Let’s be honest, Malta is arguably one of the more comfortable European expat destinations when it comes to cheap living. Whereas in London, you might pay twice as much in rent, or pay up to triple the price for food and drinks in Switzerland, the standard of living in Malta compared to cost makes it more than worth its… charming idiosyncrasies.
That said, just looking at the price of sunscreen, toothpaste, or a decent pair of jeans on this island can make you wonder how they expect anyone to live here on €4.25 an hour. At the very least, jobs outside the hospitality sector tend to be more generous with their wages. But even if you’re not surviving on minimum wage, there’s a few things you’ll want to know about Malta if you’re hoping to save your euros.
Groceries can be a real drain
While rent in Malta will eat up a good chunk of your paycheck depending on where you’re based, the number one non-rent expense for expats remains food and groceries. Malta isn’t able to source a lot of things locally, so supermarkets and minimarts alike have to import most of the food items and necessities on the shelves. Often, the prices reflect this.
Still, not all grocery stores are made the same. Depending on your locality, the small Maltese-run minimarkets can be either super cheap and convenient for daily shopping, or wickedly expensive. For dry goods and bulk foods, Lidl is a good discount option, if you happen to live close or can share a ride with other euro-saving friends. If not, local Scotts and GS supermarkets (such as Park Towers and Valyou), provide a good balance between convenient locations, decent prices, and quality dry goods.
BEST HACK: Truck It
For fresh produce, it’s best to avoid the supermarket all together. Organic produce, as well, can only murder your wallet. Instead, keep an eye out on the main roads. Local vendors sell fruits and vegetables out of their trucks, often providing better quality produce for cheaper. Plus you’ve got to love chatting with your local fruit truck lady.
AVOID AT ALL COSTS: Eating Out
Even with the cost of groceries as it is, cooking for yourself is always cheaper than eating out. Though there are a number of decent cheap eats restaurants throughout the island, the best way to save money on food is to prepare it yourself. If you’re convinced you can’t cook, at the very least take a look at some quick and easy budget recipes on the internet. It’s amazing how cheaply you can prepare tasty meals with just a few basic skills.
It’s all about the journey
Though the amount of rent you pay in Malta is highly dependent on the neighborhood you end up living in, one thing to always keep in mind is that where you live will determine the transport options available to you. It might be dirt cheap to share a flat in a quiet area such as Swatar or Naxxar. However, the bus connections and amenities available in areas such as Balluta and Gzira may save you more than the extra money you spend on rent.
It’s true that the entire island is easily accessible if you have your own car. But as unpredictable as the buses can sometimes be, they are by far the most affordable option for getting around Malta on a day-to-day basis. While renting a car can cost up to €35 per day, and even just petrol is 1.33€ per liter, public transport costs €0.75 per 2-hour transfer, and is capped monthly.
Of course, to get this rate, you have to be a Maltese resident and register for the Tallinja card. Once registered, you can top up as much or as little as you like, and the balance doesn’t expire. Plus, if you use the bus system to get to work every day, it’ll never cost you more than €26 per month, even if you add in other trips around the island.
Compare this to renting a car from Hertz or Avis, which will run you up to €300 per month, or paying the lease on a new car, with costs of at least €200 per month, plus petrol. You just have to be willing to play the bus waiting game, which, let’s be honest, is only marginally worse than the parking game. (Related: How to Not Lose ALL Your Hair When Using Buses in Malta)
BEST HACK: Pedal Power
Co-op biking is coming to Malta, if you’re looking for a quicker way to get around with no waiting/parking hassle. And if you invest in accommodation in one of the busier areas of the island, you may be able to reach all of your daily destinations entirely by foot, skateboard, or kick scooter. There’s nothing quite like walking to work along the seafront to wake you up and brighten your day. Just make sure to bring an umbrella with you in winter.
AVOID AT ALL COSTS: Taxis, especially if they’re white
Whichever transport option you choose to rely on, keep in mind that taxis in Malta, while sometimes convenient, are never cheap. Even getting to the airport is doable by bus, unless you’ve got a 6 am flight. Still, if you find yourself in a situation where a taxi becomes necessary, do yourself a favor and call an eCab, GreenrCab, or one of the other reputable taxi services on the island. The white taxis are likely only to gouge you for everything in your wallet. (Related: How A Malta White Taxi Driver Ripped Me Off, Nearly Killing Me)
Call me, maybe
Aside from groceries and transport, the other thing most likely to put a drain on your bank account is your utility bill. First things first, if you’re renting property in Malta, then make sure to stay informed about what you are (legally) expected to pay for your electricity and water (Related: Foreigner in Malta? You May be Paying DOUBLE for Your Utilities!). Simply making sure that you’re paying the correct tariffs for your home utilities can save you a decent chunk of change.
Additionally, it’s worth considering your options when it comes to home internet and service for your mobile phone. Malta only has three phone service providers, and all of them have their particular quirks. Take a look at our rundown on Melita, Vodafone, and Go, and choose wisely.
Entertain some new ideas
Finally, while perhaps not the most vital thing to think about when it comes to boosting your savings, cheap ways of entertaining yourself in Malta are a necessity. After all, it’s all well and good to go out to Paceville and get drunk by cashing in on every single happy hour coupon you find. However, it might also be time to admit that, even though our budget’s tight, we respect ourselves more than that. Right?
So do yourself a favor and take a look at our 12 cheap or free things to do in Malta. As a sun-washed Mediterranean island, there’s no lack of beach-themed activities (except, maybe, in winter), and the sea is always free (Related: BRACE YOURSELVES: 6 Tips for Surviving Winter in Malta). You can also take advantage of cultural open days, when museums waive admissions fees and allow visitors to roam their exhibitions free of charge. In addition, if you’re looking for a new hobby, the selection of Meetups in Malta grows better every day. Plus, groups such as Conscious Dance and Improv Malta provide free activity workshops on a weekly basis.
BEST HACK: Coupon the Hell out of it
If you really just can’t resist the urge to go out with friends on the weekends, do it on the cheap by buying into a coupon program such as The Entertainer, Vouchercloud, or Deal Today. For €25 a year, The Entertainer provides a plethora of two-for-one deals. You can share a half-price cocktail with a friend at the Waterbiscuit, split an abseiling adventure, or even go halvsies on a massage at the Myoka. Vouchercloud, on the other hand, will give (and email) you a bunch of discount codes on everything from makeup to laser tag when you sign up free. And Deal Today sells discount tickets and vouchers for classes, spas, tours, and meals all over the island.
AVOID AT ALL COSTS: Having a Kid
I’m joking, of course. Still, it’s true that if you happen to be supporting a family on a budget, your entertainment costs, as well as all other expenses, are going to skyrocket. But the good news is that it just takes a little bit of smart couponing and creativity to make a fun day for the whole family. Either get messy with some cheap and crafty DIY, or explore some of Malta’s more off-beat kid-friendly corners, such as the Ta’Qali Petting Farm.
Do you have a life-saving tip for surviving in Malta on a shoestring budget? Or perhaps a question about the best way to save in a particular area? Let us know in the comments, and we’d be happy to add some more advice to the blog!