Cost Of Living In Cuba: Is It Affordable?

When most people think of Cuba, the first things that pop into their mind are Fidel Castro, cigars, and the Russian Missile Crisis. However, a lot has changed in recent decades.

Cuba is now much more accessible to foreigners, thanks to the availability of extended visas, including ‘snowbird visas’ for expat retirees. This visa allows retirees to live in Cuba for six month stays and renew their visa perpetually by leaving and re-entering the country.

This new visa has led to thousands of retirees heading to Cuba, to enjoy the stunning coastline, warm climate, crystal clear Caribbean waters, fishing hotspots, food, vibrant culture and many other things the country has to offer.

But how much can you expect to spend to move to Cuba? Is Cuba affordable for expat retirees? How much does it cost to rent an apartment in Cuba? In this guide, we’ll answer  these questions and many more as we look at the cost of living in Cuba.

Key Takeaways 

  • Cuba is a socialist nation that is opening up to foreigners
  • It is one of the world’s most beautiful countries, with a warm climate, diverse landscape, and beautiful coastline.
  • Cuba is an extremely affordable location to retire, however, there are strict rules on how long foreigners can stay in the country
  • The prices for consumer items are about 36% lower in Cuba than in the United States (including rent)
  • Cuba is the 95th most affordable nation our of 138 nations on the cost of living index.
  • Expats living in Cuba do not pay tax on foreign income, including social security payments, retirement pensions, and capital gains.

Why Retire In Cuba?

A red vintage American car from the 1940s is parked on a paved street in Havana, Cuba. It is in front of an old apartment building with green doors

The Republic of Cuba is an island nation situated in the Caribbean. It consists of the islands of Cuba, Isla de la Juventud, and several other archipelagos. 

Cuba is located where the Caribbean Sea, Atlantic Ocean, Gulf of Mexico converge. It’s only a short trip to Florida, the Bahamas, the Cayman Islands, Jamaica, and other stunning locations. Here are just a few of the reasons why retirees have been heading to Cuba in recent years: 

  • Incredible natural beauty
    Cuba is one of the world’s most beautiful countries. It has a diverse landscape featuring everything from lush rainforests and sweeping mountain ranges through to white sandy beaches. The government has been vigilant about protecting the environment so, there are many nature reserves and very low little pollution.
  • Great food
    Cuban cuisine is heavily influenced by Spanish, African, and Italian cuisine. The Cuban sandwich is possibly the most well known dish, a combination of toasted Cuban bread and thinly sliced meats with cheese, pickles, and yellow mustard. Delicious!
  • The culture
    Cubans love culture. The music, the art, the plays, and the fashion are all remarkable.
  • Affordability
    As you will soon see, Cuba is one of the most affordable retirement locations available — particularly when comparing Caribbean countries.
  • The people are so friendly
    The Cuban people are proud, hard working, and love their country. They are very friendly and welcoming of visitors from other countries.
  • Climate
    If you like warm weather, you will love Cuba. It has a sub-tropical climate and is warm all year round.
  • Lots to do
    You can enjoy a very active and exciting lifestyle in Cuba. You can spend time on the beaches, go fishing, join a social club, play sports, hike through the rainforests, and enjoy some of the best restaurants in the Caribbean.
  • A truly unique country
    Cuba’s political history has meant that it has experienced decades of sanctions. This has led to the country retaining many elements from decades ago including old cars, record players, 1960’s architecture, and older processes for manufacturing. In many respects, it is a step backwards in time which is very charming and unique.
  • Low crime rates
    Gun crime is virtually non-existent and the murder rates are lower than in the United States. The country’s socialist welfare system and growing economy means there isn’t a large underclass that is committing crime to survive.

Where Does Cuba Rank In The Cost-Of-Living Index?

Using the Cost Of Living Index is the easiest way to get a quick overview of the affordability of living in Cuba. It calculates how affordable it is to live in a particular country, based on how much everyday items cost.

At the moment, Cuba is the 95th most affordable nation out of 138 countries included on the list, with a cost of living index of 55.54. This means that Cuba is cheaper than 43 countries and more expensive than 94 countries on the index.

