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How to Register a Business in Malawi

This article is for the uninitiated. I will be giving you a step by step outline of how you register a business in Malawi, how much it costs, how long it takes and what to think about in terms of the name and type of business you want to register.

Quick background, I am Creative Director at a Local Agency that initially started and was registered as a Partnership in 2014, before the Partnership was dissolved and it was registered as a Sole Proprietorship Limited in 2018. I am also a founder and owner of a Tech Start Up that also started as a partnership in 2016 and has grown into a fully registered Limited Liability Company with a Board of Directors. So hopefully that gives me some license to fill you in on what you need to know and do.

 

The quickest two ways for you to register a business with as little stress as possible and minimal requirements is to register yourself as a Business (a Sole Proprietorship) or to register a business as two or more people (a Partnership).

 

If you are reading this article it’s probably because, you have a dream or business idea and are not sure whether to just operate without having to register a company or to officially register as one, or you definitely want a business registered for yourself or someone else, but don’t have information on how much it costs or what the registration process actually involves.

Either way you want to know how Malawi registers businesses, if anyone can do it, what your options are in terms of the kind of company you can register and what some of the requirements or hurdles can be.

 

For the purpose of this article I will only focus on two types of Businesses; a Sole Proprietorship and a Partnership. However, you can visit the registrar’s website (www.registrargeneral.gov.mw) to get more information on the registrations of companies and/or other legal entities such as a non-profit organization, schools etc. Also note that online registration has not been officially launched yet as of writing this article so we will deal with the old school way of registration. With that said let’s get right into it.

 

The Quick Way to Register a Business

The quickest two ways for you to register a business with as little stress as possible and minimal requirements is to register yourself as a Business (a Sole Proprietorship) or to register a business as two or more people (a Partnership).

 

Registering a Business Owned by a Single Person (You): Sole Proprietorship

How Much Does it Cost?

It costs MWK 10,000 (ten thousand Malawi kwacha) as of August 2021. I recently had to register a Company for my sister and that is how much it cost. Interestingly when I had to register a company for the first time in 2014 it cost MWK 3,000 if I recall correctly.

 

What is Required?

You basically need three things 1) A copy of your ID (National ID or Passport) 2) Application Fee (MWK 10,000) and 3) a completed New Company Registration Form (Business Registration Act, 2012 – Form 1).

 

             

See example of how to fill out form and what the final issued Business Certificate looks like.

The Application form is only 1 page plus the signature part at the back. Download the form here.

The form will ask general KYC information; Where you are from, your current address the name of the business you would like to register and the nature of business you would like to do etc. A TPIN from MRA (Malawi Revenue Authority) is not Mandatory.

 

How Long Does it Take?

It takes less than a week or 3-5 days.

 

What is the Process Like?

It’s fairly straight forward. You go to the registrar’s office (2nd Floor Fatima Arcade, on Haile Selassie Avenue, if you are in Blantyre).

1: You pay the application fee to the Bank Branch located on the premises.

2: You take the payment slips you are given by the teller together with your forms to an office where they issue official registrar’s payment receipts. In Blantyre that office is in the same space as the Bank, in the next room. The officer will stamp your documents, take a copy of your bank payment slips as well as a copy of registrar’s payment receipt and attach them to your application.

3: You take your stamped application and attached receipts to the processing office. Be sure to ask someone there where you should leave the documents, don’t assume. In Blantyre there is usually a box they will ask you to put them in (This whole process should take 10 – 15 minutes, unless there is a long line or a network issue at the registrar’s bank branch).

 

A good sounding name helps, but an ugly name will do…  The only time you should give very special attention to the name is if the name of the company and service need to be the same e.g. Cashapp or Apple, in which case you are trying to register your company in the name of your desired brand or service in order to protect it and stop someone else from using that name also…

 

 

Registering a Business Owned by Two or More People: Partnership

How Much Does it Cost?

It costs MWK 10,000 same as a Sole Proprietary Company at the time of writing this article.

If you wanted to process a “Limited Liability Company” application on the other hand, it will cost more than MWK 50,000 for the application and could cost you anything from MWK 300,000 upward for the Memorandum of Incorporation and Articles of Association which you will need a Lawyer to help you put together. As well as the costs of various licenses depending on the type of services you will be providing, but that’s a conversation for another day.

 

What is Required?

You will need four things; 1) A copy of all the partners’ IDs (National ID or Passport), 2) Application Fee (MWK 10,000), 3) a completed New Company Registration Form for Partnerships (Business Registration Act, 2012 – Form 2) and 4) proof of the partnership. That is, a written agreement signed by the parties involved, that shows the people creating the company are indeed the partners and have agreed to carry out business together.

A Partnership Agreement is something you can have a legal expert draw up for you at a fee or one you can put together by yourself. Here is a FREE copy of a Business Partnership Agreement you can use to help you get started. I wrote it with the example of an investor and a music producer coming together to form a recording studio business. Feel free to add or remove what you feel is or isn’t relevant to it. Pay attention to the notes I have left in the margins that explain what each clause or paragraph is about and MAKE SURE YOU DELETE THE COMMENTS I LEFT IN YOUR FINAL DRAFT before you print and sign on it with your partner(s).

 

Download FREE Business Partnership Agreement ( Microsoft Word Document)
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(The Application form is only 3 pages).

The form will ask general KYC information as in the picture above. Download it here.

