How do I get to Malawi?
There are various routes into Malawi from the UK and elsewhere. South African, Ethiopian and Kenyan Airways offer regular flights into Blantyre. It may work out cheaper to fly into Africa via European hub airports. We recommend that people book via the official airline website or a travel agent and take a direct flight into Blantyre rather than flying to Lilongwe, though internal travel between Lilongwe and Blantyre is possible via coach. We will arrange for you to be met at Blantyre airport on arrival.
What health precautions do I need to take?
Make sure you seek advice from a Travel Clinic. Various vaccinations are likely to be recommended – Hepatitis A, Typhoid, Hepatitis B, Diphtheria and Tetanus, MMR, Yellow fever (only if travelling from endemic areas).
Antimalarial treatment is strongly advised, a travel clinic will be able to advise on the various options – remember you will need to start treatment before you travel to Malawi and continue on your return home.
It is possible to catch Schistosomiasis whilst swimming in parts of Malawi – take advice before swimming. Praziquantel can be taken several weeks after potentially exposure and can be purchased at pharmacies in Blantyre. You can arrange a blood test if concerned about exposure once back in the UK.
Do I need a Visa to enter Malawi?
Yes, you will be required to purchase a visa to enter Malawi. For most volunteers, a visitor’s permit that lasts for 30 days can be purchased at the airport and costs $50 cash. It can be renewed in Blantyre for a further 30 days. It is also possible to obtain a permit in advance from the Malawian Embassy in London.
Volunteers from non-UK countries should seek advice about visas from the Malawian government website, their national governmental travel advice website or a travel agent. If planning to stay on a longer-term basis, visa/employment permit requirements can be discussed on an individual basis.
Do I need insurance?
Yes, travel and health insurance for your time in Malawi is obligatory.
Where will I stay in Malawi?
SMMHEP will accommodate you in Blantyre with the other volunteers. You will have the support of people familiar with the area and programme to help you get orientated. The accommodation is self-catering; a good range of food items are available from the market and supermarkets in Blantyre. The accommodation is provided with linen and towels, and there is Wifi.
Will I need to drive in Malawi?
Yes, you may be required to drive and should have a valid driving licence. If you do not drive or are unable to drive during your planned trip to Malawi for any reason, arrangements can be discussed. SMMHEP volunteers will have access to cars for local transport including transport to and from the university and hospital. SMMHEP cars are insured and have manual transmission. Malawians drive on the left. Pedestrians and cyclists are numerous and don’t follow accepted UK norms on the roads; we would discourage any driving at night. You must carry your driving licence with you and police checks are common.
Will my expenses be reimbursed?
Information on reimbursement will be discussed in more detail prior to your travel to Malawi. SMMHEP currently contribute to personal and travel expenses at a flat rate per volunteer. We also reimburse any work-related expenses incurred in Malawi on SMMHEP’s behalf e.g. fuel costs.
What should I bring with me to Malawi?
Money – The currency is the Malawian Kwacha (MK) and the current exchange rate is around 900MK to the pound (Sterling) but this does vary quite a lot. Malawi is largely a cash economy, the largest denomination note is 2000MK (around £2). ATMs are available in Blantyre and other larger towns and cities. You can also change money at currency exchanges and banks. It is advisable to take some cash in the form of Sterling (English bank notes as opposed to Scottish) and/or US Dollars alongside your debit/credit card, plus/minus a travel card. Some hotels and lodges will take payment in US dollars or Pounds Sterling. It is wise, as with any foreign travel, to warn your bank ahead of time that you will be using your card in Malawi.
Clothing/Footwear - Keep the climate in mind when planning your travel wardrobe; it is hot and rainy during the summer (British winter months) and cooler and drier during the winter (British summer months). Also keep in mind that Malawi is a fairly conservative country and most people dress modestly. Many women wear skirts/dresses (knee length and below) but trousers or jeans are acceptable. Work wear is similar to that in the UK. Laundry facilities are limited so we wouldn’t recommend you take any delicate or dry clean only items with you. You may also take items that you don’t intend to bring back – donations are always gratefully received.
Take your swimming costume if you think you might fancy a swim in Lake Malawi, in one of the pools in Blantyre or in the beautiful natural pools around Mulanje. Bring a waterproof jacket and umbrella if you visit during the rainy season and warmer clothing is advised for the chilly evening times in winter.
Comfortable and practical footwear is advisable; the ground is often uneven, it’s dusty in the winter and muddy in the wet season. Bring sturdy walking boots/shoes if you plan to go hiking, and your exercise gear and running shoes if you fancy hitting one of the gyms or joining the local running club.
Sun Protection – Bring a hat and sunglasses. High factor sunscreen is also essential.
Medications and Toiletries – Be sure to take an adequate supply of all your own medications. Mosquito repellent high in DEET is required and you will probably want to take toiletries with you – a limited selection is available in supermarkets. Tissues and antibacterial hand gel/wipes are useful.
Electronics - A laptop is essential for preparing and delivering teaching. Also bring a USB stick and a power-surge protected plug to protect your electrical items from power cuts/surges which are common in Malawi. Bring an unlocked mobile phone. This is a phone that can be used with a sim card from any mobile provider and is not ‘locked’ to one – if you are unsure you can get this checked at a mobile phone shop or by contacting your mobile provider before you travel . It is easy to purchase a local sim in Blantyre and minute/data bundles to keep in contact with home and people locally. 4G signal is good on the whole so it is usually easy to call home using Whatsapp, Facetime etc. You may wish to download TV programmes or films before you leave home that you can watch on the journey and/or during any power cuts.
Other items – You may wish to bring textbooks or BNFs to donate locally. A back pack is useful if you plan to do any walking and a sleeping bag if you plan to camp. You may also wish to take your own mosquito net if planning to travel and/or camp (though they will be provided in the volunteer accommodation and most, if not all, lodges/hostels). A torch is essential (head torch is best) due to frequent power cuts and lack of street lighting. Don’t forget your camera to capture the beautiful scenery and wildlife, and your binoculars!
What can I do at weekends?
Malawi is a beautiful country and has much to offer outside of its main towns - though they too have their charms. There are a number of lovely day and weekend trips that can be made from Blantyre or Zomba including hiking, game reserves, tea plantations and visits to Mount Mulanje or the UNESCO world heritage site at Lake Malawi.
Before you go…
- Please don’t hesitate to contact us if you have any questions. We are happy to help and want to make sure that you have the best possible time in Malawi: mail@SMMHEP.org.uk
- We run volunteer information sessions in the UK and would love to see you at the next one, email us and you'll be added to the circulation list.
- More information about the arrangements for teaching will be provided in our written guidance for volunteers if you decide to make a trip.