Retiring in Cuba is slightly cheaper than retiring in Spain, Croatia, Estonia, Bahrain, Greece, or Slovenia. It is slightly more expensive than Ivory Coast, Trinidad and Tobago, Panama, Jamaica, Portugal, Latvia, and Ethiopia.

To give you a point of comparison, the United States is currently the 112th most affordable nation with a cost of living index of 71.92. This is 17 positions higher than Cuba. Here are a few other comparisons which can be useful:

  • The prices for consumer items (not including rent) is 21.79% lower in Cuba than in the United States
  • The prices for consumer items (including rent) is 35.84% lower in Cuba than in the United States
  • Rent is about 62.89% lower in Cuba than in the United States
  • Restaurant prices are about 53.14% lower in Cuba than in the United States
  • Groceries are about 32.00% cheaper in Cuba compared to the United States

Cuba has two currencies — the Cuban Peso (CUP) and the Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC) which are both subdivided into 100 centavos. The CUC is currently pegged to the USD, so $1 CUC = $1 USD at cash exchanges. $1 CUC is the same value as $25 CUP. 

Food & Dining In Cuba  

An image of traditional Cuban food, including rice, black beans, fried plantains, shredded pork, limes, cilantro, and salad

Cuban food is heavily influenced by Spanish, African, Chinese, Portuguese, and Caribbean traditions. This diverse blend of influences is due to Cuba being used as an important trading port for many centuries. Spanish colonization only increased the diversity of dishes that are enjoyed by locals.

Cuba is also a fertile location, with farmers growing some of the world’s best fruit, vegetables, and coffee beans. This means home chefs will have no problem sourcing high quality ingredients for their dishes.  

The Cuban food staples including tropical fruits, seafood, starchy foods (rice, plantains, banana), vegetables (potatoes, yucca, malanga), and beans. The most popular dishes in Cuba include tostones (fried green plantains), moros y cristianos (black beans and rice), tortillas (Spanish style made from egg), pizza, and lechón asado (slow roasted pork).

There are restaurants and food stalls throughout Cuba, which are very affordable compared to the United States.

Cost of restaurants in Cuba

A basic meal at an inexpensive restaurant $6.00 CUC ($6.00 USD)

A three-course meal mid-range restaurant for two people $27.50 CUC ($27.50 USD)

McDonald’s Combo Meal $6.79 CUC ($6.79 USD)

Cost of groceries in Cuba

  • Milk (regular, 1 liter) $2.70 CUC ($2.70 USD)
  • A loaf of White Bread (500g) $0.81 CUC ($0.81 USD)
  • Rice (white, 1kg) $1.07 CUC ($1.07 USD)
  • Eggs (dozen) $0.74 CUC ($0.74 USD)
  • Cheese (1kg) $5.66 CUC ($5.66 USD)
  • Chicken Breast Fillets (1kg) $6.05 CUC ($6.05 USD)
  • Beef Round (1kg) $12.80 CUC ($12.80 USD)
  • Tomato (1kg) $2.35 CUC ($2.35 USD)
  • Potato (1kg) $1.76 CUC ($1.76 USD)
  • Water (1.5-liter bottle) $0.90 CUC ($0.90 USD)
  • Bottle of Wine (Affordable, mid-range) $7.00 CUC ($7.00 USD)
  • Domestic Beer (0.5-liter bottle) $1.40 CUC ($1.40 USD)
  • Imported Beer (0.33-liter bottle) $1.50 CUC ($1.50 USD)
  • Cigarettes 20 Pack (Marlboro, or other popular brands) $3.00 CUC ($3.00 USD)
  • Coke/Pepsi (0.33 liter bottle) $1.80 CUC ($1.80 USD)

Transportation Costs In Cuba

A photo showing a group of tourists sitting on a roofless bus as it drives through the CBD of Havana Cuba

Cuba has a fantastic transportation system which includes a large rail network, 60,000 kilometers of road (50% of which is unpaved), 64 airports with paved runways, and several large ports. Buses, trains, ferries, and other public transport options are all extremely affordable and make it easy to get around. 

