Many prospective expats considering a move to Cuba are deterred by its communist heritage and its uncertain international relations. The difficulty in meeting the requirements for settling in Cuba means the country’s expat population is nowhere near as large as those of other Caribbean destinations such as Costa Rica. That said, this should not dissuade an adventurous expat from moving to Cuba. Cuba is nothing if not an exciting, new experience.
Living in Cuba as an expat
Those who do decide to take the plunge will encounter a political system that’s quite different from the one they may be used to. This is something that expats will need to be aware of before moving to the country. Decades of American embargos on Cuba coupled with policies that have historically inhibited foreign investment have also stunted economic growth in the country.
That said, over the last decade, the country has been slowly implementing reforms to the economy. There have been efforts to decrease the number of people in the state’s employ and increase involvement in private enterprise. Free-trade zones have opened up, and import-export laws have been relaxed. Greater numbers of Cubans in the workforce are self-employed and pay tax to the government. These changes suggest a bright future with many investment opportunities for expats.
The biggest industries in Cuba are the manufacturing, construction, tourism and agriculture sectors as well as the exporting of goods such as sugar, tobacco and coffee. Expats looking to move to Cuba will need a job offer before they can apply for a work permit, and they generally find work for international businesses involved in tourism or industries such as mining and energy.
On the whole, Cuba is a relatively safe country. The biggest dangers are from natural disasters and poor infrastructure. Expats should take note that the hurricane season runs from June to November, and extreme weather can be a safety issue. Crime, especially 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 a fairly low 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 respectively, attained a lower ranking in the survey. This is good news, as it confirms Cuba's relative affordability when compared to other expat destinations.
Rent and everyday costs are affordable in Cuba, but expats should be aware that local salaries are low and it may be difficult to live a comfortable life 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 built reputable education and healthcare systems, and the medical tourism industry has played a key role in the country’s economy for a number of years. That said, the poor infrastructure leaves much to be desired. There are few international schools in Cuba – all of which are in the country’s capital, Havana. That said, 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 opportunity to enjoy the outdoors by spending a day on the beach, or doing activities such as kayaking and skiing. Town squares also often have fun things for kids to do, like enjoying a carousel ride or playing an impromptu game of baseball 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. In summer, the heat can get uncomfortable, 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).
There are both pros and cons to choosing Cuba as a destination for an expat experience. While the country boasts a rich culture and interesting history, living in Cuba long term will certainly require a degree of adjustment.
Population: About 11.3 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: Socialist state
Major religions: Catholicism
Main language: Spanish
Money: Cuban Peso (CUP) and the Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC), both of 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.
Time: GMT -4
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: Cars in Cuba drive on the right-hand side of the road. The public transport system is good in urban areas, and taxis are abundant and reasonably priced.
"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.
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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