Cuba is an interesting study in extremes. It’s often thought of as a dangerous location run by Communists, a place better avoided than visited. A country that loathes America and everything it stands for. But that’s simply not the case. Cuba is one of the largest draws in the Caribbean (and the top draw according to some stats). Americans are frequent and welcome guests (although it does require some maneuvering to go there legally). And while you will want to be careful and avoid venturing too far off the beaten path, the danger to foreigners is no more so than any other island in the region. Communist government? Yes. But it’s not as bad as you’re probably thinking it is.
Living and working in Cuba can be challenging, but like so much in life, that often makes it that much more sweet when you finally pull it off. The country is beautiful. The people are friendly. And the culture is a vibrant and dynamic mix of its past.
A Bit of Background
Officially called the Republic of Cuba, the island nation has a population just under twelve million. Cuba attracts a lot of tourists to its 5-star resorts and gorgeous beaches throughout the year, with the bulk of them coming from Canada and the European Union. That said, Americans can and do visit as well, although they have to jump through a few more hoops to get there. The Cuban Revolution on January 1, 1959 saw the country become a Communist nation, and it continues to be so today. But, things have changed for the better, even if ever so slightly. The fall of the USSR left Cuba without its largest benefactor for support, and as a result, the government has implemented some changes to business and the economy. The capital city of Havana, with its two million plus inhabitants, remains an intriguing destination for many people. You will see extremes of poverty and luxury (sometimes right beside each other), but Cuba has a lot to offer (lifestyle, culture, history, natural beauty).
Visas and Immigration
You will require a visa to visit Cuba, as either a tourist or for business reasons. The tourist visa (also called a Tourist Card) is easy to get at the Cuban Embassy or Consulate nearest you. They’re generally good for a stay of up to 30 days, and renewable for an additional 30 days (Canadian citizens can get one for up to 90 days, renewable for an additional 90 days).
If you’re going for business or employment reasons, you’ll need a business visa. The process is straightforward, but be aware that you will likely need a letter from a Cuban employer or company is support of your application. Tourism is hands-down the largest employment industry on the island. And if you’re working in Cuba, you will more than likely have to pay income tax, which is calculated based on your length of stay and total income (tax can be anywhere from 10-50%).
Foreigners can apply for permanent residency, but everything I’ve read on the subject says it is a lengthy, frustrating, and often impossible task.
Check out the diplomatic missions in Canada, Australia, United Kingdom and the United States for more information and downloadable application forms.
Finding appropriate housing in Cuba can be tricky, albeit not impossible. There are numerous resorts and hotels catering to the tourism trade, and you may opt for that route. But if you’d rather find an apartment or villa, it does get a lot harder. The cost varies wildly depending on location, amenities, proximity to the beach, and even individual landlords. Look around before you commit, and ideally SEE the property first-hand before signing anything. Ask a lot of questions about blackouts, repairs, security, and so forth.
A few of the more popular housing websites include Extended Stay Cuba, Havana Casa Particular,and Cuba Accommodation.
If you’re moving to Cuba with children, your education options are rather limited. The only major school is the International School of Havana, but it does have a good reputation and facilities. Outside of the capital city, you may have trouble finding something suitable, so that should be a major factor when deciding where to live.
Classified as (sub)tropical, the average temperature in Cuba is roughly 25’C, which is fantastic. More specifically, the “winter” averages around 21-22’C, while the summer can top out at 30-32’C. Cuba’s location places it in very near proximity to seasonal hurricanes, although it is rarely (but not never) hit directly. Overall, you’re looking at warm to hot temperatures, with about 300 sunny days per year. Island living at its finest.
This is the Caribbean, folks. Sun, sand, water, and beaches are the order of the day, and the glorious weather virtually year-round makes it the best way to spend your down time. Beyond that, why not rent one of the abundant 1950s cars you’ll see everywhere (they are ubiquitous on the island, and most are in remarkably good shape) and go on a road trip. Or spend the day at one of the many resorts dotting the beaches (most offer some sort of day pass). Water and beach activities obviously take top spot, but baseball and boxing are also very popular in Cuba, as well as music and dancing. And, of course, you’ll have to indulge in a Cuba Libre (rum and Coke) or two on the beach.
Satellite television from the USA (only 94 miles away) is available, but it is both illegal and unreliable. The internet on Cuba is usually costly, slow, and tightly controlled...but it is available.
It is certainly not carefree and easy all the time, but Cuba has a special pull for almost everyone who has visited. The people, climate, and natural beauty more than make up for the obstacles and difficulties.
If you’re seriously considering a move to the island in the sun, here are a few more useful websites: