According to the current U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory at the date of this report’s publication, Malawi has been assessed as Level 1 – Exercise normal precautions.
Overall Crime and Safety Situation
U.S. Embassy Lilongwe does not assume responsibility for the professional ability or integrity of the persons or firms appearing in this report. The ACS Unit cannot recommend a particular individual or location and assumes no responsibility for the quality of service provided.
The U.S. Department of State has assessed Lilongwe as being a HIGH-threat location for crime directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests.
Please review OSAC’s Malawi page for original OSAC reporting, consular messages, and contact information, some of which may be available only to private-sector representatives with an OSAC password.
Malawi presents a crime and safety situation consistent with many impoverished and developing countries. As the country continues to address ongoing economic issues, crime remains a serious concern. Pickpockets and purse snatchers often loiter near bus stations, marketplaces, shopping centers, and restaurants. Few problems have been reported at Malawian airports, but heightened awareness is still recommended in those locations as well.
Most hotels are safe, but less reputable accommodations can be less secure. Valuables should not be left in hotel rooms, and visitors should be cautious when utilizing room safes, even in higher-end properties, as many are not securely anchored or have been compromised.
Visitors should be mindful of vehicle robberies, carjackings, residential burglaries, armed robberies, and home invasions. Criminals tend to work in groups of 5-15 people, are most commonly armed with panga knives (machetes), and sometimes are armed with a firearm. Criminals are quick to use violence if their demands are not met. Expatriates have been victims of violent crime but do not appear to be specifically targeted. If faced with an armed assailant, compliance is usually the best course of action to avoid personal injury.
Criminal activity is more common in urban areas than rural areas. Neighborhood policing efforts have aided in crime prevention and reporting but have not substantially decreased criminal activity. The Embassy is aware of several incidents of mob justice resulting in fatalities, even within major city limits. These incidents are often a result of public distrust and lack of confidence in the Malawi Police Services.
Single family homes and compounds are frequent targets of property crime, and residential home invasions are not uncommon. If feasible, create and use a residential safe haven or secured room. Hire a residential guard and install an alarm system with a reputable company that has an established response capability.
Security should be factored into all decisions, particularly with regards to lodging, travel, and activities. Never walk on the street during the hours of darkness, walk in a group or at least in pairs, and avoid isolated areas. Use extra caution when crossing the street, always have a means of communication and a list of phone numbers with you, and let someone know about planned absences and means of contact.
Other Areas of Concern
Malawi's porous borders are ripe for exploitation and have facilitated human trafficking rings, drug trafficking, illegal migration, and other cross-border criminal activities. Malawi is used as an illegal transit route for passage from other African countries en route to South Africa.
For more information, please review OSAC’s Report, “Security in Transit: Airplanes, Public Transport, and Overnights.”
Road Safety and Road Conditions
One of the greatest safety risks when visiting Malawi is the potential for a traffic accident. If a road accident occurs away from an urban area, there is little chance of a timely response by emergency medical personnel. The majority of the vehicles on the road should not be considered roadworthy and often lack basic safety features (brake lights, turn signals, headlights). Overloading of vehicles is common and affects speed, the ability to stop, and maneuverability. Many drivers operate their vehicles with no regard for traffic laws.
The roads are in poor condition. Most of the roadways, except for major thoroughfares, are not paved, leading to accessibility problems during the rainy season. Asphalt roads often lack a shoulder and are crumbling at the edges; breakdowns and accidents are rarely cleared from the roadway and present additional hazards. Seasonal heavy rains result in washouts, sinkholes, and potholes. In this densely-populated country, the roads are also congested with people, cattle, goats, and cyclists carrying heavy loads. Almost all roadways are not illuminated at night. Vehicle travel at night should be strictly limited to major urban areas, and even then caution must be exercised not only due to other drivers and pedestrians but also because of criminal elements. Plan all in-country travel so as to arrive at your destination before dark. For more information on self-driving, please review OSAC’s Report “Driving Overseas: Best Practices.”
Vehicle robberies are not uncommon, even in daylight hours. Victims are often targeted when a vehicle is stopped at an intersection or in a residential driveway. Drivers should keep their windows rolled up and their doors locked. Drivers should also examine their vehicle’s locking mechanisms for signs of tampering on a regular basis. With the ubiquitous use of vehicle fobs to control locks, damaging a vehicle lock when a vehicle is routinely parked in the same area is a common method utilized in follow on vehicle thefts.
Public Transportation Conditions
The use of public transportation is not recommended. Public transportation is extremely limited and unreliable. It primarily consists of private citizens driving independently, and unregulated passenger vans in varying but generally poor states of condition and repair. These vehicles are frequently overburdened, and the drivers are inexperienced and untrained. In the cities, bicycle taxis or small motorized tricycles are common but unsafe.
There are two international airports located in Lilongwe and Blantyre with service around the region. Both airports support commercial air traffic, and flights in/out of Malawi are readily available. Airport security, screening, logistics, and emergency response are commensurate with other airports in sub-Saharan Africa.
The U.S. Department of State has assessed Lilongwe as being a LOW-threat location for terrorist activity directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests.
Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence
The U.S. Department of State has assessed Lilongwe as being a LOW-threat location for political violence directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests.
Public discontent with economic problems (power cuts, food insecurity, fuel shortages, inflation) and perceived poor governance exists. Many security issues are the result of the poor state of the economy, which saw high inflation ease but unemployment persist in 2017. Public protests, both planned and unplanned, occurred through 2017 and have affected both residents and visitors. Even though incidents of civil unrest have generally been peaceful with no resulting fatalities, political demonstrations can quickly become violent. In the run-up to the May 2019 national elections, political demonstrations may increase in size and intensity.
Malawi’s infrastructure is underdeveloped. Water shortages can occur, especially during the dry season. Electricity is generally limited to the large cities, and power outages are frequent.
Personal Identity Concerns
Homosexuality is regarded as taboo, and openly identifiable LGBTQ persons can be subject to harassment and hostility. Although the government has maintained its moratorium on enforcement of anti-sodomy laws, those accused may still be subject to arrest.
Individuals with albinism have been attacked in the rural areas. The government of Malawi is actively engaged in a campaign to protect individuals with albinism.
From mid-October to the end of November 2017, rampant rumors of magical bloodsuckers stealing the blood of local residences spread through word of mouth and social media in the rural villages of Mulanje and the surrounding areas up to and including rural Zomba and suburban Blantyre. As a result, vigilante violence against travelers and other individuals perceived as outsiders resulted in seven confirmed deaths, multiple individuals injured, and significant property damage. Though reports of violence have stopped, similar black magic rumors and associated vigilante violence periodically reemerge.
The capabilities of the Malawi Police Service are growing, but its abilities to deter and investigate crimes, assist victims, and apprehend criminals are extremely limited. The police lack basic equipment (particularly transportation), are poorly funded, and do not receive sufficient training. Public support for the police has continued to drop, due in part to alleged corruption and ineffectiveness in deterring criminal activity.
Crime Victim Assistance
Should you become the victim or suspect of a crime, you should contact the local police and U.S. Embassy Lilongwe or inform the police of your American citizenship and ask them to contact the Embassy on your behalf.
The police emergency phone number is 990 and is the easiest means of obtaining police assistance. The 24-hour phone number for the national police headquarters in Lilongwe is 01-796-333. The phone number for the Lilongwe Central Police Station is 01-753-333, and the Blantyre Central Police Station can be reached at 01-623-333. If dialing from a U.S.-based phone, first dial 00-265 or “+265” and drop the initial “0” of the telephone number. These are office numbers and are not capable of dispatching any police units.
The Malawi Police Service is the national law enforcement authority.
Medical facilities lack resources and are not comparable with those in the U.S. Many rural areas have no access to nearby medical care.
Contact Information for Available Medical Services
Kamuzu Central Hospital: 01-753-555
Medi Clinic: 01-796-091
Adventist Health Center: 01-775-456
African Bible College Community Clinic: 01-761-670 or 01-761-743
Medical Aid Society of Malawi (MASM) Clinic:01-750-404 or 01-794-266
Partners in Hope:01-727-155
All visitors are strongly encouraged to carry international medical evacuation insurance, and they should keep the contact information for the evacuation service with them at all times. In the event that a medical evacuation is necessary, those without insurance may have to pay US$45,000-$95,000 just to initiate the process.
Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance
All visitors are strongly encouraged to begin and maintain appropriate malaria prophylaxis. The CDC offers additional information on vaccines and health guidance for Malawi.
OSAC Country Council Information
The Country Council in Lilongwe is active, meeting quarterly. Interested private-sector security managers should contact OSAC’s Africa team with any questions.
U.S. Embassy Location and Contact Information
Embassy Address and Hours of Operation
U.S. Embassy Lilongwe is located in the City Centre district of Lilongwe, loosely bordered by the major arteries of Presidential Way, Kenyatta Drive, and Africa Unity Drive. Physical addresses are not regularly used and are a poor means of locating the compound.
U.S. Embassy Lilongwe
Area 40, Plot 24
16 Kenyatta Drive
Embassy Contact Numbers
Malawi’s country code is 265 and the initial “0” should be omitted from all telephone numbers when calling from outside of Malawi.
From within Malawi, U.S. Embassy Lilongwe can be reached by calling 01-773-166 or 01-773-342
International callers should use +265-1-773-166 or +265-1-773-342
These phone numbers can be utilized 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for routine assistance or emergencies.
The Embassy's Consular Section provides a full range of consular services, including: renewal/replacement of passports, registering U.S. citizens, certifying the citizenship of American children born in Malawi, providing information on obtaining medical or legal assistance, and emergency assistance in case of illness, injury, arrest or death.
Routine services for U.S. citizens are provided by appointment with limited availability for walk-in services on Tuesday and Thursday morning from 8:00am to 11:00am. Appointments can be scheduled online via the Embassy’s website at mw.usembassy.gov. Individuals seeking more specific information can call +265 (1) 773-166 during regular working hours. The Consular Email address is LilongweConsular@state.gov.
U.S. citizens are encouraged to register with the Consular Section via the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP).
Malawi Country-Specific Information