With the bays and beaches of UNESCO-listed Lake Malawi, nine national parks and stunning wildlife reserves, expats in Malawi can enjoy vibrant city life with an expanse of beautiful landscape on their doorstep.
The cost of living won’t strain the wallet and if a simpler life grounded in community values appeals, you won’t be disappointed.
What to expect from living in Malawi as an expat
Densely populated Malawi is one of the world’s poorest countries, but it’s friendly and inclusive of expats. About a fifth of the land is covered by tropical Lake Malawi, which sit along its borders with Mozambique and Tanzania. The capital is Lilongwe, the largest city, but colourful Blantyre, Malawi’s commercial heart, is also an expat hot spot.
This is a generally peaceful and politically stable country. For those living in Malawi as an expat, it’s power cuts and the absence of familiar goods and services that may pose the greatest challenge. Equally, Malawi’s leisurely, laid-back pace can be a source of frustration for anyone used to life in the fast lane.
What’s life like for expats in Malawi?
Malawi’s population is approaching 21 million, with 83% of its people living and working in rural areas. Raw tobacco, sugar and tea are the country’s main exports.
Around a million people live in Lilongwe, the administrative centre. It may lack the historical and cultural appeal of Blantyre, once named “the world’s top city”, but the capital has its fair share of cafes, restaurants, shops and markets, plus the country’s first five-star hotel, a 40,000-seat stadium and a 120-hectare wildlife park.
For expats in Malawi who work in tourism, life usually centres around Lake Malawi, where scuba diving and water sports are popular pursuits.
How to become an expat in Malawi
For most foreigners entering Malawi, a visa is required. You can apply online via the country’s e-Visa System.
A permit is also needed for expats and there are various options available:
- Temporary Residence Permit – for visitors who hold a valid visitors/Business Visit permit and have been in the country for a maximum of 90 days, but have legitimate and justifiable reasons to stay on
- Business Residence Permit (BRP) – for those who want to start a business or make investments of a minimum of US$50,000. It’s valid for five years and can be renewed for a further five.
- Permanent Residence Permit (PRP) – for anyone who’s been in Malawi for at least five years
Visit Malawi’s Department of Immigration and Citizenship Services website for more details.
How many expats are living in Malawi?
There’s an estimated 7,400 British expats in Malawi, part of an expat population that also includes many Europeans, Americans and South Africans. Figures suggest that the majority – 25,000 – have settled in Blantyre.
Known as ‘the warm heart of Africa’, Malawi welcomes its expat communities, making it easier for foreigners to make friends and create support networks.
Is Malawi safe for expats?
Malawi ranks 65th on the Global Peace Index, alongside France and above 98 other nations. However, in a country where 70% of people live on less than £1.55 a day, muggings, burglaries and car-jackings are a risk.
Expats in Malawi are advised to take sensible precautions such as not walking or driving after dark and avoiding certain areas such as the main bus stations of Lilongwe and Blantyre.
Due to a recent increase in break-ins, some of which have been violent, reliable home security systems are recommended and many expats in Malawi employ a guard for extra peace of mind.
Spontaneous demonstrations and rallies do take place, particularly around elections, with the risk of crowd violence. Keep an eye on local news and remain vigilant to avoid getting caught up in them.
How is the political situation in Malawi?
Malawi has enjoyed a prolonged period of political stability since it gained independence in 1964 – and there are no significant religious or racial tensions likely to upset the balance, although political corruption is endemic.
President Lazarus Chakwera currently leads a coalition of nine political parties known as Tonse Alliance. It’s a first for the country and has been described by the Malawi Times as ‘the litmus test for coalition governments’.
Language in Malawi
Expats in Malawi shouldn’t have any language difficulties. English is the official language and prevails in matters of government, industry and commerce in most towns and cities. However, Chichewa is considered the main national language. It’s taught in elementary schools and spoken by about 60% of the population.
How did Malawi deal with COVID-19?
A 2021 report revealed that about 80% of pandemic funds were misused by government officers. This impacted not only the purchase of essential medical supplies, but also the outreach required to combat vaccine resistance. However, subsequent funding, was put to good use, including the Global Fund’s COVID-19 Response Mechanism (C19RM), which enabled additional healthcare facilities to be built and renovated.
Since the start of the pandemic, Malawi fared better than many other countries with just 2,644 coronavirus-related deaths and 86,204 infections, but only 5.8% of the population have been vaccinated.
Where will you find expats living in Malawi and how can I find accommodation?
Most expats live in Lilongwe or Blantyre. Both cities have an airport nearby, but Lilongwe is the closest to Kamuzu International, the main destination for international flights. The capital’s New Town caters for expats looking for more modern residences, although the Old Town with its bars, restaurants and markets also has residential cachet.
Blantyre’s industrial and commercial zones have undergone considerable development in recent years. It also has some of the best restaurants in Malawi, and international schools and hospitals are within easy reach.
Talking to an estate agent will help you navigate towards the safest neighbourhoods, the easiest commutes, and the best local amenities. Given the problems with Malawi’s water and electricity supplies, it’s also worth checking whether your potential home has water storage facilities and back-up power supplies, such as gas for cooking.
