This is an annual report produced in
conjunction with the Regional Security Office at the U.S. Embassy in Lilongwe.
OSAC encourages travelers to use
this report to gain baseline knowledge of security conditions in Malawi.
For more in-depth information, review OSAC’s Malawi country 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.
The current U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory at
the date of this report’s publication assesses Malawi at Level 2, indicating
travelers should exercise increased caution due to civil unrest. Review OSAC’s
report, Understanding the Consular Travel Advisory System.
Overall Crime and Safety Situation
U.S. Department of State has assessed Lilongwe as being a CRITICAL-threat location for crime directed at or affecting
official U.S. government interests. 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. Review OSAC’s reports, All That You Should Leave Behind.
Be mindful of vehicle robbery, carjacking,
residential burglary, armed robbery, and home invasion. Criminals tend to work
in groups of 5-15 people, most commonly carrying panga knives
(machetes), and sometimes firearms. Criminals are quick to use violence
if victims do not meet their demands; compliance is usually the
best course of action to avoid personal injury when confronted by
an armed assailant. Expatriates have been victims of violent
crime, but generally do not appear to be specific targets.
Criminal activity is more common in urban
areas than in 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 often occur because
of public distrust and lack of confidence in the Malawi Police
occur especially in Lilongwe and Blantyre. Carjackers often block the rear of a
victim’s vehicle while it waits to pass through a security gate into a
residence and then assailants will threaten the driver and take the car. Carjackers
sometimes also assault victims.
traveling on foot at night, especially in urban areas, as armed muggings and
assaults have increased. Non-Malawians have been targets in Lilongwe, and
several U.S. citizens have been injured. Consider city streets unsafe after
dark even when walking in a large group. Pedestrians should also be cautious
during daylight hours.
Most hotels are safe, but less reputable
accommodations can be less secure. Do not leave
valuables in hotel rooms. Exercise caution when
using in-room safes, even in higher-end properties; many are not
anchored securely or have been compromised. Review
OSAC’s reports, Hotels: The Inns and Outs and Considerations for Hotel Security.
Single-family homes and compounds are frequent
targets of property crime; 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
Malawi's porous borders are ripe for
exploitation; they have facilitated human trafficking rings, drug
trafficking, illegal migration, and other cross-border criminal activity.
Malawi is an illegal transit route for passage from other African
countries en route to South Africa.
caution when visiting and/or staying in isolated areas such as Mount Mulanje, where
the availability of public security forces is limited. Take appropriate action
to ensure your safety if traveling to remote areas, and never travel alone or
OSAC’s reports, Cybersecurity Basics, Best Practices for Maximizing Security on Public
Wi-Fi, Traveling with Mobile Devices: Trends & Best
Practices, and Satellite Phones: Critical or Contraband?
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 emergency medical response. Most vehicles on the
road are not roadworthy, and often lack basic safety
features (e.g. 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
Roads are in poor condition. Most 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. Vehicles involved in breakdowns and accidents rarely
clear from the roadway, presenting 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 lack lighting at night. Strictly
limit vehicle travel at night to major urban areas; even
then, exercise caution 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.
Vehicle robberies are not uncommon, even in
daylight hours. Criminals often target victims when a
vehicle stops at an intersection or in a residential driveway. Keep vehicle windows
rolled up and doors
locked. Examine vehicle-locking mechanisms on a regular
basis for signs of tampering. Robbers have damaged locking mechanisms
on the doors of parked cars surreptitiously in order to negate the
use of a key fob to lock and unlock the vehicle. This method targets vehicles
that routinely park in the same general area.
roadblocks are common, but properly documented drivers usually pass quickly and
without incident. Police operate radar-based speed traps throughout the country;
they expect drivers to pay fines on the spot, so ensure you get a receipt. You
must obtain a locally-issued driver's license if you remain in Malawi for an
extended period and plan to drive. Never drive under the influence of alcohol
or drugs. Always wear a seat belt and insist that the drivers maintain a safe
speed. Fuel supply, both diesel and gasoline, is often erratic. Avoid travel by
foot along roadways.
OSAC’s reports, Road Safety Abroad, Driving Overseas: Best Practices, and Evasive Driving Techniques; and read the
State Department’s webpage on driving and road safety
Public Transportation Conditions
in need of transportation should request that hotel or restaurant management
call a taxi or car service.
Avoid public transportation, which is
extremely limited and unreliable. Public transportation 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, public
transport includes bicycle taxis or small, motorized tricycles; each is unsafe. Modern
coach buses are increasingly common on the main cross-country routes.
OSAC’s report, Security In Transit: Airplanes, Public Transport,
U.S. Department of State has assessed Lilongwe as being a LOW-threat location for terrorism 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 MEDIUM-threat location
for political violence directed at or affecting official U.S. government
interests. Spontaneous civil disturbances and demonstrations, primarily related
to governance and economic issues, can occur. These may become more common
leading up to, and immediately following elections in Malawi. In the run-up to the May 2019 national
elections, political demonstrations occurred throughout the
country. Demonstrations have continued since the election as
opposition parties and human rights groups seek to overturn the election
results and remove members from the Malawi Electoral Commission. No
matter the result, there will be potential problems. On occasion,
acts of vandalism and looting have accompanied demonstrations, and police have
responded by deploying tear gas.
