9 June 2017

Amanda Walkins - Expat in Malta

Amanda Walkins - Expat in Malta

We’ve had the chance to talk to Amanda Walkins, 30, an American expat who has moved to Malta with her husband. Ms. Walkins who has been living there for two months, now works as a freelance writer and blogger. 

Read more about her experiences in the full interview below.


Q: Where are you from originally?

A: I’m originally from the Boston area in the U.S. I then lived in/around Washington DC for about 7 years between university and my first job.


Q: What made you move out of the US?

A: I had a great job in DC and a wonderful network of friends and family around, but I desperately wanted to travel more than my vacation days would allow. I left the U.S. in 2012 for a backpacking trip that I hoped would lead to further travel or a new location to live. On my 4th day, I met a guy on the beach and just decided to stay! It worked out, both with him and with the location. We’re now married and we’re living in a new expat location on another continent. I haven’t lived in the U.S. since 2012.


Q: Where are you living now? How did you come to choose this new country of residence?

A: We are now living on the Mediterranean island of Malta. Before here, we spent time in Ireland and Scotland, and before that, we lived on the island of Roatan in Honduras. We chose to move to Malta because we wanted to stay in Europe but desperately needed a better climate than the UK/Ireland. Malta boasts about 300 days of sunshine, so that was the initial draw for us to look further into moving here.


Q: How long have you been living in Malta?

A: We just arrived in April, so we’re very recent expats in Malta!


Q: Are you living alone or with your family? If yes, how are they adjusting to the Expat Lifestyle?

A: My husband and I moved here together. He and I have both lived in multiple countries, so this move hasn’t required any adjustments at all! We’re used to making new friends, learning new places, and handling all the logistics by now. We can hit the ground running and dive right in. (Literally - he’s a scuba diving instructor!)


Q: Do you miss home and family sometimes? How do you cope with homesickness?

A: I’ve lived away from my family for years now, but that never means I stop missing them. Being an expat means that you miss moments back home - celebrations, sorrows, and all the tiny memories in between. Thankfully, we can still stay connected through so many avenues of communication now that it isn’t as harsh to be far away. I keep in touch with friends and family all around the world every day - it’s actually quite remarkable! I’ve also been very lucky to have so many visitors in each of my expat locations. It helps to have an extra bedroom in a beautiful location, of course!


Q: What do you think about the locals?

A: I am smitten with Malta already, and it’s not just because of the sunshine. The people here are just as warm as the climate and I absolutely love it! In every interaction I’ve had thus far with locals - and with the large expat community here - I’ve been treated with such kindness and generosity. The people make Malta!


Q: Was it easy making friends and meeting people? Do you mainly socialise with other expats in Malta? How did you manage to find a social circle there?  

A: Socializing is very easy in a warm climate! When you spend most of your time outside, it’s easier to stop for a chat on the sidewalk or to enjoy a drink on a patio where friends and neighbors might pass by. I’ve easily met and made new friends simply because the sunshine brings people outdoors. There are also gatherings and meet-ups where you can specifically meet other expats, which helps in terms of adjusting and learning logistics, etc. So far, most of my friends are other expats, but that’s mostly because I work from home and live in a rather touristy area.


Q: How does the cost of living in Malta compare to your home?

A: The cost of living in Malta was another reason we were attracted to moving here. Our rent for a massive 3-bedroom apartment 2 blocks from the sea is the same we paid for a 1-bedroom apartment back in Edinburgh. But there are no council taxes nor TV license fees here, so we end up saving even more for more space in a dramatically better climate! Compared to the Boston area, our rent is a mere fraction. Both Boston and Washington, DC, are very expensive cities, so Malta offers a much better cost of living.

  • Q: How much is a cup of coffee?

A: €1.50.

  • Q: How much is a meal in an inexpensive restaurant?

A: Less than €10 for a sandwich and drink.

  • Q: How much is a meal in an expensive restaurant?

A: You can find any level of pricing since there is a large tourism industry here. But obviously, €50 for an entree and drinks at a tourist trap won’t be the same quality as the same price at an actual nice, local restaurant.

  • Q: How much is a bottle of wine? How about a pack of cigarettes?

A: At the store, you can buy decent bottles of wine for as little as €3! I have no clue on cigarettes.


Q: Do you have any tips for future expats when it comes to opening a bank account in Malta?

