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Trials and tribulations of moving to Malta

…from a Third World country

Where does the story start? Maybe the beginning should be the reason for wanting to leave one’s country of residence for another. So that’s as good a place to start as any.

As a British couple we have moved to and lived in four countries and are now contemplating our fifth. Why would we want to move from a beautiful, warm, fairly cheap, tropical country to a little island in the middle of the Med?

Language can be a big barrier. Later in life (not really old old) learning a new language can be a challenge. Especially when the locals don’t speak their own as one would expect. Dropping syllables, running words together. And my god, talk about “motor mouth”! And not many speak or want to speak English. Ever felt like an autistic child in a classroom of normal kids? Well, that’s what it’s like. But we have a few words down pat, enough for the essentials. However, in the beginning, trying to get utilities and house stuff sorted out without a translator was a nightmare!

Then there’s the problem of having work done by the “tradesmen”. Many of them profess to do everything but turn out to be Jacks of all trades and masters of none. For example, having cabinets made for the kitchen. Beautiful solid wood. Gave the carpenter a scale drawing and all the required measurements, exactly where the cupboards are to go… That was a waste of time!

A month later, some of the cabinets show up on the top of a taxi, with the carpenter and helper, in the cab. Supposed to be normal height from the counter to the ceiling. Two sets of doors and several shelves, the lower for everyday use, the top for storage. But no, the wall unit, a span of about five feet, came as one unit instead of three. Only one door where two should be, of about four feet in height and with two shelves. Being only five foot and a bit, I can only reach the bottom shelf on tiptoes and the rest on a stool!

“Take them back and fix them!” — “No, can’t do that! But we’ll come back Tuesday next week with the rest.” The problem is, which Tuesday? Next week, month or year? Three years later the wood is moving and warping. They don’t kiln-dry it, and they leave it out in the rain and humidity until needed.

The climate is hot, wet and humid for eight to nine months of the year. The rest of the year is very hot, dry and windy.

OK. So you learn to deal with the language, tradesmen, everything being mañana, meaning whenever they like, and the climate. You’ve got the house all tickety-boo, a lovely big four-wheel drive off-roading truck, and want to start enjoying the life in the tropics. Oops, a taxi decides to drive into your lovely big truck. No problem, the taxi comes off worse. But cripes, no mobile phone, no speak Spanish, what to do?

Oh no, I’m a gringo, a white face, a target (those taxis love us whiteys). What luck, a lady store owner speaks English. To cut a very long story short… police and insurance company are called and come. Taxi driver is not required to show his insurance (our attorney says they never are) but I am. When vehicles are fixed the insurance company write a document of completion, but leave a loophole for the driver to come back and sue at any time. Thank god for our wonderful attorney who speaks good English and got that taken out!

Now what does one do for entertainment in a predominantly Spanish-speaking country? Some gringos like to meet and go to bars, restaurants etc., that’s lovely but gets “old hat” after a few years. We do have some English-speaking movies with Spanish subtitles. TV is fed from the USA, mostly voice-over in Spanish, but a few channels in English, again with Spanish subtitles. No theatre or concerts to speak of (in our town, which is the second largest in the country). There is a gringos’ group that, on occasions, put on plays. That’s nice. No real heritage or cultural events, no real museums, art etc. Beaches on this coast are of volcanic, black sand and not always too clean. The closest is 20 minutes away, but you can’t swim unless you are really strong. Several people have drowned there. The other one is over an hour’s drive.

Don’t get me wrong, there are some of these things in the capital. But that’s six or more hours’ drive from here.

Shopping is a major frustration. It’s there today, but try and find it next week or next month… disappeared off the face of the planet! Fruit and veggies are grown here but we end up with the rubbish; most things are rejects and poor quality. If you want good quality imported stuff, you pay through the nose! Shipping stuff in from the USA costs as much as, if not more than, the item itself!

Quite often there are electrical outages and brown-outs. Mostly when it’s stormy, which is often. Water can be turned off for a few days after the rainy season, as they can’t keep up with “cleaning” it!

So all in all, time to move on!

Read Part Two

13 Responses to “Trials and tribulations of moving to Malta”

  1. Kay McMahon

    Many thanks for your posting. I can relate to a lot of what you say. Life in a tropical Paradise? Yeah, right. That’s why we are also escaping, albeit temporarily, to a little island in the middle of the Mediterranean next week.

    Keep in touch and we can compare notes!

  2. Rachel


    We are planning to move to Malta. Can anyone tell me if they have had furntiure/posessions shipped using 20ft or 40ft container about the following points:

    1. Rough Cost
    2. How long it took
    3. Customs at Malta e.g. problems
    4. Other info from your experience

    Many Thanks,


  3. Dave McMahon

    Hi, Rachel, and welcome.

