Money and Costs
At craft and curio stalls geared towards tourists, bargaining is expected. Some vendors might initially ask for double the price they’re willing to accept; haggle until you arrive at a mutually agreeable price. Try not to have the attitude that people are trying to rip you off. If the price seems fair and affordable to you, there’s no point in bargaining someone down just for the sake of it.
Take some US dollars and a back-up card. ATMs are widespread and credit cards accepted. Power cuts scupper both; keep a reserve supply of cash.
Standard and National Banks are the best bet for foreigners wishing to withdraw cash, and their ATMs accept Visa, MasterCard, Cirrus and Maestro cards. ATMs are found in most cities and towns including Lilongwe, Blantyre, Mzuzu, Karonga, Liwonde, Salima, Mangochi, Zomba and Nkhata Bay. Visa is most widely accepted.
ATMs dispense a maximum of MK40,000 per withdrawal, but you can insert your card three times in a row, thus ending up with MK120,000 (US$168). Your bank at home will charge you for each transaction. Alternatively you can go into the bank and withdraw your card limit in kwacha, although you will have to queue and the tellers are sometimes reluctant.
It's worth taking at least one back-up card, as the banks often experience network problems: for example, sometimes foreign credit cards work in the ATMs but debit cards don't.
Malawi’s unit of currency is the Malawian kwacha (MK). This is divided into 100 tambala (t).
Banknotes include MK1000, MK500, MK200, MK100, MK50, MK20, MK10 and MK5. Coins are MK10, MK5, MK1, 50t, 20t, 10t, 5t, 2t and 1t, although the small tambala coins are virtually worthless.
At big hotels and other places that actually quote in US dollars you can pay in hard currency or kwacha at the prevailing exchange rate. As the US dollar is stronger than the kwacha, you will save money by paying with dollars where possible.
ATMs and card machines generally don't work during the frequent power cuts, so carrying a wad of kwacha, and preferably US dollars too, is wise.
Credit & Debit Cards
You can use Visa cards at some but not all of the large hotels, high-end lodges and top-end restaurants (be warned that this will add a 5% to 10% surcharge to your bill). MasterCard is less commonly accepted.
Inform your bank that you will be travelling in Malawi.
For current exchange rates, see www.xe.com.
Tipping is not generally expected in Malawi. Some restaurants and services may add a service charge to your bill.
In good restaurants in Lilongwe and Blantyre, you can add 10% if the service has been good.
You can change travellers cheques at most major banks and bureaux de change, although you will need to show the original purchase receipt. You can occasionally use travellers cheques to pay at large hotels and lodges.
The major banks change money and there are bureaux de change in the big cities. You can also change money on the black market in border towns and the cities.
Malawian kwacha (MK)
Budget: Less than US$50
- Dorm bed: US$10
- AXA bus from Lilongwe to Blantyre: US$16
- Carlsberg beer in a bar: US$1
- Flight from Lilongwe to Blantyre: US$90
- PADI Open Water dive course: US$380
- Guided wildlife walk: US$20
Top End: More than US$150
- Flight from Lilongwe to Likoma Island: US$295
- All-inclusive single room in wildlife lodge: US$350–550
- Restaurant main course: US$11