Carlie: Hey there, it’s Carlie with the Expat Focus podcast. Mario Cacciotolo’s move from the UK to Malta was very much a homecoming. He spent the first 12 years of his life in the country, and its booming economy, 300 days of sunshine a year, and a desire to close some local knowledge gaps were big motivators for him to return.
In this chat, he’s going to shed some light on what it’s like to live on this small island in the Mediterranean. You’ll find out where you can expect to land a job as a foreigner, where you should look for your first apartment, and the best ways to get around.
Also, find out if you should bother learning Maltese in a country where English is an official language too. Mario also shares his thoughts on getting to know the locals and explains why, for him and his wife, every Friday is the start of a holiday.
Mario, your expat, in inverted commas, story is a little bit different to the usual. You’ve moved to Malta, and it’s almost a repatriation story.
Mario: Yeah, you could say I’m sort of half local, half expat. So basically, my father was Maltese. I was born in the UK, but, as a baby, very quickly came out here to live. So, all my early memories are of Malta and of hanging around with my Maltese family and doing Maltese family things. And then my father passed away when I was 10 and so, a couple of years later – at the age of 12 – my mum and sister and I all went to live in the UK.
But all of us love Malta. We would still talk about it all the time, and very regularly come back for holidays, and eventually – seeing that the economy was booming and there was lots of talk of opportunity in Malta, and my friends, when I would come back for the holidays, would tell me they were doing X, Y, and Z – and I was thinking, this sounds pretty good; there’s quite a nice lifestyle here.
Just over two years ago now, in October 2017, I came back. And I came back partly because I have lots and lots of local knowledge. However, there’s lots of things about Malta that I don’t know and for which I am in the same boat as any expat.
And so I decided that I really wanted to close those gaps in my knowledge, and also that I would be happier here, because the local knowledge I had meant that I knew what were the right things to do and what were the wrong things to do, so I could avoid those. So, armed with that knowledge and with a thirst for more, I came back to live in Malta.
Carlie: I’m really looking forward to talking through with you what some of those knowledge gaps have been. But diving into some practicalities … You came to Malta, you said, to really take advantage on one hand of the booming market at the moment. So, did you have a job lined up before you left?
Mario: Yes, I did. I don’t think I would have come without, actually. I mean, that was the one thing that was going to stop me from coming back, because I would only have come back if I had work. But yeah, there was a job posted on a journalism website – I was a journalist for 15 years in the UK; I spent the last 10 at the BBC – and it was job to work at a marketing company here in Malta.
It was in the iGaming area/sector. So, iGaming in Malta is huge. It’s a massive part of the GDP – various numbers float around – 12%, 13% or so of the GDP. And basically, if you have an online gambling company of some sort, or you’re in a service, or you’re a service provider to the gambling industry, it’s very easy to get set up in Malta.
There are licenses and things, but the taxes are low here for those companies. So, a lot of them flock to Malta, because they essentially pay 5% tax. Lots of companies come here. And yeah, I found a job here, and it’s not the sort of thing I thought I’d ever be doing, but it was interesting enough. It’s a very nice company. They treat me well. Armed with the fact that I had a job to come to, I quit the BBC and jumped over to Malta.
Carlie: So iGaming is a really big source of work among foreigners in Malta. What else do they tend to do if they move?
Mario: Yes, iGaming is a huge source of employment. So, lots of people from Eastern Europe and Northern Europe, Scandinavian countries, come here, because of the entry level jobs that would require you to have the language skills. So, to be a customer service assistant for example: if you can speak Russian, Polish, Swedish, Norwegian and things like that, certain companies will want you to go and work with them, because you can talk to their clients in their native language.
And it is acknowledged, usually, as the best paid sector to be working in, in Malta. So to be frank, if you want decent salaries, then that is the area to look into. It depends if you’re skilled in something or you particularly want to do something. Obviously I sacrificed my journalism career, which I still miss, but I gained another way. So I made the conscious decision to sacrifice it and do something different.
