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Life in Malta
At a Glance:
- Malta is a very conservative country and Catholicism plays an important social and political role.
- Children must learn Maltese at school.
- The healthcare system is excellent and is modelled on the NHS.
- Malta’s public transport system consists exclusively of buses.
- Roads are highly congested so it is important to drive safely.
To many expats, living in Malta seems like a perennial holiday at first. Everyday life in Malta catches up with them sooner or later, even in such a picturesque place, but there remains plenty to enjoy. As a tiny country with little to no natural resources, Malta was forced to make the most of its other advantages, its rich history, beautiful coastlines, and sunny skies. The tourism industry is therefore an important source of income for numerous people.
Historical and Religious Heritage
Expatriates should take some time out of their busy schedules to savor the delights their new home has to offer. Amateur historians shouldn’t miss out on exploring the vestiges of Malta’s prehistoric period. The megalithic complexes were built by a vanished civilization living in Malta even before the construction of the pyramids. If you prefer the more recent past, the various fortresses and the Grand Master’s Palace from the era of the Maltese Knights are well worth a visit.
Even if you have been living in Malta for a while, you won’t run out of churches to discover. According to a local saying, there are 365 churches on the islands, one for each day of the year. Quite a few of them are dedicated to St. Paul, who is said to have brought Christianity to Malta himself.
Today, 98% of the population is Catholic. Religion still plays an important role in daily life in Malta: expatriates and visitors adore the traditions of individual parishes, with their celebrations in honor of the local patron saint. But Malta is also a socially conservative country, where topless swimming or sunbathing is forbidden, abortion is strictly illegal, and divorce wasn’t introduced until 2011.
The Performing Arts
Once your feet ache from trotting from one imposing fort to the next, from one charming church to the other, Malta provides you with countless opportunities to have a seat and keep enjoying yourself. The country has several theaters, including the Aurora Opera House for lovers of classical music and the grand Manoel Theatre with its baroque interior. Contemporary performances find a home in St James’ Cavalier Centre for Creativity, which also features an art-house cinema for independent productions. Malta’s other six movie theaters are mostly multiplexes focusing on Hollywood blockbusters.
In summer, when the nights are mellow, it’s time for Malta’s festival season: from choir music to jazz to open-air Shakespeare in the San Anton Gardens, there’s something for every culture buff! Foreign residents living in Malta will quickly notice that music is a point of pride for many Maltese towns. Marching band competitions are a fixed part of local life in Malta’s villages, causing a general fervor usually reserved for popular football teams or horse racing favorites.
The Great Outdoors
Due to the country’s lovely scenery and favorable weather, outdoor enthusiasts living in Malta have various options to keep them occupied. Even if you can’t afford a yacht of your own, you may want to literally learn the ropes and try a sailing course. Divers appreciate the variety of diving sites around Malta, Comino, and Gozo, where you can venture into shipwrecks from World War II or admire the biodiversity of Mediterranean reefs.
The Marsa Sports Club is a go-to venue for hobby golfers, tennis players, and cricketers. No matter where you are currently living in Malta, the nearest pool to swim a few laps in is never far. If you wish to mingle more with your Maltese neighbors, a game of bocci — the local version of boules or boccia — is the perfect opportunity!
Regardless of which activities you personally prefer, one thing is for sure: expat living in Malta will never be dull.
Education in Malta
Expatriate families in Malta do not lack ways to get their kids interested in their new environment, ease their homesickness, and keep them busy. Depending on where you come from, your children may find the mere proximity to the beach exciting enough.
Moreover, lots of pre-teens quickly get into sightseeing when it’s not all about cathedrals, artworks, or boring historical facts. A trip dedicated to admiring the Knights of St. John’s Armory, watching re-enactment pageants complete with cannon fire, or wandering Malta’s labyrinthine catacombs will appeal to their sense of adventure.
Learning the Basics
Alas, life in Malta cannot consist of family outings and fun 24/7. Parents still need to provide for their children’s education. In total, there are 35 daycare centers, many of them located in the North Harbor region.
You can find free, state-run kindergartens for three- to five-year-old children in most communities. Over 90% of all Maltese children in that age range do attend kindergarten. However, only 3,578 children received formal childcare in 2016 and many attend church schools instead. Since nearly everybody in Malta is bilingual (90% can speak English), the language barrier will not be much of a problem as long as your kid has some basic English skills.
At the age of five, pupils in Malta start elementary school. The official primary curriculum lasts for six years and mainly includes the following subjects: Maltese, English, math, social studies, and religious education. The latter reflects the huge influence of Catholicism on Malta’s society, but expat parents should know that it’s an opt-out subject which non-national kids don’t have to participate in.
Broadening the Horizon
When turning eleven, kids in Malta used to take the Eleven plus exam in their last year of elementary education. The results of this examination would determine which students could attend the academically prestigious junior lyceum. However, due to recent reforms, the Eleven plus was replaced by a national end-of-primary test for purposes of benchmarking general academic progress. The junior lyceum is being phased out, and most Maltese kids now go to a lower secondary school in their catchment area.
