I moved to Cuba in January 2021. It’s been an incredible experience but I have to admit, there are pros and cons to living in Cuba. And those I’d like to share with you here, plus other things I think are useful to know about life in Cuba.
In the old days, Cuba used to be the hottest holiday place for the rich and famous on the planet. Havana was the place to be, to party, and dance the night away.
Back then, all the movie stars came to Hotel Nacional in Havana to see and be seen. The world-famous mafia boss Al Capone even had a huge mansion in Varadero where he threw lavish parties!
When you think about Cuba today, you probably picture a noisy old revolution, mental images of Che Guevara and Fidel Castro, and pastel-colored classic American cars roaming the streets of Havana.
Cuba is still a sparkling country, that has been shrouded in mystery and myths for decades. A Caribbean paradise island that pretty much has been closed off from the world from 1959 until recently.
Life in Cuba Today
As the country has started opening up to the world, tourists and TEFL graduates have started pouring into Cuba. Maybe you have already been here, and were blown away by the vibrant ambiance (like me)?
Or you have seen images of the beaches of Varadero, people dancing in the streets of Havana, and are fascinated by the mystic atmosphere?
Also Read: 3 Historical Sites in Cuba Not to Miss
If for whatever reason you have a dream of living on this mesmerizing island, there are things you need to know. About Cuba, the history and culture, visa regulations, and what is special about living in Cuba in comparison to most other countries.
Although I passionately recommend Cuba as a travel destination for all breathing beings with a desire to explore, living in Cuba might not be for everyone.
It’s complicated, and I’ll tell you all about it. Let’s just get the geography straight first.
Where is Cuba
Cuba is a beautiful island nation lying like a center point in the Caribbean Sea, surrounded by the coasts of North, Central, and South America as well as the other Caribbean islands.
In fact, Cuba is an archipelago consisting of more than 4000 sunny islands, where the two biggest are the main island of Cuba, and the Isla de Juventud: the Island of Youth.
About two million Cubans live in the capital Havana, which in my opinion is a magical city of huge bucket-list qualities. Around 500.000 Cubans live in Santiago de Cuba, which is the Cuban capital of the carnival, and the rest of the population is spread across the island in little towns and villages.
Having a Caribbean climate, there are hot summer temperatures all year round. A little colder in the winter, which is the dry season, and warmer and more humid in the summer, the wet season. Beware of daily showers and the occasional tropical storm, in the Cuban wet season, which can be a bit intense.
Cuba is also home to no less than nine UNESCO World Heritage Sites and has a myriad of historic, architectural, natural, and sea wonders to show off. The adventures and sites are endless.
Interesting Things to Know About Cuba
What looks like “Cuban culture” at first glance today, really is a complex mix of heritages from three different continents and four centuries.
You find the gorgeous architecture brought by the old colonial European rulers in the 15th Century, spread all around the big cities, Havana, Trinidad, and Santiago de Cuba.
European Catholicism and the African colorful Santeria religion that arrived involuntarily with African slaves a few centuries back have merged into a strange co-existence worshipping in the same churches.
You will hear and feel the music everywhere, dance and religion intertwined. Cuban life is filterless, intense, and loud.
And lastly, a century of a love and hate relationship with the USA has shaped Cuba both before and after Fidel Castro abruptly took over on New Year’s Eve in 1958.
Today, people wear t-shirts with the American flag, the American dream is larger than life, but the dollar is banned.
Moving to Cuba
Is it possible at all to move to Cuba as a foreigner? The short answer is no, you cannot move to Cuba unless you are a Cuban citizen.
However, you can still live in Cuba, and within the laws, you can actually stay here indefinitely.
I will uncomplicate.
To move permanently to Cuba, you need to be a citizen, or you need a visa that permits a longer stay. To become a citizen, you need to marry a Cuban, or you can apply for citizenship on your own accord.
If you fall in love and marry a Cuban, you can apply for citizenship, but it is a lengthy process and includes a lot of paperwork.
If you want to become a citizen on your own accord, the process is even longer, also with a lot of paperwork, and solid arguments for why you desire citizenship without a spouse. Difficult, but it can be done.
If you don’t want to opt for all that, you can still live in Cuba almost indefinitely. You just need to find the type of visa that suits your needs.
Cuba Visa Requirements
What you might need to live in Cuba may be a tourist visa, a student visa, a family visa, or a work visa.
You can stay for three months in Cuba with a normal tourist visa, which is also called a tourist card. After that, you just need to take a weekend in another country, buy a new tourist visa, and voila; you can stay for another three months.
