How to Buy, Sell & Overland with a Malawi Car (for Expats)

This page is all about How to Buy, Sell & Overland with a Malawi Car (for Expats).Read here to find the best car dealer near you. When I settled in Malawi (September 2018) I found it frustrating that car related details for expats were lacking, locally and on the web. So I have documented my experiences here to save future travelers and expats some time and aggravation.

How Buy A Car in Malawi

Generally there are five parts to buying and registering a car in Malawi. Note that residency is not required. I did this using my Croatian identity card, not even a driver’s license. The forms.zip file contains most of the forms mentioned in this article.

Part 1 Obtain Traffic Registration Card

RTCThe first step in Malawi for any driving, buying or selling activities is to get registered with the Department of Malawi Road Traffic department. This involves getting a Road Traffic Card (costs MK5, 000). The registration card involves filling out an application form (TBA), having your photo taken at the on-site and capturing fingerprints (see steps below). The DRTSS system is digital so your thumb print will be used for all future driving/car related activities (know more about nissan frontier hutchinson here for which the registration is going on very quickly). When you find a car dealership near me then you can buy a car before this step but it will not be legal and none of the paperwork will transfer without theTRC.

Malawi Department of Road Traffic Services (DRETS) Locations

The Department of Road Traffic Services (DRETS) is in charge of issuing qualified drivers, transferring car ownership and issuing annual Certificate of Fitness (mechanical inspections) stickers. It has regional offices located in Mzuzu, Blantyre and Lilongwe City.

I registered in Blantyre and it took about an hour.

My Malawi Road Traffic Card Steps.

  1. I asked an employee of DRTSS at the Information Window to print the Road Traffic Card Application form for me since I couldn’t find the form online. Any window without a cue also works. You will need any government id such as passport, EU id card, International Driver’s License, etc. It is to identify you only at this stage. You don’t need to be a resident, etc.
  2. Filled out the Road Traffic Card application form. Simple form (see RTC Enrolment.jpg in forms.zip).
  3. Went to Room 5 (last one) and sat for about 10 minutes in short cue. My application and ID were examined, a photo taken, then finger prints taken. Now I was in the system (almost).
  4. Took application and my ID to Room 1 (actually a window facing the courtyard). No cue. Showed application and my ID. A guy entered the details of my application and ID into the computer. He then gave me a payment paper and my ID back (he kept the application form).
  5. I took payment paper to a bank building at the back corner of property. Payed MK 5,000 cash and got a stamp on the receipt paper. I will revisit this building many times through the process.
    image payment building
  6. Took payment paper to Room 4, Printing Room (another short cue). Gave receipt and showed my ID to a woman who printed the TRC card on the spot.

Note that your finger print is taken in the process and is key to all future auto related transactions. The entire process took less than an hour. Note that the busiest room is the first where driver’s license are issued. The other windows/rooms are very quick.

To Obtain A Local Driver’s License using you Foreign International Driver’s License Steps

Regulations state that it is possible to get a local license using your foreign license but I was told at the Blantyre DRETS that “it can only be done in the capital and it is for foreigners who are residents and have expiring foreign licenses. Otherwise why bother?” Ok with me.

  1. Complete attached form (06 DL1 Application for LL DL IDP PRDP 20150424.pdf).
  2. As noted above, the officer said it can only be done in Lilongwe (capital) and that it wasn’t necessary if my International DL was still valid.

Part 2 Buying the Actaul Car in Malawi

malawi cashAll it takes is cash! Preferably US dollars or Euros, but Malawi Kwatcha will do.

Duty Paid & Duty Unpaid

There are a few different car markets in Malawi. Generally Duty Paid and Duty Unpaid. Some international organization are permitted to bring cars into the country duty free. BEWARE If you buy a Duty Unpaid car and do not work for one of these organizations you will have to pay the duty (generally 100% value of the car) when you transfer it. To later sell you will need to remove the car from the country and pay entry fees at its destination, pay the tax or sell it to another employee of a qualified foreign organization.

