Given the complexity of Mali’s social and economic customs, U.S. companies are strongly encouraged to establish local contacts. The persistence of reports of corruption and onerous bureaucracy, as well as years of political instability, mitigate the beneficial effects of laws and procedures encouraging investment in Mali.
In practice, many foreign investors report it is difficult and time consuming to conduct business without paying bribes in Mali. This can leave U.S. companies at a disadvantage, as they must comply with the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Enforcement of the law in Mali is perceived by many to be irregular and inefficient. It is crucial that businesses understand that bribery is common and that they prepare themselves to appropriately address and deflect bribery attempts.
Mali’s population is approximately 95 percent Muslim. Malians place great emphasis on protocol and courtesy. Discussions should begin with an extensive exchange of greetings and pleasantries. Western business attire or respectful local attire are the norm. Business cards are commonly exchanged during meetings.
Travel Advisory Any U.S. citizen considering travel to Mali should consult the U.S. Department of State’s Travel Advisory for Mali.
U.S. travelers to Mali must obtain a visa in advance from a Malian Embassy or Consulate. The Embassy of Mali’s website provides information on required documents, fees, and visa categories.
U.S. Companies that require travel of foreign businesspersons to the United States are advised that security evaluations for the visa issuance process are handled via an interagency process. Visa applicants should go to the following link(s): State Department Visa Website
Mali uses the franc CFA and belongs to WAEMU. The franc CFA is the only currency used in Mali. Travelers can exchange foreign currencies against the franc CFA in currency bureaus (bureaux de change) when arriving in Mali. Bureaus de change are located in the international airport as well as in major cities. Commercial banks also exchange foreign currencies against the franc CFA and vice versa. Informal currency exchange is common, particularly in Bamako. The U.S. Embassy advises against informal exchange of currency because of the potential risks involved, including robberies. It is possible to use debit cards to withdraw cash from ATMs. Some merchants will accept credit cards; however, cash remains the most common method of payment in Mali. International credit networks, particularly Visa and Mastercard, are accessible, as are regional and local networks. Travelers checks are often accepted by commercial banks.
Local and long-distance telephones, fax, and internet services are available in Bamako and other major cities. Mali obtained internet access in 2000, and there are currently numerous internet service providers in Bamako including Orange, Afribone, and Malitel. There is little difference among the providers in terms of costs. Service is quite reliable, but broadband speeds are slower than in the United States. International mail is slow and not wholly reliable. Private courier services including DHL, Federal Express, EMS Postadex, and Airborne Express operate in Bamako. Most business hotels are equipped with Wi-Fi, and there are cybercafés in many major and mid-sized cities. Two different kinds of plugs are used in Mali: C and E. The voltage is 220 and the frequency is 50 Hz.
Taxis are common in Bamako and major cities but are poorly maintained and dangerous. Privately operated public transport vans and pick-up trucks, referred to as “bachés” or “sotramas,” are also poorly maintained, routinely overloaded, and dangerous. For safety reasons, it is recommended to avoid using local transport vans. Intra- and inter-urban bus service is available. Passenger rail service existed in the past between Bamako and Dakar, Senegal, and there are plans to revive it, though it is not currently operational. When operational, train travel between Bamako and Dakar requires a minimum of 36 hours and is subject to significant delays. Most business visitors rent four-wheel-drive vehicles with drivers for in-country travel. Passenger air service exists in Mali to the regional airports of Kayes, Mopti/Sevare, Timbuktu, and Gao. Air travel is also possible through a few private companies that have contracts with the United Nations. Air travel within West Africa is ramping up since the lifting of the ECOWAS sanctions in July. Frequent flights are available to Addis Ababa, Paris, Nairobi, Casablanca, and Istanbul. Travelers should carry copies of their passports while traveling within Mali.
French is the official language of government and business. Local languages (especially Bambara) are also widely spoken, particularly outside of Bamako. Most Malian businesspeople speak little or no English. Commercial interpreters and translation services are available if required, and cost roughly $250-350 per day.
All travelers must have international vaccination cards issued by the World Health Organization (WHO) with current yellow fever immunization documented. Mali has chloroquine-resistant malaria. It is strongly recommended that travelers take malaria prophylaxis and avoid drinking tap water. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more information regarding health precautions to take while traveling to Mali, available https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/destinations/traveler/none/mali, and https://ml.usembassy.gov/covid-19-information/
Local time, business hours, and holidays
Mali follows Greenwich Mean Time (GMT). Business hours are typically Monday through Thursday, 7:30 AM to 12:30 PM and 1:30PM to 4:00 PM; and Friday, 7:30 AM to 12:30 PM and 2:30 PM to 5:30 PM. Saturday and Sunday are non-working days. The U.S. Embassy in Bamako’s holiday calendar is available at https://ml.usembassy.gov/embassy/holiday-calendar/. Holidays in Mali in 2022 include:
January 1 – New Year’s Day
January 20 – Armed Forces Day
March 26 – Martyr’s Day
April 18 – Easter Monday
May 1 – International Labor Day
May 1 – Eid al-Fitr (Conclusion of Ramadan)
May 25 – Africa Day
July 9 – Tabaski (Eid al-Adha)
September 22 – National Independence Day
October 8 (approximate) – Mawloud (Prophet Muhammad’s Birthday)
October 15 (approximate) – Prophet Muhammad’s Baptism
December 25 – Christmas Day
(Dates listed as “approximate” are Islamic holidays based on the lunar calendar and therefore subject to variation).
Temporary Entry of Materials and Personal Belongings
Temporary entry of materials is subject to prior approval or an authorization from the customs department, when there is proof that materials will be re-exported out of the country at the end of the stay.