Entry & internal travel in Malawi

A valid passport, with at least six months to expiry date from intended exit date, is required to enter the Republic of Malawi. Australian citizens do not require a visa.
All foreigners entering Malawi must possess a return ticket or onward ticket with the necessary travel documentation for the next destination. They must also have sufficient funds to cover expenses while in the country.

Malawi is a small, land-locked country. Hence, the most convenient entry from Australia is by air. There are two international airports in Malawi; Kamuzu International Airport serving the capital Lilongwe, and Chileka International Airport serving the former capital Blantyre.

Air Malawi operates regular flights between major cities like Lilongwe, Blantyre and Mzuzu, and to Club Makokola near Lake Malawi. Charter flights are available to many smaller destinations and tourist centres including Liwonde National Park and Likoma Island.

Once in Africa, the main border crossings are to and from South Africa, Zambia, Mozambique and Tanzania. Convenient road access to all these countries is by car or by bus. By Western standards, bus fares are incredibly cheap.

Malawi has a dense and, comparatively well maintained road network. Many main roads and even frequently used minor roads have been tarred, and bridges have been renewed and upgraded. Tar roads are generally in good shape and potholes are seldom found.

Rural roads are uncoated and subject to the vagaries of the weather. In the dry season they may be corrugated and pot holed. In the wet season, they are impassable or simply washed away.

Unfortunately there are virtually no current road maps in Malawi. Those available are outdated and inaccurate. While major roads are rendered in acceptable quality, secondary or tertiary roads are often arbitrarily sketched in and unclassified roads are generally missing.

Apart from a few main road turnoffs, road signs are virtually non-existent. Those that exist are very old and often hard to spot, painted black with faded, white lettering.

Understandably, the rural population prefer to travel - often with their livestock along the roads. This impels any thoughtful driver to slow down.

In the major cities, street lighting is world standard. In rural areas, it is non existent.

The condition of rural roads, their use by pedestrian and livestock, presence of abandoned vehicles on the roadside, the non-existence of street lighting and the tendency of some drivers to travel at night without car-lights are strong arguments against driving at night.

Speed cameras have been introduced on many main roads and drivers may be breath-tested. The blood alcohol limit is 0.08. Anyone caught speeding or exceeding the legal alcohol limit may have their license, their vehicle, or both confiscated on the spot. Penalties include fines, or imprisonment or both.

When driving, you must carry personal identity, vehicle registration and ownership papers.

In the first months of 2011, fuel shortages were common throughout Malawi. Drivers should be aware of these conditions and ensure they take adequate precautions when travelling between fuel stops.

Until privatisation in 1999, the national rail network in Malawi was run by Malawi Railways, a government corporation. Although mainly used for freight traffic, a government subsidised passenger rail service operates thrice weekly in both directions from Blantyre to Makhanga and to the border with Mozambique at Nayuchi.

According to one travel advisory: Services by rail are slow, overcrowded and erratic, they offer no advantages over road travel and are therefore not used by tourists.

A number of ferries operate on Lake Malawi. MV Ilala traverses Lake Malawi from North to South and back again once a week. It provides a unique way of getting around the country and a cheap option for travelling to offshore islands and across to Mozambique.

The Ilala, was built in Scotland in 1949 for Nyasaland Railways, dismantled, transported in pieces to Malawi (then Nyassaland) and rebuilt there. It started operating in 1951. It replaced the original Ilala, built in 1875 and named after the Ilala region of Zambia where David Livingstone was first buried. As the ship does not meet current international requirements for passenger ships, there are plans to build a replacement.

Mtendere cruises the southern part of the lake. MV Songea sails between Mbamba Bay (Tanzania) to Nkhata Bay on Malawi's northern lakeshore every Saturday.
These ferries are not considered up to tourist standards. But, they represent the cheapest mode of travel through the land and to and from the African countries that surround Lake Malawi.

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