There’s no question that Malta is a popular and attractive destination for expats who are out on the hunt for the sun and easy life – and there’s plenty of both in stock for you when moving to Malta.
You’ll quickly find that the island has a lot to offer. But no place is a paradise, and like everywhere else, there are also some smaller and some bigger drawbacks to moving to Malta.
In this article, I’ll go through both the positives and the negatives of expat life in Malta, grouped into 14 different areas, through the eyes of someone who’s spent around 3 years on the island and has previously lived in 5 other EU countries – from East to West to South.
UPDATE (15/02/17): Since I first published this artilce, it’s gotten a lot of feedback on social media and other channels (as well as the comments below). A lot of people agree with most of it, while others have had different experiences. That’s to be expected, of course, as with mostly everything in life, ‘your mileage may vary’. But we’ve made a few updates regardless, to keep up with the promise to keep this overview up-to-date.
Cost of Living in Malta
Pro: Everyday life is relatively affordable, compared to most Western countries. A pint of beer at a small pub can go for as little as €1.50, food is very affordable, and public transportation is relatively inexpensive as well – 75 cents per journey, capped at €26 per month if you have the Tallinja card (Source: Malta Public Transport).
Con: Eating out can be rather expensive, especially for the pickier types. Whilst there’s an abundance of restaurants on the island, the really good ones know their value and charge accordingly. Prices are still nowhere near those of Lonon, Paris, or any other major European city, though.
Con: Anything to do with Internet and mobile is extremely expensive. You can expect to pay upward of €30 a month for a simple 50Mbps/3Mbps broadband, and another €35 a month for a mobile subscription – certainly a big step back for those who are used to the Internet speeds and prices of Continental Europe.
Accommodation in Malta
Pro: Rental apartments are easy to find and plentiful. There’s been a lot of development over the recent decade, resulting in a huge variety of rental properties on the market.
Pro: Cost of accommodation (both rental and house prices) is quite cheap compared to most developed countries. Moving to Malta, you can easily find a newly furnished 2-bedroom flat for as little as €500 per month, in cheaper areas.
UPDATE (15/02/17): Over the last 12 or so months, the apartment rental industry in Malta has exploded, and several people are reporting prices higher than ever before. There’s talks in the government about potentially regulating the industry, but until something is done (and it might be a while), be prepared to negotiate hard!
Pro: Utilities are dirt cheap. Unless you’re on the “foreigner rate” (see our recent article about this for more), you can expect your monthly water and electricity bill to not exceed €50 per person, even if you run air conditioning. This will, of course, be a bit higher if there’s more people living in the apartment.
“… be prepared to be treated like a criminal in all of your dealings with the bank …”
Con: Rent in popular “expat areas” can be prohibitively expensive. Where a small apartment in Mosta or Naxxar would set you back €500 a month, the price for a similar one in Sliema or St. Julian’s can easily exceed €900. Prices also tend to go up in late spring and summer, when there are more tourists and incoming expats.
Weather in Malta
Pro: It’s hard to beat 300 days of sunshine in a year. For heat lovers, Malta’s summers are as close to perfection as it gets. There’s no shortage of sun and heat between the months of June and October – just stock up on sunscreen and head out!
Con: The Maltese winters are short and not very cold, but extremely nasty nevertheless. Even though temperatures rarely fall below 10 °C (approx. 50 °F), the insulation of most houses is lacking severely, making it also 10 °C indoors! There’s also no central heating, making the only options for warmth electrical heaters or gas units.
Finding a Job in Malta
Pro: Entry level jobs are always easy to find, especially in late spring and early summer, when many tourist establishments expand their number of staff. Just walk around in the Sliema / St. Julian’s area and you’ll notice “Staff Wanted” signs on almost every other door.
Pro: There are many international companies in Malta – mostly in the fields of finance and iGaming – creating a fair number of specialist jobs that usually pay much better than most local companies. These firms are also often on the lookout for speakers of foreign languages.