There is public discontent with economic
problems (e.g. power cuts, food insecurity, fuel shortages, inflation)
and perceived poor governance. Many security issues are the result of the
poor state of the economy, which saw high
inflation ease, but unemployment persist in 2019. Public protests occurred
throughout 2018, and affected residents and visitors alike. Even
though protests have generally been peaceful with no resulting fatalities,
political demonstrations can quickly become violent. Review
OSAC’s report, Surviving a Protest.
Critical Infrastructure Concerns
Malawi’s infrastructure is underdeveloped.
Water shortages can occur, especially during the dry
season (May through October). Electricity is generally
limited to the larger cities, and power outages are frequent.
Credit cards are not commonly accepted
outside of major cities. There are a limited number of ATMs in Malawi that
accept Visa, MasterCard, and international ATM cards. Review OSAC’s reports, The
Overseas Traveler’s Guide to ATM Skimmers & Fraud
Personal Identity Concerns
Homosexuality is regarded as taboo, and
openly identifiable LGBTI+ persons can be subject to harassment and
hostility. Although the government has maintained its 2014 moratorium on
enforcement of anti-sodomy laws, those accused may still be subject
to arrest. Review
the State Department’s webpage on security for LGBTI+ travelers.
Individuals with albinism have been the
focus of attacks in rural areas. The Government of Malawi is actively
engaged in a campaign to protect individuals with albinism,
though its limited capacity has failed to deter many attacks.
In 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, 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 injuries, and significant property
damage. Though reports of violence have stopped, similar black magic
rumors and associated vigilante violence reemerge periodically.
codes prohibiting short skirts on women and long hair on men no longer exist,
but Malawi is a conservative society and travelers should dress modestly,
especially when visiting remote areas. Review the State Department’s
webpage on security for female travelers.
OSAC’s report, Freedom to Practice, and the State
Department’s webpage on security for faith-based travelers.
modern buildings may have wheelchair accessible entrances. Generally, public
transportation is not accessible for travelers with disabilities. The law
prohibits discrimination in education, health care, social services, the
workplace, housing, political life, and cultural and sporting activities for
persons with disabilities. However, the government has yet to adopt standards
and plans for its enforcement and implementation. Review the State Department’s
webpage on security for travelers with disabilities.
OSAC’s report, Picture This: Dos and Don’ts for Photography.
the State Department’s webpage on customs and import
restrictions for information on what you cannot take into or out of
crimes to the local police at 199 or 997. The Malawi Police Service is the national law enforcement
authority. 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.
U.S. victims or suspects of a
crime should contact the local police and U.S. Embassy Lilongwe, or inform
the police of your citizenship and ask them to contact the Embassy on your
the State Department’s Crime Victims Assistance brochure.
Medical facilities are
rudimentary, lack resources, and are not comparable
with those in the U.S. Many rural areas have no access to nearby
medical care. While all health
workers have some degree of English proficiency, communication can be
medications are not available. Bring adequate quantities of medications to last
the duration of your stay. Always carry your prescription medication in
original packaging with your doctor’s prescription. Check with your primary
healthcare provider or local travel clinic regarding malaria prophylaxis
medications. Check with the government of Malawi to ensure the medication is
legal in Malawi. Review OSAC’s report, Traveling with Medication.
major medical problems, consider obtaining medical treatment in South Africa,
where advanced medical care is available. Find contact information for
available medical services and available air ambulance services on the U.S. Embassy website.
The U.S. Department of State strongly recommends purchasing international
health insurance before traveling internationally. Review the State Department’s
webpage on insurance overseas.
and other food borne illnesses are a common problem. Avoid tap water, ice
cubes, and raw fruits and vegetables. Use bottled water for drinking and food
preparation. Consume only food that is well-cooked and served hot.
following diseases are prevalent: Malaria; Schistosomiasis; HIV; and Tuberculosis.
The CDC offers additional information on vaccines and health guidance for Malawi.
OSAC’s reports, The Healthy Way, I’m Drinking What in My Water?, Shaken: The Don’ts of Alcohol Abroad, Health
101: How to Prepare for Travel, and Fire Safety Abroad.
OSAC Country Council Information
has an active Country Council. Contact OSAC’s Africa
team for more information or to join.
U.S. Embassy Contact Information
U.S. Embassy Lilongwe, Area 40, Plot
24, 16 Kenyatta Drive, Lilongwe
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 in regular use, and are a poor means of locating the compound.
Switchboard: +265-1-773-166 or +265-1-773-342
you travel, consider the following resources:
OSAC Risk Matrix
Department Traveler’s Checklist
Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP)