The Forty Shades of Malta

By: Ilene Springer

There are some great things about living in Malta which I have been doing since October, 2008. But no place is perfect. According to my opinion only, here are the great--and the not-so-great things about living in Malta. Read the list and see what you could take and what you couldn’t if you chose to live here for an extended period of time.

The Best Things

  1. The climate is great. There is a lot of sunshine even in winter. If you like it hot, this is the island for you. July and August can get up to 35 degrees C., or 100 Degrees F. The nights are balmy. September gets very humid but it’s the best time for swimming in the Mediterranean because the water is at its warmest. Malta has a wonderful spring which can start as early as March. October and November are also beautiful months in Malta because the sun isn’t as strong but the air is still warm.

  2. The natural beauty is breathtaking here. Looking over some of Malta’s many cliffs into the deep blue Mediterranean, there are times I’ve thought I was on the most beautiful place on earth. The original Maltese architecture--with its limestone courtyards, terraces, balconies, multi-colored floor tiles and heavy wooden doors--is stunning.

  3. English is a second language in Malta. You can come here not speaking a word of Maltese and be able to travel and live here. If you’re a trained and certified EFL teacher from the European Union, you shouldn’t have a problem getting a permit to teach English here in one of the language schools.

  4. The people are friendly and helpful. It’s easy to make friends in Malta, especially if you’re an expatriate. It may be a little more difficult to get to know Maltese people really well unless you work with them. But neighbors and even strangers are very willing to stop and help you if you’re having a problem. One time in the capital of Valletta, a tourist fell and broke her nose, and several Maltese people stopped their shopping, treated her with first aid, called the ambulance and stayed with her until the ambulance came. Can you imagine this happening on a busy street in the US?

    The Splendor of Gozo--Malta's sister island
    The Splendor of Gozo--Malta's sister island

  5. The island is small enough to navigate. If you have a car, you can get from one side of Malta to another in 45 minutes, barring any major traffic problems. If you want to go to Gozo--the sister island of Malta--you take a 20-minute ferry ride from the harbor. What I find really nice is that my work, primary care physician, hair stylist, cinema, main shopping area and the sea are within walking distance in Malta.

  6. Routine medical and dental care is good in Malta, and paying privately for it is doable, especially if you come from the US. The difference in the cost of health care will knock your head off in a good way. In many cases, you will see a private physician in a pharmacy where you can then buy your medications. Be prepared to pay the doctor in cash. I pay 15 Euros to see my family doctor. I’ve paid between 25 and 45 Euros to see specialists. Another good thing: Many pharmacists seem as knowledgeable as doctors here, and are very willing to explain things to you about your condition and your medicine.

  7. Apartments or flats are generally cheaper than in the US, depending on where you live in Malta. And you get a lot more for your money here. In popular Sliema and St. Julian’s, you can find a nice one-bedroom apartment for about 600 Euros. In Gozo (the smaller sister island of Malta) and the smaller villages of Malta, you can find the same type of flat for possibly 400 Euros. Most Maltese rentals come furnished so you can just move right in without bringing anything.

  8. There’s a great choice of restaurants in Malta. Eating out here is a lot cheaper than in major US cities like Boston, New York and San Francisco. You can find almost any ethnic food here. I’ve had the best steak in my life several times in a row in an Argentine restaurant in St. Julian’s.

  9. If you don’t need to work as a foreigner, you can live well here, provided you can prove you can support yourself and that you won’t end up relying on the welfare system of Malta. You need bank statements and lots of documentation, but it can be done, especially if you’re from the European Union.

  10. Malta generally has good Internet systems and free Wi-Fi in most hotels and many cafes and restaurants.

  11. Malta is generally safe. For the most part, women can walk around at 10 or 11 pm on the main streets alone. I didn’t believe this at first when I came here from the US, but it’s true. Of course, you have to follow your common sense. I was hassled once by a well-known weirdo but that was during the daytime.

  12. The Maltese like to party and welcome you to join in their village festas which they hold all summer long. There’s a lot of noise, ethnic music, singing and dancing, junk for sale, fireworks and fast food--if you like this sort of thing. And if you like crowds, you’ll love festa time.