Cost Of Getting Around Cuba Using Public Transport 

  • One-way Ticket (Local bus) $0.10 CUC ($0.10 USD)
  • Monthly Pass (Local bus) $12.00 CUC ($12.00 USD)
  • Taxi Start (Normal Tariff) $1.00 CUC ($1.00 USD)
  • Taxi 1km (Normal Tariff) $0.55 CUC ($0.55 USD)

The Cost Of Purchasing a Vehicle In Cuba

Although the public transport system is very good, many expat retirees choose to buy a car. Due to sanctions from the U.S. government, the types of cars that are available in Cuba is slightly limited. However, there is still a selection of cars from the EU, Asia and Russia.

Unfortunately, the cost of new cars tends to be high due to the low value of the currency. It will cost as much as $82,000.00 USD for a brand new Volkswagen Golf in Cuba and $48,750.00 USD for a new Toyota Corolla sedan.

Used cars are more affordable. A 2011 Nissan 100NX might only cost $8,000 USD, while a 2019 Hyundai Atos would be around $24,000 USD. The used car market is slightly distorted in Cuba because of the sanctions, so cars that you might think will be cheap are expensive and vice versa. Price often depends on the availability of supply and parts.

Some expat retirees will buy a vintage car while living in Cuba, as it is relatively easy to find an old American models from the 40s or 50s. However, vintage cars in excellent condition can be expensive. Expect to pay as much as $50,000 USD for a 1955 Chevrolet, $25,000 USD for a 1952 Oldsmobile or $15,000 USD for a Buick Special if they are in excellent condition. 

If you enjoy tinkering with cars, you can grab a 1947 Buick that needs some work for as little as $7,000.00 USD. In fact, fixing old cars might be a fun hobby to pursue while retired.

Cost Of Housing & Utilities in Cuba 

An image showing a group of colorful buildings in Havana Cuba including yellow, pink, orange, andblue buildings with balconies and awnings

Because it is a socialist country, the Cuban government provides housing for citizens and they will never have to pay for rent or a mortgage. Unfortunately, free rent does not apply to expat retirees, however, rent is quite affordable in Cuba. 

The amount you will pay will vary based on the location of the property. Homes that are in a major city or a scenic location can be much more expensive than properties in small towns. 

Apartments (Rent per month)

Modern apartment located in a major Cuban city:

  • (1 bedroom) $400.00 CUC ($400.00 USD)
  • (3 bedrooms) $550.00 CUC ($550.00 USD)
  • Located outside of a major city center
  • (1 bedroom) $160.00 CUC ($160.00 USD)
  • (3 bedrooms) $300.00 CUC ($300.00 USD)

Houses (Rent per month)

Expat retirees who prefer to live in a house often choose a location outside of the major cities, as it will be more affordable and provide a decent amount of privacy. Again, the prices can vary hugely depending on the location and design of the property.

It’s possible to get a lovely 4 bedroom villa in Ciudad De La Habana, La Sierra for as little as $760 USD a month. A 3 bedroom home in Havana with a pool might cost $1,200 USD a month.

At the very cheap end of the scale, you can rent a 1 bedroom cottage in Casa Tomasa, Viales, for as little as $150 USD a month. It is a great option for retirees with a very small budget.

Buying Property In Cuba

For many years, it was impossible to buy real estate in Cuba because of restrictions put in place by the socialist government. Americans also had laws preventing them from investing in Cuba.  

Fortunately, the government has begun to allow restricted foreign investment in recent years. There is now a new form of residency visa called “Real Estate Resident” (Residente de Inmobiliaria) which grants permission for foreigners to buy property.

Retirees can buy property by:

  • Purchasing a property which is already owned by a foreigner  
  • Having a Cuban resident by a property on their behalf
  • Marrying a Cuban and buying the property in their name

The price of property varies dramatically in Cuba. On the cheaper end of the scale, a property in a less desirable location can be bought for as little as $25,000 USD. If you are going to buy in a touristy location or want a larger home, you could pay anywhere between $50,000 to $1,000,000 USD. 

