Malawi is a small country in southeast Africa bordered by Zambia, Mozambique and Tanzania. Affectionately known as the 'Warm Heart of Africa', expats moving to Malawi will find a population that is warm and welcoming, with a climate to match.
Besides the country's clement weather and good-natured people, expats are increasingly drawn to Malawi for its gorgeous lake and landscapes, low cost of living and relaxed pace of life.
Living in Malawi as an expat
Although Malawi's culture is more conservative than many Western countries, the people are friendly, helpful and vibrant. Making friends is likely to be a breeze, and both locals and other expats are generally approachable and helpful. While this certainly limits culture shock, expats will still have to adjust their lifestyle. Some goods and services, such as many clothing stores, are not as easily available as they might be back home, and expats are also likely to experience frequent power cuts – something that may take some getting used to. That said, expats are always able to get what they need and import what they can't find in the country.
The capital and largest city is Lilongwe, while Blantyre, the second-largest city, is Malawi's commercial capital. Most expats in Malawi live in these two main cities, with the expat scene being a mix of diplomats, teachers, doctors, missionaries, businesspeople, hospitality and NGO workers, and government officials. Malawi's expat population is mainly from the UK, Europe, the US and South Africa.
As a poor, landlocked country, Malawi is among the world's least developed. The economy is heavily dependent on agriculture, with more than 80 percent of the working population employed in this sector. Tobacco, tea, sugarcane and cotton are major exports, and expats often work in these industries.
The tourism sector accounts for a small percentage of working expats living in Malawi. Most expats who work in tourism are located near Lake Malawi, which is the third-largest lake in Africa and covers about a fifth of the country. The possibility to relax, take in beautiful sunsets and all that nature has to offer while enjoying water sports, hikes or casual strolls on the beach lure in many tourists.
Cost of living in Malawi
The cost of living in Malawi is largely affordable when compared to other expat destinations. The 2023 Mercer Cost of Living Survey ranked Blantyre as 198th out of 227 cities worldwide – fairly close to the bottom of the list, with cities such as Hyderabad, India and Lusaka, Zambia having similar rankings.
Accommodation in Malawi is reasonably priced, and expats from western countries will find they get more bang for their buck here. Expat accommodation here is usually freestanding houses or gated complexes, although apartment living is growing. Houses tend to have large gardens, perfect for families and pets. The only downside is that the country experiences power outages and water shortages, meaning expats will have to purchase inverters or generators as well as bottled waters to ensure consistent supply.
Groceries in Malawi are a bit on the expensive side, especially if expats want to buy imported Western products. Internet is also costly, so expats will have to budget accordingly. Expat parents will also have to account for the often hefty fees associated with international schools.
Expat families and children in Malawi
For expat families, there are a handful of private and international schools in Malawi, while homeschooling offers an alternative that is both cheaper and more convenient for many families. The international and private schools, mainly in Lilongwe and Blantyre, provide children with a strong educational environment to grow and learn. These follow the British national curriculum of IGCSEs and A-Levels, or offer the International Baccalaureate.
A number of these schools offer boarding facilities, which may be suitable for expats living in more remote areas of Malawi. As space may be limited, parents should apply as early as possible.
Although healthcare and education have improved in recent years, they are still well below what many expats may be used to. There are both public and private hospitals and clinics in Malawi, but these often lack resources and sufficient medical staff. While general health issues and emergencies may be catered for in Lilongwe and Blantyre, anything more serious may require air evacuation to a nearby country such as South Africa. Expats should ensure they have adequate medical insurance for their families to cover emergency airlifting out of the country.
Climate in Malawi
The weather in Malawi is characterised by two main seasons, the cool dry season (May to October) and the hot wet season (November to April). Malawi has a subtropical climate, but temperatures remain warm throughout the year, with an average of 81°F (27°C). Some parts of the country are vulnerable to flooding during the hot wet season when rainfall averages between 725mm and 2500mm.
Overall, expats moving to Malawi will encounter a slow pace of life and will likely face a range of wonderful experiences and frustrating challenges. With patience and understanding, expats can easily adapt to their new lives in the Warm Heart of Africa.
Population: Around 20.4 million
Capital city: Lilongwe
Neighbouring countries: Malawi borders Mozambique to the east, south and southwest, Zambia to the northwest and Tanzania to the northeast.
Geography: Malawi is a small landlocked country characterised by central plateaus and rugged highlands in the north and south. The Great Rift Valley traverses the country. Lake Malawi, takes up a huge portion of eastern Malawi, covering about 20% of Malawi's total area.
Political system: Unitary presidential republic
Major religions: Christianity and Islam
Main languages: English and Chichewa
Money: The Malawian Kwacha (MWK), which subdivides into 100 tambalas.
Tipping: Tipping is obligatory but not necessary. Tipping is usually at 10 percent if a service charge is not included.
Electricity: 230 volts, 50 Hz. 'Type G' three-pin plugs with flat blades are used.
Internet domain: .mw
International dialling code: +265
Emergency numbers: 997 (police), 998 (ambulance), 999 (fire department)
Drives on the: left. Minibus taxis and buses service Malawi fairly extensively. The main city roads are fairly well maintained, so driving in Malawi is viable. As the roads can be poorly illuminated, it's best to avoid driving at night.
►Planning your move? Check out the Pros and Cons of Moving to Malawi page
"Lilongwe is small, so if someone is hosting an event at the bars like Nyumba 10, Orchid, La Cantina, Kaza Kitchen, go along and you’ll meet the local crowds there. Sport is also a great way to meet people. From the gyms, to the sports teams, to watching matches at the bar, you should find someone to cheer you on!" Scottish expat Chloe shares her experiences of life in Lilongwe here.
"The people of Malawi are so kind-hearted that it shapes their culture to be very generous and open. I think the quality of life is higher here, despite there being less money and resources." Read more about Gret, an American expat, and his experiences in Malawi.
Are you an expat living in Malawi?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to Malawi. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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