As a relatively small country that doesn't appear in the news often, expats moving to Malawi may feel a mixture of excitement and apprehension. That said, Malawi does have a fairly substantial expat population. Many expats relocate with the intention of only staying in Malawi for a couple of years but often extend their stay.
However, life in Malawi has many ups and downs. To help expats get a clearer idea of life in Malawi, here is a summary of the pros and cons of moving to Malawi.
Accommodation in Malawi
+ PRO: Housing in Malawi is cheap
Expats moving to Malawi from more developed countries will find accommodation to be well priced. Expats often settle in spacious houses with large gardens spending the same amount as they would for a small apartment in a European city.
- CON: Rental agreements in Malawi may be unfamiliar
When renting a property in Malawi, expats must be sure that they understand the rental agreement before signing. Landlords may ask for more than just one month’s deposit. Expats should therefore budget accordingly as initial costs may be quite high considering that the deposit and the first month's rent will be required up-front.
Cost of living in Malawi
+ PRO: Low cost of living in Malawi
The cost of living is low in Malawi. The price of rent, groceries and many festive events is low. Hiring domestic workers is common especially on an expat salary. Most expats will have someone who helps clean and cook as well as someone who provides gardening services.
- CON: Many products are not available
Many products, brands, shops and restaurants that expats are used to in their home countries are considered luxuries in Malawi. This includes clothing, sports equipment, toiletries, and cosmetic products. Other than food that is locally produced, many products are imported. This means that they are expensive. Expats will have to plan and pack effectively when travelling into the country.
Lifestyle and culture in Malawi
+ PRO: Friendly people
Malawi is famous for its friendly people and warm culture. The country is known as 'the warm heart of Africa'. Malawians are loving and helpful. Expats will be greeted with the biggest smiles and should be able to make connections easily. Meeting people and making friends will not be an issue here.
- CON: Slow pace of life
If expats are used to a fast-paced life, then Malawi will take some getting used to. Even if expats are normally relaxed, they'll still notice that things rarely happen on time in Malawi. This is the case with formal business meetings, casual social events and arrangements for a plumber or electrician to resolve a household problem. This undeniably can be a cause of frustration.
- CON: Electricity and water supplies are problematic
Along with the slow pace of life, expats will have to adjust their lifestyle to the many power cuts and water shortages that occur in Malawi. Expats will get used to using inverters to power essentials at home while workplaces often have generators. Some houses have boreholes and so water supply is not a problem.
Healthcare in Malawi
+ PRO: Skilled healthcare practitioners
Several skilled expat and local doctors provide high-quality healthcare in a few of the hospitals.
+ PRO: Good supply of medication
Pharmacies in Malawi are decent, and most medications are available. If something isn't available, often they can be ordered.
- CON: Access and availability of hospitals
The number of doctors is very low. Access to hospitals is limited if expats live outside the main cities, Lilongwe and Blantyre. Expats need to consider health insurance that covers emergency evacuation to South Africa or elsewhere in the case that practitioners in Malawi can't provide the level of treatment needed.
- CON: Diseases like malaria are a big concern
Healthcare is important as there are high rates of disease in Malawi, especially with regards to malaria. Expats will need to take the necessary precautions to avoid malaria, including the use of mosquito repellent and sleeping with mosquito nets.
Safety in Malawi
+ PRO: Malawi is peaceful
In general, Malawi is a peaceful country. However, poverty is high and therefore there is a risk of crime. Opportunistic crime, business-related crime and corruption are issues. Many expats’ houses will have guards and night watchmen which is a deterrent for house break-ins.
- CON: Political tension
Despite the normal tranquil laidback lifestyle, Malawi faces political tension, especially around election time. Protests have been known to turn violent. Expats will need to be cautious during these times and stay in touch with the community in their city to stay updated.
Education in Malawi
+ PRO: Excellent international schools
Malawi has a small selection of excellent international schools which provide high-quality education. These are in Lilongwe and Blantyre. Teachers are both Malawian and expats themselves. Both the International Baccalaureate (IB) and IGCSE/A-Level curricula are available.
- CON: Exorbitant fees of international schools
International schools come with international fees, which are often based in US dollars. Malawi’s currency fluctuates frequently and so fees can change dramatically from term to term. If expats get paid in kwacha then they will feel the heavy cost of international education.
Getting around in Malawi
+ PRO: Cars give great freedom to travel
Cars are the most common form of transport amongst expats. Cars give the most independence and freedom to travel. There is so much to see in Malawi, from the city life to the lake and national parks. For travelling around in Malawi, a car is vital.
- CON: Poor road networks
The cities have tarred roads but outside of that and in rural areas there are only dirt roads. Expats must ensure that their vehicles are fit for a specific journey. The poor road systems are a contributing factor to the high number of traffic accidents that occur in Malawi.
► For an overview of life in Malawi, see our Moving to Malawi guide.
"Bring an open mind and a laid-back attitude. You can’t spend your days getting frustrated with bad drivers and slow workers. Learn to be like a Malawian and smile your way through the challenges and have a laugh. Appreciate the smaller pleasures in life." Read about Gabrielle's eye-opening experience living in Malawi.
"I do miss the ease of things at home, like the fully stocked supermarkets, food delivery and 24-hour electricity. But a quick trip home a few times a year sorts that." Have a look at Chloe's take on the pros and cons of life 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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