Registered & Unregistered

Cars are also registered (have a tag/license plate) or unregistered (no tag/license plate). Registered cars cost more and are really the only option for foreigners. Like everywhere in the world, getting a car registered can be tedious. Stick with Registered only.

Finding a Used Car in Malawi

Internet

I found that http://caryanga.com/ had the most cars available and it could be filtered by price, type, location, etc. However, note that the site doesn’t remove cars once they are sold or get old. So in reality there were only a hand full of cars available in my location and price range. Plus they were all over a month old. I had to look everyday and wait for a new listing. It seems that Lilongwe (capital) has move options.

I also got ads popping up from Google once I visited caryanga. These were mostly from dealers or importers.

FB Groups

There are some FB groups that may have used cars for sale or advice, such as Blantyre Expat Leaving or Expats in Malawi groups. I didn’t find these that active.

Other Sources of Used Cars

Ask if there is a place in town where car sellers congregate. While in Limbe city center, hunting for money changer businesses, I found a corner with a half dozen parked used cars for sale (For Sale signs taped in windshields). These locations are generally handled by middle-men (see below). It was from one of these locations that I eventually purchased a car.

There are also importers (middle-men really) that advertise their services on caryanga. They offer cars purchased outside the country and delivered with a fixed price. I have no experience with this type of deal but the prices seemed high.

Middle Man (Agent or Fixer)

Most car transactions are done with middle men taking a commission from the seller. Middle-men are good if you also want to sell your car in the future. They are more flexible if you tell them you will use them in the future when you want to sell the car. Getting a commission twice on the same car is an attractive inducement for honest work. Even if you use a website like http://caryanga.com/ you may be talking to a middle-man. Very few locals buy and sell cars directly.

I purchased my car from a middle-man associated with a bunch of cars parked in the street in central Limbe. They were instrumental in moving me through the next stage (transfer of ownership).

Using a Proxy

It turns out that you can use a proxy to do your buying/selling administrative work at the Road & Traffic offices. But you still have to show up initially to get yourself (and the proxy) registered (and all thumb prints taken).

Buying the Used Car in Malawi

Once you find the car and agree on the price you need to close the deal. This gets complicated because you have to have a little trust in the seller (or middle-man).

I agreed to pay in cash (either Euros or Mk). The middle man preferred Euros because he could get a better conversion rate than I could. I visited a half dozen private exchange offices and banks in Limbe the previous day and my best rate was from Victoria Exchange (€1=835Mk). All the private exchanges were close but the banks had the worst rates. I haggled with the agent, got up to leave, and then we settled on 840Mk. No ID required.

Blue Book (ownership)

malawi cashHowever, before handing the money to the Seller I wanted to see and have the owner’s blue book official ownership page/title with a hologram sticker on it. It took an extra 2 days for it to be made available (the middle-man had take the time to transfer the car to his name from the original owner for reasons I couldn’t understand). Anyway, with the Blue Book (title) in hand we filled out two Bill of Sale forms (I used a standard Florida Notice of Sale (see attached) just to have the details written and signed by both parties. The middle-man also wrote a very simple Bill of Sale to be used at the Road Traffic Services office for ownership transfer. In my case we did it the following day.

I now had a car, the keys, the Blue Book and a signed Bill of Sale with seller & car details (include the sellers TRC number and it should match the information about the owner on the Blue Book paper).

Note that the

Part 3 Transferring Ownership of a Car in Malawi

As previously mentioned you must have a Road Traffic Card to buy/sell a car as the first step (see above).
You (buyer with the RTC card) and the Seller (listed on Blue Book form) and middle-man must physically appear at the Road Traffic Services office to transfer the ownership.

Complete the Transfer of Car form (02 MVRA Vehicle Registration 20150402.pdf in forms.zip file) and take the paperwork above and people (owner) to a Department of Road Traffic Services regional office (located in Mzuzu, Blantyre and Lilongwe). Buyer and seller will need to validate the sale with a thumb print scan. All records and steps require you thumb being scanned.

