Malawi - Country Commercial Guide
Distribution and Sales Channels
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Malawi is landlocked and must rely on Tanzania, Mozambique, and South Africa for port access.  Cargo usually comes in through the land borders with Zambia, Tanzania, and Mozambique as well as air cargo through the main airports in Blantyre and Lilongwe.  There is a limited railway network in the southern region that connects with Mozambique.  The Mwanza Border with Mozambique is the busiest entry point in the country.  Importers can plan with the Malawi Revenue Authority for inland clearance of goods in all the three main cities of Blantyre (Southern Region), Lilongwe (Central Region) and Mzuzu (Northern Region).  Product distribution in Malawi can be problematic since some rural areas are difficult to reach and become inaccessible during the rainy season, usually November through April.  Purchasing power outside of Malawi’s larger cities is negligible.  Some companies have a network of rural distributors, but many firms opt to reach rural markets through wholesale arrangements with local entrepreneurs.  Imported goods enter Malawi through seaports in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, Nacala and Beira Mozambique, and Durban, South Africa.  These goods are delivered to Blantyre, Lilongwe, and Mzuzu before onward distribution to surrounding districts.  Malawi’s major manufacturers have central warehousing and distribution hubs in the three cities as well.

Using an Agent or Distributor

Due to the nature of local markets, U.S. companies find it helpful to hire a local agent.  Subsidiary or affiliate companies of U.S. organizations operate in several areas, including agro-industry, tobacco, computers/office equipment, and services.  Finding partners or agents and distributors for U.S. products generally is not difficult, the notable exception being high-tech products that would require substantial local support.  For such products, arrangements are sometimes made with firms operating from South Africa.

Establishing an Office

The Government of Malawi is supportive of foreign businesses interested in establishing agency, franchise, joint venture, or licensing relationships.  The government encourages local and foreign investment in all sectors of the economy with moderate restrictions on ownership.  There are no restrictions on the size of investment, the source of funds, or whether products are destined for export or for the domestic market.  However, retail operations in rural areas are not permitted by non-Malawian firms.

The Malawi Investment and Trade Center (MITC) is mandated to promote, attract, encourage, facilitate, and support domestic and foreign investment and trade, and publishes an “Investors Guide” on its website.  The MITC also has a compendium of Investment Opportunities available on its website.  MITC’s functions include guiding foreign and domestic companies that wish to establish a local office. 

Starting a business requires formal registration of the company name, business licensing, residence permitting for any expatriate staff, and registration with tax authorities.  Business licenses are valid for one year and must be renewed annually.  Businesses must register with the Registrar General, the Malawi Revenue Authority, and the Ministry or regulatory body overseeing their sector.  Businesses can register online through the Registrar General; however, the online process can be cumbersome and inefficient due to technical constraints.  Registering in person is preferred and generally less time-consuming.  After a business is registered and licensed, additional steps may need to be taken depending on the type of business.  For example, obtaining business licenses from the city assembly, registering the worksite with the Ministry of Labor, and allowing health officials to carry out periodic inspections of the company premises (

To expedite business startups, MITC operates a One Stop Service Center that hosts representatives from government agencies in charge of business and tax registration, immigration, and land access.  The MITC offers business facilitation services to any foreign or domestic investor through their One Stop Center.  The center houses representatives from the Registrar General, Malawi Revenue Authority, Department of Immigration, and Ministry of Lands, Housing and Urban Development.  Information can also be found on MITC’s main website, the iGuides, and its online trade portals and

For the latest Investment Climate Statement (ICS) which includes information on investment and business environments in foreign economies pertinent to establishing and operating an office and to hiring employees, visit the U.S. Department of Department of State’s Investment Climate Statements website.


There are no restrictions on franchising in Malawi and a few U.S. companies have local franchisees.  Opportunities exist for additional franchise operations as U.S. brands are valued in Malawi.  There are a limited number of Malawian businesses that have the investment capital necessary to open a U.S. franchise.

Direct Marketing

A U.S. company may market directly through an established importer or agent or by opening an office in Malawi.  Competitive pricing and reliability of supply, considering transportation bottlenecks and unpredictable border-crossings, are essential to enter and stay in the market.  Most products imported into Malawi have traditionally come from South Africa and Zimbabwe.  In recent years, products from the Middle East and China have been successful in Malawi due to their cost advantage.  However, many Malawians value quality and durability as well as price.

Joint Ventures/Licensing

The Government of Malawi allows joint ventures under the Partnership Act.  The amount and form of capital invested in a joint venture is not regulated.  Joint ventures, like any other businesses, must be licensed by the Registrar General in the Ministry of Justice (

Express Delivery

Express delivery services are available for both domestic and international destinations.  International courier companies (FedEx, DHL, Air cargo, Glens-Aramex, Posts Courier, and UPS) have a presence in Malawi.  Local courier companies (G4S Malawi, Malawi Post Corporation, Speed Courier,, and AMPEX Ltd) are reliable for domestic express delivery.  The Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority provides a list of licensed postal/courier operators.

Due Diligence

Firms that specialize in verifying the authenticity, diligence, and bona fides of banks, agents, and customers do not exist in Malawi.  However, the Reserve Bank of Malawi’s Bank Supervision Department rates banks, as do correspondent banks and international rating agencies.  Credit Reference Bureaus operate in the country and their reliability has improved with the introduction of a national ID system.

The U.S. Embassy will provide commercial services when requested through a U.S. Department of Commerce district office or when contacted directly by a U.S. company.  Embassy Lilongwe can help with market information and advice on potential partners for businesses.  Embassy Lilongwe provides the following branded commercial services:

  • Gold Key Service: Embassy Lilongwe pre-qualifies companies and schedules meetings.
  • International Partner Search: Embassy Lilongwe provides a pre-screened list of potential business partners.
  • International Company Profile: Embassy Lilongwe provides a recommendation on the suitability of the profiled company for business partnerships.
  • Market Research and Advice: Embassy Lilongwe provides quick market research for specific sectors as requested by U.S. companies.
  • Contact List: Embassy Lilongwe provides a sector- or product-specific list of local companies.