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Malawi

If you’re travelling to Malawi, our travel advice and updates give you practical tips and useful information. 

Security Status

  • Normal precautions
  • High degree of caution
  • Avoid non-essential travel
  • Do not travel
  • Overview
  • Safety and Security
  • Local Laws and Customs
  • Health, Natural Disasters and Climate
  • Visas and Additional Information
  • Embassy Contact

Overview

Overview

General COVID-19 Travel Advisory in Operation:

Avoid non-essential travel until further notice:

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade advises against all non-essential travel overseas until further notice. This includes Great Britain but does not apply to Northern Ireland. It also includes all travel by cruise ship.

If you are currently travelling outside of Ireland:

Flight restrictions and route cancellations are happening on a daily basis worldwide and there is no guarantee that air routes will continue to operate. For this reason, where commercial flights are still an option, we recommend that people who wish to do so make arrangements to return to Ireland as soon as possible.

We are working with airlines to show maximum flexibility to those passengers who need to change their existing flight arrangements. Where commercial flights are no longer available, we are working side-by-side with our international partners to identify alternative options where possible.

It may not be feasible or possible for everyone who wants to travel back to Ireland to do so in the short term. We ask Irish citizens remaining abroad to make decisions that safeguard their health and well-being and that they follow local public health and safety requirements.  We ask that they remain in close contact with family, friends and their local Irish Embassy or Consulate. 

We know that this is a stressful situation for citizens and our embassy network is working around the clock to provide people with all the information and assistance that we can, bearing in mind the situation is unfolding across multiple countries and is not one under our control. 

What to do on entering Ireland from abroad:

The Irish Health Authorities require anyone coming into Ireland, apart from Northern Ireland, to restrict their movements on arrival for 14 days. Check the Irish Health Service COVID-19 Advice Page for full information on these requirements. This includes Irish residents. Exemptions are in place for providers of essential supply chain services such as hauliers, pilots and maritime staff.

Where to go for more information:

We continue to make updates to our online travel advice for over 200 countries and recommend that you download our TravelWise App and follow us on Twitter. If abroad you should register with your local Irish Embassy or Consulate and regularly check their website and especially their Twitter accounts for details of any local public health measures and travel restrictions.

Security Status

Avoid non-essential travel.

Security Alert

Since the tripartite elections in May 2019, there have been a number of protests around the country, particularly in the cities of Lilongwe, Mzuzu and Blantyre and in towns including Rumphi and Karonga. The outcome of the pending case in the Constitutional Court on the elections results is expected within the next month and further demonstrations throughout January and February are likely. While the risk of large-scale violence is low, some localised violence and destruction of property has occurred during previous demonstrations. The situation remains fluid and visitors travelling to, or currently in, Malawi are advised to check with their hosts or local media for alerts, follow any advice from local authorities and avoid rallies, protests or other large gatherings of people.

Heavy rains occur between the months of December and March and road conditions can deteriorate quickly. When travelling by road outside urban areas during the rainy season, check local media and consult local contacts, such as tour companies and accommodation providers, for updates on road conditions before travelling.

Follow us on twitter @dfatravelwise for the latest travel updates and @irlembmalawi

Emergency assistance

The emergency number in Malawi is 999 (or 01 757 999, or 01 751 444).

Our tips for safe travels

  • Purchase comprehensive travel insurance which covers all your intended activities
  • Add an alert for your destination within the Travelwise App.
  • Register your details with us so that we can contact you quickly in an emergency, such as a natural disaster or a family emergency
  • Follow us on twitter @dfatravelwise for the latest travel updates and @irlembmalawi     
  • Read our Topical 'Know Before You Go' guide

Safety and Security

Safety and security

Current issues

Caution should be exercised in all areas, especially after dark. When visiting rural areas it is advisable to check on the general safety of the area, or for any recent incidents, with contacts in the community in advance.

Social unrest

Always be aware of your surroundings, pay attention to local media and be careful around large groups of people in major urban areas. Avoid rallies, demonstrations and public gatherings. If you are in an area where you believe your safety is threatened, leave immediately.

There were tensions and some violent incidents in the Mulanje area, to the south of the country, in the final months of 2017 and to a lesser extent in 2018. These included some attacks on visitors, and we continue to advise caution if you plan to travel to this part of Malawi, as well as to the neighbouring districts of Thyolo, Chiradzulu and Phalombe.

Photography of government buildings, airports, bridges, churches, and military installations is strictly prohibited.

Crime

Most visits to Malawi are trouble-free, but be alert to muggers and bag-snatchers and take sensible precautions. Be alert to petty theft and pickpockets around the main bus stations in Lilongwe and Blantyre, and at the main ports for the Ilala ferry. If you're the victim of a mugging, offer no resistance and hand over your possessions without question.

