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Overseas Security Advisory Council
Bureau of Diplomatic Security
U.S. Department of State

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Malta 2020 Crime & Safety Report

This is an annual report produced in conjunction with the Regional Security Office at the U.S. Embassy in Valletta. OSAC encourages travelers to use this report to gain baseline knowledge of security conditions in Malta. For more in-depth information, review OSAC’s Malta country page for original OSAC reporting, consular messages, and contact information, some of which may be available only to private-sector representatives with an OSAC password.

Travel Advisory

The current U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory at the date of this report’s publication assesses Malta at Level 1, indicating travelers should exercise normal precautions. Review OSAC’s report, Understanding the Consular Travel Advisory System.

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

Crime Threats

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Valletta as being a MEDIUM-threat location for crime directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests. Overall, the level of crime in 2019 was similar to 2018. Crimes of opportunity and violent crime do occur. Most street crimes are non-violent and non-confrontational, ranging from scams to petty theft. Theft of cell phones, computers, portable electronics, money, and jewelry is common. Most street criminals do not carry weapons, and are not prone to gratuitous violence. Victims of street crime are often inattentive targets of opportunity. Women should keep purses zipped and wear the shoulder straps of bags across the chest. Keep valuables in front pockets.

In 2019, crime statistics revealed that theft was the predominant criminal offense, making up just under half of the crimes committed in Malta. Compared to figures from 2018, 2019 statistics show a significant decrease in domestic violence (-54%) and fraud (-20%), but sizeable increases in sexual crimes (+21%) as well as retail shoplifting (+26%) and thefts at hotels and restaurants (+26%). Police statistics note 145 sexual offenses in 2019, up from 120 in 2018. There were two documented cases of human trafficking in Malta in 2018 and zero in 2019. Review OSAC’s reports, All That You Should Leave Behind,Hotels: The Inns and Outs, and Considerations for Hotel Security.

Nationwide crime rates are higher in tourist areas, to include St. Julian’s, Mdina, Valletta, Floriana, Sliema, Saint Paul’s Bay, and Ta’ Xbiex.

Densely populated Paceville’s draw is the nightclub and restaurant scene, known for excessive alcohol consumption, large crowds, and heavy-handed tactics of nightclub bouncers that can lead to violence, including some that appears to be racially motivated. Foreign visitors to this area have reported isolated incidents and injuries. Criminals have drugged travelers at bars, and robbed and assaulted them. Monitor your drinks, be aware of belongings (especially smartphones), and avoid confrontations by departing the area should an issue present itself. Review OSAC’s report, Shaken: The Don’ts of Alcohol Abroad.

Exercise caution when using any ATM. Use ATMs inside shopping malls, hotels, and banks, since these are normally high-traffic areas monitored by security guards/cameras. Before approaching the ATM, scan the area for any suspicious persons or activity. Should anyone approach you while you are withdrawing money, immediately cancel the transaction and leave the area. Should you encounter issues while using the ATM, never accept unrequested assistance. Avoid the vicinity of an ATM during servicing. Scan ATMs for any odd or out-of-place device (especially around the area of the card reader), an altered keypad, and/or any other suspicious characteristics. Review OSAC’s reports, The Overseas Traveler’s Guide to ATM Skimmers & Fraud and Taking Credit.

Persons living in Malta should take steps to reduce vulnerability to residential crime. Intrusion alarms, solid perimeter barriers, perimeter lighting, telephone intercom system, and window/door grilles are all part of a comprehensive residential security program.

Violent crime is comparatively lower than in many of Malta’s European Union counterparts. Armed violence and assaults against the public or targeting of foreigners remain uncommon. If an armed individual confronts you, comply immediately, avoid making sudden movements, and do not offer any form of resistance. Criminals could perceive any hesitation on your part as a threat, which may result in unnecessary violence.

Cybersecurity Issues

Computer-related crime continues to be an area of concern for the Maltese, as cybercrimes have risen significantly from a decade ago. This is due partly to the sophisticated nature of Malta’s IT and financial services sectors, where continued growth is expected. In February 2019, a malware incident took Bank of Valletta (BOV) offline for 24 hours. The Malta Information and Technology Agency publishes a National Cyber Security Strategy annually. Review OSAC’s reports, Cybersecurity Basics, Best Practices for Maximizing Security on Public Wi-Fi, and Traveling with Mobile Devices: Trends & Best Practices.

Transportation-Safety Situation

Road Safety and Road Conditions

Traffic moves on the left side of the road. Road conditions vary significantly depending on use, illumination, and state of repair, but are generally fair to good. Exercise caution while traveling on older roads, particularly in smaller villages, due to narrow alleys and inexperienced/irresponsible drivers. Road conditions can and do deteriorate quickly even with small amounts of rain, creating slippery conditions. Many roads also experience washouts during heavy rains. Consequently, minor and major traffic accidents occur frequently on many roadways, and delays can last hours.

Road construction and road wear also present unique safety challenges. This should continue with recent, large-scale infrastructure projects across the country. Potholes pock most secondary roads. Vegetation can grow up to and over the edge of the road, particularly during the rainy season, causing a lack of visibility on bends and concealing hazards at the side of the road. Stone walls, some of which reach great height, usually ring secondary roadways and may limit a driver’s field of vision.

