Lilongwe, Malawi Report of what it's like to live there - 07/26/20
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. Have also served in SE Asia.
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?
From Dulles it is roughly a 19 hour flight via Ethiopian Airlines.
Only 3 airlines to travel to and from: South African, Ethiopian, and Kenyan
3. How long have you lived here?
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
The higher ranking you are and depending upon which agency you work for will dictate the house you'll likely get. Some people have gorgeous houses others are "ok". It beats paying rent in the U.S.
Layouts are awkward, yards are huge with lots of different fruit trees. Lots of space for a vegetable garden and chickens if you want. Guinea Fowls are also cool to have around the yard. They act as pest control and kids love to chase them around. They run really fast, (the fowls not the kids).
Commute time is roughly 15 minutes depending upon traffic and whether or not the one traffic light near the Embassy is working. This mainly only affects the after work commute.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Load up on consumables. Especially tissue and paper towels. The quality here is horrible and has a funky smell. I would not recommend using the bidets at the homes as the water coming out is brown. You will have to shop around for food items. Best meat is at Kapani. Chipiku is good for vegetables. There are also lots of locals with farms that have good quality veggies and of course you can grow your own. Food Lover's, a South African chain has some items but there stock stays low. Maybe things will have improved by time you arrive at Post. Bower's is also good.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
I shipped everything I knew I would need.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Urban Cafe, Jang's Kitchen, Chennai Spice, Woodland's, AMA Khofi, Kaza Kitchen and a few more. Talk to the CLO.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Yes. Especially during rainy season. Spiders, geckos, ants. We saw a cockroach here and there but not often and most were mainly in the kitchen area. One was able to fly. Ughh We once saw what looked like a huge tarantula but may have been a wolf spider. We rarely saw mosquitos suprisingly. Depends on what area you live in. Some areas are not bad while others have mosquitos everywhere. We used Doom (odorless) religiously and slept with nets every night.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Pouch. Local facilities are ok. I did receive a package through local mail once but wouldn't advise doing it on a regular basis.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
There are people available. What you pay depends on their years of experience and whether they live on or off compound. A newbie might start out with 100,000 kwacha a month. Some employers add in transport and food if staff live off the compound. It depends. People employ drivers, cooks, nannies, housekeepers, and gardeners.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Golf, Tennis, 2Fit has classes. Inquire with the CLO.
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?
Cash is king. If machines are working you can use credit cards. It's hit or miss. Use the ATM at the Embassy. I don't recommend using it anywhere else.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
Loads. Ask other Embassy staff.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
It's helpful to know some of the language. There is a tutor who does classes at the Embassy one or two days a week.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Unfortunately yes. Very difficult.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Not safe but probably affordable. Just don't. RSO will brief you.
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?
Toyotas are the best. You need an SUV. Also pack some parts you think you might need. Parts are ridiculously expensive in Lilongwe. You can also get tires locally but you may want to put some in HHE.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
It's available and somewhat unreliable and expensive. Coordinate with IRM when you arrive. One of the radio techs will assist in getting things set up.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Some people keep their home country plan. T-mobile works overseas. You can get a local sim but plan to top up often.
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?
Lots of people have dogs and vets are available. Check in with the CLO.
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?
Telework for companies back in the U.S. Some are able to obtain jobs with AID or State.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Business casual. Formal dress for Marine Ball.
Business attire for meetings with government officials.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Some people have been robbed when out for a walk/run. Some people have had windows down while driving and phones taken. Just use common sense. Be aware of your surroundings. Keep doors locked etc.
Homes have barbed wire and 24-hour guard coverage as well as alarms.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Anything serious will require a medevac. Local medical care is poor. Some locals even go to South Africa for medical care. Health unit will brief you. Pack some meds to cover the gammant of things that could happen.
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?
Air quality is fine. Burning of trash happens periodically but other than that air quality is fine. Seasonal allergies affect alot of people. Mainly the trees that bloom affect people certain times of the year.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
Bring your meds. Pack your consumables for specialty items as you will not find them here. Food allergies aren't as big a deal here as the U.S. as majority of the food prepared is made fresh without additives you find in the U.S.
5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?
Depression and isolation. Not much to do here and if you don't connect with friends it can feel very isolating. I recommend finding locals to connect with as you will have a much better experience.
6. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Not too hot not too cold. Rainy season sucks because of the bugs other than that temps are great most of the year. Higher elevations are cooler, i.e. Zomba.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
Only two options for school age kids ABC and BMIS. I would never put my child back in BMIS again. Full stop.
Some people homeschool.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
None that I'm aware of.
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?
Ask the CLO.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Yes. Some at the school. There is also Tae Kwon Do and Tennis lessons for kids.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Morale meh... up and down.
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?
Rock climbing wall, ultimate frisbee, volleyball, poker night, make your own fun, playdates for kids, potlucks, again make your own fun. It can get old real quick. Take frequent trips to get out of Lilongwe. The country is beautiful.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Families yes. Others may feel isolated.
4. Is it easy to make friends with locals here? Are there any prejudices or any ethnic groups who might feel uncomfortable here?
Yes easy to make friends with locals. They are very welcoming.
5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Tes estate, going to the lake and hiking Nkhoma mountain. Zomba. Club Makokola.
Friendships formed with locals.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Blue Zebra. Kayaking there is fun; Art House Balaka - authentic Italian food and a great place for a weekend getaway.
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
You can definitely get fabric and have clothes made. The monthly farmer's market has a lot of handicrafts for purchase. Four Seasons also has items.
9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Simple life, saving money, fruit trees in the yard, beautiful birds, great weather.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
How boring it would be.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
4. But don't forget your:
Pack your patience. You will need it. Things move slowly here.
5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
Refugee for Life, Boy who Harnessed the Wind, The Scramble for Africa.
6. Do you have any other comments?
Good luck on your assignment and be sure to go on a Safari.