Con: With the tiny size of the country, higher-paying jobs at local firms are scarce, and for various reasons, locals are often preferred to foreigners (even though no-one will officially admit it).
Crime & Safety in Malta
Pro: When it comes to violent crime, Malta is an extremely safe country. According to Eurostat, Malta has only 0.3 violent crime incidents per 1,000 inhabitants. Of other EU countries, only Cyprus compares.
Con: When it comes to non-violent crime, pick-pocketing and burglaries are unfortunately on the increase, but still nowhere near the EU average levels. This isn’t a big shock for foreigners moving to Malta, but can indeed be a significant burden for the Maltese, many of whom are still used to leaving their houses and cars unlocked.
Languages in Malta
Pro: English is an official language of Malta (alongside Maltese), and is widely spoken. You can expect to find all government forms and documents in English, as well as all road signs, restaurant menus, and other crucial bits of information.
“Drunk driving is also extremely common and the police don’t seem to care about it one notch.”
Con: Even though 88% of Malta’s population speak English, Maltese is also widely spoken and without speaking the language, you’ll never be accepted as “one of their own”. The downside to this is that Maltese – being a combination of Arabic and Italian – is an immensely difficult language to learn. But on the bright side – once you do it, it will be appreciated a lot!
Doing Business in Malta
Pro: Taxation in Malta can be very attractive, especially for International companies benefiting from one of the various “tax refund” schemes. Malta is also a relatively stable environment, with low risk of political or financial instability.
Con: Bureaucracy in Malta is mind-bobbling. Coming from elsewhere in Europe, you’ll almost certainly be very surprised – and not in a positive way. Without exaggeration, it can easily take up to 6 months to get a bank account opened for your company. And this is on top of the 2-3 months that it takes to sort out and file the incorporation paperwork.
Public Transportation in Malta
Pro: Being a small country means that most areas in Malta are connected by public transportation one way or another. Unless you want to travel to a secluded town with 20 inhabitants, there will be a bus route available for you – even if it only runs 4 times a day.
Con: Buses in Malta rarely run on schedule and due to the inefficient road network, routes are mostly long and winding, and getting from point A to point B often requires at least one connection. This can be a significant time drain, especially because most buses only run once or twice an hour, unless you travel between two very large towns.
Infrastructure in Malta
Pro: Again owing to its small size, most of the country is very well connected with water and electricity. Internet connectivity, albeit expensive and slow, is abundant as well.
Con: The road network in Malta is stagnant and apart from the main arteries, most roads are in a terrible condition. Roads also tend to be far too narrow to facilitate the ever growing traffic (Malta has the most cars per household in the EU!), resulting in big jams on and off the rush hour.
Con: Because of the long summer and the short winter, there’s no central heating anywhere in the country. One might think that it’s not even necessary, but in reality we do need heating for at least 3-4 months each year when it gets unbearably cold indoors.
Healthcare in Malta
Pro: All healthcare in Malta is free. As long as you’re employed, you can head to the Mater Day Hospital (or the Gozo General Hospital if you’re in Gozo) and get any necessary treatments free of charge. According to a 2012 report by PWC, Malta ranks amongst the top 6 in the EU for the overall quality of healthcare as well.
Pro: Private health insurance in Malta is extremely inexpensive. Where simple in-patient plans go for as low as €90 a year, a payment of around €350 a year will get you full cover, allowing you to see doctors at one of the many private clinics and hospitals and avoid the queues of the public clinics.
Con: Queues in public hospitals can be ridiculous. Unless your condition is life threatening, you can often expect to wait in the queue for several months to see a specialist, and when visiting the clinic just to see your Family Doctor (GP), it’s best to block off the whole day for queuing.
Banking in Malta
Pro: Largely due to comprehensive and strict government regulations, the banking sector in Malta is healthy, and the general consensus is that it doesn’t face the same risks that Cyprus or some other EU countries have. There are several major banks, including both local ones like the Bank of Valletta, and foreign chains like HSBC (UK) and Banif (Portugal).
