Monday 18 November 2013

Viven : How we crossed from Mozambique to Malawi

Dear Viven,

We crossed from Mozambique to Malawi on the same coach that took us from Harare, Zimbabwe.  We are one British and one Canadian.  We are currently traveling in a wide southeast African circle from Dar es Salaam to Victoria Falls in Zambia, then through Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Malawi, to return to northern Tanzania.  Much of the information here is repeated in my previous letter, on how we crossed from Zimbabwe to Mozambique.  Our crossing prior to that was from Zambia to Zimbabwe, and our next crossing should be from Malawi to Tanzania.  This letter is accurate as of the day we crossed, Sunday 17 November 2013. 

Visas are not required for Malawi, as we both hold Commonwealth passports.  Entry clearance stamps were issued to us at the border without problem or fee.  The immigration official asked how long we wanted, and we said 14 days, which we received.

English is widely spoken in Malawi, a former British colony.  Chichewa, a sibling of Swahili in the Bantu family of languages, shares official status with English and is often heard throughout the country.

Malawi uses the Malawian kwacha (MWK), currently valued at MWK 1000 = US$2.53 or US$1 = MWK 395.  There were money changers at the Malawian side of the Mozambique-Malawi border, as well as one who was traveling on the same coach.  They all gave the same rate: US$1 = MWK 400.

The Route
After taking a mixture of trains and buses from Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, to Livingstone in Zambia, we caught a sleeper train from Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe to Bulawayo, and then a coach to Masvingo near the ruins of Great Zimbabwe.  Northbound coaches from Johannesburg make a lunch stop in Masvingo, and one had two spare seats to take us to Harare.  From there we took a full-day coach via Mozambique to Blantyre, Malawi, passing over the Zambezi river at Tete, Mozambique.  We crossed into Mozambique at Nyamapanda, and into Malawi at Zobwe.

Our Means of Travel
We traveled from Harare, Zimbabwe, to Blantyre, Malawi, by coach.  Two companies offer services between the two cities: Zupco and Premier.  Both depart Harare for Blantyre at 7am every day except Saturday.  Premier is known on both the internet and in Harare as the faster, more comfortable service, and we purchased our tickets with them the day prior to departure, on Saturday, for US$30 each.

The coach was comfortable enough, though the air conditioning did not function and the rear top-hatch was missing (if it had rained heavily, we would have been a little more cool, and a lot more wet).  We boarded the coach at 6:45am, and it left the coach station by 7:30.  Onboard we paid a US$1 departure fee per person, though we were expected to pay before boarding (the collecting agent was happy, however, as he didn’t record our names and probably pocketed the fees for himself).  The Mozambique border held us back for 40 minutes, and the Malawi border for two and a half hours.  We arrived in Blantyre at 8:45pm – 14 hours onboard.

The Border
We arrived at the Mozambique-Malawi border, which bypasses the town of Zobwe, at 4:20pm.  After only ten minutes of queuing we handed over our second filled-out immigration form (provided by the coach conductor) and received our exit stamps for Mozambique.  A guard at a second checkpoint barely glanced at our passports and waved us through.  We reboarded the bus to cross over no man’s land, which took a ten-minute drive before arriving in a traffic jam.  We walked for about five minutes of the remaining distance and joined a queue for Malawian immigration.  An official handed out simple white forms which we filled while waiting, and after half an hour in line we received our Malawian visa stamps with any question save how long we wished to stay.

Once the coach passengers had all passed through the immigration office the officials opened the bus doors and had us bring all of our checked baggage inside the building.  Once all the bags and passengers were inside, a guard closed the sliding door and sealed us in.  One by one we passed through an inspection, which for us was cursory but for others may have been onerous, especially given the time it took.  The officials didn’t seem to cross check the luggage inspected with a list each passenger had filled out earlier on the journey, stating what was inside his or her bags and how much it was worth.  The vast majority of passengers wrote simply, “personal clothes”. 

By 6:15pm the coach was loaded and ready to go, but there was another delay.  A money changer and passenger got into an argument about one owing the other, and military border officials had to carry them off.  They both got back on the bus along with the camoflauge-wearing guards in order to give the rest of us some entertainment, and then, somehow, it was sorted out: the passenger seemed pleased, and the money changer remained indignant.  We finally pulled out toward Blantyre by 7pm.

What We Needed

For the bus
  • US$60 ($30 each) for the ticket
  • US$2 ($1 each) for Harare Coach Station departure fees (yes, it is legitimate)

At the border
  • 2.5 hours queuing, walking and waiting
  • Passports
  • Filled-out Mozambique immigration form, issued on the coach
  • Filled-out Malawian immigration form, issued in the queue

They say Malawians are easygoing, welcoming and full of laughter.  So far, they’re right.

Happy trails,


Border post, Mozambique
Leaving Mozambique