Car Ownership Transfer Steps (Getting your Blue Book)

  1. On the side of the Road Traffic Services that performs vehicle inspection there is a office with for transfer of ownership (Room 7). It had a cue of about 15 people in line. My middle-man took me to a private office where a department officer was at his desk with only 3 people in cue. They shook hands and I joined the cue. However, over the next 40 minutes a lot of other people came in and shook hands and made enquires that distracted the officer. Eventually I got my turn. Gave him my Blue Book (ownership) form, application, the hand written sales document (see attached), my TRC card and had my thumb scanned. The officer did a lot of entering, scanning, printing, writing and waiting (the system was slow). Eventually he gave me back the crossed out form and sales agreement, destroyed the Blue Book form and sent me off to Room 4 to print the payment paper (this is the room in which I picked up my TRC card previously).
  2. In Room 4 I went to the information/enquires window and asked for a re-print, showing him my TRC card, thumb print and the marked transfer form. He immediately printed a two-part payment paper.
  3. I went to the back of the lot where container is used as a bank payment center. Upon entering the power went out (a common problem). I was told to go find a shady place to sit because it would take some time to get the generator started. An hour later I returned and paid Mk 10,000 and got my receipt stamped.
  4. Went back to Room 4 and got in a short cue for Printing Only. Showed the payment form, had my thumb scanned and then the Blue Book ownership form printed.
    I owned the car, but there were still two more items needed.

Part 4 Certificate of Fitness sticker

In Malawi a car must be inspected and receive a Certificate of Fitness (COF) each year at one of the Road Traffic Services locations. This will result in a sticker with a one-year expiry date that you display in the windshield. There are traffic checkpoints all over towns and in the countryside. They usually only look at the validity of the COF and Insurance stickers.

However, it seems that a car’s COF is technically invalidated when the ownership is transferred, even though the sticker in the windshield may still show a valid future date. So what to do? Drive the car until the sticker expires (since no one will know) or re-certify? My COF was expiring in two weeks so I drove the car and re-certified the following week. I felt no need to rush the process.

The COF Inspection Options

I was informed that very few people take own car for the actual COF inspection. Rather, they hire Agents (fixers) to handle the process. The owner still needs to be present for thumb scan.

I was told COF Inspection costs Mk 13,000 (10,000 + 3,000) but the Agent (fixer) charges Mk 23,000 (which includes the base Mk 13,000). So for an additional Mk 10,000 you are assured of a smooth process. Without being specific, let me just say that the Agent greases the palms of the process to make it run smoothly.

My Experience with COF

COF sticker malawiNote that the round emblem in the lower left corner needs to be cut out and stuck to your windshield (insurance agent provides the sticker pouches).

  1. Showed up at 8am and met my Agent (Frank, see below for details).
  2. He wrote my tag number on a COF application form and had me sign it. Nothing else was filled in.
  3. Agent took me to Room 8 (image) and pushed to the front of the area (no cue) and gave my form to the attendant. My thumb was scanned and a payment form was printed and given to me.
    Image room 8
  4. I went to the bank payment building and paid my 10,000 Mk.
  5. Returned to the agent, who took me back to Room 8. This time the agent asked for his 10,000 Mk free and then once again pushed to the front and handed my payment form in. I was told to wait. I waited a long time and eventually my agent came back and asked why I was sitting there. I told him I was waiting. He went over to a stack of papers in a tray that was sitting on one of the chairs. He shuffled through the stack and found a payment form with my name on it.
    image payment form
  6. I took the new payment form to the bank building and paid my 3,000 Mk.
  7. Once paid, I took payment form to Room 4 (printing room) and pushed my way to the front and gave the attendant my form and printed a new payment form, this time The girl scanned the bar code and said the payment had not been transferred from the bank to the Traffic Department yet. I waited (in the same spot at the front) and tried again every few minutes. Eventually it worked and she told me to step back and wait.
  8. In about 5 minutes I was called and given a completed COF certificate, valid for a year. I was told that I would need to cut out the circle and stick it in my windshield when I got home.
    image COF

Part 5 Insurance Sticker

Once the COF is issued you can get Insurance (see Fees below for details of costs). Note that there was a well marked van in the parking area of the Blantyre Road Traffic Services offices that provided insurance on the spot. You can also get it at local branch offices around town.

