Malta’s diminutive size means that you can travel from one end of the country and back again, including a ferry ride to gorgeous Gozo, in well under a day with plenty of time to take in the sights. One of the great pleasures of living here is being within easy reach of a beach or country walk no matter where you live.
It’s also true that tiny Malta is crammed with lots of people, most of whom own cars, and the road system transporting them all is antiquated. The result is often gridlock. Even when the traffic is moving, you’ll have to contend with potholes, confusing or missing signage and some manic Maltese driving (there is less enforcement of traffic laws; nonetheless, Malta has a low road fatality rate). Despite EU funding which has helped to construct important roads like the St. Paul’s bypass, traffic seems to be getting worse, rather than better.
That’s why it is extremely important to think carefully about where you live, especially in relation to where you work and where your kids go to school – what might seem like a short commute on a Sunday morning can turn into a frenzy of frustration in rush hour. Living within walking distance of your workplace and/or the kids’ school might just be one of the smartest decision you ever make. Find out more about driving in Malta.
Don’t count on public transport to save the day either. The Sliema ferry to Valletta is the only mode of transport that can beat the queues; the buses have to use the same roads that cars do even though there have been initiatives of bus lanes in some of the major thoroughfares. Still, things are on the up; after a bumpy transition from the old yellow buses, the latest managers of the bus service, Malta Public Transport, do finally seem to be improving things. Buses have the great advantage of being cheap, better for the environment and arguably less stressful than driving.
If you’re in Gozo, the situation there is better; traffic usually flows freely apart from occasional jams in the capital of Victoria, but you will have to contend with the queues for the ferry. These can get very long at busy periods, so plan accordingly.
Cycling can be risky. The government has invested in cycle tracks, but Maltese road users are not used to bikes and as a consequence, they tend not to pay them their due attention. Some bad road conditions mean accidents are almost inevitable and bike routes are sometimes poorly thought out. Despite that, there are some passionate cyclists in Malta and it’s not out of bounds – you just need to take care while on two wheels.
Motorbikes and mopeds are an efficient way to beat the queues however you should be aware that motorcyclist injuries have increased 60% since 2012 and Malta has a high share of the deaths in the EU. In a bid to reduce pollution and emissions, the Maltese government is running a grant scheme to help with the purchase of environmentally friendly vehicles.
Uber has landed in Malta yet might not be as reliable. You might want to try Taxify instead, which offers a very similar service. There are also lots of traditional taxi companies which you can use to get you to your destination.
Buying a car is relatively straightforward on the islands and much cheaper than it used to be. You can also import your own car. Make sure you know where you can park first and don’t make the mistake of thinking you can do without a/c; you will sorely regret it in the summer.
If you get into an accident, take photographs and get the other drivers’ insurance details. Most insurance companies offer a ‘front-to-rear’ collision form on their websites – keep it in your vehicle.
It’s not all doom and gloom. Driving in Gozo or along scenic off-the-beaten-track locations such as Dingli cliffs is a delight, with some of the loveliest views in the world. Some of the city centres are also well suited for pedestrians – the seafronts in Cottonera, Gzira/Sliema, Qawra, Marsascala and Xemxija are great places to stroll in the evening and much of Valletta is out of reach of motorists. Failing that, try the silent city of Mdina or one of the Three Cities – only very few cars have permits to enter, making it a haven of calm.
If it all gets too much, there is a way out. Comino is completely traffic free (apart from a handful of vehicles owned by the local farmer and the hotel). Hiking here with only cicada sounds in the background will take you back a couple of hundred years in time; take a tent and you’ll be able to forget the combustion engine was ever invented. Don't forget to take sun protection clothing and creams in summer, there is little coverage from the sun.
One last thing – don’t forget that the Maltese drive on the left and that speed limits are usually 80km/h on the main roads and 50km/h in the towns. Read more about driving in Malta.
Yes, but you will have to pay a registration tax. Find out how much here.How’s the parking in Malta?
If you’re not an expert at parallel parking, you should probably start practicing now. Parking spaces in busy towns are hard to find – once you’ve driven round the block three times, spotting one will feel like winning the lottery. There are some standard multi-storeys, usually connected to shops. Sometimes it’s easier just to take the bus. Parking on the road is free of charge while prices for parking in a private multi-storey car park can range from €1.50 - €3.00 for an hour.What do I need to buy a car?
Once you find a car that you want to buy, you need to transfer ownership. This can now be done online. The seller, buyer and a witness are required to sign the back of the vehicle registration certificate and present it to an authorised insurance agency or broker. They will issue a new insurance policy. You will need to show your ID card. Any fees, penalties, CVA fees and contraventions that must be paid will show up at this point. The insurance agency or broker can then issue the new registration certificate in the name of the buyer and can also renew your vehicle road licence. You may need a new Vehicle Roadworthy Test (VRT) to do that - check online here.How do I catch the bus?
You can hop on a bus between 5.30am and 11pm. There are 80 routes to choose from in Malta and 15 in Gozo. A bus route with 1 or 2 digits (e.g. number 3 or 13) includes Valletta in the route. Routes with an X are express. Three digits routes go elsewhere on the islands. Aside from Valletta, the main hubs are the Mater Dei Hospital and the University. For timetables, journey planners and a host of other information, click here.Where shall I live?
Where you choose to live will depend on where your work is based and/or the children’s schools. Many foreigners start off in the Sliema area if they can afford it – nearby Swieqi, Msida, Gzira and Pembroke are a little cheaper and less busy. St Paul’s Bay is popular too, especially with older residents. Xemxija is an up-and-coming village towards the north, which is cheaper and away from the crowds.
Bugibba and Qawra are principally holiday zones, popular especially with the British – unless you like hanging out with your fellow countrymen abroad, you might want to look elsewhere.
Towns such as Balzan, Attard, Birkirkara and Lija are quaint and pleasant places to live and not too far from all the action. Madliena or Gharghur tend to be a little more expensive but are highly sought after. Mellieha is a beautiful town, but far north if you have to commute to work every day. The same could be said for Marsascala and Marsaxlokk, which are situated at the other end and to the south of the island.
Gozo is caught in a dreamy time warp – this is the place to settle in if you genuinely want to get away from it all. Here's a quick guide to the regions of Malta.