 

How Long Does it Take?

It takes less than a week or 5 days.

 

What is the Process Like?

The process is the same as the Sole Proprietorship above.

A general observation though: we need to care more about our citizens (particularly the elderly) by communicating directions clearly, so they are not confused or taken advantage of by others and so that they do not have to struggle with very small procedures. We need to have sufficient notifications during both the application process (arrows that say go here or a billboard with the steps laid out) and electronic notifications after, when your application has been successful/unsuccessful (e.g. an Email or SMS that says “Your document has been successfully processed, please come collect it at registrar’s office”). As it is an avoidable inconvenience for thousands of people and for Registrar General staff I am sure, when consistent phone calls or a physical trip to the registrar’s office is needed just to be told a yes or no on the status of things.

Either than that, I have found the registration process to be straight forward.

 

What are Some Key Considerations to Make When Registering a Business

ID Photocopy

Submit a copy where your image and details are clear. I suggest you use a colour photocopy. It is not mandatory for your copy to be certified or notarized by a legal professional. Though I imagine if you are a foreign national this may be necessary.

Picking A Good Business Name

A good sounding name helps, but an ugly name will do. Your full name unique to the government, tends to be unique in many other places if you use its acronyms or just add say “Investments” or something else at the end of it (e.g. “John Banda Investments”). AGMA MOTORS (Company that owns AXA COACH SERVICE) is a combination of the first two letters in Agnes and Malcom (AG-MA), the wife and husband that started the business. TAM-TAM the name of another local bus company also comes from the owner’s initials, repeated twice in this case for some reason, but it works.

So don’t put too much pressure on what you register your business as, especially if you plan on doing something generic or expanding into different fields. The legally registered name of a business merely needs to distinguish your business from other businesses. It is possible for your Trade Mark (What Service a business is known for) to be different from the officially registered name. For example, Yum Foods International is the actual name of the company that owns KFC, PIZZA HUT & TACO BELL and a whole host of other food brands. Domains.co.mw is owned by my Tech Start Up just like Domains.co.za is Owned by Diamatrix ZA. A bank account can be in the registered name of the company, but the name or service that people know the company for can be different or just a trademark. That is, bank accounts or all official registered legal transactions can be in Diamatrix ZA’s name, but online and in public you can be known and interact with customers as Domains.co.za.

 

Protecting Your Intellectual Property

The only time you should give very special attention to the name is if the name of the company and service need to be the same e.g. Cashapp or Apple, in which case you are trying to register your company in the name of your desired brand or service in order to protect it and stop someone else from using that name as well. This is only a temporary short term measure as in the long run you will need to officially apply for a local or international patent if you need to protect your brand’s name everywhere. An expensive and lengthy process. So picking the right name and sticking to it is a great and inexpensive start.

First thing you should do when you are looking for a business name, besides what you want it to stand for and what the endeavor means to you, is check whether it already exists in your country or in the world. A quick google search will let you know. The best names are the ones for whom a website domain doesn’t already exist, but similar names occur all the time and only matter if you have clear dreams of trading internationally one day. You don’t want to struggle to find a domain under your business name in your own country, it will complicate your brand identity or marketing later on. Like when you need to create company emails etc.

See the Article I wrote on the local clothing brand KNQR when it was discovered that another KNQR existed in Australia. Since then KNQR has gone on to officially be registered as KNQR INVESTMENTS and secured the domain www.knqr.mw to protect their Intellectual Property. In a way they are lucky this happened early because, you can invest and build an entire brand only to discover the name is owned by another person.

 

This is why you are required in the Registrar’s Company Registration Form, to submit three possible names for the Business you are registering in order of importance, because Registrar’s office may discover that your initially desired name was already taken by someone even if they are not known to you or the general public.

 

Keep in mind that though you may be allowed to later change a Business’ Name etc. that process may be very costly and time consuming depending on how much presence and dependency the Brand has under its previous name. Often it’s not worth it, the registered name may stay the same and the trading name is the one that is then changed.

TIP: Think long term, a versatile name in my opinion is better. One that does not tie the company down to a specific field or product. This way you don’t have to register another company under a new name every time you want to do a different set of activities. Here is an illustration; BIG GUY INVESTEMENTS is a great name to register because, you can just keep adding titles to it for its various other projects, products or services e.g BIG GUY Transporters, BIG GUY Food Co., BIG GUY Bar & Restaurants etc. Differentiating the respective products or services without having to register individual businesses for each one. All can fall under the umbrella of one company (BIG GUY INVESTMENTS) until they are big enough to justify being registered as their own companies.

 

I hope you found this article useful.

 

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5 Comments

Join the discussion and tell us your opinion.

Fiskanireply
January 15, 2022 at 3:41 pm

Thank you so much, Talumba. This is so helpful.

Talumba Chirwareply
January 17, 2022 at 6:09 am
– In reply to: Fiskani

You are welcome Fiskani.

Daudi Saidireply
January 16, 2022 at 9:40 am

Very helpful for someone like me

Levison Chimlalareply
January 16, 2022 at 9:27 pm

It Is so easy but I want to go extra Mile where I want to vist mra

Talumba Chirwareply
January 17, 2022 at 6:13 am
– In reply to: Levison Chimlala

Its normal to register the business first so that when you go to MRA they are giving you a TPIN for a name that has been officially registered by government. So go register and do the MRA process right after. Thanks.

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