Residential break-ins, organised robberies and car-jackings are known to occur and may target foreigners.

Avoid dark and unlit streets and stairways, and arrange to be picked up or dropped off as close to your hotel or accommodation entrance as possible.

Reporting a crime

You should report any crime to the police immediately. Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime are solely the responsibility of local authorities, our consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and find a lawyer, if needed.

The emergency number in Malawi is 999 (or 01 757 999, or 01 751 444).

Lost or stolen passport

Lost or stolen passports are sometimes handed to the police within a few days. Report the loss to the nearest police station as soon as possible, and keep in touch with that station in case of recovery. If your passport is stolen, you can apply to the Embassy for a replacement.

Driving

If you're planning to drive in Malawi, you should be extremely careful. The traffic-related death rate is high. Poor road conditions, poorly maintained vehicles, and inadequate street lighting can make driving dangerous. Potholes, pedestrians, animals, abandoned vehicles, and vehicles travelling at night without lights also pose risks. Driving outside cities after dark is not recommended and you should be aware that emergency roadside assistance is very limited. Traffic in Malawi drives on the left.

If you want to drive:

  • Bring your full Irish driving licence and make sure you have adequate and appropriate insurance.
  • Carry your driving licence at all times while driving because you may be required to produce it at police checkpoints.
  • Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs is against the law and you risk being detained, fined or banned from driving if caught. The Malawi Police Service carry out breathalyser tests.
  • It's illegal to talk on a mobile phone while driving.
  • Keep your vehicle doors locked and your bags kept out of sight to prevent opportunistic bag-snatching if you're stopped at traffic lights and never leave your personal belongings in a vehicle.
  • Be aware that petrol stations are found only in larger towns and plan your route accordingly. Most petrol stations do not accept credit or debit cards but it is possible to purchase and top up a fuel card (using cash) which will then be accepted as payment for fuel.

Traffic offences

If you're caught drink driving or speeding you can have your licence and/or vehicle confiscated on the spot. It will only be returned after you've appeared before a magistrate. Convicted drivers face a fine and/or imprisonment. The blood alcohol limit is 0.08g per 100ml of blood.

Drive slowly in all built-up areas. Traffic police often place speed cameras in built-up areas where there are no signs showing the speed limit. For such traffic offences, the police impose on-the-spot fines.

Car-jacking

There have been instances of armed car-jackings, particularly of four-wheel-drive vehicles. These can happen when a vehicle is stopped, for example, while waiting to enter at a compound vehicle gate, at intersections, or in traffic. Car doors should be locked and windows closed, especially when stopping your vehicle. Don't resist if threatened by car-jackers.

Hiring a vehicle

If you're hiring a vehicle, we advise you not to hand over your passport as a form of security. If you're allowing your passport to be photocopied, keep it in your sight at all times.

Check that you have adequate insurance and read the small print of the vehicle hire contract (particularly any waiver that will come into effect if the vehicle is damaged).

Public transport

Long-distance coach services are available to travel between the major cities of Lilongwe, Mzuzu and Blantyre and international bus services also operate to Tanzania and South Africa.

Public transport is extremely limited in rural areas. We advise against travel by minibus because the vehicles are overcrowded and poorly maintained. We also advise against hitchhiking, including taking informal lifts in the back of open vehicles. Fatal accidents are frequent and emergency services are basic where they exist.

Local Laws and Customs

Local laws and customs

Remember, the local laws apply to you as a visitor and it is your responsibility to follow them. Be sensitive to local customs, traditions and practices as your behaviour may be seen as improper, hostile or may even be illegal.

Culture                                                                            

As in many African countries, Malawian culture is generally conservative and respectful of elders. Use common sense and discretion in dress and behaviour - outside the main tourist areas, women should cover their legs and shoulders. Respect religious beliefs and social conventions to avoid offending local sensitivities.

Legal proceedings

You are subject to local laws while in Malawi and a serious violation may lead to a jail or death sentence.

If you're arrested or detained you have the right to contact the Irish Embassy. Arresting officials have a responsibility to help you do this. Our consular officials can provide a list of local lawyers upon request.

Legal proceedings or police investigations may be different from the Irish legal system. You can expect to face long delays and difficulties in order to resolve your case. We can't intervene in ongoing legal proceedings in other countries or regions, unless requested to do so by local authorities. Such requests are rare.

Prohibited materials

It is forbidden to import ivory, drugs, and pornographic material into Malawi, and it is illegal to buy or export uncut precious stones.