But if you’re just looking for something to do, then the iGaming industry should be your first point of call, I’d suggest. If not, then there are lots of service industry jobs in Malta. It is actually tricky to get served by a Maltese in some areas. It’s just people from abroad who are the waitstaff or who serve behind the bar. Even the bar managers, and people like that. You know, people come here and they work hard and they get into the service industry. So, there’s lots of that going on.
We should remember that Malta essentially doesn’t have any unemployment. There was a story just the other day in the press, which said that just over 600 people are claiming unemployment benefit. So effectively, there aren’t people here without work. It’s a literal handful among the population, if you look at it percentage wise. People are here in work.
So if they’re not in iGaming and they’re not in the service industry, then maybe they start their own businesses. I know of foreigners here who run pilates classes, and personal trainers. They have their own businesses in terms of beauty salons and consultancy. So, they have a skillset and they come over and they set themselves up.
Malta has always been a place in which you need to survive. And I don’t mean that in a dramatic sense. But if you’re here, you’ve got to be doing something. You can’t just be going to the beach all day; you’ve got to be doing something. There are not easy ways to make livings. You basically have to get on and do something. So, if you want to come here and do something, the doors are open.
Carlie: Now, from what I’ve read, Malta’s economic boom has also hiked up the cost of living. So I’m curious to know what sort of living costs you can expect when you move to Malta, and how you decide where to live.
Mario: Yes, they have. So, the fact of the matter is, that is a big conversation at the moment: the rise in the cost of living and the rise in rents. It has to be navigated carefully, because it should be remembered that, while they’ve gone up, it is also because they’ve come from a really low base. #
So, I do think there are two camps. I think there are Maltese who have genuine issues and problems with landlords increasing rents. And that’s a big conversation to be had, and that’s a problem, and it should be tackled. And in fact, new laws have just come in to tackle it. I’ll explain more in a moment.
But on the other hand, there are lots of people here from overseas, who complain about the rise in rents. And I understand, because that’s a big part of their salary and that’s a massive problem for them. Having said that, I lived in the UK, and Malta is still cheaper than the UK. I’m paying a lot less rent and I’m able to save to buy a house, whereas in the UK, I couldn’t.
So Malta is seeing increases, and that’s occasionally problematic and is something for people to worry about and have to handle. But you have to remember that, up until a few years ago, you could rent a nice, big three-room apartment for probably £350 – £400 a month. You could maybe even do a deal with your landlord—
Carlie: Pretty incredible.
Mario: Yeah. Now those apartments are a lot more, so of course people are complaining about it, and if that’s pressure on your salary, of course you would complain about it. But you have to remember that it’s coming from a really low base. You have to remember that, in Malta, there is no council tax, and there’s no TV license.
Personal tax is not bad, and there are regular rebates that the government give out at the moment because the economy’s doing well. Obviously, that might not continue. There is free health care. There’s an awful lot of free entertainment – because to go to the beach and sit in the sun, where everyone else is on holiday and you’re actually living here – that’s free entertainment.
The buses are really crowded and a bit painful to be honest, because they’re incredibly cheap. The bus prices have just gone up. Now you can go anywhere on the island for €1.50 and €2 in the summer. So that’s a lot more expensive than it used to be. I remember it was a lot cheaper than that.
So public transport’s really cheap, but all these things having increased at some point in the past mean that people are complaining about them. And understandably, you know, I’m not being frivolous there. If it’s pressure on your salary, then that’s not good and it’s something for you to worry about.
But remember where it came from. And there are still places in Malta where you can get food and drink really cheaply. The Maltese are some of the highest ‘eater-outers’ – if you want to put it like that – in Europe. So, a huge proportion of the Maltese population eat out. And it’s a cultural thing. It is also because, if you go into the right areas, it’s cheap.
Now, if you go into the wrong areas, it’s not cheap. But there are lots of places where you can get pizza and pasta for €7, €8, €9, and it’s a nice, big, healthy, tasty portion. So, if you move in the right areas, then you can enjoy yourself.
