Lilongwe, Malawi Report of what it's like to live there - 09/17/09
Personal Experiences from Lilongwe, Malawi
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
No, I have lived in Guangzhou as well
2. How long have you lived here?
3. Travel time and best routes to this city from Europe or the US:
With layovers it usually ends up being about 28 hours to the East Coast of the US. It's about 14 hours to a major European city.
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
US Government (State Department) transfer.
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
We had a large 3-bedroom house with a HUGE yard. We were about 5 minutes from my husband's job and 15 minutes (across town) from mine.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Depends on your diet. For an American there are many foods available, but not consistently. Supplies for Mexican food were very expensive or impossible to find. I actually did a lot of online grocery ordering.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Mexican food items, gifts (especially for children's birthdays), laundry detergent, chocolate chips and baking supplies, wine, paper plates and plastic silverware, napkins, snacks for the kids, games for outdoors, things that you really like and would hesitate to do without, as you probably won't find them---or you will and they will be VERY expensive.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
There are some South African fast food chains (Steers, Pizza Inn). There are a few good restaurants - italian, international, indian - they are a bit pricey and the wait for food can be long.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Mosquitoes, and some houses have problems with ants.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
We were fortunate to have pouch priveleges.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Very available and very cheap. We had a full-time housekeeper/nanny for about $70/month and a gardener for about the same amount.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
The only gym I am aware of, outside of the one for U.S. Embassy employees, is at Crossroads Hotel.
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?
We only used cash while we were there. Most stores didn't seem to take credit cards.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
There are English-language services at many places - non-denominational, lutheran, catholic, baptist.
6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?
There are English newspapers available, although they have limited international news. There is satellite TV from South Africa. We didn't have DSTV, so I don't know how much it costs.
7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
I didn't really learn much Chichewa at all. Everyone speaks English, which is also the offical language of Malawi.
8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
I would expect it to be very challenging for someone in a wheelchair or someone who is blind.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
I wouldn't recommend taking the buses, although some people do. There are only private taxis -- which are a bit expensive but good in a pinch.
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?
4WD, needs to be able to handle really bad roads, right-hand drive. We drove a Toyota Hilux Surf (4Runner equivalent) and found it to work very well.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
There is internet, although I wouldn't say it is high speed. We had the highest speed you could get and it was about $200/month.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
I used Zain and found it to be fairly good and not too expensive; although service could be inconsistent.
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?
2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?
Some pet care, limited lab services (basically none), which could make it difficult to diagnose some ailments. Dr. Nkoma was good (and cheap).
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?
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Business casual at work, suits for those in government, conservative pants/shorts for the weekends or around town.
Health & Safety:
1. Pollution index (Good, Moderate, Unhealthy, or Very Unhealthy)?
Good (great actually).
2. What immunizations are required each year?
3. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
This is considered a dangerous post. We had 3 break-in attempts while we were living there, although none was successful. It is not nearly as violent as many other African cities.
4. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Malaria is a concern; our whole family was on anti-malaria prophylaxis. Health care is poor, most people ended up going to South Africa for health care.
5. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Absolutely wonderful! Typically about 75 degrees and blue skies - except during the rainy season, when it can get warmer and much cloudier.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
ABC - it is run by a church, and tuition is lower. BMIS - both of my kids went to this school and loved it. I also taught there and found the other teachers to be highly qualified, although limited by lack of supplies and technology. I would recommend highly for elementary but not so much for high school, just because of the limited options.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
At BMIS there are specialists who meet with students to handle reading issues. They can also recommend sources of outside assistance that are available in the area.
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?
There are a few different preschools around. My youngest son attended Rainbow and loved it.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
There are sports through the school and the golf club.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Larger than I thought it would be due to all the aid work that goes on.
2. Morale among expats:
Fairly good. It's a pretty easy place to live.
3. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?
Everyone pretty much makes their own entertainment. There are no movie theaters (except one down in Blantyre), bowling alleys, etc. so most people entertain in their home.
4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
It is a great post for families, not as wonderful for singles or couples. But there are worse places.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Going to the market, Kumbali village, Zomba Plateau, the tea estates, Lake Malawi, Domwe/Mumbo Island, game drives/boats in Liwonde, etc.
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Wood crafts, baskets.
9. Can you save money?
Yes, as long as you don't do a whole lot of travel around Africa (very expensive).
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Yes, it was such a great place for the kids.
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Cold weather clothes, 110v appliances, party-on-the-town mentality.
3. But don't forget your:
Sense of adventure, party attire, 4WD.