Lilongwe, Malawi Report of what it's like to live there - 08/02/15
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, we've lived in other large modern cities with kids and in third world countries without kids.
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?
Home base is New York. We typically fly through JNB, so a 2.5 hour flight from Lilongwe to JNB and then 16 hours direct to New York. It's also easy to go through Nairobi and Europe or Addis and Europe, so there are options! But it's a long multi-step trip.
3. How long have you lived here?
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
We are in Lilongwe with my husband who is at the U.S. Embassy.
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
In Lilongwe most expats live in single family homes either on their own compound (houses all have walled compounds for security) or a compound shared with other families. Commutes are not long; my husband's commute is about ten minutes.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Groceries are expensive and so are cleaning and household supplies. There are also some issues with availability (egg shortages, chicken shortages, milk shortages). Things seem to be getting better in terms of availability and options, but people still tend to hoard a little when they see something like frozen berries or a new cheese or Coke Light even.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Outdoor toys, trampoline, wading pool, bikes.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
There are a range of good restaurants and more seem to be opening lately. They can be expensive. There's good Indian and Korean food as well as some Chinese.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Ants can be an issue and mosquitoes can carry malaria. Most people we know take prophylactic medication as protection from malaria and sleep under mosquito nets.
1. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Very available and inexpensive.
2. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Yes there's a gym in Lilongwe but we have not used it. There's also a Hash house running group and biking groups as well as volleyball, golf, tennis, ultimate frisbee, swimming...
3. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?
Lilingwe is a cash based place. There are lots of ATMs which generally have a withdrawal limit of 40,000 Kwacha.
4. What English-language religious services are available locally?
Catholic and Protestant
5. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
There are mini buses, bus service between bigger cities and, in Lilongwe, tuk-tuks. We drove everywhere though.
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?
The Toyota Prado Landcrusier is everywhere and for good reason as it's kind of a dependable tank of a vehicle and good on the potholed roads. Left hand drive.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Available but somewhat unreliable. It's smart to do the research as to which company to go with and which is currently the most reliable and fastest. We have had a lot of issues with Internet.
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?
Unknown as to quarantine although this is a heaven for dogs with huge gardens.
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 volunteer opportunities are available locally?
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Malawi is a poor country so security concerns come from the discrepancy between most expats and Malawians. We felt very safe though.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
The quality of available medical care is very low and inconsistent. For anything serious, you will need to leave Malawi. The main health concern for us was malaria.
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?
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
There always seems to be something beautiful in bloom which might bother some with allergies. Food allergies might be tricky to deal with, although there are kids in the community with peanut allergies who are fine and then each oil is accommodating.
5. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
It seems like there are three main seasons: rainy season from the end of November to March when it rains a bit most days but dries up (often heavy rains), the cooler season from May to August when the days are sunny and cooler and the nights get very cold, and the hot dry season from August to November when it gets hotter and drier.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
There are three main international schools; Bishop Mackenzie International School which is an accredited IB school, ABC which is the school associated with the African Bible College and follows the American curriculum with a religious slant, and Acacia which follow the British curriculum. We only have experience with Bishop Mackenzie and it was been very positive with great teachers.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
There seem to be some accommodations for kids with special needs but not much and not exceptional, although this might be slowly changing.
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?
Preschools are available but not numerous. They are not very expensive, but there's certainly a bit of a range.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
The most structured sports teams I know of are swim teams with scheduled practices and coaches and uniforms, otherwise, there are opportunities to play sports at school. Soccer is popular and Bishop Mackenzie has a drop-off Saturday soccer for kids.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Fairly large expat community with what we have found to be great morale with a sense of humor for the frustrations of Lilongwe.
2. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?
People get together for fun: pot luck, beer brewing, bike trip or grilling. There are a few places just outside of town that offer. Change of pace and heading up to the Lake for the weekend is common.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Lilongwe is a great city for families who are happy to make their own fun at group barbecue, swimming, camping or Saturday afternoon soccer/volleyball pick up. We don't have experience as singles but it seems like there are things to do.
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
I don't know except that as a country Malawi isn't accepting of gay or lesbian people.
5. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
We loved some of the secluded beaches up North along the Lake and the proximity to amazing safari experiences. We found the Lilongwe community to be a real highlight with friendly, unpretentious people doing interesting things.
6. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
The weather is beautiful and sunny all year, even in rainy season you get plenty of blue sky days. It's fun to spend time at Lake Malawi, easy to go on safari and hike Mt Mulanje. Camping, biking and other outdoor activities are common. Malawians are friendly and positive, and the country has a slow, laid back vibe.
7. Can you save money?
If you don't travel or go on safari you can, but you'll want to travel and go on safari.
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
2. But don't forget your:
Sense of humor and ant traps.