How to get to Lilongwe, Malawi from Zambia by bus
Getting to Lilongwe, Malawi from Zambia is very simple by road. If you are reading this, I will assume you are trying to figure out the transport options to cross the border into Malawi. There wasn’t much information when I did this trip in June 2018, so I decided to post how I did it by bus for your convenience.
Getting to Lilongwe, Malawi by bus
This route is very simple by bus from Lusaka, though you can expect a long day of travel before you get to Lilongwe. Book a bus ticket with KOBS Zambia – Malawi bus line to Lilongwe (cost M320). You can either go the day before to buy your ticket or have your hotel call them to reserve a spot for you and pay the same day. This bus line departs for Lilongwe at both 05:00 and 0:600 (though the day I took it there was another one running at 10:00).
Pro tip: These buses are a little unreliable, so it is best to go early to get a seat, even if you were able to buy your ticket in advance. Though you will be given a seat # on your ticket, no one actually uses them, so seats are essentially on a first come first serve basis.
I showed up 15 min before my bus was meant to depart and it was full (despite me already having a ticket to Lilongwe that I purchased the day before), so they put me on the bus to Chapata (the border town on the Zambia side). From there you can take a taxi or minibus to the border and then get another one onwards to Lilongwe.
In my opinion, this is a hassle when there is a direct bus that goes all the way to Lilongwe, so I switched my ticket for the following day (hence why I say to go early to get a spot on the bus). The next day I arrived 1.5 hours early for my bus to get a good seat and it was already half full!
What to expect on the bus to Lilongwe
Expect delays. Our 10:00 AM bus was still loading passengers and cargo by 10:30, and then when we were finally all loaded, we were told that there was a problem with the bus and we had to switch to a different one. By the time we unloaded and reloaded all over again, we left at 11:15 AM.
Pro tip: There are no bathrooms on board, but there are at least one or 2 lengthy rest stops for food and bathroom breaks. I would still recommend packing some snacks and drinks, and wear layers (it heats up quite quickly in the bus).
What to expect at the Zambia Malawi border
At the border, you will first report to the Zambian side to get your passport exit stamp. This side is quick.
At the Malawian side, you will fill out an entry card and if you require a visa to Malawi, you will complete the visa application page (for Canadians and US citizens, a Malawi visa costs $75 USD for a single entry, 2-month tourist visa).
Pro tip: I would recommend bringing USD cash with you ahead of time; I don’t recall whether there was a card machine, but in my experience in backpacking through Africa, they don’t always work. It is much safer to be prepared with cash.
The border stop for our entire bus took a few hours for everyone to gets their papers or passports stamped and for the border patrol to search the bus.
From the border it is another hour to Lilongwe. You will be tired by this point, but don’t worry, the bus will likely have Christian music or 90’s pop to console you (ours had Backstreet boys, “quit playin’ games with my heart” on repeat).
Pro tip: You will need cash in Malawi’s currency to get a taxi from the bus station to your accommodation. You can exchange cash at the border, though you might not get the best rate (the guys who exchange the money have to make something on the deal). I use a currency conversion app to always double check the daily rate and use that as a bartering chip. I also sometimes ask a local on my bus to do the exchange for me, as they will usually get a better deal than a foreigner.
Tips for Bus Travel in East Africa
Bus travel in East Africa can be super long and uncomfortable depending on road conditions so I always pack my backpack accordingly with supplies (I use the Osprey Questa 27 as my daypack/ carry on).
I also recommend traveling with an external charger so you know you will have a charged phone while in transit (I use and love this one by Anker), a good book (Dark Star Safari is an interesting read for overland travel in Africa) and a BUFF (I use mine religiously to shield my hair from dirty bus seats and boda helmets).
I hope this transport guide helps you plan your travels. If it was helpful, let me know in the comments below!