Housing and supply
In the big cities of Lilongwe, Blantyre, Mzuzu and Zomba there are hotels of international standards. The same goes for the tourist destinations on Lake Malawi. As an alternative to these expensive houses, there are a number of smaller hotels, lodges and guest houses of varying quality. Away from the touristically developed areas, there are mostly only very simple accommodations in the countryside, which can be problematic in terms of safety and hygiene.
The housing market is relatively solid, but clear. Since there are almost no apartments and flats available, free-standing houses are usually offered for rent. Houses that are rented to foreigners correspond to a higher standard for local conditions. Several rooms and a large garden in a fenced area are common. There are a number of real estate agents who also offer houses for rent. The power supply is very unreliable as the supply of electricity cannot meet demand. This regularly leads to shutdowns. The purchase of a generator or a solar system should be considered here. In Blantyre and Lilongwe, the water supply is also temporarily problematic, so a water tank can be useful.
Often half or even a full annual rent is required in advance. The Internet forum Lilongwe Chat – with over 4500 members – is a good news exchange for expats.
According to mathgeneral, there are some very good international schools in Malawi. These include the Bishop Mackenzie School in Lilongwe and the Kamuzu Academy in Kasungu (approx. 150 km north of Lilongwe) as well as St. Andrew’s International High School and the Phoenix Primary School in Blantyre.
Only in the four cities of Lilongwe, Blantyre, Mzuzu and – with restrictions – Zomba do the large foreign supermarket chains have a wide range of food and household goods ready. Locally produced products (fruit, vegetables, fish) can be bought easily and cheaply in the local markets. The supply situation in the countryside is more difficult. You can get the basic need for food in every district capital in the Malawian supermarket. Vegetables, fruit and other fresh produce are also available at every major village market.
A few years ago there were repeated bottlenecks in the supply of petrol and diesel. Several times the road traffic came to an almost complete standstill for a few days. You should get a supply at times, because in acute shortages the fuel is rationed and reserve canisters may not be refilled. After the devaluation of the Kwacha in May 2012, the gasoline and diesel supply situation improved. There have been no national bottlenecks since then. However, there was local fuel shortage in 2016 as Malawian tankers were attacked in Mozambique in the clashes that flared up again between the government and the RENAMO rebel movement.
Experience reports provide good tips on what the expats’ everyday life is like.
Malawian cuisine is very similar to the cuisine of other countries in southern and eastern Africa. The main food is nsima, a solid porridge made from corn. This is eaten daily in the villages, along with leafy vegetables (e.g. pumpkin leaves), red beans (nyemba) and, if seasonally and locally available, small river fish (matemba) or mushrooms. Due to the poverty, a chicken is only slaughtered on special occasions (Christmas, visiting relatives from the city). On the coast of Lake Malawi, the local population eat self- caught fish (e.g. Chambo, Usipa, Catfish) with Nsima and vegetables. Nsima has been standing since 2017 even on UNESCO’s list of Intangible Cultural Heritage.
These traditional eating habits can also be found in the cities and in the upper class. They pride themselves on offering traditional Malawian food to foreign guests, regardless of whether they are invited to a neighbor in Lilongwe, a work colleague or the head of state.
For the urban middle and upper classes, the culinary offer is more diverse: In addition to Nsima, there are also rice and table potatoes (which are called Irish Potatos here) that are produced in the country. The various leafy vegetables are accompanied by chicken, beef, pork (for non-Muslims) as well as goat and lamb. The already mentioned very tasty fish chambo from Lake Malawi is not infrequently served, which is sometimes also offered in well-stocked supermarkets. But there are also numerous other types of fish from the lake or the rivers. This includes the already mentioned Usipa, a small dried fish that is eaten with its head and bones.
If you like it spicy, you can use the Nali chili sauce produced in the country.
In fine restaurants (e.g. the Mount Soche Hotel in Blantyre or the Capital Hotel in Lilongwe) you can occasionally get crocodile meat. Availability depends on the killings of the state hunters who regulate crocodile populations in the Shire River. The tender meat of the tail (only that is consumed) is delicate and tastes like fish.
There is very good Malawian black tea (e.g. Chombe) and coffee. If you are not a fan of imported instant coffee, you should insist on Mzuzu Coffee in a restaurant or cafe.
Those who like to cook will find a range of typical recipes.