The leading causes of motor vehicle and pedestrian accidents involving U.S. nationals are driver error (e.g. unfamiliar road signs, unusual driving customs/courtesies) and pedestrian hazards; the former is usually due to unfamiliarity with right-side drive vehicles and practices, and simple confusion by motorists driving in a foreign country. For example, double parking is illegal, but the practice is an everyday occurrence on most streets. It is common for traffic to stop abruptly when a delivery truck parks in a travel lane to unload cargo, or when a driver places a car in reverse to parallel park. Pay attention to drivers who may change lanes abruptly to avoid a double-parked car. Right-of-way and yield laws are like those in the U.S., but can seem awkward and confusing for drivers accustomed to driving in larger metropolitan areas, particularly at roundabouts. Unless you are traveling on a priority road, vehicles coming from the directional right have the right-of-way. All drivers should be familiar with navigating roundabout road junctions.

The speed limit is 60 kph (~35 mph) but drops to 30 kph (~20 mph) in most residential areas. There are speed cameras, designated by a pictograph of a camera, throughout the island.

Traffic enforcement practices are lax, and the resulting road culture reflects a more cavalier attitude, often resulting in fender benders and occasional serious accidents. Drivers involved in traffic accidents should attempt to exchange insurance information with the other party and summon a traffic warden. Local law does not require operators involved in a road traffic accident to remain at the scene until police arrive in order to make a report, if there is no personal injury, or if the drivers agree upon the parameters of the accident. This is especially the case in simple front-to-rear end collisions, where you should not expect the police to come. Drivers (and rental cars) must carry a front-to-rear collision form in their vehicle. You can obtain this form from the website of most local insurance companies.

Talking/texting on a cell phone while driving is illegal and highly inadvisable. Fines for the use of mobile devices and other infractions can in some cases reach over €200 for a first offense. In 2017, Malta implemented a penalty point system for all drivers with traffic violations.

Following a September 2019 Transport Malta regulation, the use of electric scooters (e-scooters) in public is permitted; however, riders must be 18, and hold a valid driving license and third-party insurance, making e-scooters equivalent with other power assisted road vehicles. When used on the road, scooter riders must follow all relevant traffic signs. E-scooters are banned from arterial roads, underpasses, and tunnels (with fines of up to €500), but allowed in urban areas and cycle lanes.  Transport Malta is a government body overseeing transportation in Malta.

Thieves can and do snatch valuables through open car windows. Do not get out of the car if there are suspicious looking persons nearby; instead, drive away. Be suspicious of anyone who hails you or tries to get your attention while you are in/near your car.

Review OSAC’s reports, Road Safety Abroad, Driving Overseas: Best Practices, and Evasive Driving Techniques; and read the State Department’s webpage on driving and road safety abroad.

Public Transportation Conditions

The most common form of mass transportation is the bus. Although the fleet of buses is new, schedules are somewhat unreliable. Bus drivers drive aggressively, and have been involved in accidents. Taxis are safe but expensive and do not have meters. Agree on the charge with the driver in advance. Review OSAC’s report, Security In Transit: Airplanes, Public Transport, and Overnights.

Terrorism Threat

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Valletta as being a LOW-threat location for terrorism directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests. There were no acts of indigenous or regional terrorism in Malta in 2019.

There is a continuing threat in Europe from persons planning attacks inspired by major terrorist organizations but conducted on an individual basis. Remain aware of the potential for terrorist attacks against public transportation systems and other tourist infrastructures. Take every precaution to be aware of surroundings and adopt appropriate safety measures to protect yourself while traveling. Exercise particular caution at holiday festivals/events. The U.S. continues to work closely with European allies on the threat from international terrorism, including from ISIS and al-Qa’ida.

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Valletta as being a LOW-threat location for political violence directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests. 2019 saw an increase in political demonstrations in Malta. The Maltese people are very active politically, and frequently gather to voice dissatisfaction with government policies. These demonstrations are almost always peaceful, but travelers should maintain situational awareness and exercise sound judgement when in the vicinity of protest activity. Review OSAC’s report, Surviving a Protest.

Post-specific Concerns

Environmental Hazards

The most common environmental hazard is heavy rain and flash flooding of low-lying roads that may become impassable with 30-45 centimeters (12-18 in) or more of standing water. Typically, roads do not drain well. Flooding impacts key infrastructure (e.g. emergency services, communications, and utilities).

Critical Infrastructure

Malta has a good record of industrial and transportation safety and follows EU guidelines. The Ministry for Transport and Infrastructure is the lead agency overseeing industrial and transport safety: Block B, Triq Francesco Buonamici, Floriana FRN 1700, Tel: +356 2292 2000

Economic Espionage/Intellectual Property Theft

Economic espionage concerns are on par with other EU countries.