In reality, it is possible to live in Cuba indefinitely on a tourist visa, as long as you jump the border every three months.
A family visa lets you stay up to six months before you need to take a trip out of the country, and then it is the same procedure as above.
If you want to study in Cuba, you need to apply to and get accepted at a university or school that qualifies for a student visa. Then you can stay for as long as your planned education lasts.
You may try to find a job in Cuba, but it is difficult as Cubans are prioritized, and the pay is also very low. Very few foreigners would be able to live on this salary, without the right to governmental food stamps that the Cubans have.
A better option would be trying to find a position in an international company operating in Cuba, like travel agencies or hotels.
Living in Cuba as a Foreigner
As with any other country, there are pros and cons to living in Cuba.
If you decide to live in Cuba, you will enjoy the warmth of the people, the happy and vibrant lifestyle, the agreeable climate, and an inviting, intense, and colorful culture.
The quality of education and healthcare is considered excellent; however, Cuba is not a particularly technologically advanced nation. The bureaucracy is extensive, and everything is on paper.
There is also one particular aspect of living in Cuba as a foreigner that is a bit different from living in many other countries as an ex-pat. That is that the locals, the Cubans, generally can not travel abroad for various reasons.
Holidays, studying, or working abroad is something most Cubans can only dream about, which is something you will notice in your interaction. Foreigners represent The Outside World, a sphere most Cubans have never experienced firsthand.
Also, as a foreigner, you represent wealth, prosperity, and possibly a helping hand. Because of this, you may be subject to an interest that may seem a little intense.
How is Life in Cuba
In Cuba today, life is complicado, everything has an official and an unofficial side. There is a white and a black market. A mandatory job, and a job that provides money. A national currency, and currency that has value, which is any currency but the national one.
Sanctions are still in place from the USA, and socialist principles are still in place by the Cuban government. This will affect people living here, including you.
Because of a complicated history with general shortcomings for decades, Cubans are some of the most resourceful, innovative, and creative people I have ever met.
When something breaks (which happens a lot), and a gadget or spare part is needed, someone always has something that is almost a match, and they make it work.
Intriguingly, the still socialist-run one-party state of Cuba is in certain aspects the most capitalist country I have ever seen. Capitalist principles are the main drivers of any black market of the world, and Cuba is no different. In Cuba today, many commodities are scarce, but if you have the money you can get anything.
This means, in Cuba, you can live anywhere on the scale from extreme luxury lifestyles to real simple living, whatever you can afford, and prefer.
But other things will also affect your daily life and there are some more things you need to know before you start a moving-to-Cuba-project.
So let’s take a look at the pros and cons of actually moving to this beautiful, weird, and at times incomprehensible paradisiacal island.
The Pros of Moving to Cuba
The Caribbean weather is a no-brainer. Few places can beat the Caribbean climate, with super nice temperatures all year long. Well, almost. During the summer months the temperature and humidity are a little over the comfy zone but being able to leave the house all year round in flip flops is great.
Cuba is perfect for watersports. Scuba diving, snorkeling, fishing, and a lot of activities that are connected to the sea.
There are music and dance everywhere in Cuba, no Cuban can live without it. There is an extremely outgoing social life, and people live close together leaving very little time and space for “me-time”. Your neighbor may start playing music on a nightclub sound level, at 8 am.
This may be weird for a less warm-blooded (European or North American) person. I list it on the pros side though, so if you are an introvert you will just have to adjust accordingly.
Cuba offers stunning nature experiences both on land and in the sea, eco reserves, and coral reefs alike. The country boasts several protected natural parks to explore, and is also home to a diverse aquamarine life.
The cost of living in Cuba is still decent. You can live rather cheap in Cuba, by European or American standards. By Cuban standards, however, a lot of things are now very expensive as the pandemic and currency reforms have caused dramatic inflation on the Cuban peso.
And lastly, if you travel to Cuba now, your presence will contribute to rebuilding an economy that has taken a heavy hit during the pandemic. That may not be your personal goal for staying in Cuba, but consider it a little perk on the pro’s side.
The Cons of Moving to Cuba
Shopping for most things in Cuba is difficult, and many items are hard to find. As the country is subject to sanctions, there are shortages of a lot of commodities in most categories, including foods, pharmacy items, and hygiene products.
If you have the money, you can get almost everything you need on the black market. This may sound dodgy, but shopping on the “black market” in Cuba today is as common as shopping in a store, it is just a form of re-selling what you have. At a black market price, of course.