A: Opening a bank account can be a bit of a process in Malta. It might help if you have a written letter of reference from your bank back home to bring with you here. As an American, the bank here needed to mail a request for confirmation of my account back to my bank there and wait for a response. So a bank account can take well over a month to actually open - barring any additional delays (like the letter being sent back as undeliverable because of a simple clerical error). Also, have patience. Yes, it can be annoying to go back and forth to the bank six times to set up an account. But that’s reality so just breathe and chill out - systems are different and complaining that it was so much easier back home doesn’t actually change the situation here. Be polite, be grateful for the opportunity you have to live in this beautiful island nation and relax.


Q: How will you describe your experience with government paperwork such as applications for Visa and work permits? Why is that so?

A: Government paperwork is similar to opening a bank account - you might luck out the first time around, or it might take you six visits to the office until you have all the right documents. Again, relax and be polite. The website might not be completely updated with new forms or details, so just politely ask the official you’re speaking with to show you the exact forms you will need. And a word of advice: if the door opens at 8 am, get there at 7:30 to be at the front of the line!


Q: Would you say that healthcare in Malta is reliable? Any preferred clinics or advice for expats?

A: The pharmacies all have doctors who offer walk-in services, there are clinics throughout the islands, and there are large hospitals as well. As of now, we haven’t required any medical services so I can’t speak to them personally. But I’ve been told to be patient with appointments and waiting rooms, but that the healthcare is top-notch here.


Q: Did you secure a health insurance in the US or Malta?  What should be the essentials in the coverage for expats, in your opinion?

A: I usually maintain travel insurance since we move so frequently. I am also a scuba diver, so I maintain specific insurance for that activity as well. Malta does offer national healthcare to residents.


Q: What was the most memorable about the packing and moving process to Malta? Which was the mover you chose and how was your experience with them?

A: We move frequently, so we own very little. We prefer to rent furnished apartments, which is very easy here in Malta. So the actual moving process for us was simple: pack our bags and get on a plane! There are plenty of options if you do want to move furniture or vehicles or anything else - Malta is very well connected to mainland Europe.


Q: What is the biggest challenge that you have faced as a new expat?

A: As we’re not new expats, I guess I’ll share my advice based on our multiple countries of residence thus far. By far the most important thing new expats need to understand is this: If you move to another country, remember that it is another country. It is not your country with a better climate, or your country with lower costs or your country with different infrastructure. Respect the fact that it is a different country and you have chosen to move there. That basic understanding of expat life will make you monumentally happier in your new home. I have seen countless people become expats, only to return home after six months or a year. About 90% of those people return home because they didn’t actually want to integrate into a new culture, they just wanted their conveniences and amenities from back home in a sunnier location. Adapt and be flexible in your new home, otherwise, you’ll drive yourself crazy trying to force everything to be your way. Just simple advice from someone who’s seen it all!


Q: What do you think are the positive and negative sides of living in Malta?

A: There are positives and negatives to every place on Earth, so remembering that first will save you some heartache. No place is perfect! In Malta, the positives are outstanding: fantastic sunny weather, affordability, multi-cultural diversity, Mediterranean island location, and incredible history to explore. The negatives are intertwined with the positives: the summer is very hot and the winter is damp so it seems colder than it really is; costs are rising because of increased interest from tourists and expats; blending cultures means it’s hard to find “the real” Malta in many neighborhoods; being an island means costs are higher because of imports, and an extensive history means dramatically old buildings and constant construction to fix them. See? Pros and cons to everything. It all comes down to the balance and how you adjust to imperfections.


Q: What are the best things to do in the area? Any particular recommendations for future expats?

A: Malta is a beautiful island with sunshine year-round, so get outdoors! The sea is free but there are also endless activities you can do from boating to scuba diving. Enjoy hikes or walking along the promenade; explore ancient temples or people-watch in local village plazas. The best part of moving somewhere new is exploring and learning about your new home!


Q: Do you have plans to move to a different country or back home in the future?

A: We have no immediate plans to leave - but, given our track record, I can’t say we’ll be here in Malta forever!


Q: What tips will you give to expats living in the country?

A: As I said before, be flexible and patient and remember that you chose to live here. You moved for a reason, so remember that. But don’t be afraid to adjust and adapt that reason over time. Moving to a new country isn’t like leaping over a cliff - you can always change your mind and move somewhere else, even if you love a place. I’ve lived in multiple countries and would return to several of them!


Q: Do you have favourite websites or blogs about Malta?

A: I blog on my own site at www.amandawalkins.com. I also found VisitMalta, LovinMalta, and Moving On Up and Away to be very helpful! Internations is very active here in Malta, and MeetUp and TravelMassive are also here (although not as active).