The Malawi unit of currency is the kwacha (abbreviated to MK internationally; K locally).
The kwacha is divided into 100 tambala. Practically speaking, only the kwacha is used. Banks in the towns are open weekdays from 0800 to 1300.
Mobile banks operate along the Lakeshore and in more remote areas (check days/times locally). Avoid black market currency traders.
Using cards in Malawi
Credit cards are accepted in major hotels, travel agencies, and the like, but it is advisable to have a different form of currency for general use. Traveller’s cheques or cash are advised as means of exchange and it may be useful to carry a limited amount of US dollars or UK sterling as a negotiable form of currency. For security reasons, it is recommended that you inform your domestic bank about your travel plans abroad.
Exchanging money in Malawi
Any bank or Forex office, will exchange sterling, dollars or euros into kwacha. If using sterling, it is best to use English notes and avoid Scottish notes. It is worth shopping around for the best rate. Often the best rates are found at the Bureau de Change and not at the national bank.
ATMs are found outside most banks. Most major towns have banks. Most transactions happen using cash. Check if you can pay at your hotel using a card. Plan ahead, and take multiple cards if you will be having to pay large amounts in cash, to ensure you will be able to withdraw the necessary amount. Cheques can take a long time to clear.
There is no limit to the amount of foreign currency brought into Malawi but it must be declared and accounted for on departure. Since 2011 there has been a shortage of forex in Malawi, this has fuelled a black market for foreign currency, it is therefore advisable to have appropriate paperwork accounting for your forex.
Transferring money to Malawi
There are two advisable methods of transferring money:
- Bank - to - bank: Banks charge around £15-45 for money transfers. In order to affect the transfer you will need the name of beneficiary/ account holder, the name and address of the bank, the account number and the SWIFT code.
- Western Union transfer costs £10 for a £250 transfer
Consider sending larger sums of money less frequently in order to avoid bank charges, but only if deemed appropriate by your Malawian partner.
Opening an account in Malawi
If you are planning to be in Malawi for a significant amount of time, or for transferring money to your partners in Malawi it may be worth considering opening a Malawian account. If you decide to open a bank account in Malawi, you may wish to speak with your Scottish bank as to their preferred partner. Transfers are relatively easy to manage as the banks in Malawi have good infrastructure - this may take slightly longer than a transfer in Europe, but is normally faster than a transfer in the US.
There are no British banks present in Malawi, but some institutions there include: National Bank (Malawian), Standard Bank (South African/Chinese) and Nedbank (South African). National Bank has received positive testimonials from SMP partners, as has Standard Bank for its personal accounts.
Opening company accounts should not require too much red-tape, but individual accounts do require Temporary Employment Permit (TEP), or Temporary Residency Permit (TRP) in Malawi, passport copies, passport pictures, completion of some forms, and a 4 to 6 week waiting period.
In terms of transfer fees, it is worth discussing waivers or reductions with your British bank. Bank of Scotland is occasionally flexible in this area and others may respond similarly if asked. Once in Malawi, expect to pay some (small) fees.
If you need more fluid accounts, First Merchant Bank in Malawi hold accounts in both sterling and kwacha, and accounts can be monitored using internet banking. Other banks may also offer hard currency accounts. This type of account is more secure in safeguarding your money from potential devaluation of the Kwacha, but you will not be able to withdraw hard currency unless you have a valid plane ticket to show that you are leaving the country shortly. Instead, transfers from the hard currency (Sterling) account to the Kwacha account can be made on an as-needed basis.