Lilongwe, Malawi Report of what it's like to live there - 10/16/16

Personal Experiences from Lilongwe, Malawi

Lilongwe, Malawi 10/16/16


1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?

This was our second post - we were in N'djamena, Chad before.

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2. What is your home city/country? How long is the trip to post from there, with what connections? How easy/difficult is it to travel to this city/country?

Florida is "home" and it takes approx 22 hours flight time and an overnight in Joburg. The 3 most common routes as of now from the U.S. are Atlanta to Johannesburg on Delta and then Joburg to Lilongwe (Malawian Airlines), sometimes with a stop in Blantyre; Dulles to Addis Abba to Lilongwe (Ethiopian); and JFK to Joburg to Lilongwe (United/South African). The Atlanta to Joburg flight is the 2nd longest flight at 16hr 45min!

Flying almost anywhere from here is expensive (~US$500). In addition to Joburg and Addis, you can also get to Nairobi and Dar es Salaam.

The airport in LLW is easy and about a 20 min drive from most housing.

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3. How long have you lived here?

A little over 2 years.

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4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?


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Housing, Groceries & Food:

1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?

Housing is amazing here. Most houses have large yards with beautiful gardens, patios, and screened porches. The houses are generally large with 3-5 bedrooms. Some houses have pools and most houses have staff quarters. All houses have barbed wire, a guard station, a generator and water tanks. Currently we are experiencing significant water shortages and power cuts so the generator is key.

Lilongwe is divided into areas and all USG housing (and most other expat housing) are in 3 areas close to the Embassy and city center. The commute takes about 5-10 minutes to work.

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2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?

There are several decent grocery stores here - Old Chipiku, New Chipiku, Old Shoprite, New Shoprite, Foodworths, Bowers, Carni-Wors, Food Lovers and Spar. (If you know South African Spar and Foodlovers, please reset your expectations.) You can generally get most items you would need but it may require visiting several of the stores. If you see something you want, you buy it because it may not be there the next time! There have been occasional shortages of skim milk and unsalted butter.

There are monthly farmers markets and a CSA like veggie basket you can get biweekly. Many expats have large vegetable gardens and fruit trees.

This is a consumables post and although you can buy cleaning products here, if there is something you like, it may be better to ship it.

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3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?

Malawi is a consumables post but it depends on your style. Eventually you can get most anything you want or need here but the question is will it be available at the time and price you want. A lot of people ship olive oil, red wine vinegar, salsa, spaghetti sauces and cleaning products. Best to ship liquids, cans, and glass....

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4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?

There are a few good restaurants here but leave behind your expectations for a hopping dining scene. The Four Seasons complex is lovely with a beautiful plant nursery, Buchanan Steak house, Kathmandu restaurant, and Ama Kofi Lunch spot. There are 2 -3 good Indian restaurants, 2 good Italian restaurants, and a few others. Food delivery is rare but most places will do take out if you ask. A lot of people employ cooks and some of our best meals have been at friends' houses.

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5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?

Ants! and mosquitoes.... You can buy Doom and local insect sprays but during rainy season, ants are everywhere!

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Daily Life:

1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?

Through the Embassy but we have had things shipped to us via DHL without issues.
There are rumors of us being a DPO post in earlier 2017 :)

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2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?

Household help is great; housekeepers, cooks, gardeners, nannies, drivers are all available. Most houses have staff quarters and but not all people have their staff live on property. Prices vary depending on full time or part time and how many roles the staff play, how big your houses is, and how many children you have. For 2 people in a medium size house with a full time housekeeper is approx US$150-180/month and the same for a gardener. It is also often expected to provide additional money for lunch food, a uniform 2x/year, and possibility a 13th month/holiday bonus. Some staff like their salary to be pinned to the dollar since the kwacha fluctuates a lot and it's currently very low.

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3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?