    Malta loves its cats!
    Malta loves its cats!

  13. If you love cats, there are many beautiful cats around. The Maltese have built shelters for stray cats and often take them in and adopt them. There has also been a campaign to neuter many of the cats. Luckily, people in outdoor cafes like cats around here and often don’t mind slipping them something under the table to eat.

  14. Gozo is a gorgeous place.It’s cleaner and greener than Malta. Go here for the countryside and some respite from the crowded streets, noise and air pollution. It’s also a cheaper place to live.

  15. The Maltese really know how to beautify their neighborhoods with Mediterranean plants. Since Malta is very rocky, The Maltese do a lot with potted plants. There are certain streets, like in Rabat in Malta, that are filled with potted flowering plants, cacti, olive, rubber and palm trees--and they don’t get stolen like they do in the US.

  16. Malta usually doesn’t get rain for four straight months. You can plan on doing practically any outdoor activity during this time from about May to the end of August (except for the heat). The rainy season begins in September.

  17. The Maltese people like to take it easy and don’t often worry about schedules. If you have the time to talk, they will genuinely be interested in you and where you’re from and what you do. The Maltese people generally like foreigners.

  18. You don’t have to mow lawns in Malta or listen to lawn mowers all summer like you do in the States because there’s hardly any grass. If you like rocky beaches and cliffs, you’re in luck.

  19. The water of the Mediterranean is the most beautiful color aqua blue you could ever want to see. There are both sandy and rocky beaches, but the rocky ones dominate here on the island. I like the rocky beaches because you can prop yourself up against a rock to have a picnic and you don’t get sand in your shoes.

  20. Valletta and Mdina are two of the most beautiful walled cities I’ve ever seen in Europe--with amazing fortifications. They have been lovingly and expertly renovated while retaining the character of their original structures built centuries ago.

The Worst Things

  1. Although the winter is mild, it’s very cold inside because there is no central heating in Malta. You either have to use gas heaters which are effective only when you’re near them--or electric heat (part of the AC system) which can be expensive. The worst months are December, January and February. Because there is no central heating, there are times when it’s actually colder inside than outside. This is also the rainy season and it creates a lot of moisture in the air which makes it feel even colder.

  2. Overdevelopment has ruined the larger towns of Sliema and St. Julian’s and even much of the rest of the coastline and smaller villages. Much of the waterfront is just a crowded line of high-rise hotel and apartment buildings (known as blocks). And many of the original dwellings in these areas are abandoned and decaying. Watch where you walk because tourists and residents alike throw bottles, plastic bags and food refuse right into the streets. The dog-poop-on-the-pavement problem is getting a little better since I moved here, but you still have heaps you must look out for.

  3. Much of the English spoken by the Maltese is hard to understand because it has its own dialect. Many people--especially English language students--are disappointed because they think they will be immersed in a British-English sounding environment. They’re wrong. If you live here and need to speak on the phone for making appointments or arranging services, you will often having a hard time understanding the Maltese English.

  4. The Maltese are dangerous drivers. They act out a lot of road rage and you must be extremely careful as a pedestrian. I’ve been slowly hit by two cars since I’ve lived here. One time a driver sped past me on a narrow street and hit my arm with his car mirror. Luckily I wasn’t hurt, but the guy stopped for a moment, adjusted his mirror and never even looked back to see if I was OK. Another time I was standing on a street corner waiting to cross, and I felt someone pushing me into the street. I turned and it was a car backing out of a parking spot next to where I was standing. The driver never even looked in his rearview mirror.

  5. The bus system--although available across the island--is very frustrating and haphazard. Although timetables are listed at bus stops, the busses come and go when they please. If you’re from Germany or the UK or parts of the US where the busses run like clockwork, you will be very disappointed and irritated at the lack of reliable transportation. If you need to count on bus transportation for work, you’d be better off moving closer to your job. If have a lot of time and have an iPad to entertain you, then you won’t mind waiting for up to an hour for a bus to come.