Carlie: Now, Malta is a relatively small island, with a population of about half a million, I believe?
Mario: Yes. Malta’s a tiny island. It’s just smaller than the Isle of White, and it doesn’t have official figures yet for the latest population. But yes, the estimation is that it’s seen a boom in recent years. So it’s gone from 420,000 to what is now considered to be about half a million.
Carlie: What was on your checklist when you were looking for somewhere to live? Did you base it on work, family, or closeness to the water? I assume that would be highly desired in Malta.
Mario: So what I did is what I think everyone should do. So, I found a flat to rent in what’s known as a central area. There is an area and it stretches between a place called Swieqi, which goes down to St Julian’s, down to Gzira, down to Msida, and this quite close to Valletta. None of those places are far from Valetta, because Malta’s a tiny place. I’m the closest end to the capital city, Valetta.
Areas like that, and one or two next to them, are known as the central areas. They’re not actually in the centre of Malta geographically, but in terms of what you can do for entertainment, for business, and for living arrangements, they are known as the central areas. In these areas, it’s a bit of a trade-off. Some of them are quite ugly, in that they’re built up, and you’re just going to live in a concrete block somewhere.
Having said that, any friends you make will be around there. Any work you have will be around there. There’s tons of entertainment, all sorts of things to do, and it is a place; it is an area. The central area, as it’s known, is where you should start off, because if you go out to a quiet, pretty place which has got a view and has got a bit more charm to it, it’ll be quieter.
You’ll be dealing with the traffic, which is a massive problem in Malta. You’ll be dealing with the public transport, which although is cheap and frequent is absolutely packed and a bit painful to use, especially in the summer. So, you should go central and suss things out, sign a six-month or a one-year lease on a flat, and take time to go around the island and find where you really want to live.
Now a lot of people really want to live in the central areas, so they stay there. Some people say, ‘But I like this area’ or ‘that area.’ And so you can then start to make inroads into moving. But I know people have come here and gone to small towns that are quite quiet to start with, where they know no one, and they don’t speak Maltese.
Now, many Maltese do speak English. It’s very widely spoken. It’s an official language here. So language isn’t their problem really. But you still don’t know anybody. And if you’re living in a quiet town and everybody that you do meet through work – or you meet them online on Facebook groups or anything like this – you will say, ‘Hey, let’s hang out.’ And they won’t live anywhere near you.
So going central to start with is a good idea. Take your time, look around the Island, and see what makes you happy. Do you want to be near entertainment? Do you want to be near the water? Do you want to be near an actual beach? Etc. And then you can make that step.
Carlie: That’s really surprising to me, because I think my natural instinct would be, you know, island life. I want to be by the sea, and I would probably, as you just described, mistakenly decide to be by the sea, and not think about all those other factors that are so important.
Mario: I think if you come with the attitude of getting involved in life here and making friends and doing stuff, what you’ll quickly find is that people don’t live near you. And there’s a very odd mentality here that if you have to drive 20 minutes, it seems quite a long way. So, it’s just one of those things. And everybody still says that, ‘Oh, that’s so far.’ It’s really not that far.
Carlie: It’s like the London tube mentality.
Mario: It is entirely like that, yeah. There’s an issue as well that the traffic here is problematic. So the roads are again poor quality in lots of areas. Now there’s a huge amount of work being done to improve this. So, there was a €700 million seven-year project to improve the roads in Malta. Some of this is controversial, because it’s actually digging up trees and digging up land to improve the roads. And there’s a very big controversy about that.
The one thing to bear in mind is, again, the roads in Malta have been very poor quality for generations, in my opinion. If you want to improve the roads and the infrastructure, you are working again from a low base. You’re trying to modernize something that wasn’t really fit for purpose.
I mean, up until a few years ago, the buses were the very old charismatic diesel buses, which everyone loves and everyone harks after, because they were so cute. And there’s all sorts of models of them you can buy, and postcards, and things like that. But listen, I used those to go to school. They were a nightmare. I mean, they were almost free; they were so cheap.
