Moving to Malta
A comprehensive guide to moving to Malta
Expats who plan on moving to Malta often look forward to the island nation's sunny charm and relaxed lifestyle. But there’s more to your move to Malta than remembering where your beach towel is! The InterNations GO! guide to Malta introduces the smallest EU member state, its visa rules, and housing market.
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Relocating to Malta
Moving to Malta is a prospect that attracts numerous new residents to the tiny island state every year. Retirees from Northern Europe, especially from Britain, appreciate the advantages Malta has to offer — a comparatively cheap cost of living and the country’s historical links to the UK. Expatriate employees and overseas students moving to Malta for professional or academic reasons fall in love with its natural beauty, architectural treasures, and Mediterranean flair. Well-to-do residents from abroad profit from the tax benefits that Malta’s sunny clime also provides.
In sharp contrast to the haven for “high net-worth individuals” imagined 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 simply hope to raise money for their families by working in Europe for a while. For them, moving to Malta is the first step in making it to mainland Europe, via Sicily and the Italian peninsula. The recent influx of irregular migrants has put its government into the spotlight. Its politicians face both criticism from human rights organizations and pressure from other EU administrations.
Warm Summers and Mild Winters on a Small Isle
Malta is no longer among the newest EU member states (it joined the union in 2004, three years before Bulgaria and Romania), but it is likely to remain the smallest one, with 316 km² of official territory. It’s definitely the sunniest, too. The Mediterranean climate with mild winters and warm summers is an added bonus for lots of people moving to Malta. However, as agreeable as it sounds to live in a country with virtually no rain in July and August and no snowfall for the last fifty years, the aridity poses a considerable challenge to the Maltese population — something that the average tourist may not consider.
Geographically speaking, Malta is located roughly in the middle of the Mediterranean, about halfway between the Pillars of Hercules and the Levante, between Italy and the North African coast. From a strictly geological point of view, Malta is indeed part of Africa: the islands do not belong to the European continent, but to the African shelf. This particular location, with its strategic advantages, is also reflected in Malta’s cultural heritage.
A Short History of Malta
Phoenicians and Romans, Byzantines and Arabs — all of them decided to settle the island during its eventful history. After the end of Arab rule, it was probably the Knights of St. John, a religious military order founded during the Crusades, as well as the British Empire, that had the biggest influence on Malta. The reason for moving to Malta was to secure the island as a bastion against Ottoman expansion or as a convenient naval base, respectively. Thus the “Maltese” knights and the colonial administration left their mark on modern Malta, its cityscapes and languages.
Malta’s Population: Locals and Immigrants
Today’s population counts a mere 445,500 people, according to 2014 estimates. This number includes the foreign residents moving to Malta for various reasons. Indeed, considering the country’s low birth rate, much of its demographic growth stems from migration.
While lots of Maltese decide to go for a career abroad — for instance, in North America, the Benelux states, or the UK — and then retire back home, expatriates from other countries keep moving to Malta. In 2011, 4.8% of the population was made up of immigrants who arrived in Malta over the last couple of years. Most foreign-born residents are probably Brits. There are sizable groups of immigrants from the Maghreb and sub-Saharan Africa as well; the rest of the foreign community consists of various expats, mostly from European states like Germany, Italy, or Greece.
Moving to Malta has a definite linguistic bonus. The island’s oldest native language is Maltese. It is derived from medieval Sicilian-Arabic and peppered with Italian as well as English loan words.
However, the second official language is indeed English, spoken by nearly 90% of the population. As many as two-thirds of all residents in Malta are fluent in Italian too, and there is plenty of English and Italian media. As long as you have a good command of one of these languages, you needn’t worry about moving to Malta.
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Malta: Visas and Immigration
If you would like to join the plenty of overseas residents in Malta, there are several possibilities for prospective expatriates. They depend on the length of your stay, your nationality, employment status, and financial resources.
Schengen Visas for Brief Stays in Malta
For a short-term stay of up to 90 days, e.g. for tourism, business, or finding the perfect beachfront property, you may not need a visa. Citizens of all EU/EEA member states simply require a valid passport to legally enter the country. This also applies to nationals of those countries which are part of Malta’s visa waiver program, such as Australia, Canada, Israel, Japan, New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea, and the US.
If your country of origin has a visa requirement, you have to apply for a Universal Schengen Visa at the nearest Maltese consulate. This visa enables you to reside in Malta for a maximum of three months and to travel freely to other countries that have signed the Schengen Agreement.
To obtain a Schengen Visa for Malta, you need the following:
- valid travel document
- recent passport-sized photographs
- travel insurance / medical insurance to cover your stay
- description of your travel plans including, for instance, a return ticket
- proof of sufficient funds
- cash to pay the visa fee
Settling in Malta as an EU National
If you would like to start working in Malta, to join a spouse, or to spend your retirement years there, things get a little more complicated. Again, it’s easiest for EU nationals. They don’t require a visa for longer stays.
Prospective expat employees from another EU member state — with the exception of Croatian citizens — don’t need an employment license (i.e. work permit), either. As long as they have a confirmed job offer, they can move to Malta, and their spouse and kids can join them there.
Retirees with a certain minimum income and health insurance coverage can move to Malta without much hassle. Retired nationals of any EU country are usually entitled to their state pension and public healthcare coverage from back home, no matter in which member state they live. This should be sufficient to provide for your retirement in Malta, but it’s important to talk to your national pension office, your bank, and your health insurance provider about a planned move.
As soon as an expat from another EU country has settled in Malta, he or she needs to get an official registration certificate/ID within three months after arrival. For this purpose, get in touch with the Department for Citizenship and Expatriate Affairs in Valletta.
Work Visas for Third-Country Nationals
Third-country nationals — those who are not citizens of an EU or EEA member state — have to overcome a few bureaucratic obstacles if they would like to be gainfully employed in Malta. Work permits (aka employment licenses) for third country nationals are under responsibility of the Department of Citizenship and Expatriate Affairs. A Single Permit application will have to be submitted and must be approved by the employer.
You have to provide a copy of your valid passport, a recent photograph, and your diplomas, references, and CV. Your employer will attach the latter to a cover letter outlining your professional duties and working conditions.
A senior manager has to apply for your employment license at the Employment and Training Centre, several months before your planned start date. Once you have the permit, contact the closest Maltese mission and ask which steps to take for your visa. The permit must be renewed every year, for up to three years (sometimes, additional extensions are possible).
Other Visa Options
Visas for dependent spouses are usually granted at the discretion of the Central Visa Unit in Floriana. However, they normally include a residence permit, but not an employment license for your husband or wife. Spouses have to apply for the license separately if they find a job in Malta.
For all other visas types, e.g. student visas, retirement options for third-country nationals, or the permanent residence scheme for affluent expats, please contact the CVU for more information.
Finding Accommodation in Malta
Once you have landed a job in Malta or found a way of drawing your pension there, and once your visa application is well underway, you need to search 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 town is Birkirkara, with over 22,000 inhabitants. However, due to the small surface area and the high population density, the nearest town is mostly just a stone’s throw away. In fact, many of central Malta’s towns and villages have all but grown into a large urban zone where 80% of all the residents live.
If you are an expatriate employee, you may want to settle close to your new workplace to avoid a pesky commute: while Malta is tiny and has a decent road network, you might prefer to spend as little time as possible in your car — and have more leisure to unwind on the beach. Thus, you could end up looking for accommodation in the capital of Valletta, a hotspot for heritage tourism and commerce, or in Floriana, Malta’s administrative and financial center.
Well-off retirees and independently wealthy residents should look into Malta’s “Three Villages”, i.e. Attard, Balzan, and Lija. Attard and Lija in particular are coveted neighborhoods for both the local élite and affluent expatriates; Balzan tends to attract younger families with a middle-class or upper-middle-class background.
Swiegi is another popular residential area for the well-to-do, although there are usually few vacant properties in this town. Expats preferring the hustle and bustle of a beach resort with a vibrant nightlife should rather opt for Sliema or St Julian’s.
The neighboring island of Gozo, on the other hand, is a half-touristy, half-rural idyll, quaint and sleepy, and thus only of interest to people working in the local hospitality industry or to reclusive retirees that long for a quiet life in the countryside. Comino just has four permanent residents altogether, plus half a dozen more during the tourist season. So, unless you are a passionate amateur ornithologist who wants to study the birdlife, or a veritable hermit, Comino is not the place to settle.
Apartments in All Shapes and Sizes
To kick off your housing search, have a look around on Dhalia and Frank Salt, two well-established 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 rental fee in advance. Any apartment with access to a pool or a seafront view is rather expensive. Whereas a small Sliema-based flat without such amenities will cost you approximately 500 EUR per month, 400 EUR may be enough in other places, depending on the exact location.
However, consider that you have to pay extra for utilities, i.e. electricity, bottled gas, and water. They are costly in Malta since the island nation has to import its fossil fuel and even some of its drinking water. Despite the lovely temperatures in summer, Maltese winters do get a bit chilly and damp, but most properties lack central heating — which leads to creative solutions with wood stoves, air-cons, gas heating, or coal-fueled stoves and, of course, to high energy bills.
Buying Your Own Home
Entire houses are seldom offered for rent. So, if you’re thinking about buying a home in Malta, get a property lawyer to advise you. There are some legal restrictions on property purchases by foreigners as well as the permitted use of such accommodation.
For instance, outside designated development areas, foreign residents may only buy one property for their own use. Non-EU nationals also need an extra permit for a purchase and have to pay a certain minimum price. Under certain conditions, a foreign-owned property can be rented out as a holiday home.
Moreover, the Permanent Residence Scheme applies to foreign-born owners of high-end property in Malta. Again, a trusted lawyer or real estate agent will be able to offer you advice on the details.