  6. Expats must have some kind of private health insurance to reside here. It’s not that expensive, compared to that in the US or other countries, but it excludes all pre-existing and related conditions and may not be attainable for people over the age of 60 first wanting to get into a private plan. There is a lot of paperwork involved with a private health insurance plan and you must lay out the money and get reimbursed, except for a major hospital stay. There is no insurance from the US that will cover you in Malta. Coverage for European Union citizens depends on whether or not they have paid into their own country’s national systems and hold a European Entitlement Card for coverage throughout Europe, including Malta.

  7. Landlords who do not live on the premises are often unwilling to make regular repairs. You actually have to harass them for the most basic things. I once had to go for three weeks without hot water because the landlord kept “forgetting” to call his plumber. Bear in mind the negative aspects of a furnished apartment in Malta: the crappy furniture. Unless you’re willing to pay for a luxury flat for luxury fees, you may have to settle for for low-standard, used furniture. After a while, most expats wish they had shipped their own furniture to Malta.

  8. Although you can get vegetarian meals in certain restaurants, most restaurants don’t cater to people who want healthier meals. In other words, if you want coffee with skim milk, forget it. It’s whole milk or nothing. Except for certain higher-priced restaurants, the service is often poor. Many restaurants feature loud TV screens for sports fans and the ambience can be terrible--even if the food is good.

  9. Salaries are very low compared to other western nations. It’s very hard--almost impossible nowadays--to get a work permit if you’re not a member of the European Union. Unless you work for a European company, you salary will be around 1200 Euros a month--which is high average for the Maltese.

  10. The Internet and electricity go out a lot for unexplained reasons--sometimes whole neighborhoods, sometimes the whole island--including shops and even the hospitals.

  11. Paceville can be very dangerous for women alone and even men. This is the party district with lot of alcohol and loud music. Pickpocketing and purse and phone snatching are routine here. But there have also been violent crimes that have happened to unwary young women who wander away from their friends.

  12. For a reason no one (including most of the Maltese) can comprehend, there are people who fire off these terrible and jarring things called petards, which means bombs. They are not fireworks but often accompany fireworks. These petards--which startle and disturb babies, old people, sick people and dogs and cats-- go off like loud explosions day and night during the summer. Although legislature has been passed to curtain the blasting of these petards, the law is not enforced and they continue despite the protests of most of the Maltese population.

  13. There is no control over barking dogs. We had to take an owner to court over his dogs and in the end, the court decided nothing. By luck, the guy remarried and his new wife must have given him an ultimatum to get rid of the three huge barking bulldogs that he had. He did and this is how we now have peace. But many people complain about barking dogs and nothing is ever done. The police say they’ll intervene, but they don’t or at least they don’t succeed at all.

  14. Malta itself is very dirty. There is trash thrown in the streets. Plastic and beer bottles, wrappers and cigarette butts are all over the place. It’s very common to see Maltese women open their doors and sweep all the dirt from their house onto the sidewalk. The lack of environmental concern for a naturally beautiful island and ecosystem is appalling.

  15. The infrastructure is in very bad repair in Malta. Most of the streets have major potholes and people are always tripping over and falling into them. The roads are very bumpy and pregnant women should not ride the busses. When it rains, the streets become dangerously slippery.

  16. When it does rain in Malta, there are flash floods because the sewers are blocked up with garbage and the Maltese admit they have never taken flooding into account even though it happens every year. This past year coffins were floating down the flooded streets in one village. It was even on YouTube. Luckily, they were unused coffins from a coffin shop--not the dead floating around.

  17. The layback attitude of the Maltese can be very irritating if you want to ask a question in a shop or are waiting for someone to come and repair something in your house. It’s common for workmen to show up two days later than they said they were coming.

  18. Some people hate the lack of green in Malta and get sick of the tan limestone which comprises most of the island. If you prefer pristine sandy beaches, you won’t find much of them here. Some people head to Gozo to literally find greener pastures.

