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 mean the country’s expat population is nowhere near as large as those of other Caribbean destinations such as Costa Rica.
However, this should in no way dissuade an adventurous expat from moving to Cuba. Cuba is nothing if not an exciting, new experience. Those who take the plunge will encounter a political system that’s very different from the one they may be used to. Decades of American embargos on Cuba coupled with policies that have historically inhibited foreign investment have stunted economic growth.
In recent years, the country has been slowly implementing reforms to the economy. There have also 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 farming and exporting of goods such as sugar, tobacco and coffee, and the tourism industry is growing.
Cuba has also managed to build up reputable education and healthcare systems, and the medical tourism industry has played an important role in the country’s economy for a number of years. However, the poor infrastructure leaves much to be desired. There are very few international schools in Cuba – all of which are in the country’s capital, Havana.
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 be an issue, so expats should avoid walking around Havana alone at night and make sure to use only legitimate taxis and tour operators.
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 11.5 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: Communist 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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