Can expats buy property in Malawi?
While it’s possible for expats in Malawi to buy property, there are restrictions. Only citizens can buy freehold properties – for everyone one else it’s leasehold – and if you put in an offer and a Malawian matches it, they take priority. Leases for expats usually last 50 years.
To help you through the process, find an estate agent registered with the Ministry of Lands who is also a member of the Surveyors Institute of Malawi. There’s no statutory requirement to engage a lawyer, but it can also make the experience easier.
Top expat tips for living in Malawi
- • Ensure you have all essential documents and visas in place before departure
- • If you move with your kids, early application for school places is advisable
- • Have up to three months’ rent available upfront to secure a rental property
- • Look at life insurance and health cover that reflect your location needs. We have been supporting expats with international insurance for almost 30 years now
- • Stay healthy and immerse yourself in the culture
Jobs, visas and working in Malawi
Any job vacancy in Malawi needs to be advertised to citizens first and employees from abroad can only step in if there’s a local skills gap.
It’s against the law for organisations to engage expats before a Temporary Employment Permit (TEP) has been approved. This needs to be arranged by your employer and issued before you enter the country. TEPs last two years and can be renewed twice. Applications for renewal need to be made three months ahead of the expiry date.
What sort of salary will I earn living in Malawi?
One Malawian Kwacha (MWK) or 100 tambala, is the equivalent of about £0.00080. The average annual gross income is MWK 17,118,281 (£13,768.60).
A flat tax rate of 15% applies to non-residents on all income. For residents, earning more than MWK 1,200,000 (£965) per year, there’s a minimum 25% tax. The maximum of 40% applies to salaries over MWK 72,000,000 (£57,908.34).
Cost of moving and living in Malawi as an expat
A recent report by the National Statistic Office showed that the cost of living has increased under the Chakwera administration with headline inflation – the cost of purchasing a fixed basket of goods – going up 12.1%.
For expats in Malawi, the increase may be less of an issue. On average the cost of living is 47% lower than in the UK, with Lilongwe being slightly more expensive than Blantyre.
If you’re renting a property, initial costs can be relatively high as a large deposit and first month’s rent usually need to be paid upfront. A one bed-room apartment outside the city centre is around MWK 115,600 per month or £93, although internet access is around MWK 112,000 or £90.
Banking and finance in Malawi
The top five commercial banks in Malawi, based on customer reviews are:
Healthcare and insurance in Malawi
The average life expectancy in Malawi is 65 years . Malaria and yellow fever are commonplace and the country has one of the highest incidences of HIV/AIDS in the world.
Although services have improved in recent years, expats in Malawi are advised to take out comprehensive medical insurance. Good-quality healthcare is available in the hospitals of Lilongwe and Blantyre, but it’s expensive and you’ll have to pay for treatment. Outside the cities, access to medical assistance is limited.
If the appropriate treatment can’t be provided in Malawi, patients are likely to be referred to hospitals in neighbouring Kenya or South Africa, so choose an insurance plans that cover the costs of medical evacuations.
Culture and customs in Malawi
Malawi offers a rich tradition of arts and crafts, as well as ceremonial dance often featuring costumes and masks. Christianity is the dominant religion, although about a fifth of the population are Muslims.
Expats in Malawi should remember that this is a conservative country. Homosexuality is illegal and women are expected to dress modestly, but there’s also a pro-Western agenda running, and a series of five-year plans are currently in play as part of the Malawi Growth and Development Strategy (MGDS). The current focus is the development of education, energy, agriculture, health and tourism.
Expat forums in Malawi
For valuable advice and friendly support, some of the busiest expat forums include:
You’ll also find social media groups and helpful threads on Tripadvisor. Many expat sites feature blogs and interviews that can also be illuminating.
Your handy “moving to Malawi” checklist
Before moving to Malawi, make sure you check the following:
- ☐ Have you researched places you’d like to live?
- ☐ If you’ve found an apartment or house you’d like to rent, have you contacted the landlord and made an offer?
- ☐ Have you started your application for your visa?
- ☐ Do you have the necessary documentation to apply for a visa?
- ☐ Has your employer organised a Temporary Employment Permit (TEP) for you?
- ☐ Have you taken out international health insurance before moving to Malawi?
- ☐ Have you looked into other forms of health insurance to support your life in Malawi, such as life insurance and income protection?
- ☐ Do you know which bank you want to apply for?
- ☐ Do you have all the paperwork necessary to complete your application for a bank account?
- ☐ Have you looked into the cost of relocation? If you’re bringing your own furniture from home, have you received a reliable quote from a shipping company?
- ☐ Have you looked into schooling for your children?
Before you go…
Moving to another country can be challenging, but you can ensure peace of mind by making sure you have the right international health insurance.
For 30 years, we have helped expats like you move and settle into their new lives overseas, with the peace of mind of knowing their families are covered by a comprehensive and flexible health insurance policy.
Speak to us today to find out more about how international health insurance could benefit you and your family – and good luck moving to Malawi!