Online you’ll hardly ever read anything negative about Malta. Googling will find you reading things like – Malta: the Mediterranean on a dime, the island with 300 days of sun. You might stumble upon companies luring in skilled professionals with “live the Mediterranean lifestyle” and expat reports on the low cost of living and all around livability of Malta. Just over a year ago I started dreaming of living in Malta – a Mediterranean island paradise. I spent hours scanning Pinterest and reading the very few blogs I found from expats living in Malta. Photos of Valletta and the brilliantly turquoise seas were hard to believe to my American suburb eyes. When I found out that the economy is booming, jobs are plentiful and English is Malta’s official business language – I was convinced. We would make Malta our home.
As the days came closer to our first flight into Malta, I imagined myself living seaside, sailing on the weekends with my Maltese friends in their yachts and eating Greek salads. When we first arrived in Malta, it was a little dream come true (minus the sailing with my Maltese friends part, that never happened, and instead of Greek salads I’ve been munching on pastizzis). Anyway, for us, living in Malta was so much of a little dream come true that I thought I better not write about Malta on the internet because I would rather keep the island to myself (there’s an over-population problem as it is).
Now it has been a year living in Malta and my once curious, awe-inspired eyes have settled. I live a pretty standard life as I would back in the states. In the course of a year, I have experienced enough to objectively provide some brutally honest information (positive and negative) that could come in handy for those thinking about moving to Malta.
1. Island delays
You’re going to have to get used to a completely different tempo. Everything just takes longer. We’re talking DMV waiting room agony long. This can be a struggle for people from very organized and efficient countries *cough my German boyfriend and family*.
My bus pass took over a month. Anything government or administrative, may get lost or, yep, just drag on over months. I feel incredibly lucky that my work permit even happened.
On that note, if you work for a Maltese company, in my experience, something that would normally take a week you can just multiply by some multiple of 3 and add 10. At first this was entirely frustrating. Not only do I come from fast-paced California but I’ve been working with startups and entrepreneurs for most of my professional life where there’s less bureaucracy and corporate red tape.
But hey, island delays go both ways. Being late to work or an appointment for instance is not such a big deal. You can start when you get there. Deadlines are flexible. People can wait, things can be extended. Punctuality is not a thing and I’m totally okay with that.
2. Malta’s booming economy (meaning heaps of jobs)
The employment rate in Malta is something crazy like 95%. There are so many jobs thanks to the igaming and gambling industry that get major tax breaks to open up in Malta.
Maltese companies are regularly hiring and the restaurant scene is never short of business.
The minimum wage in Malta is around €750 a month – that’s like working in a café or shop. The average mid-range Maltese salary is around €1500 and if you work at a igaming company you can expect €2-3k per month for entry to mid-level jobs. Paired with the relatively low costs of living, Malta is definitely livable.
3. Malta has a traffic, pollution and overpopulation problem
Malta is totally totally overpopulated. People, cars and buildings – it can sometimes feel like an absolute infrastructure-less mess and I know being an expat in this tiny little country is a part of the problem.
What’s worse than the crowds in the densely populated tourist resort areas (Sliema, St Julian’s and Pacevile), where we happen to live, is the insane insane traffic problem. The Maltese people have a love affair with cars and while having a car culture is something I can completely understand coming from another car loving country, there is definitely progress to be made.
What should be a 15 minute bus ride often takes me an hour stuck in traffic. With narrow streets and high buildings, the fumes from the cars gets stuck between the streets. When I opt to walk in the mornings, I cover my mouth with a scarf just like I did in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.
There is effort being made with the newly installed Nextbike stations promoting more green ways of transport. However, ride-sharing and cycling have yet to take off in Malta.
Public transport in Malta deserves an article of its own. I’ll save public transport thoughts for another blog post.
Development is another biggie. I never thought buildings could be such a source of depression. I also never knew how much I would fall in love with the old limestone buildings in Malta. There are so many abandoned homes and sites that could be fully restored which are instead knocked down to be replaced by some outdated concrete monstrosity trying to be modern. Casinos are being scheduled to be built next to medieval fortifications. It’s crazy.
