15 Pros and Cons of Living in Cuba as an Expat

When you’re considering relocating to Cuba, you want to take a complete look at what you’re getting yourself into. There are many great reasons to move to Cuba, but we know that there are challenges in starting life in a new country, regardless of where.

Relocating to a new country can be challenging even when you can speak the language. When you’re considering moving to Cuba, you need to prepare yourself for a different way of doing things because the structure of the government isn’t what you’re used to.

When making a move to a country like Cuba, you’ll want to make sure you’ve packed your patience and a positive attitude. Cuba is an excellent place to relocate to slow things down and live a simple life. Technology isn’t as advanced as it is in the US, so the pace is slower than most Americans are used to. For some, this is a reason to live in Cuba; it’s one of the downsides for others.

Having an open mind is a necessity when relocating to a new country. You have to be willing to learn new ways of doing things and having new experiences. Keep reading to learn about the 15 pros and cons of living in Cuba as an ex-pat.

Pros of Living in Cuba as an Expat

A photo of several objects representing cuba, including a Cuban license plate, cigars, Cuban pesos, a fedora, and a classic watch

Lower Cost of Living

If you’re thinking of retiring to Cuba, your money will go a lot further. 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%.

It doesn’t matter if you enjoy cooking in-home or dining out; it will be much cheaper in Cuba than in the US. For example, restaurant prices are 32.17% lower, and restaurant prices are 51.46% more affordable than in the US.

It’s important to consider how you’ll generate income while living in Cuba. Local purchasing power in Cuba is 98.64% lower than it is in the US. 

Local purchasing power is determined by what someone who earns an average salary can purchase locally. The purchasing power is as low as it is because the average salary for a person in Cuba is only $31.22.

When you consider that the average rent in the city center is $406.25 a month, you can see how challenging it can be when the average salary can’t cover one month’s rent, never mind groceries.

The Climate

Expect to experience tropical weather when living in Cuba. The island is a mild subtropical island thanks to its closeness to the tropic of cancer. Marine breezes and refreshing trade winds soften the tropical temperatures you encounter on the island.

The average temperature throughout the year in Cuba ranges from 20 to 30 degrees Celsius. The coldest weather you can expect to experience is a temperature of 10 degrees Celsius. 

If you want the warmest temperatures, you’ll want to live in the eastern area of Cuba. You’ll want to consider the island’s coastal regions rather than live inland for those who don’t want considerable variations in temperature between day and night.

You’re probably a beach lover if you’re considering moving to Cuba. You may be comforted that the average water temperature is 25 degrees Celsius.

Contrary to popular belief, Cuba does have a winter season. Cold air masses cause colder temperatures from the north. However, the good news is that the winter period is short.

Beautiful Places to Visit

A photo of the famous beach of Varadero in Cuba. It shows a wide beach with several sailboats

Regardless of where you choose to live, there are beautiful cities on the island that you need to experience, even if it’s just once. Here is a shortlist of some of the best areas to live in Cuba.

Havana

Havana is the cultural and political center of Cuba. It’s a beautiful city to experience the different historical influences on the country. Whether it’s in the architecture or the museums, you’ll find lots to do and see in Havana. 

If you’re looking for a city feel, then Havana’s where you want to be. Havana is an excellent area to live in because it’s central, and you’ll have easier access to things.

Santiago de Cuba

Santiago de Cuba is home to Cuba’s famous festival. You’ll want to experience the festival at least once, if not make it an annual trip. The festival is a great way to mix and mingle with the locals and take in the culture through music in an intimate way. 

Santiago de Cuba is Cuba’s second-largest city and has lots of history for you to take in, including Major General Antonio Maceo Revolution Square, and San Pedro de la Roca.

Trinidad de Cuba

Trinidad de Cuba is a popular tourist spot. If you feel like you want to experience Cuba as a tourist or want to interact with tourists, this is a great city to spend your time in. Because there are many hotels to accommodate tourists, it’s much easier to gain internet access than in remote areas.

Beach lovers will think this is the best area to live in Cuba since it has a bay with most beaches.

Safety

You might be wondering if Cuba is a safe place to live. It would be best if you were comforted that the data shows Cuba is a relatively safe country to live in. According to Numbeo, Cuba’s level of crime gets a 26.24 rating where zero is the safest and 100 is the most dangerous.

Surveys completed by visitors to the site determine the ratings from Numbeo’s website, and the information collected is from 36 months worth of data.

As far as how safe people felt walking alone during the night, Cuba’s rating is 73.82 on a scale where 100 is the safest, and zero is not safe. On the other hand, Cuba’s rating for how safe people felt walking alone during the day increases significantly to 85.74.

Cuba’s overall safety index rating is 71.61, on a scale where zero indicates completely unsafe and 100 means completely safe.

Crime isn’t a significant issue in Cuba. However, as someone who isn’t local, you may encounter jineterismo, which are illegal or semi-legal activities that involve the tourist industry.