    There’s been quite a bit of discussion about shipping to Malta on our Malta forum – in fact, we’ve got a whole board there dedicated to international transportation to and from Malta.

    Have a read there, and if your questions still aren’t answered, then why not join and post your own question?

    In fact, why not join anyway? There’s a great community there, so you could end up having fun as well as getting the information you’re after!

  4. karen costin

    hi there
    does anyone have any information on the issues with becoming a permanent resident in malta?
    i have a property in valletta and would like to know about the tax implications in malta

  5. Max Sharp

    About to rent long term in Xlendi, Gozo. Are there any music shops in Malta or will I need to bring out my guitar? I would like to hire an acoustic if possible. Many thanks.

  6. Emily


    Could any one tell me what it is like for children in Gozo? Is it a safe place for children to grow up? What is the education like there? Are their activities there for the children?

    Many thanks

  7. Dave McMahon

    Hi, and welcome.

    You’ll find answers to many of your questions – asked and unasked! – on the Family issues board on our Malta forum. There are quite a few British expats on Gozo already, and in fact there have just been a few postings about life on Gozo from a toddler’s perspective. 🙂

    Hope you find what you’re looking for!

  8. RR

    Thank you Talmaone, excellent writeup. I’ve been wondering about moving there for retirement in the next five years. I’m Canadian, living in the Toronto area and I’d think I’d be better off in Mexico only because it’s on the same continent–easier to get out in a hurry if I have to. 🙂

    Toronto, CANADA

  9. RR


    First of all I’m Canadian (only) but I was a little confused by your writeup–you didn’t say where you were coming from in your Part 1 (or Part 2) and so I assumed you were leaving Malta. It wasn’t until I read your Part 3 that I learned you were leaving Panama. So all the difficulties you mentioned initially (language, anti-gringos, humidity, etc.) I thought were about Malta — sorry.

    So starting all over again, I’m planning on a winter visit to Malta with the purpose of considering a permanent move there. I’m a scuba diver, sun lover, winter hater, and a beach bum to boot! (I’m single and free of any obligations and so am doing okay financially.) What do you think; is it a good place to move to?

    Toronto, CANADA

  10. Talmaone

    Hi RRK,
    Sorry about the confusion! Malta is a good place for scuba diving (so they tell me). You will probably find the winters here mild compared to Canada. However, there is no central heating and the limestone buildings tend to be cold and its damp. Although, there is usually plenty of sun in the winter and pretty warm in the summer. The beaches, are varied, a few small sandy ones but in the main rocky. Being a small island you are never far from the water.
    You will have to get private medical insurance. I do not know prices, as we fall under the EU free medical. But I understand that it is not too expensive to visit a Doctor. Do check out There is a wealth of information for a Non-EU citizen coming and living in Malta.
    I am about to write my one year views of living in Malta. But in a few words…’we love it, warts and all’!!
    Good luck!

  11. Malta in Decline

    Like so many things in Malta, renting property is an absolute rip off (if you’re an expat). I wish I had read these pages before moving to this place because I would advise anyone thinking of moving here not to bother.

    In my experience, Maltese landlords and all of the major lettings agents are sharks. They are living in a parallel universe where they think it’s perfectly acceptable to rent out utter dumps and charge well over the odds for the privilege.

    The majority of properties are built from limestone and suffer chronic (really chronic) damp problems. You will spend a fortune on gas and electricity just to heat your flat in the winter. And if the property needs repairing, then apparently it’s your own fault. They also take pride in openly charging non-Maltese a higher price for things such as electricity, broadband and food. Apparently this is just fine and perfectly acceptable.

    In addition to experiencing their discriminatory and rude attitude towards non-Maltese, you’ll also enjoy buying out-of-date food in their shops

    So why do the Maltese think they are such a special case that can get away with this?

    Well reality is kicking in for Malta. It’s not the only place where the sun shines. Look at places like St. Paul’s Bay that are covered in dog mess with bars and shops closed up everywhere. Much of Malta looks like a ghost town – a country in terminal decline. No wonder they rely on handouts from the EU – this country is in trouble. People are not visiting Malta like they used to because the word is out – people don’t want to work for such low wages and be ripped off in a dirty, unfriendly, damp, over-developed, over-populated and backward country that is in decay.


  12. RRK

    “Malta in Decline”

    Sorry to hear that but I’m not surprised; Malta started to sound more like Mexico the more I researched it. I never did make it there because of the transit time getting there from the Toronto area. And then I started to read about the immigration problems non-EU residents are having and so I quit.

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