LBGT

Homosexual activity is illegal, although the law is rarely enforced. Local attitudes towards LGBT people are generally negative.

Illegal drugs

Drug use, including use of cannabis, is illegal and punishment can be severe. Undercover police officers have been known to operate at popular resorts and tourists have been arrested on drug charges.

Photography

Photography of government buildings, airports, bridges, churches, and military installations is strictly prohibited. You should also be aware that it may be offensive to photograph people without their consent. We recommend that you get permission before taking photographs of people or their property.

Wildlife

Hippos and crocodiles are common in many of Malawi's lakes and rivers, including areas of Lake Malawi. Be aware of risks associated with viewing wildlife (both marine and on land), particularly on foot or at close range.

If you're visiting Malawi's national parks, wildlife reserves, lakes or rivers, keep a safe distance and avoid leaving the vehicle unless a professional guide or warden tells you it's safe to do so. Only use reputable and professional guides or tour operators and follow park regulations and wardens' advice closely.

Water safety

Swimming, wading or bathing in fresh water is not recommended because of the threat of disease, mainly Bilharzia. However, if you do want to swim, get local advice on conditions. Areas of Lake Malawi can develop strong currents and the lake can become quite rough without warning. Also, as a freshwater lake, buoyancy is much less than that of sea water and you'll tire more quickly. In some areas, the lake becomes deep very close to shore, so be careful when swimming, especially with young children.

Dogs

Avoid contact with dogs. Not only can they carry disease (including rabies) but dogs in Malawi are often kept as guard dogs, as opposed to pets, and can be aggressive. In this respect it is advisable to get a rabies vaccine before coming to Malawi.

Health, Natural Disasters and Climate

Health, Natural disasters and Climate

Our advice

You should get medical advice before travelling to Malawi and make sure that you have all appropriate vaccinations. If you take regular medication, bring enough for the duration of your stay. We also advise you to carry a doctor's note or a pharmacy receipt with your prescription drugs.

Vaccination certificate

A yellow fever vaccination certification is required from travellers over one year of age arriving from countries with a risk of yellow fever transmission and travellers having transited more than twelve hours through the airport of a country with risk of yellow fever transmission.

Although Malawi is not regarded as a yellow fever country, Ethiopia is. Many Irish citizens travelling to Malawi do so via Addis Ababa on Ethiopian Airlines. If while transferring through Addis you have left the airport and spent more than twelve hours in country, for example by overnighting, before your onward flight it is possible that immigration officials in Malawi will ask for proof that you have been vaccinated against yellow fever. Failure to have proof of such a vaccination may cause problems at immigration in Malawi. We recommend that those travelling this route have proof of a yellow fever vaccination.

For reference, please see the World Health Organisation's list of countries with a risk of Yellow Fever transmission.

Medical facilities

Healthcare standards, particularly in rural areas, tend to be poor. Minor injuries and ailments can be dealt with at private clinics found in the larger towns, while only Lilongwe and Blantyre have (limited) facilities to treat more complex cases. The Embassy can provide a list of healthcare providers in these cities if required.

If a medical emergency arises, we advise that the patient be medically evacuated (usually to South Africa) as soon as they are stable. Make sure that you have adequate health/travel insurance before travelling to Malawi, including for medical evacuation, which can cost tens of thousands of euros for an uninsured patient.

Malaria and insect-borne disease

Malaria is endemic to Malawi. Before travelling, ask your doctor about suitable anti-malarial medication. Upon arrival, take precautions to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes by using bed nets and repellents, and wearing closed shoes, long sleeves and trousers in the evening.

If you become ill with a fever or flu-like illness while travelling in a malaria-risk area, or up to a year after returning home, get medical attention immediately and tell the doctor your travel history and what anti-malarial medications you've been taking.

Kasungu National Park is home to tsetse flies, which can carry sleeping sickness.

Schistosomiasis (bilharzia)

Schistosomiasis is present in most lakes and rivers in Malawi, including Lake Malawi. The disease is caused by a tropical flatworm that is found in water and is parasitic in humans. We advise against swimming, wading or bathing in fresh water.

HIV and AIDS

Malawi has a high HIV and AIDS infection rate. You should take appropriate precautions to limit the risk of transmission through blood or sexual contact.

Gastric illness

Outbreaks of gastric intestinal infections and cholera can happen, especially during the rainy season (November to April).

Diarrhoea and other food-borne illnesses can be a problem among travellers. Avoid tap water, ice cubes, and raw fruits and vegetables. We recommend using bottled water for drinking and food preparation.

Rabies

Rabies is endemic in all areas of Malawi and you should avoid contact with dogs. Dogs are usually kept for security rather than as pets and they can be aggressive. You should consider getting a rabies vaccine before coming to Malawi, especially if you plan to travel to rural areas.