No fixer is required since the van its own agents, from the Insurance company, pitching their brand.

I took the new COF form to the van and filled out a simple multi-page application form. The girl took pictures of the COF form and the Blue Book document (ownership from Part 2 above). She then took and counted my money (70,900 Mk) and gave me a small insurance card. She tore a part off and told me it was my receipt and that I needed to stick the other part in the windshield of the car with the COF, with two sticky square pouches that she provided.

I was done.

Buying a Car in Malawi Process Conclusion

The entire process took me two half days, over a week, but now that I know the steps I think I could combine the ownership transfer, COF and Insurance into a single long day, but no guarantees. It is best to figure a few days once you find and agree on the car you want to buy.
Good Luck

Additional Facts & Details:

Can Foreigners Drive in Malawi?

You can drive with a valid international driver’s license in Malawi. Note that the regulations say for 3 months. and then foreigners, in Malawi, are required to apply for a corresponding Malawi issued driving license They are exempted from taking road tests. Again, per regulations, fill out the DL Application form (06 DL1 Application for LL DL IDP PRDP 20150424) and take it to a local Road Traffic Department.

However, when I asked an officer at the Blantyre location he said I could only apply for the International DL-to-local license in Lilongwe. He further wondered why I’d bother if my International was still valid. I took this to mean that I should just keep driving on my International license.

Fees for Auto Related Stuff in Malawi

Road Traffic Card MK 5,000

Transfer Ownership of Car MK 10,000

Certificate of Fitness Inspection (COF) MK 10,000

Print COF MK 3,000

Fixer to move through the COF process 10,000 MK

Insurance (minimal 3rd Party) 1 year MK 70,900 MK

Comprehensive (collision) Additional Coverage 1 yr MK 6.5% value of the car

New/Renewal of Driver’s License MK15, 000

Some Contacts

Sales Middle-Men
Gift Chigwere 0999 910 179
0886 999 999
Dave (works for Gift) 0888 712 176

Traffic Office Independent Agent (fixer I used)
Frank 0999 414 939

Unite General Insurance
Sales Consultant Victor 0999 554 005
0888 554 005

Selling Your Car in Malawi

sales agreementMake the deal, get the cash in hand and visit the local Roads office with your TRC, blue book, simple sales agreement, completed form (02 MVRA Vehicle Registration 20150402.pdf in forms.zip file) and your thumb (finger print required). See Transfer of Vehicle section above.

As mentioned above, the process will go much faster if a fixer (agent is used). The buyer is paying for the new blue book. You are there just to present your thumb.

Once the thumb is presented you are technically free to leave.

Hang around until the new blue book is provided. Then you can definately leave with the cash (before the Certificate of Fitness process starts) since you never know how this stage will go for the buyer (depends on cash not the actual fitness of the vehicle).

Time to Sell the Car

When it was time for me to leave I put a For Sale sign in the window of the car and parked it outside my living compound during the day. This resulted in a lot of inquiries but it also wasted a lot of time. Locals seem to love car shopping, even when they don’t have the money to buy the car. It doesn’t stop them from making offers contingent upon them getting the money from people that owe them money.

A better result was my posting to the FB Expats groups (which for one points to a yahoo group). In the end I sold the car to a fellow expat living in Lilongwe, which was a bit of a pain. A day was spent waiting for a friend passing the area to examine and test drive the car. Then another day later in the week when a mechanic from Lilongwe could visit Blantyre to examine and test drive the car. Then two days to figure out the bank transfer payment options.

Then another day for me to drive the car to Lilongwe for paper transfer and delivery.

Note that I wanted Euros because the local exchange from Mk to € was expensive and very fluid. Also, the buyer had his mechanic assigned as his proxy so things went easier at the Lilongwe Road & Traffic (where he had friends).