  19. Sometimes you can’t swim because of stinging jelly fish in the water. Some spots are very dirty. I once had a piece of watermelon float by me while I was in the water and another time a big dead fish headed right for me. Sometimes there are big-wave warnings which must be heeded. Unwary foreigners have drowned taking chances when they were warned not to.

  20. They never stop building in Malta. The horizon is filled with cranes--and unsafe, dusty and noisy worksites. There are no safety regulations protecting the public. You often have to walk out into the open road and traffic to get around a worksite. The nose is deafening.

So there you have it--an equal number of good and not-so-good things about Malta. It’s up to you to come here and see which way the scales will tip for you.

About the author

Expat Blog ListingIlene Springer is an American expat living in Malta. Blog description: Moving to Malta by an American Expatriate. I am a writer, mother of two daughters and expat in Malta since October, 2008.
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Contest Comments » There are 4 comments

Richard wrote 9 years ago:

The article sums it all up - it would be difficult to find 10 more 'shades' of Malta but maybe just one. Maltese don't drive on the left or right side , they drive in the shade!

Mary wrote 9 years ago:

Thank you Iiene ! Your Forty Shades of Malta was VERY informative and helpful,not to mention friendly/caring style it was written. Truly appreciated it. Best regards, Mary. P.S. My dream is to retire there. I`m living in the USA [originally from Poland] Base on your information,probably Gozo will better suit me,since is more greener,as part of my dream is to own little house there and be able to grow my vegetable,herbs & possibly fruit trees. Thanks again.

Rachel wrote 9 years ago:

1.) For the cold and humidity in winter, you can also purchase a dehumidifier which eliminates your 'cold inside' problem. 2.) Over-development happens anywhere, let alone in Malta, where the space is so limited, and with an increase in population, it was bound to happen. 3.) Maltese-english is no dialect. Its true that Maltese don't speak British English cause they lack the British accent. The English spoken by Maltese is close to American English. 4.) Not all of the Maltese are dangerous drivers. 5.) True, the Maltese experienced a shift in company in the that run the bus service in the year you arrived in Malta, so don't expect everything to be perfect. There was a little confusion at first, however, the bus schedule was arranged and buses generally do come and go on schedule, even to rural areas such as Zurrieq and Qrendi. 6.) Pensions by the government are distributed to Maltese citizens. Private health care insurance is optional for citizens. The government of course won't distribute pensions to those that are not citizens, other wise it would increase its deficit by large. 7.)Consider getting your own place, prices are not that high for property. And yes, some restaurants feature a big screen tv, but its their main restaurant theme, and since most Maltese are football fanatics, they enjoy such a thing. 8.) Many restaurants cater for people with special dietary requirements. 9.) PAceville is not dangerous. ITs a place where young people, and even not so young people, hang out and chill in bars, pubs and nightclubs. Its safe for women and men if they are not half drunk and harassing everyone. In most countries a women wouldn't even consider going out alone, in Malta you can. 10.) Those bombs similar to fireworks are a tradition here. 11.) Barking dogs should be controlled by their owners. 12.) Malta still does have greenery, true not as much as before, but still has such as Buskett, Ta' Qali, limits of Zurrieq and Qrendi amongst others. And there are sandy beaches, such as Ghadira, Armier, Pretty Bay, St.Thomas Bay ecc. 13.) Stinging jellyfish a problem in the whole Mediterranean sea since it is enclosed. YOu should check online which beaches will be jelly-fish free before going to swim. Foreigners should learn to follow warnings, not go by t the 'yolo'motto.

Alex wrote 8 years ago:

Excellent point rachel, although I would like to add a few things, malta's energy prices and food can be expensive since everything generally has to be imported, roads can be challenging, I don't think language is an issue. It is true that malta is known for its bars, property prices are getting expensive and of course its an issue for residents v. non-residents coming in as the EU membership criteria was debated. I would say that many maltese are handyman so I'm not sure you would have too much difficulty getting repairs, it could be at certain parts of the island, yes bombs are a type of firework. In Malta I believe they recycle a lot of bottles and infrastructure seems to be improving slowly. Still great tips on Malta, there is an issue of migration and property ownership by non-natives.

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