Affordable Places to Retire Abroad: Spotlight on Malta

Malta

More and more active seniors are looking into international retirement destinations as they plan their next chapter. It not only brings an element of adventure and exploration into the latter part of life, it can actually be more affordable than spending your twilight years in your home country. Some locations abroad offer significantly reduced housing costs, more affordable medical care, and lifestyle perks like cheaper restaurants, household help, recreational amenities and more. A better quality of life for less money is a tempting combination and a smart retirement strategy.

So when it comes to picking up stakes and moving to another country for retirement, how about Malta? Malta isn’t a place many people have heard much about, much less contemplated moving too. Most probably can’t point it out on a map. However, it is becoming a sought after retirement spot for expats and for good reason.

First, some basics. The Republic of Malta is a small archipelago of five islands located about 100 miles south of the coast of Sicily (Malta and Gozo being the main islands). This Mediterranean country territory covers just over three hundred square kilometres and is bursting with charm, history, culture and natural beauty. Malta has close access to the rest of Europe too, with cheap flights around the continent. Sicily is less than a two hour ferry ride away and is a popular weekend getaway destination for Maltese and expats alike.

With 265 days of sun ever year, residents have plenty of time for outdoor activities from swimming and boating to exploring quaint towns. There are also countless cultural events to keep you entertained, as the place is teeming with centuries-old theatres, palaces, art centres, restaurants, bars and festivals.

For about 150 years, Malta was ruled by Great Britain, so English is one of its official languages. The other is Maltese, a Semitic language with Arabic, Sicilian, Italian and French elements. Malta’s multicultural evolution is also reflected in its melting pot cuisine scene. The Sicilian and English influences are prominent, but you have to try fenkata, the national dish of rabbit stew.

While it may be an unusual choice, Malta as a place to retire should not to be overlooked or underestimated.

Where to Retire in Malta
Malta has two inhabited islands, Malta and Gozo (well, there is also Comino, but only a handful of people live there).

Most live on Malta, in and around its elegant historical capital city of Valletta. Upscale neighborhoods like Sliema and St. Julians are amenity-filled and attract a lot of expats (and, hence, a higher cost living). St. Paul’s Bay in the north is as good option, as is the ancient city of Mdina.

The small island of Gozo has plenty to offer the retiree who wants a quieter, simpler pace of life. It has the most affordable real estate and more nature around it, but still has all the amenities you need, such as a hospital, shopping malls, restaurants, grocery stores and public transportation.

Budget Guidelines
Malta has a stable economy and a comfortable living standard. The country experienced a boom in the last decades, so it is not a budget destination per se. Most people find the cost of living to be relatively affordable here though, certainly compared many large European or American cities.

As an island nation, some imported goods like cars and electronics can be pricey, but if you stay away from the touristy and higher-end expat enclaves, living like a local can be reasonable.

Try to live close to walkable amenities, and you won’t need the expense of a car. Public transportation is very affordable. Retirees can get around to far corners of Malta for a 50 cent bus ticket, and ferries are free. Note, traffic in urban areas can be quite congested, so a healthy dose of patience is needed here.

Residence Permits and Taxes
As a member nation of the European Union, those with EU status can move here without much hassle. For those who aren’t, apply for a Maltese permanent residence permit. It allows you to live in Malta permanently, but does not allow you to work there – which shouldn’t be a problem for retirees.

To qualify, you need a net worth of at least $40,000 and an annual income of about $26,000. You also need to buy a residence worth around $132,000 or an apartment worth around $80,000, but if you don’t want to buy, you can rent a property for at least $4,700 (the incentive is to buy). A clean criminal record, a Maltese bank account and an interview are also required. Income tax for permanent resident holders is a flat rate of 15 percent, and any overseas income sourced out of Malta is tax free, as is capital gains tax even if remitted to Malta.

Malta does not charge a regular annual property tax. There are no wealth, inheritance or council taxes either.

Healthcare in Malta
Healthcare is one of the most important factors for any older adult looking to retire overseas. Despite its size, Malta is renown for having one of the best healthcare systems in the world, often ranking in the top ten on worldwide indexes. The country has a strong public healthcare system, with some private options as well. With a large network of health clinics and pharmacies offering preventative, rehabilitative and curative care, you can usually get in to see a health care provider or specialist without much waiting here.

Expats from non-EU nations will need international healthcare coverage before obtaining residency in Malta. However, once you have a residency permit, you can qualify for some of the national healthcare options at reduced costs. Private medical insurance can cost €275 to €1200 (about $300 to $1400 US) per person depending on needs. One-off visits to the doctor are around €15 ($17 US). Basic lab work costs about $30, and an MRI runs about $170 to $200 – a far cry from the average $1500 it costs in the US.

Your mandatory insurance will cover the public state-of-the art hospitals, local clinics as well as the exceptional private hospitals. The country has recently experienced a surge in medical tourism as medical care is cheaper than in mainland Europe.

So does Malta sound like a good place to retire to you?

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