4. Language(s) in Malta
English is one of Malta’s primary languages alongside the Maltese language. Mostly everyone you encounter in Malta speaks English – and they speak it very well. I’ve met many Maltese who even grow up learning English first and then Maltese. Actually, come to think of it, I have yet to meet a Maltese person who doesn’t speak English. So basically, for English speakers, this is ideal. You can work and live in Malta with minimal effort.
It is important to note, that the igaming industry in Malta actually seeks foreigners who are native or fluent in Scandinavian languages, German and even Spanish and Italian.
Italian is also widely spoken amongst older generations of Maltese. In addition, many Italian businesses have come to Malta so Italian speakers can find their niche as well.
Lastly – Arabic. The Maltese language is a Semitic language heavily derived from Arabic. It’s basically Arabic with some English and Italian words thrown in with a unique Maltese dialect. Most Arabic speakers will be able to understand Maltese. However, from what I’ve learned speaking to local translators, Maltese people will unlikely be able to understand Arabic as it has many additional words that are unfamiliar.
5. You better like rocks…
For an island, there aren’t that many sandy beaches in Malta. There is one sandy beach that I enjoy in Malta and two that I enjoy in Gozo. So you better get used to the rocks. Malta is not short of gorgeous rocky bays and ladders leading into the absolutely divine sea.
Back to the sand. If you’re dreaming of fine white sand, go somewhere else.
Malta’s beaches get really crowded in the summer. I’m from California, a place with seemingly endless coast so the small beaches of Malta lined with rows of deck chairs and umbrellas were a bit of surprise and took adjustment. But the turquoise water is unreal and basically anywhere you go you will find a café right on the beach where you can order thin crust pizza and cold drinks.
Malta gets cold. Most houses lack insulation and the cold just chills you to the bone. They say it’s because of the humidity – I don’t really understand but I can tell you it gets freaking cold. Then again, I’m from California.
The spring in Malta transforms the whole landscape. From the scorching hot summer, Malta turns into an arid desert. When spring comes around, the countryside comes alive with life. The hills of Malta and Gozo are vibrantly green and yellow flowers blossom.
7. Amazing lidos around the island
If you need a little piece of paradise, head to one of Malta’s many luxurious lidos. International Djs spin at Cafe Del Mar regularly year round. Other popular spots include the new SkyBeach in Paceville and Pearl Beach in Sliema.
I mentioned Malta is a tiny island right?
You can really feel how small the island is during peak hour in the supermarkets and mom and pops. There’s just not a lot of space; everything is smaller in Malta.
There’s also increased privatisation and lack of public spaces.
9. Rent in Malta is skyrocketing for local standards
I remember reading we could find a three bedroom apartment for €300 per month in Malta. In my dreams. Okay, yes this is possible on Malta’s sister island of Gozo. If you live in Gozo you will most likely need to work remotely or work a minimum wage job.
On the main island, where you’ll likely find work, rent is getting a bit out of control when you think about the minimum wage here of €750 a month.
In the main parts of the island where you’re likely to find a job, expect to pay AT LEAST €550 per month for a 1 bedroom and definitely over €750 per month for a 2 bedroom.* You can find 2-3 bedroom apartments for €550 elsewhere on the island with a daily commute.
*Due to many comments from expats, I feel it is important to note that in areas like Sliema, Gzira, St Julians and anywhere nearby this main business area, it will be very difficult to find decent properties for the rates I have mentioned above. You will not find these rates through an agent. It is not impossible as my maisonette pictured above is in the best possible location in Sliema for €580 per month. If you’re determined to live in these areas, finding a place may take a bit of creativity like searching through the classifieds of the Times of Malta every Sunday, making a haggle by offering to pay 6 months of rent up front, or going door to door through the neighbourhoods asking if anyone around is renting within your budget.
10. In Malta, everything is on Facebook
You will find everything you need in Malta on Facebook. It’s Malta’s favourite form of social media and they use it for everything beyond their personal network to selling cars, making friends and reviewing restaurants. Some industries like creative agencies post job openings solely on Facebook, skipping online job boards entirely. Many businesses in Malta use Facebook as their website. So find some groups and make some new friends.
Thinking of moving to Malta? Already live in Malta – what are your pros and cons?
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