Lilongwe, Malawi Report of what it's like to live there - 09/17/13
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?
Fourth expat experience.
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?
Long travel times back to the U.S. via Johannesburg, Nairobi, or Addis Ababa are to be expected. We prefer the Johannesburg to Atlanta flight as it is overnight each way which makes it slightly more manageable with children.
3. How long have you lived here?
Four years--since 2010.
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Diplomat with the U.S. Embassy.
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
All houses in the housing pool were built around the same time--late 1970s/early 1980s. Huge yards for some houses but all have medium size yards with vegetable garden space. The yards and relative similarity of the housing--single story brick with three bedrooms and two bathrooms--make Lilongwe pleasant to live in.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Twice as expensive as in the U.S....sometimes three times as much.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Good car tires as they are three times as expensive as in the U.S. It would have to be in your HHE or UAB as the DPO will charge you bulk fees.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
There are about 10-15 good restaurants - most of them Indian. Bombay Palace at the Game Shopping Center is the best. A few Chinese--Noble China is the best--and a few western style places too. The best for lunch are Ulendo's Lark Cafe in Area 10 and Four Season's Ama Kofe...hands down.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Less than I expected. Mosquitos of course--and malaria is a real concern. Termites fly with the rains and make for quite a sight. Ants can come and go around the house.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
DPO is a huge plus. You can stay connected to American groceries via Amazon prime/subscribe and save.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Very affordable--between US$125-$200 per month. Do not expect proactive staff. Treasure and encourage anyone who works for you who demonstrates proactiveness as being passive is the norm.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
At the Embassy.
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?
Leave the credit card at home. ATMs work for getting cash out.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?
DSTV is great--especially for sports--and some Embassy houses have AFN.
7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
English is the national language.
8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
No sidewalks and lots of stairs would make this place hard.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Public transport is not as common as other countries in the region. Everyone is walking!
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?
Import a used vehicle from Japan--I recommend the Prado as parts and maintenance are easy and it will get you around South Luangwa too. Driving is dangerous here and a good car will also protect you from accidents.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Getting better every month. We finally realized that the MTL wimax is the best so far. About US$75 a month...much less than the US$200 it used to cost for Burco and others.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Very good Airtel coverage and the data package will give you internet almost anywhere in the country.
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)?
Yes--nice vets and this place it literally dog heaven.
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?
For those who seek it out there are opportunities with all the NGOs and implementing partners of the massive amount of foreign assistance that goes on.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Formal--Malawians like to dress conservatively and look smart.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Worse in Blantyre than Lilongwe. Getting worse in Lilongwe but Areas 10, 12 and 43--where our housing is clustered--are still relatively safe. Lots of people walking and jogging at all hours.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Malaria is a major concern. Bilharzia from swimming in the lake but we just take prozy every six months and have been in every nice beach swimming in Lake Malawi from the far north to the south and have not tested positive for it. Excellent med unit at the Embassy--any serious issues will require being evacuated to South Africa.
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?
Perfect...except in the burning season...which can last a while.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Perfect. Better than where I grew up in San Diego. Now--how often do you hear that?
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
BMIS and ABC.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
BMIS is attentive to your child's development and carves out time to focus on their needs but has limited additional resources. Sandi is good for occupational therapy.
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?
Plenty--two or three options in areas 10, 12 and 43 but Rainbow is the preferred school for the longtimers. Acacia is popular too but Rainbow--although on the other side of town--has much better prices and is full of so much more character.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Yes--lots of sports at BMIS--especially swimming and soccer.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Diplomats and foreign NGOs almost equal to tobacco families--I would put it at 1,000-2,000 for Lilongwe. You feel like you know everyone but then realize that you keep meeting new people here and there as the crowds are pretty insular.
2. Morale among expats:
Great--so long as you get out and meet new people.
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?
It is what you make of it. The weather and outdoor spaces make hosting parties or events at your home easy and fun.
4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
A dream post for those with small children. The weather and large yards make for unforgettable family time outside and the friendly atmosphere in Lilongwe is a pleasant backdrop.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
Like much of Africa there is a lot formal, legal prohibition of homosexuality but it is otherwise more or a don't ask, don't tell situation.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Other than just being the mzungu--like most other parts of East and Southern Africa--you will not notice racial tension. The inter-tribal dynamics are more placid than elsewhere in the region too.
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Laying on the shore of Lake Malawi feeling like I am back home on the beach in California.
Getting to know Lilongwe's growing communities of artists, expats, and Rotarians. It has been a real pleasure.
Traveling to South Luangwa--as many times as possible!
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Four Seasons for lunch or brunch, Kumbali for brunch, BBQs at friend's houses, swimming at the Tamarind Club, tennis at the Golf Club or your friend's court...it is what you make of it. Night life is pretty much Cameleon's, the Living Room, or Club Zanzi for dancing...not much but getting better.
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Some nice wood carving and furniture.
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
The friendly, easy going attitude of Malawians as well as the adventure travel opportunties. The lake is the go-to get away--only 1 hour and 15 minutes from our house. Trips to Malawi's "best national park"--a common cliche used for South Luangwa National Park in Zambia--are world class and unforgettable. Travel to Zomba, Cape MacClear, Ntchisi, Chinteche, Dzalanyma, ant the Nyika Plateau make this place unique. Travel times are long tough so plan to take extra time.
11. Can you save money?
Harder than I expected it to be but possible. If you travel to expensive safari outfits then it will be hard but if you camp and do it on your own then it helps a lot.
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Impatience as everything in Malawi comes in time.
Expectations that you will have choices as to what to do for entertainment--going to Kumbali for Sunday brunch or the Tamarind Club to swim will be your normal quandry.
3. But don't forget your:
Creativity and sense of adventure.
4. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:
Nice nature documentary from "mutant planet" on Lake Malawi's unique cichlid speciation.
5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
Laurens van der Post' Venture into the Interior.