Secondary education is mandatory for students aged between 11 and 16. The first two years of lower secondary have a broader general focus, while years three to five then introduce specialization by means of elective subjects. The secondary curriculum consists of classes in math, Maltese, English, other foreign languages (Arabic, French, German, Italian, or Spanish), science (especially physics and computer science), history, social studies, geography, religious education (which remains optional for expat kids), arts, music, and PE. This well-rounded education should prepare students for the MATSEC exam at the age of sixteen. Alternatively, students can choose to take O Level Exams, where passing in Math, English, a science subject, Maltese and a foreign language is essential.
Afterwards, older teens can enroll in vocational degree courses at the Malta College of Arts, Science and Technology or the Institute of Tourism Studies. The more academically minded may go for two more years of upper secondary, offered by a handful of state-run schools in Malta. The so-called “junior college” makes them fit for higher education, especially at the University of Malta, and it ends with an examination loosely based on the International Baccalaureate, the Matriculation Certificate.
State Schools vs. Private Schools
Expat families on a budget benefit from access to Malta’s free education as provided by state schools. However, Maltese plays a far greater role in most public schools, which may hamper your kids’ academic progress. About 30% of all students in Malta are sent to private schools, run either by the Catholic Church or several independent organizations. Private schools have the obvious advantage that their medium of instruction is almost exclusively English.
At both state schools and private institutions, though, your children are required to attend Maltese classes (taught at native speaker level) and to take the secondary exam in Maltese. If you know that your time as expats in Malta will be over before your kids turn sixteen, this is mostly an unavoidable nuisance.
But if your sixteen-year-old cannot sit the national exam in a language he or she may hardly speak, international schools are the only way out. Currently, there are only a few in Malta, the Verdala International School, St Edward’s College, RBSM International Boarding School and QSI Malta. Like all other private schools, they demand tuition fees and have only a limited number of places available.
Health and Safety in Malta
If you are about to set out for expatriate life in Malta, there are not many health or safety risks to worry about. Property crimes such as pickpocketing, purse snatching, or theft from parked cars are the most frequent incidents, and violence is rather rare. However, there has been the occasional robbery, sometimes at knifepoint, and some of the popular nightlife spots in Sliema, St Julian’s, or Paceville can get rowdy. Crowded afternoon buses can be targeted by pick-pocketers, especially the 12 and 13 routes between Valletta and St Julian’s. Furthermore, there has been an increase in scams so be cautious about requests for funds, job offers, or a face to face meeting with somebody you have only spoken to on the internet. Nonetheless, living in Malta is mostly safe.
If you should have the bad luck to become a victim of crime, don’t hesitate to call the local police. The general emergency number is 112. In cases of violent crime, such as sexual assault, or if you are accused of criminal behavior yourself, it’s recommended to get in touch with your embassy or consulate. They can help you to get legal advice and other support.
Check-Ups, Common Sense, and Self Protection
Before you leave for Malta, pay a visit to your family doctor to get your booster shots for standard immunizations (MMR, polio, diphtheria, whooping cough, and tetanus), and maybe add a vaccination for hepatitis A and B. There are no dangerous diseases in Malta, so some common-sense tips should suffice.
First and foremost, the local tap water isn’t recommended for drinking, so you have to shell out some money for bottled water on a regular basis. Especially in the hot summer months, it’s important to stay hydrated.
You should also take care to avoid the heat and to protect yourself against sunburn or heatstroke. Ozone levels can sometimes be high, so don’t engage in any strenuous activity outside on such days. Expats with rheumatic and respiratory diseases complain about the damp weather in winter.
Healthcare for Everyone
Short-term visitors to Malta have free access to the local healthcare system for unforeseen treatment as long as they have a European Health Insurance Card. This is an easy way for EU nationals to get healthcare coverage for their travels within the European Union.
Anyone who enters Malta on a Schengen Visa usually has to show proof of health insurance coverage during the application process. Nationals of countries that have a visa waiver agreement for short-term trips to Malta should also make sure to get travel insurance for emergency care.
If you have a paid job in Malta, are officially self-employed or own a small business, you have to pay income-based contributions to the national insurance system. This includes government-sponsored healthcare, and you thereby gain automatic access to public healthcare.
Due to the nation’s past as a British colony, the Maltese healthcare system is closely modeled after the NHS, but it has a better reputation than its UK equivalent. Foreign residents with public healthcare coverage usually go first to a general practitioner or a primary care center. Specialists and hospitals provide them with secondary and tertiary care for more complicated interventions.
Private Health Insurance in Malta
Overseas residents who have not come to Malta for gainful employment are generally required to take out private health insurance to obtain a visa and residence permit. For example, this applies to international students or to anyone applying for the Permanent Residence Scheme.
