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The One Thing We Are Trying Before We Retire Abroad

destinations, retirement, the one thing we are trying before we retire abroad

The citadel of Victoria, MaltaPhoto credit: Matyas Rehak / Shutterstock.com

It had been such a glorious day. We crossed from Gozo to Malta aboard a ferry. From Valletta, a bus shuttled us to a fishing village in the south end of Malta. It was Sunday, and the Marsaxlokk street market would be filled with fish, shellfish, fruit, veggies, and Maltese pastries. Then, there would be stalls selling clothing, shoes, jewelry, household necessities, and merchandise of every description.

We got there early to beat the crowds and filled our small insulated bag with ice and two kilos of king prawns. The cost? $12 for 2.20-pounds of the lovely crustaceans. Next, we got a couple of flakey, cheesy pastizzi and two cups of hot tea from a kiosk. For the alfresco breakfast, we paid $2. That was for us both.

destinations, retirement, the one thing we are trying before we retire abroad

Fishermen preparing their luzzu and nets in Marsaxlokk, Malta.Photo credit: Mary Charlebois

We sat on a multicolored bench facing the harbor’s edge, chatting about the small blue, yellow, red, and sometimes green luzzu in the harbor. One of those boats had brought our prawns in that morning. “Yes, I want to live here,” Kevin said. I was over the moon. For me, that decision had been made three years earlier on an extended visit to the archipelago. Malta would be our new home.

Why Not?

Impossibly blue water, 3,000 hours of sunshine per year, and the warmest people you’ll ever meet. Hook-to-mouth seafood at your doorstep daily and the cost of living that offers a higher quality of life. The Maltese Islands are in the center of the Mediterranean, surrounded by Europe, Asia, the Middle East, and Africa; it’s the dream location for a travel writer/photographer pair.

Now What?

So the decision was made. We are moving to Gozo, Malta. Now what? How do you make the transition? Keep our U.S. house? Sell our U.S. house? Close the business or sell the business? What about friends and family? The biggest “what if” question was, what if we don’t like it there after all?

We didn’t feel we could risk cutting the U.S. cords until we had a better idea of what life would be like in the Mediterranean. Hours and hours of “what if” conversations took place. It finally occurred to us that we could “try-out” life in Malta during a one-year rehearsal, with no penalties for a “we really don’t like it” result.

Taking A “Try-Out” Year

Once we realized it would be wise to do a trial run before jumping in too deep, we quickly moved forward with our plans. Unfortunately, before that, we were stuck in a quagmire of “what if” fear. The try-out year allows us the time to know if it’s the place for us to retire or if we should keep looking.

We will live a full dress rehearsal for one year before fully retiring, cashing out, and cutting the U.S. ties that bind. While my travel writer work can be done anywhere with an internet connection, Kevin’s general contracting business happens in our hometown. The good news is he’s experienced at operating remotely, with his crew on the ground at home.

destinations, retirement, the one thing we are trying before we retire abroad

Mgarr, GozoPhoto credit: Ksenija Toyechkina / Shutterstock.com

Why We Chose Gozo

1. Location

The tiny island nation of Malta is in the center of the Mediterranean; Malta is surrounded by Europe, Asia, the Middle East, and Africa. None are more than 2-hours away. The closest destination is Sicily at 60 miles away. With Gozo as our home base, we’ll have budget-friendly access to hundreds of new destinations. We think it is a perfect location for a travel writing/photography duo.

2. Lifestyle

We selected the island of Gozo over the island of Malta. While both islands are beautiful, Malta is developing much faster than Gozo. Although village life still exists, much of the island of Malta has a city feel. We are small-town folks and life in Gozo fills our small-town requirement.

Life in Gozo is rural and agricultural for most of the 4.5 by 9.5-mile long island. The population of about 30,000 live in 18 villages dotted about the isle. Victoria, Gozo’s capital, is the largest by far, with a population of just under 7,000.

destinations, retirement, the one thing we are trying before we retire abroad

Estate-made cheese, cured meat, condiments, and wine from Ta Mena Winery in Gozo, Malta.Photo credit: Kevin Scanlon

3. Cost Of Living

In the decision to move outside the US, the cost of living was our first justification. Neither of us could live on our social security in California because the cost of living is too high. Both of us are in the position of having to continue to work in our 70’s and beyond.

