If you are seeking the best quality of life in the world, you won’t be missing the mark if you head for Malta.

The island has nearly topped International Living magazine’s Quality of Life Index for 2011, ranking third in the world, hot on the heels of the US and New Zealand, particularly for its sizzling temperatures, but not only...

To come out ahead, a country must be an all-around good pick, not just a standout in a couple of areas, and that explains why the top finishers are developed nations.

The index identifies places where people live well on the cheap, pay less tax, enjoy better weather and take advantage of emerging markets; where they can best escape, retire, start over or take off on a grand adventure…

Published annually, the league table rates 192 countries in nine categories, including cost of living, culture, economy, environment, freedom, health, infrastructure, safety and risk, and climate, to present overall ratings for their comparative qualities of life.

“And for the record,” says International Living editor Eoin Bassett, “we’re biased. Our sources, staff and contributing editors are all influenced by a Western bias. We have definite, preconceived ideas about what constitutes a high or low standard of living, what constitutes culture and entertainment, and what climate is the most enjoyable.”

The criteria for 2011’s Quality of Life Index, which is the only one of its kind and has been produced for the last 30 years, have been revised and updated, he said.

Official sources and statistics are scoured so it is not surprising that the US, with the world’s biggest economy, tops the index – on a strictly statistical basis, it is hard to beat.

But several satisfied expats are living proof that, in return for sacrificing some of the convenience of the US, a truly healthy, happy and more affordable life overseas is possible, the index finds.

“Our Quality of Life Index cannot tell you where to find a midnight steakhouse, a 24-hour convenience store or a mall with everything under one roof. What it can tell you is that with a warm, dry, Mediterranean climate, low crime rates, good medical facilities and English-speaking population, Malta is a good place to start looking for a life overseas,” Mr Bassett says.

The first-world retirement haven is New Zealand; Iceland, Switzerland and Costa Rica top the environment category; while Zimbabwe and Malta tie for first place in climate, although they are not considered cheap.

Malta also beats the US and New Zealand when it comes to leisure and culture, and the environment, the index shows.

Barbara Bode, who lived in Malta for several years and grew to love its lifestyle, food and quality of life, maintains that “every day is like a holiday” here.

Highlighting assets such as its “history, sunshine, serene sailing and crashing waves along rocky shores”, she adds that communication is easy.

Real estate may be pricey and upscale stores too, but she has found ways of saving money – and making new friends – by shopping at the green grocers and butchers early in the morning.

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