Lilongwe, Malawi Report of what it's like to live there - 07/27/09
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?
Lesotho, Lusadka, Zambia, Addis Ababa, and Ethiopia.
2. How long have you lived here?
3. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Working for UN.
4. Travel time and best routes to this city from Europe or the US:
I prefer the SAA direct flights from DC or NYC. However, over the past few years, the theft of luggage in JHB is increasing dramatically. We go on annual home leave, and every year one bag disappears -- either on the way to the US or on the way back to Lilongwe. Your other options are either through Nairobi or Addis Ababa.
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Lilongwe is small. Even in the ''rush hour'' you are generally only 15-20 minutes from home/work--often just 10 minutes. Single-family homes with very spacious plots generally cost around $1500-2000/month.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Malawi is an expensive country, but you can find most of what you need.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Seeds, basic personal and cosmetic items
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Limited restaurants with acceptable menus--not much to really rave about. Very expensive.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Lilongwe is full of insects! It seems to be built on a gigantic ant hill. Most of the insects, though -- except the mosquitoes -- are harmless.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Most people use email, but you will eventually get your package through the post office.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Capacity in Malawi is low and it is difficult to find qualified help. The good help that is available will most likely cost between $100-150/month.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Many small gyms that have limited amounts of equipment and types. Most people buy the basics for their house.
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?
You can find a bank that will accept your ATM card. Credit card use is very limited. You must pay cash for most things.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
There are many different Christian churches--most offer an English-language service. The time may be early in the morning though!
6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?
Local newspapers are available. Journalist skills are quite limited. DSTV for access to international news and entertainment is essential.
7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Very little, but it is always appreciated to know a few phrases.
8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Affordable, but not safe. There are many fatal road accidents.
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?
A four wheel drive is good for outside Lilongwe. Car hires are very expensive. In general, the roads -- unless you get off the beaten path -- are quite good, but a four-wheel drive is recommended.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Internet is available. High speed? Well that depends on your perspective. It costs close to $100/month. Globenet is quite good.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Essential, but the networks are over-subscribed and have frequent blackouts.
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)?
There is a good Zimbabwean vet available.
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?
If you have good skills that fit into the development machinery, there are often consultant opportunities. Some expat spouses offer special services--music lessons, nursery school, car mechanics, etc.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Smart casual. More formal if you interact with the government.
Health & Safety:
1. Pollution index (Good, Moderate, Unhealthy, or Very Unhealthy)?
This is a very healthy environment in terms of pollution. There is very little pollution, which is really marvelous. However, clean water can be a problem. It's best to boil and filter it or buy bottled water.
2. What immunizations are required each year?
3. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
This is a really a very safe environment all around. House break ins do happen, but they often seem to be affiliated with household help or security. It is important to take security measures. There are occasional attempts at carjacking.
4. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Medical care is quite poor. That is probably the biggest concern for most people living here. Really, there is always hope that nothing bad happens. Malaria and HIV are concerns.
5. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
The weather is wonderful. Sunny and hot most of the year. Summer can sometimes be a bit humid and oprresive. The short winter can sometimes get cold--high 30's low 40's at night. It will usually warm up during the day to a pleasant temperature. The ''cold nights'' really only lasts about 2 months.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
My children attend BMIS and love it. A dedicated school board and director are making positive changes at the school. The school offers a PYP programme. It is run-down in appearance, but it has good dedicated teachers. The other options are the African Bible College, offering a US-based curriculum (but it had not gotten its international accreditation). There is also a Mount Soche International School.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
BMIS has a specialist teacher. However, children with learning challenges will probably not get the support required to help them thrive.
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?
Very expensive for the quality. I have never paid so much for preschool and been so disappointed. ECD is not a developed field in Malawi. Children coming from more advanced nursery school settings are often a bit bored and not very challenged.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
BMIS has sports for older children. If you look around enough you will find some outside the school -- karate, tennis and golf lessons.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
2. Morale among expats:
During your first 1-2 years it is good. However, Malawi is surprisingly a rather difficult country to live in on many levels. There are many leftover remains from the Banda years, including jealousy and xenophobia. Capacity is extremely low, and there is sometimes a rather large sense of pride, which prohibits forward movement. Sometime during the third year, a real fatigue sets in, and then morale dips. That means it is time to leave and let a new group have a go at it.
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?
Mostly at home and social events at the school or at people's houses.
4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Great for families with young children, since most entertainment revolves around the home. Very little constructive activity for tween and teenage children.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
There is a lot of stigma and discrimination against gay and lesbian people. It is necessary to keep any relationship hidden.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Some Malawians can express rather unpleasant feelings towards foreigners. Religions outside christianity, particularly asian religions, are not well understood and are often critiqued.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Malawi is a stunningly beautiful country. There are many scenic places along the lake--but not great accommodations or services. Expect to pay a lot and be a bit disappointed in terms of quality for cost. Mount Mulanje and other national parks are also worth seeing. South Luangwa game park across the border in Zambia is a must when you are so close!
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
There are some beautiful wooden carvings--mostly from across the border in Mozambique. Dedza pottery is OK. Not fantastic but OK.
9. Can you save money?
NO! It is a very expensive country.
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Probably not. It really can be a very difficult country in a very hidden frustrating manner. We were shocked, having spent time in neighbouring countries, that Malawi is so under-developed, so proud, and so fond of blaming others for its lack of progress.
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
preconceived notions about what Malawi might be like. Everyone is rather surprised once they get to know the country.
3. But don't forget your:
patience and an open mind.