Wifi is slow and expensive, provided by the monopoly provider Etecsa. You might also be sanctioned away from the online services you need, so it is a difficult country for being a digital nomad if you work online.
As I currently am doing exactly that, what I can tell you is that it is a bit difficult, but it is doable if you are motivated to be here.
You need a really good VPN to have normal internet access, and still, there may be pages or services you can not access due to trade restrictions.
So, Is It Possible to Move to Cuba?
Well, yes, it is. I moved to Cuba in January 2021 and have lived in Havana through most of the pandemic with the challenges and rewards that come with that.
But whether you should move to Cuba is a different question. With the current circumstances, this is not a country for everyone, it is more like an acquired taste.
If you want to thrive in Cuba, you need to be a person who loves to be outside your comfort zone. You definitely need to see the value of experiencing life from all complicated angels, and you probably should enjoy learning how to find your way and take on a challenge.
And it helps a lot to speak Spanish.
If you go all-in on this, you will be rewarded with a lot of insight. The warmth of the Cuban people, getting to know the Cuban culture, maybe learning a new language, and learning to handle a different life. And after a while, you might become a respected Yumaas well.
If you love the contrasts of the world, to feel that you are truly living, and appreciate learning the authentic way (not just watching 60 minutes or National Geographic) Cuba might just be perfect for you!
What do you think? Did this inspire you to try living in Cuba, or do you find the idea is a bit daunting?
- Why Moving Abroad is Such a Valuable Experience
- Important Things to Consider Before Moving to Another Country
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Is Cuba a good country to live in? ›
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.What you need to move to Cuba? ›
To move permanently to Cuba, you need to be a citizen, or you need a visa that permits a longer stay. To become a citizen, you need to marry a Cuban, or you can apply for citizenship on your own accord.Do and don'ts in Cuba? ›
- #1 DO BRING CASH (USD OR EURO) ...
- #2 DO USE ROAMING TEXT MESSAGES. ...
- #3 DO KEEP YOUR BOARDING PASS. ...
- #4 DO TIP AT RESTAURANTS. ...
- #5 DO BRING ALL TOILETRIES AND PLENTT OF SUNSCREEN. ...
- #6 DO BRING EAR PLUGS. ...
- #7 Do print all travel documents before departure. ...
- #8 Do go salsa dancing.
Although Cuba is generally a safe country to visit, a trip to Cuba may expose you to “minor” crimes such as currency scams, pickpocketing, and theft. You should also be aware of threats to your health like contaminated tap water, COVID-19, mosquito-borne diseases, and terrible road conditions if you are driving.What is considered rude in Cuba? ›
CUBAN CULTURE: Taboos (especially for travelers).
Try to avoid these taboos when in Cuba: Spitting on the ground or blowing your nose in public. Taking pictures of anyone (without first asking their permission). Littering (this is not only rude, but it's also against the law).
For properties in less desirable areas, costs range from 5,000 to 25,000 Cuban convertible pesos, known as CUCs. Others near central, tourist or seaside areas bring prices from 50,000 to 1 million CUCs.Where is the best place to live in Cuba? ›
- Havana. Liveability. $863. 2.14M.
- Matanzas. Liveability. $878. 145K.
- Guines. Liveability. $1198. 66.9K.
- Artemisa. Liveability. $1170. 59.1K.
- Cardenas. Liveability. $1193. 86.7K.
- Holguin. Liveability. 350K.
- Santa Clara. Liveability. $1170. 247K.
- Santiago de Cuba. Liveability. $1238. 445K.
The cost of living in Cuba is 35.53% lower than in the United States. Moreover, expenses are significantly lower in all categories. Whether it's groceries, restaurants, or rent, you'll pay much less than you would in any part of America. Rent prices, for example, are 61.85%.Is it safe to travel Cuba? ›
The world tourism body FITUR considers Cuba the safest country for tourism. Cuba is exceptional. No drugs, guns, gangs, and consequent violent crime. No terrorism, kidnappings, or mass shootings.Is Cuba a good place to travel? ›
Cuba is a safe country for tourists and a great destination to visit.
How much cash should I bring to Cuba? ›
We recommend that you bring as much money (in cash) as you would for any other trip of the same duration. As a general guideline, a minimum of $100 per day is recommended for incidentals and of course, if you are thinking about purchasing artwork, or other types of souvenirs, you may want to bring more.Why can't Americans go to Cuba? ›
The U.S. government state department placed an embargo on trade between Cuba and the United States of America in 1962. Until this day, it makes travel to Cuba harder than you might think, but not impossible.