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Malawi

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

Get travel and medical insurance

Before travelling, the Department strongly recommends that you obtain comprehensive travel insurance which will cover all overseas medical costs, including medical repatriation/evacuation, repatriation of remains and legal costs. You should check any exclusions and, in particular, that your policy covers you for the activities you want to undertake.

Overview

Security status

We advise you to take normal precautions in Malawi. 

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    
  • Read our Topical ‘Know Before You Go’ guide

Safety and security

Current issues

At present tensions are high in the Mount Mulanje area, to the south of the country, following reports from the Malawi police service of attacks on visitors to the area in the second half of September. These tensions persist and we advise extreme caution if you plan to travel to this part of Malawi.

These tensions have also spread to the neighbouring districts of Thyolo, Chiradzulu and Phalombe; you should exercise extreme caution in these areas, especially after dark.

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.

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, arrange to be picked up or dropped off as close to your hotel or apartment 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.

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.

Fuel shortages

Petrol and diesel shortages can occur in Malawi and when they do, there are often long queues at fuel stations.

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).

If you’re hiring a vehicle, be aware that in-country travel plans may be affected during fuel shortages.

Public transport

Public transport is limited in rural areas. We advise against travel by minibus between cities 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.

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

LBGT

Homosexual activity is illegal.

Illegal drugs

Drug use, including use of cannabis, is illegal and punishment can be severe.

Photography

Photography of government buildings, airports, bridges, churches, and military installations is strictly prohibited. You should also be aware that it may be culturally offensive to photograph people. We recommend that you get their permission first.

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, especially with young children.

Dogs

Avoid contact with dogs. Not only can they carry disease 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

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 therefore 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 for those travelling this route to have made sure to 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. If a medical emergency arises, we advise that the patient be medically evacuated as soon as they are stable. Make sure that you have adequate health/travel insurance before travelling to Malawi.

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.

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 not treated as pets and they can be aggressive. You should consider getting a rabies vaccine before coming to Malawi.

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 flood-affected areas, make sure you have sufficient quantities of drinking water in reserve.

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

Entry requirements (visa/passport)

Irish citizens have required a visa in order to enter Malawi since the end of January 2016.

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; $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 be advised that 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 visit to an ATMS of MKw 40,000 and there is a charge of approximately €2 per transaction.