“Maltese are one of the nicest and kindest people that you will ever meet.”
Con: Due to the “offshore nature” of the country, making it a prime target for money laundering, be prepared to be treated like a criminal in all of your dealings with the bank. Gone are the days when you would step into a bank, expecting them to go out of their way to get you to use their services. Nowadays, it almost feels as if you need to beg a bank to open you an account or issue you a cheque-book.
Con: Foreigners are often discriminated against by the local banks. As an example, it’s very difficult to even get a debit card carrying the VISA logo and allowing for online shopping, unless you’re willing to “pledge” a certain amount of money on a locked, zero-interest account. Credit cards or overdraft? Forget about it. Unless you’re born in Malta or have significant assets, no bank will even think about giving you a credit line. Luckily, other companies like Insignia have started to “fill in the blank” and are now offering simple credit products regardless of whether you’re Maltese or not.
UPDATE (15/02/17): Some expats have reported that they’ve successfully obtained a credit card, and have had overall positive experiences with banks, so your mileage may vary!
Pro: Because of small distances and relatively narrow roads, speeds are generally small and overall, traffic in Malta is very forgiving. Largely because of this, Malta also ranks among the lowest in the EU in terms of fatal traffic accidents.
Con: Driving in Malta takes some getting used to. Coming from elsewhere, you need to learn defensive driving and never assume a single ounce of common sense from other drivers. It’s common for drivers to ignore even basic traffic rules, such as using turn indicators, giving way on roundabouts and not talking on mobile phones. Drunk driving is also extremely common and the police don’t seem to care about it one notch.
Con: Traffic jams are commonplace and very hard to predict. Because many places are connected with only one (usually narrow) major road and no alternatives, traffic can build up easily even if there’s just a small accident on the way. The way the road network is built, traffic blockages can often be felt tens of kilometers away.
Education in Malta
Pro: Education in Malta is generally of decent quality and state schools are free of charge. For higher education, the University of Malta offers a number of majors and the tuition is generally affordable. Private schools are also plentiful, and rather inexpensive compared to many other European countries. One can expect to fork out an average of €3,500 per annum in tuition fees.
Con: Whilst free, public education is limited to the main school in your region (so there’s no choosing), and classes are split approximately half-and-half in English and in Maltese. There are also compulsory religion classes, which may put off some expats moving to Malta. UPDATE: As informed by several readers, it is now possible to opt for “ethics” classes instead of religion classes.
Lifestyle in Malta
Pro: Laid back lifestyle, proximity to the sea and 300 days of sunshine certainly allows for a reduced stress, compared to most other places in Europe. Life in Malta is mostly very slow-paced and relaxed, suiting well to those having trouble escaping from the daily rat race.
Con: The unfortunate downside to the relaxed lifestyle is people often seeming to have a complete and total disregard towards other peoples’ time. This can be seen in nearly every step of the way – from businesses requesting to meet you in person, rather than discussing matters over email, to bus drivers taking their time having a chat with a friend whilst a queue of cars is behind them. Needless to say, for someone with a busy lifestyle, this can get very disturbing very quickly.
People in Malta
Pro: The Maltese are one of the nicest and kindest people that you will ever meet. Especially in smaller towns and villages, most people are always ready to go out of their way to help you in any way, shape or form, and unlike many other tourist destinations, foreigners are rarely taken advantage of.
Con: I hope not to offend anyone with this, but the Maltese are also some of the most stubborn people that I’ve ever met. If someone’s formed their opinion about something, then it’s virtually impossible to change this opinion – regardless of how hard you try or how many facts you have backing you up.
Like any other place in the world, there are a number of both positives and negatives when it comes to moving to Malta, and a lot will depend on who you are, what are your interests and where you’re coming from.
But in general, Malta is a nice and welcoming destination for foreigners. Just keep an open mind and try to appreciate the country for what it has to offer, rather than getting carried away by the negatives – which sometimes is oh-so-easy to happen.
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