It was just a couple of cents in the old Maltese money, so you’re talking about five cents in euros, to get on a bus, but they spewed out black smoke everywhere. They were old and falling apart. They were uncomfortable. There was no air conditioning. You know, they weren’t fun. They were nice to look at.
But that’s now being improved. And that’s generally what’s been going on. There’s been a lot of improvement in Malta to modernize it. But you’re starting from a low base. I mean, some of the roads are still terrible. Somebody I know smashed their car up because they went over a pothole the other day.
I ride a Vespa; I’m always dodging potholes. There’s a massive amount of traffic, something like 30 odd cars, if not more, a day enter the road in Malta. It’s not long-term sustainable. You might want to get somewhere at a certain time, and you might live far away, but you think, that’s a 20-minute drive. And you get in the car, and off you go. But the traffic is going to stop you. It’s going to make it a 40-minute drive, a 50-minute drive at certain times of the day.
Carlie: Is it realistic then to be able to live in the same neighbourhood as where you work, to be able to commute by bike, or by walking, for example?
Mario: Well, this is the thing. People do live in the neighbourhoods in which they live, but then they pay more for it. So that’s the problem. What’s interesting is that there’s been lots of stories of something that’s problematic, and that is rent’s been hyped up by landlords, which is a controversial subject.
My view is that’s dangerous. If you just keep hiking rents up, you’re creating a bubble. You’re also putting pressure on people, which is unfair. So the government has just passed a law – it came into effect on the 1st of January. It applies to properties that have been rented out since 1995. So if you come here, or if you’re already here, 99% likely this law is going to apply to you.
A landlord, in most cases, cannot hike the rent up more than 5% a year. It does depend on the length of contract you have. I have one-year contracts in rent – I think my friends do as well – six-month or one-year contracts are common here. So if you’re in that area, and that’s the kind of contract you have, there is protection now. Your rent can’t be raised more than 5% a year.
But bear in mind that if you want to live and work in the same sort of area, that is possible. Lots of people do it. But for that, you could be paying easily €900 or €1000 or more, and the nicer your apartment, the more you’re going to pay over that.
There’s a trade-off, because you’ll pay the same sort of money but get a much nicer and bigger apartment, or maybe you’ll find it a little bit cheaper, if you go further away. But then you’ve got to get to work and you’ve got to work out how to get to work.
Carlie: So English is an official language, alongside Maltese, in the country. Does that make navigating things like rental contracts, bills, the health care system, and other administrative tasks pretty straightforward?
Mario: It’s very straightforward. The Maltese government has most of its departmental websites in English and not Maltese, which is actually wrong in my view. They should be in both. But actually, the government here has its lingua franca in dealing with the public in English. If you send a request or a query to a government department about tax, about anything else, they will reply to you in English.
All the medical profession, the landlord contracts, everything, is in English, and I know lots of Maltese who are fluent in English, who are fluent in Maltese – talk among themselves in Maltese – but if they write, they write in English. And I’m learning Maltese, and when I ask people, ‘Oh, how do I spell this? How do I phrase that in Maltese?’ They will say, ‘I’ve not written in Maltese for such long time that I can’t remember.’ But actually, they’re completely fluent in spoken Maltese.
So, language here is a big plus for any expat who speaks English. Anything important or fun that you need to do will be done in English. If you want to tap into a bit of the local culture and understand what the Maltese life is really about, then you would need to speak a bit of Maltese. But to be honest, you can have a good time here and do everything important completely in English.
Carlie: Obviously you had a family background and motivation culturally to learn Maltese. Are many foreigners signing up for Maltese language lessons, or do they not see it as a necessity generally?
Mario: The short answer is, I don’t know. There are courses available, and small fees for foreigners. I have seen them online. Facebook is a huge thing over here. Malta has one of the highest Facebook engagement rates in Europe. I’ve heard it’s got either the top or the second highest engagement. So everything that happens, happens on Facebook. And I’ve seen lots of people talk about this and where to get classes to learn Maltese. So they are made available.