Government corruption is a concern; however, the level of corruption is moderate. The 2012 Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index ranked Cuba 63 out of 180.

The Culture

A picture of several traditional musicians playing in the streets in Trinidad, Cuba. They are dressed in traditional clothing and playing a variety of instruments

If you’ve been to Cuba before, one reason you have fallen in love with the country is the culture. Cuban culture has very diverse influences, coming from as far away as Africa and Europe and as close as North America.

Cuba will definitely entice anyone looking for a life more disconnected from modern amenities and simplicity. Visiting Cuba can feel like traveling back in time to the 50s. You’ll see old vintage cars and experience a more relaxed, no hurry attitude.

You may have fallen in love with Cuban music. For Cubans, music is a significant part of their identity. Influenced by the arrival of African slaves, Cuban music and dance adopted new ritual dances and rhythms.

Cuban culture is a mix of traditional Spanish melodies and guitars. This music created the rumba and the conga.

Son is the most popular type of music in Cuba. Son is the foundation of dances like the mambo, salsa, and bolero.

The People

You can’t help but fall in love with the people of Cuba. They have a reputation for being the most honest, friendliest people on the planet. You don’t have to worry about traveling on your own when you go to Cuba because the people you meet will treat you like family.

Cuban people don’t have the distractions that we have in the US, so they have tighter social networks where they actually connect with their community in person, spending quality time with each other.

Regardless of how challenging their lives might seem, Cuban people are very proud of their history and have a positive mindset about the future. You can’t help but notice when you interact with the Cuban people is how happy they are. When we think about how unhappy we are with all we have, it puts things in perspective.

Landscape

A mixture of volatile volcanic activity, erosion, and plate tectonics formed the island known as Cuba. As a result, the landscape is lush with a scattering of mountains. The landscape also has caves, flat-topped hills, and plains that you can explore.

Cuba’s highest point is 1972 meters high and is among the peaks of the Sierra Maestra.

If you want to live in a country with beaches, Cuba should be one of the contenders. You can find 300 natural beaches.

Divers can enjoy the sights they can see when they explore one of the world’s most extensive tracts of coral reef.

The Architecture

A picture of a classic car driving in front of a beautiful old government building in Havana. Cuba

Architecture enthusiasts can enjoy the different types of buildings you find in Cuba. The influences have changed during the time of Spanish colonization and have buildings with American and French architecture.

Spanish colonists brought their style to Cuba. When you look at the buildings in Havana, you see buildings that have a version of a baroque style. 

The Cuban buildings don’t have the smoothness of the ones found in Spain because of the difference in the availability of raw materials to build. Cuban baroque-style buildings have a roughness that you don’t see in the structures found in Europe.

Many French traveled to Cuba to escape tensions in Haiti, and they brought with them their neoclassical styles. You can see their influence in Havana with the presence of columns.

If you visit the Cuban Capitol Building (El Capitolio), you may have thought that it looks very similar to the Capitol Building found in Washington, DC, and you’d be right. There was a time when there was a lot of American investment happening; at that time, construction of the building occurred. During this time, many hotels and casinos went up.

After the Cuban Revolution, there wasn’t much advancement in Cuban architecture. Instead, the focus was on building monuments to celebrate the revolution.

In 1982, UNESCO designated La Habana Vieja a World Heritage Site. This designation provided Cuba with the funds needed to do the restoration work.

Affordable Healthcare

National healthcare is accessible to all Cuban citizens at no charge. In addition, Cuba’s healthcare system believes in prevention, so everyone receives annual physical examinations, whether at a clinic or by house calls done by doctors.

For those who need healthcare and aren’t citizens, the cost of Cuban health care is inexpensive compared to the fees paid in the US. One of the reasons for this is the difference in the salary paid to doctors. Cuba spends $813 per person annually for healthcare versus the $9,403 spent per person in the US.

You don’t have to worry about having trouble finding a doctor in Cuba. The number of doctors per capita is much higher in Cuba, with 8.422 doctors per 1,000 people. The US per capita number in 2017 was 2.6 per 1,000 people.

Cons to living in Cuba as an Expat

Securing a Visa or Work Permit

One of the challenges when considering living in Cuba as an ex-pat is securing a work permit. If you’re traveling to Cuba, you need to get a tourist card. This tourist card is valid for 30 days, and if you plan to stay longer, you can extend it at the hotel you’re staying at or at an immigration office.

Getting a work permit in Cuba is a lengthy process, so you don’t want to book your flight before you’ve started the process, as you may have to change your departure date because you’re waiting for approval.

The work permit process is quite involved and is about more than submitting an application form. You need to submit medical tests that aren’t older than six months, a criminal record check, a copy of your complete passport, proof of your education, your birth certificate, and chest x-rays and blood work. You also have to show confirmation of your employment offer in Cuba.

