 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. For more information on the outbreak and other travel restrictions and preventative measures, see the Ebola outbreak in West Africa travel bulletin.
  • 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.
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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) change regularly. Contact the nearest Embassy or Consulate 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. 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. General elections were held in Malawi on 20 May 2014. There was some election related violence in April 2014 in the lead-up to the election. The period following the announcement of results has been relatively calm, however protests and demonstrations may still occur and could become violent. 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.

Terrorism

Terrorism is a threat throughout the world. You can find more information about this threat in our General advice to Australian travellers.

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 particular targets 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.

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

Criminals have also been known to pose as tour guides in major cities and tourist destinations.

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

Before you go, organise a variety of ways of accessing your money in Malawi.

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.

Make two photocopies of valuable documents such as your passport, tickets, visas and travellers' cheques. Keep one copy with you in a separate place to the original and leave another copy with someone at home.

While travelling, don't carry too much cash and remember that expensive watches, jewellery and cameras may be tempting targets for thieves.

As a sensible precaution against luggage tampering, including theft, lock your luggage. Information on luggage safety is available from Australia's Civil Aviation Safety Authority.

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.

You are required to pay an additional fee to have a lost or stolen passport replaced. In some cases, the Government may also restrict the length of validity or type of replacement passports.

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 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.

Hiking on Mount Mulanje requires a local registered guide, as paths are not marked.

The Malawi Police has breathalyser 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.

Airline safety

Please refer to our air travel page for information about aviation safety and security. Flights by Air Malawi are frequently late, postponed and/or cancelled. If you plan to use Air Malawi you should contact them to confirm all flight details.

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.

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 the government having announced 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 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 where the facilities and care are similar to 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. 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

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

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.

If you are planning to stay in Malawi for more than six months, you should consider registering with the British High Commission in Lilongwe. Contact details are:

British High Commission, Lilongwe

PO Box 30042
Lilongwe 3
Telephone (265) (1) 772 400
Facsimile (265) (1) 772 657
e-mail: bhclilongwe@fco.gov.uk

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.

In Australia, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in Canberra may be contacted on (02) 6261 3305.

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.

For parents

For general information and tips on travelling with children see our Travelling with Children page.



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.