Rain and flooding

The rainy season extends from November to April. Secondary roads may be impassable to all but four-wheel-drive vehicles during this period. Stay informed of regional weather forecasts and plan accordingly.

If you intend to visit the Southern Region areas that were affected by the March 2019 floods, make sure you have sufficient quantities of drinking water in reserve and be aware that roads and bridges may have washed away. Check with contacts in these areas and take local advice before travelling.

Earthquake

Malawi is located in a seismic zone and earthquakes do occasionally happen – notably in the northern region (Karonga District).

Earthquakes may cause landslides in affected areas. Strong aftershocks are possible up to a week after the initial quake.

Visas and Additional Information

Visas and Additional information

Entry requirements (visa/passport)

Irish citizens require a visa in order to enter Malawi.

The Malawian government's advice is that Irish citizens should apply for a visa in advance of travel at the nearest Malawian Embassy or High Commission – in the case of Ireland, this is in London.

The Malawian High Commission in London can be contacted via their website or on +44(0) 20 7421 6010.

However, if a visa has not been applied for before travel, Irish citizens may obtain one upon arrival in Malawi. Download an information note from the Malawian government.

  • The fee for a single entry visa is US$75 if paying in cash at a border point (including at an airport); $100 if issued via the High Commission in London.
  • Multiple entry visas are also available at a cost of US$150 for up to six months' validity, or $250 for twelve months' validity, respectively. If issued by the High Commission these cost $220 or $300 respectively.
  • A transit visa with seven days' validity is available for $50 if issued via the 'visa letter' scheme. If issued by the High Commission these cost $70.

We advise all citizens to bring the exact amount of necessary cash in US dollars for visa payment if paying upon arrival. We also strongly urge all citizens to ensure they get an actual visa stamp/sticker in their passports, and not just, for example, a visa officer's signature, when purchasing a visa.

Extending an entry permit

If you wish to extend your stay you will need to ensure that your visa is valid for the length of the stay. You can extend your 30-day permit twice, up to an additional 30 days on each renewal, before it expires. Renewals can be granted at the immigration offices in Lilongwe or in Blantyre.

You must submit a permit-extension application before your permit expires but be aware that there is no guarantee your request will be granted.

Further information is available from the Department of Immigration.

Purpose of visit

If you want to volunteer, study or conduct research or business for more than 90 days in Malawi, you are responsible for requesting the correct type of visa/permit from the Malawi High Commission in London before you travel to Malawi.

There is no guarantee that your request for changing your immigration category (e.g. from visitor permit or tourist visa to temporary employment permit) will be granted.

Religious visitors

If your main reason for your visit is to take part in religious activities (voluntary or paid) you should get a temporary employment permit, rather than a visitor's permit, through your sponsoring organisation or business. Foreign nationals who entered Malawi with a tourist visa or on a visitor's permit and then carried out activities inconsistent with their tourist status, such as business or volunteer services have been deported in the past.

The Malawi High Commission in London can advise on other types of entry requirement and the procedure for longer stays.

Travelling with Children via South Africa

Regulations have changed for travellers with children travelling to/from South Africa from 1 June 2015. Please see the Travelling with Children section of the Travel Advice for South Africa.

Money

There are strict rules about taking foreign currency and Malawian Kwacha out of the country.

You can't take more than USD$2,000 (or equivalent in foreign currency) out of Malawi, unless you declared the amount when you arrived in the country or you have Malawian bank approval certifying the purchase of the foreign currency.

Cash/banking

Credit cards are not widely accepted in Malawi so we advise you to use travellers' cheques or cash instead. Money can be changed at the airports, banks or commercial bureaux de change. Some ATMs will accept international visa cards, but there are very few ATMs outside of the main urban centres and ATMs are frequently out of order. There is a limit to how much money can be taken out per ATM transaction of MKW 80,000 and there is a charge of approximately €2 per transaction.

US Dollars are accepted by many lodges, national parks and upmarket hotels. Check in advance if your accommodation will accept foreign currency.

Embassy contact

Embassy Contact

Outside of office hours, the emergency contact for the Embassy is + 265 888 207 543.

Alternatively, you may contact the Duty Officer at the Department of Foreign Affairs in Dublin at + 353 1 408 2000.

Embassy of Ireland
3rd Floor, Arwa House
Area 14
Lilongwe City Centre
Malawi

Tel: + 265 1 776 408
Fax: + 265 1 776 401

Monday - Thursday: 07:30 - 12:00 and 13:30 - 16:30; Friday: 07:30 - 12:30

Contact us