Malawi travel information: Safety and security
Summary - addition of information on potential changes to South African Airways timetable
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Advice current as at 4:00 am 20 Jan 2020.
Most visits to Malawi are trouble-free, but you should take sensible precautions to protect yourself from muggers and bag-snatchers. Most thefts from visitors take place around the main bus stations in Lilongwe and Blantyre. Avoid walking around quiet areas, especially after dark. Leave valuables and cash in a hotel safe, where practical. Keep copies of important documents in a separate place Report any thefts to the police as soon as possible.
You should avoid all demonstrations and rallies, remain vigilant and follow the advice of the local security authorities and/your tour operator.
Be cautious if over-friendly people approach you offering to act as guides or selling goods, or who claim to know you and ask for a lift. Don’t accept food or drink from strangers; people have been robbed after eating drugged food.
House burglaries, including by armed gangs, do occur though crime rates are low by regional standards. There has been an increase in break-ins in Lilongwe, Blantyre and Limbe, including violent assaults on residents. Review your security systems and watch out for anything unusual.
Since July 2018 there have been reports of possible incidents of unrest and violence in rural areas of Mulanje, linked to rumours of bloodsuckers. This is further to similar incidents of violence and unrest reported during the period September to December 2017 in the areas of Mulanje, Thyolo, Chiradzulu, Phalombe and also in rural parts of Blantyre, Zomba and Nsanje districts. You should continue to exercise extreme caution if you’re travelling in these areas, especially after dark, avoid any demonstrations or large groups of people and follow local security advice.
Seek security advice from the Mulanje Mountain Club if you intend to climb Mulanje mountain.
The results of Malawi’s May 2019 elections are being challenged in the High Court by two political parties. Protests have taken place in central Lilongwe and elsewhere in Malawi and have at times turned violent, with some reports of looting and damage to property. The High Court ruling on the electoral challenge is expected in late January or early February 2020. The ruling could provoke further violent protests.
If you’re in Malawi, avoid large crowds or demonstrations, monitor this travel advice and local media for updates and keep any local and international travel plans under review. You may also wish to stock up on petrol, food and essentials, including any medication, in case normal service provision is disrupted in the short term.
Spontaneous demonstrations related to governance and economic issues can occur. You should avoid political rallies and street demonstrations, and should monitor local media.
You can drive in Malawi using a UK driving licence for up to 90 days or an International Driving Permit for up to one year. You should carry a valid driving licence, a copy of your passport and your visa or residence permit at all times when driving, as you may need to produce these at police check points.
Slow down in all built-up areas. Traffic police often place speed cameras where there are no signs showing the speed limit. The police can impose on the spot fines.
Driving in Malawi can be hazardous. Always wear a seatbelt and avoid travel after dark. Potholes, animals, abandoned vehicles and cyclists can cause serious accidents, as can vehicles travelling at night without lights.
Malawi has a very high rate of fatalities on the road. Travel between towns by public minibus or pick-up truck isn’t recommended; vehicles are often in poor condition and overloaded. Emergency services are basic. Larger coach services do run between the major towns and are more reliable.
Lock car doors and keep windows closed. Armed carjacking is a risk, especially for drivers of four-by-four vehicles. Don’t offer lifts to strangers and look out for obstructions in the road ahead.
The Malawi Police Service has introduced breathalyser tests, and regularly stops vehicles for speeding. There are speed cameras on the main roads. Drivers caught drink driving or speeding can have their licences and vehicles confiscated on the spot. Convicted drivers face a fine and/or imprisonment. The blood alcohol limit is 0.08g per 100ml of blood (the same as in England, Wales and Northern Ireland).
Quick Facts Tourist Information for:Malawi
Drive on the: left
Visitors/Tourists: 767,000 in 2011
English (official language) 63%
Lilongwe (also largest city)