Gym at the embassy, a local gym run by expats (not cheap but not too expensive and high quality!), yoga classes, a walking group, and a few sports leagues. There are a few pools at the hotels where you can pay to swim/ play tennis/squash. Malawi is a mountain bike haven. There is a mountain biking group which rides every week called the FOBs, and a Lady FOBs group which takes a bit more relaxed pace. Also just 3 km from town is Kumbali Village which has a 5K, 8K, 11K, &21K trails for running, biking and horseback riding (and they offer a great breakfast and is a popular Sunday morning place.)

At the Lake you can kayak, swim, snorkel, dive and paddle board. Mount Mulanje is a great place to hike and camp.

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4. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?

Malawi is a cash society. You can rarely use CC and even if they say you can, often the machine doesn't work. There are ATMs but I believe the max withdrawal is 40,000mkw or US$80.

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5. What English-language religious services are available locally?

There are English services available for the Catholic church and maybe for others. The CLO office has a list.

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6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

Chichewa, Chiyao, & Chigoni are the 3 local languages and Chichewa is the most common. It is not necessary for daily living, but greatly appreciated by Malawians if you can get the greetings and common phrases down. There are several tutors.

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7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?

Yes, many potholes, almost no sidewalks, and nothing is even!

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1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?

There are buses for long distance travel; minibuses, tuktuk , taxis, and bike taxis for getting around in town. It is really helpful to have a car or a taxi driver you trust.

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2. What kind of car do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car do you advise not to bring?

Toyota Prados are the most common car and helpful if you plan on doing some exploring. In town, there are lots of small cars (Corollas, Versa, etc) During transition season, there are often lots of cars for sale, otherwise people import from Japan. Malawi is a right hand drive country.

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Phone & Internet:

1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?

Internet is a challenge in Malawi but getting better. Some USG houses come with internet of varying speed, but most people purchase internet. There are two main providers-Skyband and MTN and both are relatively expensive. Skyband offers a nightrider package for 10G that is unlimited from 7pm-7am and free on weekends for about $65 a month; you can usually Skype on this and rarely stream. TV downloads can take several hours. MTN just arrived and took over a former network but upgraded to 4G and you can see the difference. Its a pay as you go system with scratch cards- 10G for 23,000MKW (~$40). If you are streaming those 10G go quickly.

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2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?

If you work for USG you are provided a work phone but often people bring their own unlocked smart phones for personal use. Its easy to get an Airtel or MTN sim card and you can buy credit scratch cards on most corners in town. You can also get data bundles for the phone.

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1. Are qualified veterinarians and/or good kennel services available? Do animals need to be quarantined upon entry to the country? Are there other considerations regarding pets that are particular to this country?

There are a few vets here. One is an expat who most pet owners go to and the other is the Lilongwe SPA. People often adopt cats/dogs from here. Grocery stores sell Purina cat/dog food at a price. Malawians in general aren't big fans of dogs. House staff and guards may take awhile to get used to the animal and not be afraid.

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Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:

1. What types of jobs do most expatriate spouses/partners have? Locally based or telecommuting? Full-time or part-time? Can you comment on local salary scales?

There is a mix of opportunities for spouses/partners. Many choose to work locally either within the USG system or there are several NGOs here. There are some partners who telecommute but find it challenging with the slower internet speeds.

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

Many opportunities: schools, orphanages, women groups.

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3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?

Business if interacting with the Ministries to business casual for office. There are a few formal events where nicer clothes are required but not mandatory.

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Health & Safety:

1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.

Overall Malawi is very safe. The biggest personal security concern is driving and accidents. During the lean season, there are some home invasions but USG houses have 24/7 guards, barb wire, and alarm systems. Of course, one should always be aware of their surroundings and not flash a lot of wealth or cash.

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2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?

The two major health issues are malaria and schistosomiasis (Bilharzia disease). It is recommended to be on malaria prophylaxis year round and take preventative measures (nets, spray, etc).

Lake Malawi is a beautiful and enticing lake. There are areas with higher concentrations of schisto and they are best to avoid. That being said many people will swim and snorkel! There is a test for schisto and treatment but best to talk to your healthcare provider.

