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Beautiful beaches, UNESCO World Heritage sites and breathtaking views vie for attention with near constant traffic gridlock, high levels of noise pollution and huge concrete monstrosities. Welcome to Malta.
The islands are situated in the heart of the Mediterranean, 90 minutes by boat from Sicily. In centuries past, their location gave them strategic military importance, leading to a slew of conquests by other civilizations.
The Phoenicians, Romans, Arabs, Normans, Spanish, Knights of St John, French and, most recently, Britain all ruled Malta at various times, and independence arrived barely 50 years ago.
Maltese culture is heavily influenced by past rulers, but it’s also rich and distinctive. The Maltese people even have their own language: a cross between Arabic grammar, a Latin alphabet and vocabulary of French, Italian and English origin.
The unique Maltese identity even extends to the mobile phone market, where two out of the three main carriers are home-grown. Buying a SIM card in Malta is a breeze for travellers, but you might be surprised at the pricing.
Mobile phone costs aren’t as high as they used to be, but they’re still fairly expensive compared to other countries.
Read on to get the lowdown.
Note: Malta is part of the European Union, which introduced new roaming regulations in June 2017. These “roam like at home” rules effectively ended roaming charges across much of Europe, meaning you’ll usually pay no more for calls, texts, and data in other EU countries than you would in the country of purchase.
There are some exceptions and limits, however. Double-check the details at time of purchase if you’re planning to use your SIM elsewhere in the region.
There are four mobile phone operators in Malta. Vodafone and Go are the two largest, and have the lion’s share of the mobile phone market between them.
Melita offers the cheapest rates on the Islands, but should be avoided like the plague. Their customer service and hard-selling tactics are infamous, and have turned them into a company every Malteser loves to hate.
RedTouch Fone is more of a cute quirk rather than an operator to seriously consider. It’s a virtual operator owned by one of the country’s two major political parties.
It’s terribly bad and mainly aimed at the party faithful. In Malta, politics is extremely serious, and attracts faithful followers much like football teams do in, say, England or Italy.
Vodafone is Malta’s market leader, but only by a hair. It has 99% coverage, fast internet and unbeatable customer service. It also has a slick, easy to use website you can use to top up or find the nearest store.
To get a Vodafone SIM, you’ll need to shell out €10, which doesn’t include call credit.
There’s a Vodafone kiosk right outside the arrivals area at Malta’s only international airport, so you can snag one as soon as you land.
Alternatively, you can get one from one of the many Vodafone outlets all over the country, or from an authorised reseller like most stationery stores
English is one of Malta’s two official languages, so finding someone who can understand your requirements isn’t a problem.
Fun fact: Vodafone Malta’s head office is situated in the red building right outside the airport, which is aptly called SkyParks Business Centre.
Vodafone’s pre-paid SIM cards come with a monthly base plan.
The POP Easy plan gives you 100 domestic minutes and 50MB of 4G internet for 28 days at a cost of €9.60
POP Talk gives you 100 domestic minutes, 1000 minutes to other Vodafone numbers, and 50MB of 4G internet for 28 days at a cost of €14.40.
The POP Smart plan costs the same as the POP Talk plan, but gives you 100 domestic minutes, 1000 Vodafone SMS messages and 500MB data.
POP Star, the costliest plan, gives you 100 domestic minutes, 1000 minutes to Vodafone numbers, 1000 Vodafone SMS messages and 500MB of data for €20.80.
If none of those plans offer enough data (and there’s a good chance of that for many travellers), you can add more to most plans. 1GB valid for a week costs five euros, for example, while 3GB to use over 30 days costs €20.
If you’re staying in Malta long-term, you’ll get better value from one of Vodafone’s post-paid RED plans. These start at €32 a month, which gives you 80 domestic minutes, unlimited calls to other Vodafone numbers, and 1.2 GB of Internet.
You’ll need to commit to a 24-month contract, however, and hefty exit fees may apply.
You can top up at one of the various branches around the Islands, from an authorised reseller (most stationery stores are) or online.
If you want to top up online, you’ll need to register for a MyVodafone account on the Vodafone Malta website and pay for your credit using a VISA credit or debit card.
It’s also possible to top up via SMS or through an ATM, but you’ll need a Maltese bank account to do it.
Coverage and Data Speeds
Unless you’re somewhere remote (which is virtually impossible in Malta), coverage black spots are a rarity. Cell signal almost never disappears, and call quality is consistently good.
Unfortunately, LTE data in Malta is a bit of a misnomer. Whilst Vodafone and its competitors advertise fast LTE Internet, the country’s infrastructure still has a lot of catching up to do. This means that getting a LTE icon on your phone’s display often feels like chasing unicorns.
3G/HSPA+ is readily available almost anywhere, however, and at an average of around 15Mbps, isn’t too shabby.
Check out our guides to buying SIM cards in many other countries here.