Now, whether or not they’re taken up, I don’t know. I’ve never been to them myself. I have a private lesson – I found a private teacher to teach me. I suspect people are doing it to basically make an effort and out of interest, but it’s actually quite a difficult language, and it keeps coming back to the fact that if you say something badly in Maltese, you’ll get an answer in English. So I don’t feel that there are lots of foreigners doing it.
I think the biggest area where it happens is with children. I do know expat families over here whose kids enter into schools and they are taught Maltese and that, I think, in the expat community, is possibly the biggest group.
But put it this way, in my entire time of being in Malta and coming to Malta and living in Malta, I’ve met one person from abroad who can speak Maltese. And it’s quite remarkable. She’s a Russian, a young Russian woman, who served me in a shop, and she used a couple of Maltese expressions, and I said, ‘Oh, you sound like you speak at a bit of Maltese.’ And she launched into proper Maltese with a Russian accent, which absolutely freaked me out.
I was very impressed. It was really, really impressive. So yeah, when you find it, it’s unusual, but that’s because you don’t really need it. But I do think it’s very appreciated. Maltese do like it when foreigners can say the odd thing in Maltese.
Carlie: Mario, you had established networks through family, and I’m guessing friends from your childhood, when you moved back to Malta. But for those that don’t, how easy is it to make friends outside of the expat bubble, and to really get to know the locals?
Mario: I don’t think it’s as easy as all that, actually. I think the Maltese are very friendly, but in some quarters there’s a bit of unease about how many foreigners are coming over so quickly, which is a shame that they might feel like that. There are plenty of Maltese, or just mix in with the foreigners as much as you like, and it’s all very fine and very friendly.
I honestly think there’s a bit of an attitude – maybe that’s a bit of a strong word – but I don’t think some of the expats try to make friends with the locals. I know many expats here who’ll say, ‘Oh, I don’t know any Maltese,’ and yet will talk about Maltese life quite a lot, and talk about the Maltese quite a lot. And yet they have never been inside a Maltese home, have never talked to Maltese people that much.
Actually, I think expats here don’t really mind if they don’t make friends with locals. I’m not saying they wouldn’t like to, and the Maltese are very friendly people. The expats are perfectly friendly as well, and people live side by side. But there are certain bars, for example, that only Maltese will go into. Expats don’t go there. You know, if you’re bumping into people in your industry, a lot of the time you’re going to make friends with foreigners, because a lot of people might be from abroad.
Obviously, work is a thing where you might meet Maltese and start getting friendly with them. Again, if you have kids, you’re going to start mixing with Maltese parents, maybe get invited to birthday parties, things like that. But it is true. I know lots of expats here. None of them hang out with Maltese. They all are very happy to hang out with themselves. Birds of a feather.
I mean, I was at university in the UK, and I remember a ton of German lads coming over for an exchange group, and they were dotted around the city, but they kept coming together and hanging out together. And I used to say to them, ‘Guys, you’re here to learn English. You should hang out with people who speak English.’ But they were hanging out amongst themselves, speaking German.
It’s a bit of the same thing here. You find comfort in the people that you know, and so naturally, without any negative reason, you just hang out with people that you know, who are similar to you and that you have something in common with, and it becomes very easy to just keep doing that. I would like to see some more expats making a bit of an effort to hang out with Maltese more.
There’ll be complete exceptions to this rule. There’ll be people who say, ‘Look, I work with lots of Maltese. I hang out with them and we go to the beach. My kids play with their kids. It’s fine.’ Great. I totally encourage that. But I think an effort has to be made here. It’s very easy to tap into the expat community and just see the Maltese as people who are living here and what they get up to is up to them.
I go to events. I see things that are happening in Malta, and some of them are religious events. I’m not religious, but culturally it’s quite interesting to see religious events, little churches that have little ceremonies and little gatherings, and things that go on at certain times of year, like Easter and things like this.
