Expats planning to relocate to Malta often look forward to the island’s sunny charm and relaxed lifestyle. But your move to Malta is more than just remembering where your beach towel is! The InterNations GO! Malta guide introduces the smallest EU Member State, visa rules and the housing market.
Moving to Malta
Moving to Malta is a prospect that attracts many new residents to the small island nation every year. Retirees from Northern Europe, especially from Britain, appreciate the benefits Malta has to offer – relatively inexpensive living costs and the country’s historic ties to the UK. Expat staff and foreign students moving to Malta for professional or academic reasons fall in love with its natural beauty, architectural treasures, and Mediterranean flair. Affluent foreigners take advantage of the tax breaks that Malta’s sunny climate also offers.
In stark contrast to the port of wealthy individuals proposed by the Maltese government, the country has become a destination for (often undocumented) immigrants from North and Sub-Saharan Africa. Some of them are refugees, but many just hope to raise money for their families by working in Europe for a while. For them, moving to Malta is the first step to reaching mainland Europe through Sicily and the Italian peninsula. The recent influx of irregular migrants has put the government in the spotlight. Politicians face criticism from human rights organizations as well as pressure from other EU administrations.
Warm summers and mild winters on a small island
Malta is no longer one of the newest EU member states (it joined the union in 2004, three years before Bulgaria and Romania), but is likely to remain the smallest, with 316 km² of official territory. It is also the sunniest. The Mediterranean climate with mild winters and warm summers is a bonus for many people moving to Malta. As pleasant as it may sound to live in a country with virtually no rain in July and August and no snowfall in the past fifty years, the drought is a major challenge for the Maltese people – something the average tourist may not consider.
Geographically, Malta is located roughly in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea, about halfway between the pillars of Hercules and the Levante, between Italy and the North African coast. Strictly geologically speaking, Malta is indeed part of Africa: the islands do not belong to the European continent, but the African shelf. This particular location, with its strategic advantages, is also reflected in Malta’s cultural heritage.
A brief history of Malta
Phoenicians and Romans, Byzantines and Arabs – they all decided to settle the island during its eventful history. After the end of Arab rule, the Knights of St. John, a religious military order founded during the Crusades, as well as the British Empire, probably had the greatest influence on Malta. The reason for moving to Malta was to secure the island as a bastion against Ottoman expansion, respectively, or as a convenient naval base. For example, the “Maltese” knights and colonial administration have left their mark on modern Malta, its cityscapes and languages.
The people of Malta: locals and immigrants
The current population is only 445,500 people, according to estimates from 2014. This number includes foreign residents who move to Malta for various reasons. Given the country’s low birth rate, much of its demographic growth stems from migration.
While many Maltese decide to start a career abroad – for example in North America, the Benelux countries or the UK – and then retire, emigrants from other countries continue to move to Malta. In 2011, 4.8% of the population were immigrants who had arrived in Malta in recent years. Most foreign-born residents are probably British. There are also significant groups of immigrants from sub-Saharan Maghreb and Africa; the rest of the foreign community consists of several ex-pats, mainly from European states such as Germany, Italy or Greece.
Moving to Malta has a clear linguistic bonus. The island’s oldest native language is Maltese. Derived from medieval Sicilian Arabic, it is laced with both Italian and English loanwords.
However, the second official language is indeed English, spoken by almost 90% of the population. As many as two-thirds of Malta’s residents also speak fluent Italian, and there are plenty of English and Italian media outlets. As long as you manage one of these languages well, you needn’t worry about moving to Malta.
Malta: visas and immigration
If you want to join Malta’s many overseas residents, there are several options for prospective ex-pats. They depend on the length of your stay, your nationality, work status, and financial resources.
Schengen visas for short stays in Malta
For a short stay of up to 90 days, e.g. you may not need a visa for tourism, business or finding the perfect beachfront accommodation. Citizens of all EU / EEA member states simply need a valid passport to enter the country legally. This also applies to nationals of those countries that are part of the Malta visa waiver program, such as Australia, Canada, Israel, Japan, New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea, and the United States.
If your country of origin has a visa requirement, you must apply for a universal Schengen visa at the nearest Maltese consulate. This visa allows you to stay in Malta for up to three months and travel freely to other countries that have signed the Schengen Agreement.
To obtain a Schengen visa for Malta you will need the following:
- valid travel document
- recent passport photos
- travel insurance / medical insurance to cover your stay
- description of your travel plans including, for example, a return ticket
- proof of sufficient money
- cash to pay the visa fee
- Establishment in Malta as an EU national
Getting to work in Malta, joining a spouse, or spending your retirement there gets a little more complicated. Again, it is easiest for EU nationals. They do not need a visa for a longer stay.
Prospective ex-pat workers from another EU Member State – except Croatian citizens – also do not need a work permit (i.e. work permit). As long as they have a permanent job offer, they can move to Malta and their spouse and children can join them.
