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Settlement, Residence and Citizenship for Expats in Malta

Author: Jim Newham
Submitted: November 2013

While Malta is a premier holiday destination, the number of expats in the country is quite small; it was estimated to be 12,000 in October 2012. However, since Malta became part of the EU, the country has attracted more immigrants and expat numbers have started to rise. The largest ethnic minority group living in Malta is the British, a consequence of Malta’s historical connection with the UK. Other expats in large numbers include those from other EU countries and North Africa; therte are also some from Sub-Saharan Africa.

You will need to obtain a residence permit from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs if you are planning to stay in Malta for more than three months. There are two kind of residence status available. To qualify for ordinary residence, you must be a national of the European Economic Area or Switzerland and have lived in Malta for at least six months. You must also prove that you are economically self-sufficient. This means having at least €14,000 in savings or a specified minimum weekly wage. You must also be working, have a firm job offer or be fully prepared to set up your own business. The main benefit of acquiring ordinary residence in Malta is the reduced tax rates, in particular a flat-rate income tax rate of 15%.

The second type of residence status is permanent residence, which is open to both EEA and Swiss nationals and third country nationals. Permanent residence is more difficult and complicated to apply for, as you need to have been resident in Malta for five years. Also, within a year of obtaining a permanent residence permit, you are obliged either to rent a property at a minimum of €4,500 or purchase one at a minimum price of €275,000 for the Harbour area and €220,000 for south Malta and Gozo. Once you have qualified for permanent residence, the tax benefits are substantial. You are also entitled to freedom of movement in and out of Malta; in fact you are not actually required to live in Malta with this status.

Once you have obtained an employment licence, you must apply for a residence permit within one month. You will automatically be granted a residence permit if you have gained an employment licence. At this time, your spouse will also be granted residence, but will not be able to work without a work permit.

To acquire citizenship by means of registration, you must have proven Maltese roots. Another means of becoming a citizen is by marriage: after five years of marriage you can claim citizenship.  Short of these two methods, the main way to become a Maltese citizen is by naturalisation. You become eligible to apply for naturalisation seven years after you started being resident in Malta. You need to have been resident for only four of the first six years, but must have been living in Malta for all of the last 12 months before you apply. You must be of good character and fluent in either Maltese or English.

You must also be a suitable citizen. This last requirement seems at times to be used to give priority to those of Maltese descent. The numbers of people without any Maltese ancestry acquiring Maltese citizenship is low. Generally, government policy is only to grant citizenship to non-Maltese who have lived in Malta for a long time or who have raised a family in Malta. This policy may seem unfair, but many tens of thousands of Maltese left the islands in the last century. Applying for your children to become Maltese citizens is more straightforward and can be done at any time.

Besides an average of more than 8 hours of sunshine a day, one of the attractions Malta has for English-speakers is that around 90% of the locals speak English. Many Maltese are in fact trilingual, as around 70% also speak Italian. If you speak English or Italian, you therefore may not feel any need to learn Maltese. This would be a mistake though, as learning Maltese will still open doors for you. If you want to reside in a country for some time, it is always better to learn the local language, and Malta is no exception. Maltese is an unusual language – it is a blend of Arabic and Sicilian Italian, with many English words thrown in too. Maltese is hard to learn at first unless you know Arabic.

The cost of living in Malta is generally lower than in other European countries. Imported items, including items such as clothes and foods that are not locally produced, can, however, be expensive.

Note also that we have an article on the Malta Residency Programme.

 

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