Travel advice and warnings: Is Malta safe for tourists?
(Last updated: April 2017)
The question of whether Malta is a safe holiday destination is becoming increasingly common. And that’s no surprise with safety being a top concern for travellers amidst reports of terror attacks across Europe.
So is Malta really safe to travel to?
The short answer: Yes, it is – much safer than many other tourist destinations in Europe.
With tension and conflict in North Africa and the Middle East it seems Malta’s geographical location may be uncomfortably close to all of the unrest in the area but the risk of terror attacks is relatively low in Malta and no major warnings have been issued as yet.
Crime rates in Malta are relatively low and nature’s worst threats are thunderstorms and the occasional flooding which rarely cause harm to people.
The more common threats to traveller safety are:
- Petty crimes such as pickpocketing and other types of theft
- Occasional incidents of violence in nighlife areas (most notably Paceville and Buġibba)
- Road accidents
This article and your questions
Although Malta is a safe country in general, in this article I’ve collected a few items to be aware of to ensure your and your loved one’s’ safety and security while travelling to Malta.
If any of your questions are not answered here, please leave a comment in the bottom of this article and I’ll be happy to help!
Is Malta safe from terrorism?
Since Malta is a relatively neutral state with few (if any) enemies internationally, it’s unlikely the threat of terrorist attacks will increase in the foreseeable future.
Crime levels and pickpocketing
Crime rates in Malta are relatively low compared to the other 39 European countries covered in the most recent report on crime trends by Eurostat.
Petty crimes like pickpocketing and handbag-snatching are more common tourist hotspots, particularly in:
Gangs of pickpockets actually tend to be foreign themselves and reports seem to come and go, as and when these groups are caught by the police.
It’s difficult to predict how much at risk you are in tourist areas when it comes to petty crimes such as pickpocketing, so it’s important to be vigilant and look after your belongings.
February 2017 update: Reports of pickpocketing in Valletta have increased recently.
How to avoid falling victim to pickpockets
- Keep any bags and purses in front of you in crowded areas, with the flaps facing your body
- In less busy areas keep bags tucked under the arms and straps short
- Don’t display jewellery or cash to avoid being targeted
- Be aware of your surroundings
Reports on crime in Maltese media
It’s not uncommon to come across news articles from local media outlets involving accidents and other crimes, and it’s understandable that it might raise concerns if you’re looking to travel to Malta.
However, keep in mind that Malta is a small country where even small incidents like fist fights in a bar make major headlines.
You have to see reports of crime within that perspective. Overall crime rates in annual reports are still well below EU average.
Is it safe to walk outside in the evening/during the night?
Walking outside at night is perfectly safe in most parts of the countries, definitely in the more touristy areas.
There are a few exceptions, however.
Areas of concern
The only real areas of concern are Paceville (the centre of nightlife in Malta, which is part of St. Julian’s), the outskirts of the harbour-side village of Marsa and the locality of Gżira. The latter two are unlikely to be places you’ll visit or drive through (even accidentally) so I won’t go into much detail there.
When it comes to Paceville, unfortunately, security has been lacking here in recent years. Although the area isn’t considered to be a “high risk” location, it pays to be vigilant and to stay out of trouble.
Although there is a small police presence, they haven’t always been proven to be very effective in preventing and remediating crime in the area on weekend nights. Bouncers provide private security for nightclubs but don’t have the best reputation for being correct in their dealings, unfortunately.
If you decide to go to clubbing at Paceville, stick to these recommendations and you should be fine:
- If a fight breaks out, stay out of trouble and don’t argue with bouncers. The best you can do is to call the police (+356 2122 4001 or on emergency number 112 in case of emergency situations)
- Always mind your drinks. Rape is rare, but not unheard of.
Safety at sea
There are few big threats or surprises to safety at sea if you use common sense. These are a few things to keep in mind to keep yourself away from harm:
- You can swim safely pretty much anywhere, but the golden rule is Swim where the locals swim. Also, be careful if you decide to go swim during the winter months, as it’s not uncommon for even experienced swimmers to get caught off-guard by underwater currents.
- If it’s stormy or particularly windy, don’t stand at the edge of rocky coastal areas. It’s not unheard of for people to be swept into the sea by large waves lashing the coast because they were standing too close to the water’s edge.
- Jumping off high cliffs in the sea might earn you some street cred with your friends, but if you risk life and limb and things go wrong, you’re a fool. Think twice – accidents happen and paralysis and sometimes death are the result.
- In most of the larger swimming areas and beaches, swimmers’ zones are clearly marked off with buoys to ensure no boats enter. In other places, those safety measures may not be present. Accidents involving boats are rare, but it always pays to be vigilant.
- Natural threats are limited. The most common, apart from the weather, are jellyfish. Jellyfish stings are common but rarely pose a big health risk. It’s always worth checking with the locals whether any blooms of jellyfish have been reported. Although Great White Sharks do inhabit the Mediterranean around Malta, shark attacks are uncommon.
Malta is one of the few countries in Europe where spring hunting is still allowed. The season is usually opened around mid-April and ends around the first week of May. Hunting is allowed from two hours before sunrise until two hours after sunrise.
If you decide to go for walks in the countryside that mean you’ll want to be aware of your surroundings. Not so much because of the risk of getting hit by gunshot fire, but more for trespassing into fields owned (or claimed to be owned) by hunters. These privately owned fields are usually marked with RTO (Restricted To Outsiders). Incidents are rare, but be aware of your surroundings when you’re out and about in the countryside.
Road safety in Malta a nutshell: Maltese drivers aren’t very courteous in general and speeding isn’t uncommon. Anticipate and be aware of your surroundings and you should do fine. More detailed info here: Driving in Malta: Top tips, facts and FAQs.
A few statistics from a 2015 Road safety report published by the European Commission:
- Malta has the lowest road fatality rate in the EU. Considering there around 350,000 cars driving around on a small, densely populated island with a population of around 450,000 people, that’s a bit of a miracle.
- Having said that, you’re safer behind the steering wheel or on a bus than riding a motorcycle or bike. Malta has a few narrow roads with few dedicated cycling lanes and numerous tricky situations with poor visibility. Particularly motorcycle and bicycle accidents aren’t uncommon.
- Roads can easily become slippery with (light) rain and some roads are of pretty poor quality, so be aware if you choose to drive.
- Taxi drivers and large vehicles own the road. You’re better off expecting that and anticipating their moves.
The weather in Malta rarely poses a serious threat. The only exceptions are:
- The sun. Without adequate skin protection, UV-levels can cause a threat to health up to and including melanoma (skin cancer).
- Tropical thunderstorms with sudden, heavy rainfall that can cause flooding in lower lying areas like Msida, Birkirkara, and Qormi on the island of Malta. These types of storms are most common around September/October but aren’t very frequent.
Do you have any other questions about safety in Malta?
Leave a comment below and I’ll provide an answer shortly!