When I’m there, I look around and I frequently think, there’s barely anybody here who’s not Maltese. So, if you don’t go to multicultural things, you’re not going to see what the Maltese really get up to in their spare time. A lot of the time it’s eating and drinking and going to the beach and family scenarios, which are just quite nice. But yeah, effort has to be made.
Carlie: At the start of this chat, you mentioned that you had some knowledge gaps, even though you spent many of your formative years in the country. What sort of gaps did you have moving to Malta, and what surprised you about full-time life back in the country?
Mario: I didn’t speak Maltese, which I wanted to learn. I was not sure about where lots of things were, lots of government offices, things like that. I didn’t know where to go or what to do. I didn’t know about working here as an adult, because it’s very, very hot. When you come here and it’s boiling hot and you have to cope with that, then that’s different to coming here, it’s boiling hot, and all you want to do is go and lie on the beach. How do you cope?
What kind of apartment should you be living in to cope with really hot weather? What are the cultural things that go on? I didn’t know of the smaller cultural events. I knew the bigger ones, but I knew there was a lot more going on. I was thinking, what is it the Maltese do for culture? Is there an art scene? Is there a theatre scene? What are some of these small, very personal events that go on that might not be that well-advertised?
The routes around the island – I mean, there’s a bit of a maze in some areas, and I knew I would come back as a tourist, in a sense, on a holiday, and drive around, and I knew I was taking long routes. I knew I could take shorter routes. So, I started experimenting and taking shortcuts.
Things like setting yourself up with the tax office, and employment, and things like that. Working with people here. What is it like culturally? Because in the UK, it’s a little bit different. Good places to eat. I always went to a handful of places, but I thought, well, I’m in a tourist area, so what about if I were to leave this and go into an area that’s not so touristy? What are the good places that the locals go to?
Those are things I really wanted to pick up on. And also, how the Maltese think. I wanted to know what they thought about migration. What do they think about the government? What do they think about the EU? What do they think about the foreigners who’ve come here very quickly on mass.
What do they think about the rise in rent? And the cost of living that the booming economy has brought with it – what do they think about it? This comes back to my earlier point. I’ve heard lots of expats talk about what the Maltese think, and yet they’ve never actually been inside a Maltese home and sat with the Maltese and asked them. There’s a lot of assumptions made, which is a very human thing to do.
We all do it. I do it. We have to be careful with it. Talking to the Maltese, sometimes I really don’t agree with their opinions. But that’s what they think, and you have to respect that. So, I wanted to find out what the Maltese thought about various things. And also, stuff like buying a car. What’s that process like? What do you do? Just all the things that make living in a place something real and tangible. It’s a completely different attitude to coming here and being on holiday.
Carlie: And how do you go about learning about it? Was it through speaking to friends and family, or doing your own research online?
Mario: Just listening. It’s all out there. You just have to listen, and you have to just ask people. What do you think about this? What’d you think about that? The local media – there was an awful lot online. Malta’s very high Facebook engagement means that a lot of views are put forth on the internet. Again, a lot of the time I don’t agree with them, but that is what a lot of people will think of an area.
Also, look at the trends on things. You know, there’ve been very popular governments voted in with landslides. There have also been protests in the street against those governments. It’s very important to listen to both sides and realize what people are thinking and saying.
So, coming here and knowing that you don’t know anything, and listening. I mean, you can judge, because it’s something we all do, but listening to people and understanding where they’re coming from and understanding Malta’s history, where there’s been traditionally high rates of unemployment and where there’s been traditionally low wages.
Lots of people, everybody in my family pretty much, including my own father, left Malta looking for work. Now people are coming to Malta for work, which is incredible. It’s the first time in its history it has ever happened like this.
Understanding where Malta has come from is very, very important, because it’s not been a country like your country might have been. People did not leave the UK looking for work. People always came to the UK looking for work. And Malta has been completely different to that. Understanding that, I think, is quite important.