Personal Identity Concerns

Malta has undergone a rapid evolution of its LGBTI+ laws, to the point that the country regularly ranks as providing the most progressive LGBTI+ rights in Europe. The government has led the changes, but much of society has quickly adopted the same progressive attitude, breaking from a long history of social conservatism. Malta extended its hate crime laws to offer protection on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity. Same-sex couples can marry under the revised Marriage Law. Malta does not break out statistics covering hate crime offenses, but there is no evidence to suggest that Malta performs negatively in this regard. Review the State Department’s webpage on security for LGBTI+ travelers.

Review the State Department’s webpage on security for female travelers.

Review OSAC’s report, Freedom to Practice, and the State Department’s webpage on security for faith-based travelers.

Very few public or private spaces in Malta are wheelchair accessible. Public transportation and most sidewalks or footpaths, including road crossings, are not accessible for those with mobility challenges. Many apartments lack elevators. Review the State Department’s webpage on security for travelers with disabilities.

Drug-related Crimes

Drug offenses numbered 159 in 2019, down significantly from 348 in 2018, with possession accounting for most drug-related crime. Illegal drugs (e.g. cocaine, heroin, marijuana, synthetic designer drugs) are available. The sale and distribution of drugs often occurs near/around nightclubs. While drug-related criminality does not usually affect U.S. tourists or business travelers, be aware that Malta has the same types of drug-related crime as any major U.S. city.

2019 saw a rash of seizures of containers of bananas from Ecuador that contained large amounts of cocaine. These shipments were bound for Albania, Greece, and Bosnia.

The government has prioritized the arrest and prosecution of offenders; persons caught trafficking narcotics can expect severe penalties and lengthy pre-trial confinement (up to or exceeding two years) ahead of a contested trial. Foreign defendants are a flight risk and rarely receive bail.

Other Concerns

Trials typically last five to seven years and may contain lengthy and sometimes unpredictable delays between hearings. Foreign nationals can expect a denial of bail while a court case is ongoing, which can result in lengthy periods of pre-trial detention ranging from several months to several years. Obtaining no-fee legal aid can be a slow and difficult process, delaying already lengthy judicial proceedings.

Customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning currency restrictions and temporary importation into or export from Malta of items such as firearms, antiquities, or any item that might be deemed to have resale value. Customs authorities encourage the use of an ATA (Admission Temporaire/Temporary Admission) Carnet for the temporary admission of professional equipment, commercial samples and/or goods for exhibitions and fair purposes. Read the State Department’s webpage on customs and import restrictions for information on what you cannot take into or out of other countries.

Police Response

The police emergency lines in Malta are 112 and119. For local first responders, refer to the Embassy’s Emergency Assistance page. Authorities often contact the U.S. Embassy regarding incidents involving U.S. nationals.

The Malta Police Force (MPF) is the only law enforcement agency in the country. The MPF comprises several divisions: Administration, Criminal investigations, Drugs, Vice/Economic Crime, Protective Services, Special Branch, Forensic Science Laboratory, and Community Policing. The police force divides into 13 districts: 12 on Malta and one on Gozo.

While the MPF is responsible for internal security, maintaining law and order, and enforcing the law, the Armed Forces of Malta may assist if requested. The appointed Police Commissioner is under the supervision of the Minister for Home Affairs and National Security.

The Armed Forces of Malta are responsible for external defense, with an emphasis on protecting the country's territorial waters and airspace. The Commander of the Armed Forces is also under the supervision of the Minister for Home Affairs and National Security.

While incidents of police detention or harassment have occurred, they are not common. Should an encounter with police occur, respect and cooperation are the best ways to avoid problems. Do not do anything (e.g. physical resistance, attempts to flee) that could put personal safety at risk. Download the State Department’s Crime Victims Assistance brochure.

The fire emergency lines in Malta are 112 and199.

Medical Emergencies

The medical emergency lines in Malta are 112 and196. Medical facilities are above average, and generally offer the standard of care available in most developed countries. Customer service standards are lower than in the United States, there are cultural differences with regard to communication, and there may be long waiting times for non-urgent medical care. Medical clinic facilities provide limited, basic medical treatment; several major hospitals offer comprehensive medical treatment. Find contact information for available medical services and available air ambulance services on the U.S. Embassy website.

Pharmacies carry most prescription drugs. Many drugs are available without a prescription. However, plan accordingly and bring your needed prescriptions with you.

The U.S. Department of State strongly recommends purchasing international health insurance before traveling internationally. Review the State Departments webpage on insurance overseas.

The CDC offers additional information on vaccines and health guidance for Malta.

OSAC Country Council Information

Due to its small geographic size and licensing agreements with U.S. firms held by Maltese Limited Liability Corporations (LLC), the OSAC in Malta is informal and meets occasionally during the year, supplemented by regular Regional Security Outreach to U.S. organizations in Malta. Contact OSAC’s Europe team for more information or to join.

U.S. Embassy Contact Information

Ta’Qali National Park, Attard, ATD 4000

Opening Hours: 0800-1630, closed on U.S. and Maltese holidays.

Embassy Operator: +356-2561-4000, Marine Post One: +356-2561-4150

Website: http://mt.usembassy.gov/

Helpful Information

Before you travel, consider the following resources:

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