What’s it like to move your family to Malta?
Living on an island in the Mediterranean is an amazing life opportunity. The benefits are immediately clear: the weather is spectacular with sunshine most of the year, there’s swimming, watersports, beautiful scenery, architecture and historical sites to visit. But moving abroad is a huge decision and not easy to make. So what’s it like to take the plunge?
Seven years ago, Exient’s Art Director James Roadley-Battin made the life-changing move from his home in the UK to Malta, initially working for Codemasters before joining Exient in 2016. Here, we talk to him about his experience of such a major change and the amazing opportunities Malta offers, both professionally and in terms of family life…
Moving yourself and your family to another country for work is a life-changing decision – how did it come about?
When the opportunity to work in Malta was first presented to me, it quickly became apparent that the move would open up so many positive opportunities, not just professionally, but also for my family. My eldest daughter was six years old when we made the move in 2014, while my youngest was three. In that respect, my wife and I decided the timing was perfect for the switch, given where they were in terms of school education.
Plus, Malta’s official language is Maltese and English, while the latter is used for all international affairs – this removes one the greatest barriers most people face when they move to another country: the language difference.
Having English spoken in school was a massive positive for my kids, even though they need to learn Maltese too. But again, because they started Maltese schooling near the beginning of their education, they both learned Maltese along with all the other kids. So now they can both speak, write and listen in Maltese.
What was your starting point when you started planning the move?
Schooling was our primary focus when it came to logistics. Historically, the government in Malta has really pushed English as part of the national curriculum and there are lots of excellent state schools to choose from. So, my wife and I started by making several reconnaissance trips to the island, getting a feel not just of the culture, towns, cities and infrastructure, but also the public services.We were also very lucky to meet some super helpful local people who helped us with information, which gave us the confidence to choose a government school. That said, the presence of huge multinational companies and the iGaming sector means there are also lots of options when it comes to private international schools too.
Fundamentally, however, those trips told us that Malta was investing heavily into its infrastructure, its economy was healthy, there was a lot going on, both culturally and commercially.
After schools, the next priority was where to live. In the UK we were living in a small three-bedroom house, and in Malta we initially plumped for a large three-bedroom apartment in the catchment area of the school and that really was it. We had the apartment and the school, while location wise, it was a bus trip to work.
My employer at the time contributed to the relocation costs, which is something that Exient also offers to new starters joining from another country. It really helps to cover temporary accommodation when people arrive so they can explore options before they commit to something more permanent.
So, tell us about how you joined Exient, once you were there…
I actually found myself between jobs at one point, which was actually an extremely valuable experience, as it enabled me to take a long look at the employment opportunities that Malta has to offer. At one point I was considering a move into the iGaming space, which is huge here, but one thing I was absolutely certain of was that we were staying in Malta.
We were two years settled and we had integrated into society and culture through Maltese friends – we fully understood everything that the country had to offer. One thing I absolutely could not give up is the weather – okay, it gets very hot in July and August, but the rest of the time it’s just perfect. T-shirt weather in the middle of winter, basically. I’ve even been in the sea on Boxing Day!
Also, when you relocate as a family you become a proper team, all working together on a little adventure. And that feeds into the Maltese family and social scene – the culture here is very much centred on restaurants, the outdoors and family night life. We quickly got into the habit of meeting our friends in the evenings in a restaurant, where the kids were more than welcome too.
One of the biggest lifestyle pluses about living in Malta is that you can change your life from the mundane routine to feeling like you’re on holiday in an instant – All it takes is a quick trip to the coast, or a hotel stay, especially during off-peak times when tourism is a little quieter. You can take a trip to Mdina, the old capital, or pop into Valletta for a walk around and immediately it just takes the stress out of your day to day.
Then you have Gozo, which is a smaller island to the north of Malta, reachable via a 20-minute ferry trip. It has its own beautiful beaches and cities, plus the Cittadella, the castle which overlooks the two islands from its vantage point.
I also think of Malta as a kind Mediterranean transport hub. We feel much closer to places that were a world away when living in the UK. You’re essentially a stone’s throw, or at least a short flight or ferry, from Sicily, Italy, Tunisia, the rest of north Africa and even the Middle East. It’s almost like spokes on a wheel – from where Malta is, you can hop to all these places very easily.
So when the opportunity to work for Exient came up I jumped at the chance!
And does that travel hub status also mean Malta is set up for overseas recruitment?