Unemployed dependents (i.e. spouse, children) of expat employees are the main exception: if their family member is covered by public health insurance, the coverage extends to them as well. Of course, even nationals and foreign residents covered by public healthcare can buy private insurance plans to supplement government healthcare and avoid out-of-pocket payments for costs that aren’t borne or reimbursed by the public healthcare scheme.
Choosing the Right Medical Service
Quality standards of medical care in Malta are good to excellent, and as long as you understand English, you needn’t fear the language barrier. Many doctors speak Italian as well, and you may s쳮d in finding some physicians with other foreign language skills. According to a 2012 report of the European Commission, some 11% of Malta’s inhabitants are able to have a conversation in French, and there are, for instance, a few German-language doctors as well.
The most important public hospitals in Malta are Mater Dei Hospital in Msida and the General Hospital in Gozo. St James’ Hospital in Sliema is the biggest private clinic.
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Transportation in Malta
Making Your Way Through Malta
Living in Malta provides the opportunity to enjoy one of Europe’s prime vacation spots. However, to make the most of this pretty isle, you should also be well informed on the practical details. Our guide to life in Malta offers a helpful overview of leisure, education, healthcare, and transportation.
Also in this article:
- Living the Maltese Holiday
- Malta: Offering the Best Education for Your Children
- Being Healthy and Staying Safe in Malta
Traveling in the Air and on the Sea
As Malta is an island nation, its international airport is its main gateway to other countries. Located about eight kilometers from Valletta, the home of the flag carrier Air Malta is forecasted to have served 5.2 million passengers by the end of 2017 . The airport offers direct flights to various destinations, mostly in Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa, although quite a few of these connections may be limited to the busy tourist season.
The airport provides four express buses to other parts of the country, direct shuttles to several major hotels, and a round-the-clock taxi service. For instance, the taxi fare to Sliema is 20 EUR while taking a shuttle bus to the Le Meridien hotel in St Julian’s currently costs 8 EUR.
Malta and the smaller neighboring island of Gozo are connected via ferry. In addition, there are ferry services to Sicily and mainland Italy. The Grand Harbour in Valletta is a popular port for cruise liners. Private yachts drop anchor in Marsamxett whereas Marsaxlokk is Malta’s most important cargo terminal.
It’s All about Public Transportation
The public transportation network in Malta consists exclusively of buses. While the old bus system used to run on an individual ownership model, it was replaced by a centralized bus service in 2011. This centralized bus service was replaced by a new bus service in 2014. Some older bus models are still found on “nostalgia” routes for visitors. However, regular bus lines are easy to recognize by the green and white colors of the (air-conditioned!) vehicles.
Malta Public Transport is a new company that was set up in 2014 to operate the bus services in Malta and Gozo. In July 2015, the Tallinja card was introduced. This is a plastic intelligent card that holds your credit. There are 5 different Tallinja cards available for different ages and for Gozo residents. The Tallinja Explore card offers 7 days of unlimited traveling. If you don’t want a Tallinja card and you don’t want to pay for every single journey, the 12 Single Day Journey Tallinja card is the best option for you. Beside the Tallinja card, the only other tickets that can be purchased are Single Journey tickets. The Single Journey tickets can be purchased on board of the buses.
If you want to take a taxi in Malta, please take note that only white cabs can be hailed in the street. Black taxis are available on call only, e.g. via Ecabs taxi company (2138 3838). Another peculiarity of Maltese taxis: they have no meter, so remember to agree upon the fare in advance.
How to Obtain Your Driver’s License in Malta
If you prefer driving to taking the bus, you can use your overseas license for up to 12 months. After that, you must get a Maltese driving permit. Should your original license have been issued in another EU member state, Australia, or Switzerland, you can exchange it for a local driver’s license. Drivers from other nations have to find a driving instructor and get the Maltese permit from scratch.
Once you have been living in Malta for at least 185 days within the previous year, contact the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Unit (scroll down for address information). You have to bring them a completed application form, a passport photograph, a copy of your license, and your ID card.
The licensing office will get in touch with the equivalent to the DVLU in your home country. As soon as they receive the information they need, they’ll get back to you. Present your original license to the DVLU in Malta, and for a fee of 80.00 EUR, the Maltese driver’s license will be yours.
Import Duties and Speed Limits
Importing your own car into Malta is often expensive and always bothersome. Import duties tend to be rather high (except for the personal vehicles of people relocating to Malta, provided that the car is older than two years). Regardless of the financial cost, the import process invariably involves lots of red tape. It may be more convenient to buy a second-hand car on Malta or get a cheap long-term lease.
Due to the high population density, Malta’s narrow roads are frequently congested, and traffic accidents are common. So don’t forget to take out comprehensive car insurance and to keep to the left side of the road (the latter often confuses expats from continental Europe). Speed limits may also be stricter than what you are used to: in towns and villages, you mustn’t go faster than 50 km/h, and the maximum speed on the open road is 80 km/h. Drive safe!