Retirees with a certain minimum income and health insurance can move to Malta without much hassle. Retired citizens of an EU country are usually entitled to their state pension and public health care from their home country, regardless of the Member State in which they reside. This should be enough to take care of your retirement in Malta, but it is important to talk to your national pension agency, your bank and your health care provider about a planned move. Once an ex-pat from another EU country has settled in Malta, he or she must receive an official registration certificate/identity document within three months of arrival. Please contact the Citizenship and Expatriate Affairs department in Valletta.
Work visas for third-country nationals
Third-country nationals – those who are not citizens of an EU or EEA Member State – must overcome several bureaucratic obstacles if they are to have a paid job in Malta. Work permits (also known as work permits) for third-country nationals are the responsibility of the Department of Citizenship and Expatriate Affairs. A single permit application must be made and must be approved by the employer.
You must provide a copy of your valid passport, a recent photo, and your diplomas, references, and CV. Your employer will add the latter to a cover letter with your professional duties and working conditions.
A senior manager must apply for your work permit at the Employment and Training Center a few months before your scheduled start date. Once you have the permit, contact the nearest Maltese mission and ask what steps to take for your visa. The license must be renewed every year for a maximum of three years (additional extensions are sometimes possible).
Other Visa Options
Visas for dependent spouses are usually granted at the discretion of the Central Visa Unit in Floriana. They normally contain a residence permit, but not a work permit for your husband or wife. Spouses must apply for the permit separately if they find a job in Malta.
For all other types of visas, e.g. student visas, retirement options for third-country nationals or the permanent residence scheme for affluent ex-pats, contact the CVU for more information.
Find accommodation in Malta
Once you get a job in Malta or find a way to collect your pension there, and if your visa application is in progress, you should look for housing in Malta.
The island is divided into three regions (Gozo and Comino, northwestern Malta Majjistral and southeastern Malta Xlokk), which consist of six districts and numerous smaller municipalities. The largest city is Birkirkara, with more than 22,000 inhabitants. However, due to its small size and high population density, the nearest town is usually just a stone’s throw away. Many of the towns and villages in central Malta have pretty much grown into a large urban area where 80% of all residents live.
Hotspots of Malta
If you are a foreign worker you may want to sit close to your new workplace to avoid an annoying journey: although Malta is small and has a decent road network, you may prefer to spend as little time in your car as possible spend – and you will have more free time to relax on the beach. So you could look for accommodation in the capital of Valletta, a hotspot for heritage tourism and trade, or in Floriana, Malta’s administrative and financial center.
Affluent retirees and independently wealthy residents should view Malta’s “Three Villages”, i.e. Attard, Balzan and Lija. Attard and Lija, in particular, are desirable neighborhoods for both the local elite and the affluent ex-pats; Balzan tends to attract younger families with a middle or higher middle-class background.
Swing is another popular residential area for the wealthy, although there is usually very little vacancy in this city. Expats who prefer the hustle and bustle of a beach resort with a vibrant nightlife prefer Sliema or St. Julian’s.
The neighboring island of Gozo, on the other hand, is a semi-touristy, semi-rural idyll, quaint and sleepy, and thus only of interest to those working in the local catering industry or to retired retirees who long for a quiet life in the countryside. Comino has a total of only four permanent residents, plus half a dozen more during the tourist season. So, unless you’re a passionate amateur ornithologist looking to study the birds, or a true hermit, Comino isn’t the place to settle.
Apartments in all shapes and sizes
To start your housing search, take a look around Dhalia and Frank Salt, two renowned real estate portals. Private properties for rent or sale are also advertised on Maltapark or in the Times of Maltaclassifieds.
In Malta, most rental apartments are offered fully furnished and you are expected to pay two months’ rent as a security deposit, as well as the first month’s rent. Any apartment with access to a pool or sea view is quite expensive. While a small flat in Sliema without such amenities will cost you around EUR 500 per month, EUR 400 in other places may suffice depending on the exact location.
However, remember that you will have to pay extra for utilities i.e. electricity, bottled gas, and water. They are expensive in Malta because the island nation has to import its fossil fuel and even some of its drinking water. Despite the lovely summer temperatures, the Maltese winters get a little cold and humid, but most properties lack central heating – leading to creative solutions with wood-burning stoves, air-conditioning units, gas heating or coal stoves and, of course, high energy bills.
Buy your own home
Whole houses are rarely offered for rent. So, if you are considering buying a house in Malta, ask a real estate lawyer to advise you. There are some legal restrictions on the purchase of the real estate by foreigners, as well as the permitted use of such accommodation.
For example, outside the designated development areas, foreign residents may only buy one home for their use. Non-EU nationals also require an additional permit to purchase and must pay a specified minimum price. Under certain conditions, a foreign property can be rented out as a holiday home.
Also, the permanent residence scheme applies to foreign-born luxury property owners in Malta. Here too, a trusted lawyer or broker can advise you on the details.
Whether you are moving abroad for the first time or moving several times before, the process raises many questions. Our complete relocation guide will ease your doubts along the way, from initial preparations to negotiating a moving package, we’ll help you GO! prepared with the most important answers.