Overland, travellers can enter the country from Zambia, Mozambique or Tanzania. Indeed, Malawi is a popular staging post for overland trucks heading between Nairobi and Cape Town. Most border posts close from 6pm to 7am.
It's possible to cross into Malawi by bus from Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe and South Africa, and there are direct services from Johannesburg (South Africa), Dar es Salaam (Tanzania), Lusaka (Zambia) and Harare (Zimbabwe) to Blantyre and Lilongwe. When crossing the border you will have to get off the bus to pass through customs and pay for your visa.
Take a minibus to the Mozambican border crossing at Zóbuè and then a minibus to Tete, from where buses go to Beira and Maputo. You could also get a Blantyre–Harare bus to drop you at Tete.
There are daily buses from Blantyre to the Mozambican border at Marka; failing that, take a bus to Nsanje and continue by minibus or matola (pickup). It’s a few kilometres between the border crossings – you can walk or take a bicycle taxi – and you can change money on the Mozambique side. From here pickups go to Mutarara and over the bridge to Vila de Sena.
There are three border crossings from Malawi into northern Mozambique: Muloza, from where you can reach Mocuba in Mozambique, and Nayuchi and Chiponde, both of which lead to Cuamba in Mozambique.
Regular buses run from Blantyre, via Mulanje, to Muloza. From here, it's 1km to the Mozambican border crossing, then another few kilometres into Milange. From Milange there’s usually a chapa (pickup or converted minibus) or truck about every other day in the dry season to Mocuba, where you can find transport on to Quelimane or Nampula.
Further north, minibuses and matolas run a few times per day between Mangochi and the border crossing at Chiponde. It’s then 7km to the Mozambican border crossing in Mandimba and the best way to get there is by bicycle taxi. Mandimba has a couple of pensãos (pensions), and there’s at least one vehicle daily, usually a truck, between here and Cuamba.
The third option is to go by minibus from Liwonde to the border at Nayuchi. From Nayuchi, where there are moneychangers, you can walk to Entre Lagos, and then get a chapa to Cuamba.
A number of bus companies run services from Lilongwe and Blantyre to Johannesburg. The best option is Intercape, which operates daily services between Jo'burg and both Blantyre and Lilongwe, with a service continuing north five days a week from the latter to Mzuzu.
Buses from Lilongwe leave from outside the petrol station on Paul Kagame Rd in Old Town. In Blantyre, most Johannesburg-bound buses depart from the car park outside Blantyre Lodge.
If you want to go the whole way between Lilongwe and Dar es Salaam, five Taqwa Coach Company buses per week depart from Devil St in Lilongwe (US$60, 30 hours). These night buses pick up and drop off in Mzuzu (US$30).
If you’re going in stages, Mbeya in southern Tanzania is handy for crossing to/from northern Malawi. Buses and minibuses ply the M1 between Mzuzu and Karonga, from where you can get a minibus or taxi to the Songwe border crossing. It’s 200m across the bridge to the Tanzanian border crossing.
Once on the Tanzanian side of the border, minibuses travel 115km north to Mbeya, where you will need to overnight before continuing on the next morning to Dar es Salaam. You can change money with the bicycle-taxi boys, but beware of scams.
A warning: there have been cases of travellers catching the bus in Dar, or elsewhere in Tanzania, and being conned into buying a ticket the whole way to Karonga. They are told that the ticket will provide onward transport from the border to Karonga, but it doesn't. Unless you're taking a long-distance bus that will cross into Malawi, only buy a ticket as far as the border.
Four direct Kob's Coach Services buses per week link Lilongwe and Lusaka (MK20,000, 12 hours), departing from Devil St on Wednesday and Saturday mornings. Regular minibuses run between Lilongwe and Mchinji. From here, it’s 12km to the border. Local shared taxis shuttle between Mchinji and the border crossing.
From the Zambian side of the border, shared taxis run to Chipata, about 25km northwest of the crossing, from where you can reach Lusaka or South Luangwa National Park.
You will need a valid carnet de passage for your car, which will require entry/exit stamps when entering/leaving the country, as well as full car-registration details and insurance documents. You will have to purchase a temporary import permit (MK10,000) and third-party insurance (MK21,000). If you are touring around the region, consider buying a Comesa Yellow Card (http://ycmis.comesa.int), which provides third-party insurance in several countries. If it's not your vehicle, a letter of authorisation from the owner or car-rental company is required.
You won’t find fuel or supplies at the borders themselves, so take enough to continue to the nearest town. Leaving Malawi, you must produce the documents to prove you paid the required charges on the way in. A small administrative charge will be payable. When making any payment to border officials, you should receive a receipt.
If you’re heading to northern Mozambique, a Central Eastern Africa Railways train departs from Balaka on Thursday at 6am, travelling via Liwonde to the border at Nayuchi (MK2100, six hours). You can then take a chapa from the Mozambican side of the border to Cuamba. However, the train is an unreliable mode of transport and you're better off taking the bus.