There are a few local clinics that are used by expats (Partners In Hope & African Bible College Clinic) which have western-trained providers. The clinics have limited capacity in terms of diagnostic tools and laboratory. The Embassy also has a medical provider and two great expatriate nurses who have lived in Malawi for years. There is a new dentist in town who can do cleanings but major procedures are still medically evacuated.

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3. What is the air quality like at post (good/moderate/bad)? Are there seasonal air quality issues? Does the air quality have an impact on health?

As someone with allergies and asthma - I love this place! Yes, you will still have some allergies and burning season is a little rough, but overall the air is great.

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4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?

I would recommend bringing your allergy meds with you although I think you can purchase some at local pharmacies. There are beautiful yellow trees that seem to make everyones allergies go nuts.

Peanuts are a common part of the diet here. There have been expat kids at the schools who have peanut allergies and been fine.

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5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?

Although Malawi is known as a sleepy little post, its quite busy and real meaningful change is difficult. There is need to manage work/life balance, your expectations, and not get too stressed.

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6. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

The weather is beautiful. September-December is hot and dry. Temperatures can reach to the mid to low 90's F and hotter down at the lake. (Lilongwe and Blantyre are at a higher elevation and are slightly cooler than the lake.)

December-March/April is rainy season which is warm or hot and humid. In the last few years, the rains have been late and inadequate. We are currently having a severe water shortage and worry about floods if intense rains come.

May-August is cold season where temps are in the low 80s F during the day and can drop to the high 40s F at night, and even colder if in the mountains. Bring rain coat, fleece jacket and hat and your bathing suit!

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Schools & Children:

1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?

There are 2 schools which most expat (and well-to-do Malawian) children attend: African Bible College (ABC) and Bishop Mackenzie International School (BMIS). BMIS has an IB program and several after-school sports. We don't have kids but most parents seem fairly happy with BMIS. There are also lots of preschools.

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2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?

Best to contact the schools directly, but I believe special needs accommodations are limited, if at all.

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3. Are preschools available? Day care? Are these expensive? What has been your experience with them, if any? Do the schools provide before- and/or after-school care?

Yes there are many preschools and a few which are frequented by expat kids. Also many families have full-time nannies.

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4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?

Through the schools.

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Expat Life:

1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?

The expat community is large! Due to the numerous Embassys and NGOs here, there are expats from many countries. I still meet new people who have been here as long or longer than we have (and we are social!) There are two main groups of expats: the short-timers who are here for 6 months to 2-3 years and the expat residents who have made Malawi home. Morale is good.

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2. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?

This is a great family post! Couples too. It's not the best place for singles but not the worst either.

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3. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?

There has been a lot of controversy on LGBT rights recently and it's not super friendly.

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4. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?

No obvious ethnic or religious prejudices. For gender equality, there is forward movement on improving rights for the girl child.

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5. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?

So many - the lake, Liwonde National Park, Satemwa Tea Estates, Mt. Mulanje, Zomba Mountain, Nyika Plateau, Luwawa forest lodge, Ntchisi forest lodge, Lilongwe Golf club, Lake of Stars Music Festival, side trip to South Luwanga National Park in Zambia, Kuti Game reserve, Nkohma mountain.

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6. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?

You can find lots of the traditional African handicraft and fabric gifts but what is special to Malawi is Dedza Pottery and the wood carvings from Mua Mission. Mua Mission is home to the largest collection of Gule Wamkulu masks and a unique museum on the 3 tribes of Malawi. Their gallery of carvings are unique and beautiful.

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7. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?

Easy city, friendly people, great weather.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?

Lower expectations for seafood. With Lake Malawi being so over-fished, freshwater seafood is dwindling.

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2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?

Yes, a great post...a WONDERFUL family post.

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3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:

Expectations. Managing your expectations will be the key to a great stay!

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4. But don't forget your:

Patience, bikes, hiking boots and swim suits!!

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5. Do you have any other comments?

Move here! It's a hidden gem!

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