Carlie: What do you love about the simpler life in Malta?
Mario: So I have a rule that every Friday is the start of a holiday. I live here with my wife, and we have a rule that we are on holiday on the weekends. So, we call them holiday weekends, and it’s particularly because of the good weather, which is much of the year. And we say, ‘Look, it is Friday. This is the start of a holiday and we’re going to do holiday things.’
I’ve bought books. I’ve done research online. I’ve found quirky little churches. I’ve found lovely bits of coastline. I’ve found legendary pizza. We jump on my Vespa and we ride off and we go and see those places. We go and see those things. We treat the weekends like we’re on holiday and sometimes we go to the very popular places.
We love Valetta. It’s a fantastic city. I really recommend it as a weekend break. And we sit among people who are on holiday and who are having coffees and cakes and things, and we look like them. We look like we’re foreigners. My wife’s blonde, and so we definitely look like a foreign couple. And we’re not, we’re locals, but we’re doing the holiday things. We also go out and find a church where a famous painter decorated the interior and we’ll go and look at it.
But we really treat the whole place as a big playground to be explored, rather than just sit around drinking and going to the beach. Obviously, we do it a little bit of that, but Malta’s got a lot that can be explored. So we do that. Again, it comes down to attitude. I’ve seen lots of expats complaining about Malta online and, trust me, there’s plenty to complain about here.
That’s true. But when I challenged them sometimes, not that I do it very often, because you shouldn’t argue with people on the internet, but once or twice I have said, ‘Look, you’re complaining about the prices of the local bars. I go to a local bar where it’s €2 for a vodka and coke. Have you ever been to this place?’ And they’ll say, ‘Oh no, it’s too far.’ It’s literally the next town to where they are. So the problem is with them, I’m afraid. It really is. It’s all down to attitude.
Also, they complain about – and Maltese people complain about this too – their area. There’s no greenery. It’s very built up. And that’s true. There are areas that are actually covered in concrete and very, very functional. But you can go for a drive and there’s lovely countryside to be had.
There are some really nice walks, some really nice places and areas, where you can get lovely views. And you can go and drive to a small town, go get a coffee or something there, and you get out into some fresher air and it’s lovely countryside. You’ve seen the sea, some cliffs. It’s all very, very nice.
And I say to people about this, even to the Maltese I say this to, and they go, ‘Oh, I don’t want to be driving half an hour ago and see that.’ Well, there’s your problem. It’s half an hour. On a weekend there’s not that much traffic around. There are a couple of pressure points, but generally you’re okay. Why not get out and see it?
Malta has one of the highest numbers of public holidays in Europe. So you’re very frequently having three-day weekends, because a Friday or a Monday will be a Saint’s day of some sort, or a national holiday for independence, etc. And you’ll have a long weekend.
So that long weekend, we are on holiday. And if you treat most of your weekends like that, particularly in the spring, particularly in the summer when it’s great weather, then you really start realising that you’re working, but you’re living. And the living is fun, and that you work in order to live on the weekend and have a really nice life.
Carlie: It sounds like you’re doing life in Malta the right way.
Mario: I think so, but I can only judge myself. I mean, I don’t want to sound harsh. If other people are upset about things, then I’m sorry for that, and I hope that the situation improves. But attitude is everything.
We’ve not been living perfectly here, but it’s all about the attitude. And this is wherever you are. If you accept there are bad things and you get annoyed about them, but then you seek out the good things and think, you know what, I’m going to embrace this. And if you have a positive attitude towards your community, and if you always try to do something that’s going to be positive for the community.
For example, my wife and I, we clean up sometimes, if there’s a clean-up area. I have to say, it’s brilliant for expats. Expats are excellent, and it’s one of the best contributions to Maltese society that they get involved in local clean-ups. And I have to say, it’s almost always foreigners who get together, go to an area, and clean it up.
There are some Maltese who do it, absolutely, but it’s hugely driven by the expat community, which is fantastic. And I applaud them for that, and I wish more and more teams would get involved in that. But we get involved in things like that.
