Money in Malawi
The Malawian currency is the Malawi Kwacha.
One kwacha corresponds to 100 tambala. However, tambala are usually not used in everyday life anymore.
Notes come in Mk 2,000, 1,000, 500, 200, 100, 50 and 20 denominations.
Mk2,000 has been introduced in November 2016.
Coins come in Mk 10, 5 and 1, which are seldom used.
The most widely recognized currency is the US dollar, followed by the Euro, the Pound sterling and the South African Rand.
If you are from any of the countries that use these currencies, it is probably best to travel with that currency.
Foreign currencies are generally not accepted outside of international airports and upmarket hotels in Lilongwe and Blantyre. They can be exchanged to Malawi Kwacha at any branch of Standard, National, FMB, NBS and FDH, as well as many upmarket hotels and at any of several private forex bureaux.
Banking facilities and ATMs have grown and spread fast in Malawi recently, but there are still several popular tourist spots without foreign exchange or ATM facilities, so it’s advisable to change while you’re in large town.
Banks are open 8:00-15:00/16:30 on Monday-Friday and 8:00-11:00 on Saturday generally, and they are closed on Sundays and public holidays.
Private forex bureaux normally keep longer hours, and some might open on Sunday.
The safest way to carry hard currency is in the form of travellers’ cheques, which can be refunded if they are lost or stolen, but do note that relatively few outlets actually take travellers’ cheques these days and that you cannot use them at private forex bureaux.
Some banks may also require you to show the proof of purchase before they will change your travellers’ cheques, so carry that document with you, but never in the same place as the actual cheques.
Credit/Debit cards are more convenient than travellers’ cheque.
There are now ATMs in all major cities, where you can withdraw up to MK80,000 per transaction against foreign Visa and in some cases MasterCard or Maestro.
Furthermore, while things have improved greatly in recent years, card usage remains somewhat limited in Malawi, and it is almost useless outside major cities, except at selected upmarket game lodges and resorts. And those places that do accept credit cards sometimes take Visa only. It seems even harder to use a MasterCards.
An additional downside to paying with credit cards is that handling fees are often added. Finally, if the card is lost or damaged, you are unlikely to be able to arrange a replacement or an alternative source of funds very easily.
It is accepted at all forex outlets, as well as by private traders outside banking hours, and you’ll get far more kwachas for your dollar than with travellers’ cheques or cards.
The only drawback is that cash is also eminently stealable and untraceable, and while theft is not a huge problem in Malawi, it does happen.
But note that USD100 notes issued before 2006 are not accepted by many forex outlets owing to a large number of forgeries in circulations, and notes of USD20 or less generally fetch a poorer rate than higher-denomination bills.