Those moving to Cuba should be prepared to step into a vibrant tapestry of colours and sounds, a land where the warmth of its people rivals that of its climate. Beyond the clichéd images of vintage cars and white sandy beaches lies a rich mosaic of daily life that beckons with rhythm and resilience. The streets hum with music that has trickled through generations, and the air is as thick with history as it is with the scent of fresh tobacco and roasting coffee beans.
The island’s capital, Havana, presents a living museum of architecture and atmosphere, where each faded facade and cobbled street tells a story. That said, to live in Cuba is to embrace a lifestyle that prioritises simplicity and community over material wealth – a shift from the hustle of modern metropolises.
The Cuban spirit, undampened by years of economic hardships, is evident in the city’s vibrant street life and a culture rich in tradition and solidarity. For those ready to immerse themselves in the nuances of Cuban culture, the experiences gained are as enriching as the island’s storied heritage.
Living in Cuba as an expat
Expats moving to Cuba will find a distinct political and cultural landscape deeply rooted in its history and principles. While it’s vital to approach this with an open mind, it’s equally important to understand that decades of US embargoes and international trade policies have presented massive challenges to Cuba’s economic potential.
Over the last decade, Cuba has been navigating a series of economic reforms. Efforts have been made to decrease the number of people employed by the state and increase private enterprise engagements. Free-trade zones have been established, and import-export laws have been relaxed.
Consequently, a growing number of Cubans are venturing into self-employment. While these changes indicate diversifying economic avenues, they also come with their own set of challenges and implications for the local populace. This evolving landscape may offer numerous investment opportunities for expats, especially those with more substantial financial resources.
The most prominent industries in Cuba are manufacturing, construction, tourism and agriculture, with exports of goods such as sugar, tobacco and coffee. It’s noteworthy that despite facing numerous economic challenges, Cuba has managed to maintain self-sufficiency in several sectors, showcasing its adaptability and commitment to national well-being.
Expats considering a move to Cuba will need a job offer before they can apply for a work permit, and will generally work for international businesses involved in tourism or industries such as mining and energy.
On the whole, Cuba is a relatively safe country. Regarding safety, expats should be aware of the hurricane season, which runs from June to November, and be prepared for occasional infrastructure challenges. Crime, specifically opportunistic theft, can also be an issue, so expats should avoid walking around Havana alone at night and make sure to use only legitimate taxis and tour operators.
Cost of living in Cuba
Cuba has an affordable cost of living, with Mercer’s Cost of Living Survey for 2023 ranking Havana as 225th most expensive out of 227 cities worldwide. Only Karachi and Islamabad in Pakistan, at 226th and 227th, attained a lower ranking in the survey. This is good news, as it confirms Cuba’s relative affordability compared to other expat destinations.
It’s worth mentioning that some products are simply unavailable for any price, while others can only be found through the island’s informal economy.
Rent and everyday costs are affordable in Cuba, but expats should understand that local salaries are low, and it may be challenging to live a comfortable expat lifestyle if working for a local company. Many expats who relocate to Cuba therefore work remotely for a company back home. The higher income allows expats to enjoy the low cost of living and island lifestyle.
Expat families and children
Cuba has been internationally recognised for its robust education and healthcare systems, which testify to its commitment to public welfare. Furthermore, the medical tourism industry has flourished due to the high standard of care available at a fraction of the cost in many Western countries. That said, infrastructure development is an ongoing challenge. There are few international schools in Cuba – all in the country’s capital, Havana. These schools offer a good standard of education, although fees are high.
Cuba is a family-friendly destination. With its miles of coastline, expat families will have plenty of opportunities to enjoy the outdoors by spending a day on the beach or doing activities such as kayaking and snorkelling. Town squares also often have fun things for kids to do, like enjoying a carousel ride or playing an impromptu baseball game with other local children.
Climate in Cuba
Cuba has a semitropical climate with two distinct seasons: a rainy season from May to October and a dry season from November to April. Generally, the weather in Cuba is sunny, hot and humid. The heat can get uncomfortable in summer, with high humidity and temperatures reaching 100°F (38°C). That said, those living on the coast will find the sea breeze tends to make conditions more pleasant during this time of the year. Throughout the year, the average temperatures range between 70°F (21°C) and 81°F (27°C).
As with any destination, there are considerations when choosing Cuba for an expat experience. Beyond its rich culture and captivating history, adapting to Cuba’s unique socio-economic landscape can be a rewarding journey, albeit with its set of challenges.
Population: About 11 million
Capital city: Havana
Geography: Cuba is the largest country in the Caribbean. Most of the main island is relatively flat, with some hilled areas. The southwest of the island is home to the Sierra Maestra mountain range.
Political system: Unitary one-party socialist republic
Major religions: Catholicism, Santería and other Afro-Cuban religions, Protestantism
Main language: Spanish
Money: Cuban Peso (CUP), which can be divided into 100 centavos. Expats will be able to find ATMs in most urban centres.
Tipping: Tips are generally expected and appreciated in Cuba. A tip of 10 percent is considered the standard, with more being offered for excellent service.
Electricity: 110V/220V, 60Hz. Plugs with two flat blades or two round pins can be used throughout the country.
Internet TLD: .cu
International dialling code: +53
Emergency number: 106
Transport and driving: In Cuba, cars drive on the right-hand side of the road. The public transport system is sound in urban areas, and taxis are abundant and reasonably priced.
What do expats say about moving to Cuba?
"Cubans, on the whole, have a wicked sense of humour which also makes it much easier and fun to face all the challenges of living here". Read more about Conner's take on the challenges and triumphs of expat life in Cuba in her interview with Expat Arrivals.
Image Credit: Havana Street by JF Martin on Unsplash
Are you an expat living in Cuba?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to Cuba. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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