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Banking for Expats in Malta

Author: Gavin Adie
Submitted: November 2013

For a territory with an advanced banking sector, establishing an account can be a lengthy process in Malta due to stringent Know Your Customer frameworks to ensure the integrity of account holders. Accounts which might take only a few days to establish elsewhere can in some circumstances take weeks in Malta. As a result, expats will want to consider the time frame for different options if they require a functioning Maltese account when just off the boat.

While there are a number of local banks in Malta, the number of banks that accommodate expatriates looking to establish an account before relocating is limited due to the fact that many banks don't often have subsidiaries or parents abroad. For this reason, HSBC is often chosen by expats as a first port of call when looking to establish an account in Malta.

Establishing an account with HSBC in your home country can significantly speed applications with HSBC Malta as it is the identification and credit rating checks that often slow down processing times. Setting up a HSBC account in your home country will enable you to largely bypass the onerous requirements by having information about your identity and creditworthiness transferred between subsidiaries. The HSBC branch in your home country will often require payment of a fee to establish a HSBC Malta account in advance however. Other banks on the island may require prospective account holders to engage a recognized intermediary if they wish to set up an account before emigrating.

Aside from HSBC, Bank of Valetta has operations of a similar scale in Malta, being the other bank regularly mentioned by expats for banking services. Larger banks tend to deal with a greater number of requests from expats and as a result can often establish accounts more quickly.

There are a number of other banks with significant operations in Malta, aside from these two, including:

  • APS Bank;
  • Banif Bank;
  • Central Bank of Malta;
  • CommBank; and
  • FIMBank.

If you decide to establish an account after arriving in Malta, to overcome the onerous identification hurdles, experienced expats in Malta will often draw attention to the importance of obtaining an identification card immediately after arriving in Malta. The existing regime was phased out in January 2013 and replaced with a modernized, electronic system. Obtaining an e-Residence card from the Department for Citizenship and Expatriate Affairs is a relatively simple process. Experienced expats also report that establishing a more rudimentary account, with fewer banking services on offer (such as no check book, or credit card) will allow an account to be established at a faster rate.

To establish an account, a non-resident must provide two forms of identification: photo identification such as a Malta ID card or a passport; and proof of an address, which does not need to be in Malta. Non-EU citizens will also be required to fill in a savings tax form.

The bank will then initiate checks to verify your creditworthiness and that you are a person of good standing - the drawn-out part, which, it is reported, can take considerable time as it is often done by mail rather by electronic means. You could speed the process by asking your bank to expedite the information request. These checks are reportedly more thorough for persons originating outside the European Union, than those from EU member states.

Unlike elsewhere, where a basic account may be offered, persons with a poor credit history or those who have been bankrupt may struggle to establish an account in Malta.

While the process for creating an account may be frustrating, the banking sector in Malta is relatively robust, and offers account holders advanced banking services, such as having accounts in multiple currencies, and commonly offshore tax-efficient banking options.

The type of accounts often offered to expats mirror those in place elsewhere, namely: current accounts, with low-interest rates but which enable easy access to funds and offer a wide range of banking services; savings accounts, which set some restrictions on withdrawals and access to funds, but offer higher rates of interest; and deposit accounts, which require account holders to lock in a minimum balance for a pre-defined period of time but offer considerable interest on deposits.

Receiving your card and PIN number can also take a considerable length of time in Malta. It may therefore be quicker to offer to collect it in-branch.

Banking in Malta can be costly compared to fees in place in other territories. ATM withdrawals at your bank are free but withdrawals from ATMs operated by other banks attract fees. As well as annual fees, other fees may include charges for transfers, switching accounts and going overdrawn.

Banks are open for a limited time during the day in Malta, generally until midday Monday through Saturday.

Not all credit cards are accepted in Malta, but Mastercard and Visa are safe bets.

Banking documentation is available in both Maltese and English.

 

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