We didn’t buy a second car like a lot of people do. I bought a scooter, so there’s less polluting. And we recycle like champions. We try to do things that support the local community. If there’s a local community event, we go to it. Our attitude is to try and do the right things in lots of small ways. Maybe that adds up to something decent.
And in terms of enjoying ourselves, we get out and about and see things in Malta. Malta is tiny anyway, and if you stick to the same couple of square miles, it’ll seem very claustrophobic. And it does for the Maltese. The Maltese complain about that. And I understand, because they live and work in the same areas. But having the attitude of: there’s a playground out here, even though it’s a small place, let’s get out and see it – that makes you feel better.
There’s a secret to enjoying Malta. I said it to my wife when we first came here, and it’s absolutely true. The key to enjoying Malta and enjoying life here is to leave it on a regular basis. Flights from Malta are incredible. You can fly to a huge number of places very cheaply. Two or three times a year, get on a cheap flight or take a ferry, because you can get a ferry from here to Sicily, and leave Malta.
Go to somewhere where there’s space. Go to somewhere where there’s a lot more greenery. Go to somewhere where it’s just a bigger, different environment. Maybe it’s a big, fancy city with lots of shopping. Maybe go to a forest with lots of greenery. Maybe go to somewhere where there’s lots of fjords and it’s a different type of water that’s around.
Go to a very different environment and then come back, and you’ll come back afresh. It gives you a different perspective. You go to a massive city and you travel around it and it takes you an hour and a half to get around. Then you go back to Malta, and you walk to work in 10 to 15 minutes. You think, oh, it’s really nice to live somewhere small.
And it’s much more convenient when I go food shopping. It’s a 10-minute drive up the road to get all my food. Whereas in London, I had to go for a much longer time to go and get my food. Etc. And you’ll realise that there are things in Malta that are poorly done and that are worse. But you’ll also realise that there are things that are done much better and that are much nicer here.
Carlie: Mario, if you could plan your move again, is there anything that you would have done differently?
Mario: I would have sorted out my initial temporary accommodation a little differently. When I first came here, I was put up for a month in an Airbnb by my company. And in that time, I had to find somewhere to live. I took my time over that, and I ended up finding a flat, which we’re now renting, which we really like, but it was still being built, so there was a bit of a delay.
What happened in my temporary accommodation, was that I thought I’d just renew it a few days before the contract was going to run out for the month. I thought I’d just text the guy. And it was booked up when I did that. And then I started bouncing around lots of different places temporarily, because they weren’t available for very long. So I ended up moving seven times in the first eight weeks. It was a nightmare.
So, I would say that if you come here as an expat and you want to get temporary accommodation while you’re looking around for something longer term, be careful about it. I would try and take a place and talk to the landlord early on and say, ‘Look, I might want to extend. Can you let me know if anybody wants to take this off you?’ Etc. Just be careful about that, because it can go wrong, and it did go wrong for me.
Otherwise, to be honest, it was quite a smooth transition for me, I have to say. I think I had local knowledge, so I didn’t really make any other missteps. That was the only one I made. My attitude was to be patient and just see how things go. But everything went fine. Things do run fairly smoothly here.
The other thing I’ve learned is that if you’re dealing with offices, some of them close at noon, so if you’re thinking of getting up one day and strolling into a government office to sort out your paperwork by 11:30, you might be in a queue that’s not actually going to get seen.
So offices here can open at 7am or 8am, and then they will close at 12pm/1pm. This is particularly in the summer. So bear in mind that everything gets done early here. Don’t get caught out by going to a place mid to late morning. You need to go there first thing.
I think everything else went fairly smoothly for me, because I just had the attitude of: whatever’s going to happen, I need to be really patient. And actually, things were fine.
Carlie: That’s it for this episode. If you have any questions for Mario, or want to share your own experience of life in Malta, head over to expatfocus.com. Or you can find us at ExpatFocus on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
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