The process to become a permanent resident is as thorough as it is for a work permit. However, a few more steps are involved, including a certificate of regular residency that you obtain from the police or the mayor’s office. You also have to have proof of economic solvency, which means having CUC 5,000 (one of the Cuban currencies) in a Cuban bank account.

Buying Property in Cuba

A picture of a street in Old Havana with a cuban flag hanging off a building. It shows some of the houses which locals live in

The Trading with the Enemy Act passed in 1961 prevents Americans from buying the property themselves.

There are only three ways to buy property in Cuba. Since Americans can’t buy any property themselves, you’ll have to see if you can find a workaround if you want to have something in Cuba (that can’t technically be yours).

  • Marry a Cuban
  • Buy property in the name of a Cuban relative
  • Purchase property from another foreigner

Another thing to consider when buying property in Cuba is that both buyer and seller have to pay a 4% tax.

How you pay for the property can be a challenge as well. First, you can only pay with cash in a Cuban bank account, which means that financing isn’t an option. Second, negotiating a deal on the sale of the property isn’t going to work since the selling price of the property can’t be less than the legal value of the home, and the House Institute Office values the property.

Form of Government

Communism is a stark contrast from the free market we’re used to in the US. Communism is about having a state-owned and run economy. There isn’t any market competition; many of the freedoms we’re used to in the US don’t exist in Cuba.

Cuba scores 27.8 on the Index of Economic Freedom on a scale ranging from zero to 100. This index measures the amount of economic autonomy from government intervention the people of the country have.

Cuba is a country that has a very high-risk rating. This rating is the highest risk rating indicating a risky economic and political situation. It means that business owners should expect a challenging business environment, and they should be prepared to experience corporate difficulties.

Access to Media and the Internet

Communism is about state control, and that control includes the media, both in print and online. When it comes to connectivity, Cuba is one of the least connected countries in the Americas. Freedom on the Net scores countries on their citizens’ access to the Internet and how much uncensored access they have to information.

Cuba scored 22/100 on the Freedom House Freedom on the Net 2019 ranking. The country scored this way due to the obstacles to access to the Internet, where they scored 5/25. Cuba’s limits to content led to a score of 10/35, and when it comes to violations of user rights, they score 7/40. Cuba improved their score slightly, considering they scored 21/100 in 2018.

While the Cuban Constitution recognizes freedom of the press, Cuba expressly prohibits private ownership of mass media. This restriction means that all mass media comes from one source, and that’s the Cuban government.

Access to Current Healthcare Technology

While Cuba has an excellent healthcare system, it does have its weaknesses. Cuba’s economic instability and the challenges it has importing medical supplies mean that the medical system doesn’t have access to everything they need. Even the necessary raw materials for domestic production are hard to come by, which results in common medicines being in short supply.

Anyone used to the American healthcare system will find that Cuban healthcare facilities aren’t as comfortable or up-to-date as you’re used to. However, because Cuba is aware of its limitations, they focus on preventing illness, so they have fewer cases that require more extensive treatment.

Promising (Could Ce Considered a Pro or a Con)

The Economy

Government officials have been talking for years to start making changes that would mean opening up the economy. Many critics have complained that it was taking too long for anything significant to happen. COVID-19 helped to nudge the country to start to do things differently

The closure of the tourist sector led Cuba into a recession. This recession was more profound than the economic crisis of the 90s that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union.

The closure of the tourist sector ended up costing Cuba 3 million dollars in lost revenue and shrunk the GDP by 8%.

This loss of revenue has inspired the government to promise to eliminate the dual currency and exchange rate system.

The government announced that private and corporate businesses would be able to hold convertible foreign currency bank accounts. They will also be able to import and export directly instead of needing to go through government agencies.

The Cuban government is trying to reduce red tape and have decreased the price and administrative controls on private and corporate farms.

Cuba has lifted the 10% tax on US dollars entering the country, and they have opened dozens of stores that accept payments in convertible currency.

If the Cuban government successfully executes the promises they made, the reforms could boost Cuba’s productivity significantly.

Another good sign for the Cuban economy is that during the last Presidential election, Joe Biden promised to reverse President Trump’s sanctions during his presidency.

Related: Cost of Living in Cuba

Conclusion

There’s a lot to consider when thinking about making a move to any country. There will be pros and cons to any country you choose to relocate to. Cuba is unique because you’re not dealing with just a difference in language; you’re also dealing with a different government structure and a different economy.

Once you get to Cuba, you’ll feel like you’ve arrived home. The people are warm and welcoming, and the country is full of rich culture and history for you to take in and enjoy.

While it may be difficult to buy property in Cuba, you don’t have to worry about paying ridiculous rent prices. As long as you are making money outside of Cuba, you’ll be able to afford the cost of living in this country, whether you choose to live in the city or the countryside.

There are many challenges to consider, but there are also many benefits to think about. Once you’re clear on what’s important to you, the decision will be easy!