We’ve been expats several times before, both in each other’s countries and beyond. We’ve traveled extensively between our single lives and now together. So I feel like we have a fairly decent base by which we can compare our lives as new expats in Malta with other potential expat homes. Our first impressions of Malta have been really positive for several reasons. Here’s a quick rundown of our reactions to our first few weeks here in Malta.
First Impressions of Malta
On first impression, Malta can be overwhelming. This tiny island is approximately 1/10th the size of the state of Rhode Island. Its population is estimated around 500,000 right now, making it around 5x more populated than our former home of Roatan.
Malta also has one of the highest rates of car ownership in the world. That can create traffic issues, although the majority of the main roads are in good condition and allow traffic to move smoothly.
Of course, that’s my impression having lived in other places where potholes could swallow cars whole. Others coming from, say, Germany, are often flabbergasted by the road system here and its apparent lack of planning. Personally, I enjoy a bit of madness and mayhem! It keeps you on your toes!
Look, there’s an intersection leaving our neighborhood that is illogical and fairly chaotic. But I’ve seen FAR worse elsewhere in the world. Of course, I’ve certainly seen better road layouts!
If you come to Malta expecting Swiss-style order and logic, you’re going to have to reevaluate those priorities.
If you come knowing that this is an island and that its history is as multi-faceted as its topography, then you might understand things are done differently here than they might be back home.
How Does Malta Compare to Roatan?
Of course, we keep comparing our new expat lives here in Malta to our former lives in Roatan – that’s inevitable! Our first impressions of Malta yield plenty of stark differences.
The development here far exceeds that of Roatan, with construction everywhere and multi-story apartment buildings the norm. The weather is much more temperate in Malta than the tropical heat of Roatan, so I’m still wearing a jacket and haven’t yet braved the chilly water. Malta is also much more arid with far less lush jungle than we enjoyed in Roatan.
On the flip side, the amenities available in Malta are far more diverse than in Roatan. There are cinemas and theaters, museums and historical monuments, plus a much larger array of stores and restaurants purely because of the larger population.
The cultural diversity and depth of history is fascinatingly greater here in Malta, with thousands of years worth of history to explore. In Roatan, early inhabitants were wiped out by ruthless Europeans and the limited history we have of the island doesn’t include any sites or museums.
Also, both the convenience and the cost of travel from Malta to other nearby countries are dramatically better than getting away from Roatan. International flights were available and plentiful from Roatan, but costs never even approached the low levels of travel in Europe.
On a quick look at Skyscanner, I could fly roundtrip to multiple cities in 7 other countries for under $100 for a random timeframe in June. That includes Spain, France, Italy, Greece, Serbia, Romania, and Bulgaria…if you’re interested. That’s incredible!
You know what similarities Malta and Roatan share? Sunshine. And the sea. And friendly people who are happy because the sun is shining and they don’t have to hide inside or under layers of clothes! Scuba diving. Island hopping. Epic sunsets. Skinks! I missed those little scurrying lizards. Stray cats (although we truly have not seen many stray dogs at all!). So, apparently, lots of things that start with ‘s’!
What I’ve Learned About Malta So Far
Valletta is the national capital, coming in as the smallest national capital in the European Union at less than a square kilometer. Within that area are near-vertical streets, epic staircases, historic forts, and gorgeous government buildings.
The inner workings of those government buildings…slightly less gorgeous according to current local sentiment. The Maltese Prime Minister is under pressure to resign for being involved in the Panama Papers scandal. It’s attracted quite a lot of international attention for such a small island nation – partly because he is also currently President of the Council of the European Union.
Valletta is also dealing with increasing and unceasing waves of tourists overwhelming the residential population. Cruise ships drop day visitors and Malta’s popularity as a sunny European destination continues to grow.
But my first impressions of Malta say that the balconies and the narrow streets of Valletta are beautiful, and the crowds actually make it feel like the historically thriving city it has always been! To be sure, I wouldn’t want to live there and try to deal with parking; I feel for those residents after having lived with a car in Dupont Circle in Washington, DC. But a visit for the day is just lovely.
Another thing I’ve learned: Malta’s history could be called, perhaps, eclectic. Looking for a list of societies that have ruled over Malta at some point in history? It’s a long one…
- Knights of St. John
….and, as of 1964, Malta is now an independent nation. There are remnants of nearly every society here on this tiny island. It is mind-boggling.
Archeological findings suggest that there were people living on the island as early as 5200BC. Malta boasts structures that are older than Newgrange, the Pyramids at Giza, and Stonehenge. There are seven Megalithic temples in Malta, which are some of the oldest structures standing on Earth today. Oldest. On. Earth. Crazy!
Logistics of Living in Malta
Like many islands, import costs mean prices are higher for both groceries and eating out. There are a multitude of large grocery stores plus a plethora of local mini-marts in every neighborhood, however, so shopping around for the cheapest prices is an easy option.
There are no property taxes in Malta, which likely explains why many Maltese own more than one property. It is apparently common to live on the south side of the island but own a vacation home on the north side for summer holidays. Two homes on an island 1/10th the size of Rhode Island! Amazing!
Like many other former British colonies (my homeland being a notably rebellious exclusion), cars drive on the left in Malta.
[Sidenote: I’ve now been living in left-driving countries for so long that it’s become normal to me. While reading a book with several scenes of conversations inside a car, I kept imagining the driver on the right and passenger on the left. It was only near the end of the book that I realized I’ve officially assimilated!]
Jobs for Expats in Malta
Tourism is a major industry here, bringing in millions of summer visitors each year. I’ve been told it’s absolutely insane, so we’re preparing ourselves mentally…and stocking up the kitchen so we don’t have to go out if we don’t want to. Planning!
Tourism isn’t the only – or even the largest – industry, however. The iGaming industry has taken hold in Malta. Low corporate taxes make this island a little haven, enticing large companies to move their headquarters to Malta.
If you speak English plus another European language, you’ll have fantastic job opportunities in any sector here. Maltese isn’t necessary for most jobs, although it is spoken amongst Maltese, so don’t feel offended if everyone talks and you can’t understand. Remember that you’re the visitor here!
If you’re an EU citizen, you can apply for work right away and then you’ll apply for residency to stay once you have a work contract. If you’re American, you’ll need a work visa to stay here beyond 90 days and to have the option to work here.
I’m lucky because my EU citizen spouse grants me the (essentially automatic, although they always specifically say it’s not automatic) right to live and work anywhere in the EU. I still need to clarify, but I believe I could apply for jobs before obtaining my residency card. Since I’m a freelancer, I haven’t done that. But I have considered getting a job here in Malta so I can get more connected with the community and learn more about the island. We’ll see!
As new expats in Malta, we still have much to learn. But a lot of the major hurdles happen right at the beginning of a move and it feels like we’ve cleared many of them already. From our first impressions of Malta, we think this was a fantastic decision!
From here on out, we plan to explore the history and culture of Malta, to get underwater (my Irish-Colombian is already back in the diving industry, but it’s too cold for me to dive yet) and to learn all we can about expat life in Malta.
Here’s to the start of a new adventure!