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.
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.
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.
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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