In Gozo, we can rent a modern two-bedroom, two-bathroom, fully-furnished apartment with an ocean view for $650-700. Some have lovely patios and balconies. All utilities combined would be under $200 — less without air conditioning. Go to the countryside, and the rent is even lower.

The cost of food is about 40 percent less than in our California home. I went to the Ta’Dirjana Foodstore website (this is the market where I shop when I am in Ghajnsielem, Gozo). I compared it with Safeway, where I shop in California.

Here’s what I found:

Item Quantity Gozo California
Bananas 2.2 lbs 1.78  2.75
Boneless, skinless chicken breast 2.2 lbs 7.86 14.27
Carrots 2.2 lbs 1.61   2.83
Cheddar Cheese 2.2 lbs 8.01 27.03
Eggs 12 1.15   4.69
Gala Apples 2.2 lbs 3.12   5.47
Ground beef 2.2 lbs 11.82   17.57
Artisan bread 1 lb 0.91   8.59
Milk Quart 0.95   1.99
Onions 2.2 lbs 0.70   3.71
Totals   $37.91 $88.90

The same price differences are seen in restaurants. However, it’s not only cheaper to eat in Gozo, but the quality is much higher.

4. Culture

The Maltese culture has been influenced by the twelve conquerors of this now independent EU Nation. Maltese history is fascinating and covers centuries. Malta is a dual language country — English and Maltese. The Maltese language is a beautiful mixture of Arabic, Italian, English, and French. The same can be said for food, wine, art, music, and religion.

5. Transportation

We will not have a car in Gozo. The island is small, and a car is a liability. Parking is not plentiful. Fuel is expensive. We will add about $900 monthly to our cash flow by doing away with personal vehicles.

Our feet, buses, ferries, and occasional taxis will be our transportation. A monthly bus pass is about $26, depending on residency status. Ferries are $0-5. Busses are frequent, safe, clean, and very inexpensive. The same is true of ferries and taxis.

6. Ease Of Residency

Permanent residency in Malta is simple. You must have a minimum income and/or assets, have a Maltese or Gozation residence for at least 90-days, and be able to pay the €25 fee. Permanent Residency is renewed each year and must be done in person. It entitles you to all Maltese citizen privileges except for voting.

destinations, retirement, the one thing we are trying before we retire abroad

Upper Barrakka Garden in Valletta, Malta. A quiet place for daydreaming.Photo credit: Kevin Scanlon

Preparing For The Try-Out Year

In Malta

We have plane tickets and have rented our favorite harbor-front Airbnb, cozy apartment for two, for a month. We’ve allotted 30-days to take care of the in-person business.

Begin The Paperwork For Permanent Residency

We’ll take the Gozo Fast Ferry to Valletta, the capital of Malta. Then, we will go to the Expatriates Unit of Identity Malta Agency to begin our permanent residency application. After that, we will have a long lazy lunch at a sidewalk café so we can people-watch in the sophisticated city of Valletta.

Lease A Gozo Apartment

While there, we will find our try-out year apartment. During our last visit, we picked three villages where we would like to live — Ghajnsielem, Nadur, and Qala. We’ll reach out to realtors and rental companies before our arrival. Our goal is an apartment available in the first quarter of 2023.

Back In The U.S.

Prepare The Business For Remote Control

The prep is routine by now. Both of us have worked remotely for extended periods. Most of the prep involves notifications to suppliers, accountants, and employees.

Downsize

This is when my kids get their inheritance. Of course, that’s not cash, but all my treasures. We will have the grandest yard sale of all time and donate like crazy to local thrift shops and charities.

Pack And Store

Some things must be kept but not taken to Gozo. Those will be packed and stored at my tiny house, which will be the landing pod should either of us need to return to California.

Pack Four Large Suitcases

For our trial year, we will only take our laptops, cameras, kitchen knives, and four large suitcases, with clothing and personal stuff we just can’t live without.

Head to the airport and begin our try-out year in Gozo, Malta.

destinations, retirement, the one thing we are trying before we retire abroad

Hondoq Bay on GozoPhoto credit: Nejdet Duzen / Shutterstock.com

Our Hopes Are High

We’ve had extended time in Malta. We’ve had some excellent guidance and advice from locals we trust. Also, we’ve burned up the internet researching every topic an expatriate could dream of. Our next big step is our try-out year when we expect to confirm Gozo, Malta, as our retirement home abroad.

Stay tuned next spring for our first 90-days’ report.

For more information on traveling to Malta, check out these articles:

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