Driving your Malawi Car in Neighboring Countries

Driving your Malawi car outside of Malawi (at least in Mozambique and Zimbabwe) seems simple enough. These are the steps I followed to leave Malawi with my car and return to Malawi a week later.

Get a Malawi Police (Interpole) Letter

malawi mozambique borderI visited a police headquarters building in Blantyre next to the Technical college/Court House complex. It was a room in the last building (at back) with a bunch of guys (no uniforms) sitting at desks piled with paper. I presented my passport and blue book (see above) paper. I told the guy I wanted to visit Mozambique with my car and needed a police letter for the border. He sent me to a different room with a slip of paper to pay a 5,000 Mtk fee. I returned with the receipt and he left the room and returned with the signed letter 5 minutes later.

I did this step for each time I planned a crossing into Mozambique, even though the letter has no expiry date. It does state on the letter for one entry use only.

At the border a guy did ask for this letter at the actual exit gate once (but not at other times). He also never marked the letter so I don’t know if I could use the same letter again (he just looks at it).

Pay Malawi Customs Tax

At the Malawi border I parked and entered the building where exit/entry stamps and customs forms are issued. I went to the customs window and filled out a simple Customs form for temporary car exit and presented my blue book (see above) form.

I then got a receipt page and paid a 10,000 Mtk fee (the minumum). I then got a tax authority letter that I would present upon my return and a slip of paper to give to the gate attendant.

Exit/Entry Stamp

I then moved over to the Exit/Entry window, filled out the exit form and presented my passport for an exit stamp.

Cross out of Malawi

mozambique borderI returned to the car, drove up to the gate, showed the slip of paper to the gate guy. A soldier looked into the car and asked friendly questions. On one crossing a better dressed guy ran up to the car and asked to see the police letter. He quickly looked at it, returned it, and ran off.

The gate was then opened and I crossed over to Mozambique where I parked and entered another small brick building (similar to the one on the Malawi side.

Obtain A Mozambique VISA

This is a bit complicated. The Internet says you can pay around $30 in local currency (or US $50) for a single-time entry VISA. However, clerk wanted $50 equivalent in local currency but preferred US $50. I gave up arguing and paid the US $50 but insisted that I wanted multi-entry. He agreed but gave me a single-entry and a receipt for only the local currency fee (around $30). I complained but he said it was a computer issue. But he did assure me that I could use that single-entry VISA for multi-entry (even though it clearly said “Single-Entry”. And in fact I did end up using it again within the 30 day limit to re-enter Mozambique multiple times. Why?

Mozambique Temporary Import Form

While the VISA was being processed I moved over to the customs desk. I filled out a simple form and obtained a 30 day insurance police (agent conveniently available) for around $20. The clerk stamped the form and handed it and the insurance back to me.

I presented the customs form and passport to the guard at the gate and was let through into Mozambique.

Note that I was stopped at a few check posts an the police officer asked to see my drivers license and the above Temporary Import form (and attached insurance document). I had no problems.

Soldiers also were present at these checkpoints or had their own. Soldiers can only ask you where you came from and where you are going. That’s all.

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Return to Malawi

The paperwork upon return to the border was simple. At the Mozambique check post I went back to the customs desk, gave them back the car temporary import form they stamped upon entry (see above). They asked if I had anything to declare (I didn’t), got my insurance document back from our office (still valid for additional days) and they kept the temporary import form. I then moved over to the VISA desk and they stamped my passport for exit.

I returned to the car and the soldier let me through the gate. I drove over to the Malawi post and parked. Entered the building and went to the Customs desk. Gave them back their car paperwork (given to me at prior exit, see above). They tore off the original and returned my receipt. They asked if I had anything to declare (I didn’t) and sent me on my way. I went to the VISA desk, filled out the entry paperwork and got my passport stamped back into Malawi.

Returned to car, gate opened, and I was off. Easy, easy.

Happy Overlanding.

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