Yes, absolutely. At Exient we’ve certainly had no problem hiring staff from the EU and beyond. If I think about the art team in Malta, we have four Maltese nationals, a Russian, two Brits, two Americans, a Dutch and a Bulgarian. By being in Malta we can offer people an opportunity to move into the EU as well as the UK.
Obviously one huge recent change, COVID aside, has been Brexit. But what’s great is that the Malta and UK governments have worked out an agreement whereby I’m able to obtain a 10-year VISA as a British citizen. Plus, once you have a VISA and are set up for tax and social security, you have full access to the healthcare system and other public services. For other nationalities the rules may slightly differ, but for the most part it’s quite a straightforward process to get a VISA that’s then renewable on an annual basis.
What can you tell us about the property market?
There are a lot of rental properties. I mean, everyone I know who’s moved here from overseas rents. I guess in buying an apartment I took a slightly different path, mainly because I’m super invested in Exient and my life here.
There are lots of options for renting places of 1-3 bedrooms in size. In fact, I moved a couple of times before buying. I chose a residential area called Swieqi near the schools and now I live on the outskirts of San Giljan, which is closer to the city and coast (not that anywhere is far from the coast).
If you’re willing to spend a little extra, there are some amazing options with sea views in the coastal cities, with the added benefit of having a lot of activities going on around you. In these areas you can make do without a car, amenities are easy to walk to and there’s a bus service that connects the island’s locations. If you want a quieter lifestyle you can opt to live inland and have a larger house of character. There’s plenty of options depending on your preference.
Whether it’s accurate, I personally compare the cost of living similar to a mid-sized city in the UK. Some things are more expensive, others cheaper. But ultimately my lifestyle and wellbeing feels healthier.
How do you keep in touch with friends and family back in the UK?
The entire world is a smaller place now – something that’s been accelerated by the pandemic and our burgeoning use of video calls to stay in touch with work, friends and family.
As I said, Malta has always been a logistical hub because of its location, which is why there is so much international business here. But you also have all the cultural stuff that’s going on, plus the family-oriented lifestyle.
In short, moving to Malta certainly doesn’t mean you feel cut off from ‘home’, at least not for me. Obviously, there’s video calling, but one thing we’ve found is that friends and family actively want to come and visit us. We’ve had relatives and family stay with us for long periods of time, using our home as a hub for their holidays. My sister-in-law even had her wedding out here! Fundamentally, people want to visit Malta.
Of course, taking the initial leap to relocate to another country is scary, especially the thought of leaving the people you love. But I’ve truly spent so much more quality time with my extended family since we made the move, including some genuinely life-changing moments.
Have you found the move has impacted your mental health?
Wellbeing is extremely important, especially in the current climate. In Malta, everyone just seems to be on a more even keel mentally and very little of what happens here socially is tied into monetary wealth. I feel like my wellbeing and richer people’s wellbeing in Malta are quite similar, because we’re all in the sun. We can all get to the sea and swim! I personally love to take photos and there’s loads of opportunities in Malta for this. There’s great natural and architectural structures with tons of texture and history. The photos in this article are all shots I’ve taken whilst exploring the island…
Can you tell us a little about Malta’s creative sector?
There’s a real creative community here. You have the likes of Exient, PlayMagic, Flying Squirrel Games and 4A Games, plus loads of iGaming companies, many of which take really creative approaches to content. All of which means there are plenty of artists and animators out here.
And one incredible thing that happened in Malta recently was the hosting of an event called Trojan Horse Was A Unicorn, which took place in September 2018 and 2019. It was a week-long event for the creative community (it rotates around different countries) held at the Mediterranean Conference Centre, which is in Valletta.
There were loads of seminars, talks, workshops and recruitment opportunities. The roll call of companies present was mind-blowing: Disney, Industrial Light & Magic, Epic Games, Ubisoft, Netflix, Mediatonic, Sony and more. If you were a creative in Malta, it was the place to be, and I think the event really helped to showcase and amplify what a great artistic community we have here.
Unfortunately, the pandemic meant that the 2020 event was cancelled – I for one would love it to return!
But regardless, it’s a massive sign that things are happening in Malta and, most importantly, it doesn’t take much to get involved because it’s all likely happening within a radius of 10 kilometres of where you live or work. Malta is brilliant in that respect, whether it’s an industry event or a New Year fireworks display, you can be there.
Professionally, I feel like Exient is making a difference out here. We’re employing Maltese people. We’re giving opportunities to people from overseas. We’re helping to raise the profile of art and creativity, and the fact that Malta offers careers in those fields. And that feels good.