The most expensive locations are in Havana, Matanzas and Santiago de Cuba. In those area, most properties are between $100,000  to $300,000 USD, with a small number of luxury properties selling over this amount.

It’s worth noting that Cuba has seen a massive influx of expats recently, so the prices for real estate are expected to increase in the coming years.

Related: Affordable Property in the Caribbean

Utility Costs In Cuba

Utility costs are very low in Cuba when compared to the United States or the European Union. For the average sized apartment, you will pay about $22.60 CUC ($$22.60 USD) for Electricity, Heating, Cooling, Water, and Garbage disposal. However, Internet costs are fairly expensive, coming in at $149.00 CUC for a 60+ Mbps, Unlimited Data connection. 

Employment & Income in Cuba 

It is legal for expats to work in Cuba if they have the correct visa. However, you can only work within specific categories which have been defined by the government. For example, while it is possible to work as an artist, doctor or journalist, you cannot work as a bartender or cleaner.

Salaries are generally very low in Cuba, because most locals don’t have tax, utilities, rent, or mortgage expenses. An average job might pay as little $30 CUC per month (after any taxes). 

However, expats can sometimes land positions working for foreign companies that have headquarters or manufacturing facilities in Cuba. These positions often pay a much larger USD salary to highly skilled expats.  

Childcare Expenses in Cuba

Public childcare is free for all Cuban residents. However, expat retirees will need to pay to access private child care. Currently, it costs about $26.00 CUC ($26.00 USD) per month for full day private childcare. 

The public education system is completely free for all children living in Cuba. However, if you prefer to enroll your child in a private school, you may pay up to $14,350.00 CUC annually.

Healthcare & Medical Expenses in Cuba

An image showing a person wearing blue doctor's gloves who is holding open a surgical mask with the cuban flag on it. It also shows a stethoscope and syringe

The sanctions placed on Cuba have meant that it has been difficult for the country to access state of the art medical equipment. Despite this, the quality of care is very good because of the skilled doctors and nurses.

Healthcare and pharmaceuticals are extremely affordable in Cuba. All Cuban residents obtain free healthcare and expats pay much less than they might in their home country. However, there may be long waiting times and poor record keeping in some hospitals, which is why some expats prefer to use private facilities. 

If you are completely uninsured, you would pay around $27.00 USD for a short doctor’s visit and $45 USD for a longer one. If you decided to visit a private hospital without insurance, all costs would come to approximately $1,400 USD per day. A box of antibiotics costs about $3.06 USD while a box of cold medicine (tylenol, colder) costs about $3.50 USD.

Clothing & Shoes in Cuba 

Cuba is a warm country and most residents dress for comfort. Their clothes are also authentic, relaxed, and stylish in a way that is unique to Cuba. 

Men often wear classically cut linen or cotton shirt, which are often white. Women wear more colorful clothing including Guayabera dresses. 

Western style clothing (flip flops, bluejeans, t-shirts) are also becoming more common. The clothes are high-quality and quite affordable:

Casual Clothing

1 Pair of Jeans (Levis 501 Or Similar) $52.00 CUC ($52.00 USD)

1 Summer Dress or Spring Skirt (Popular chain store) $54.00 CUC ($54.00 USD)

Shoes

1 Pair of Running Shoes (Nike or Adidas) $80.00 CUC ($80.00 USD)

 Pair of Men’s Business Shoes  $67.00 CUC (USD $67.00 USD)

Taxes & Legal Information in Cuba 

The Cuban government is increasingly welcoming of foreign business investment and expats moving to their country. Here is a short overview of the taxes that may affect you if you retire in Cuba. 

U.S. Taxes

Retirees who decide to remain U.S. citizens will still have taxation obligations in the United States. This can include: 

  • Lodgment of IRS form 40 if you earn over $10,000 USD per year (from any source)
  • Lodgment of IRS form 8938 if you have overseas assets worth more than $200,000 USD (per person).
  • Completion of FinCEN form 114 (Foreign Bank Account Report or FBAR) if you have more than $10,000 USD in a foreign bank account or investment account.

Income Tax in Cuba

Cuban residents must income pay income tax on any earnings that come from a non-government source. However, there are numerous deductions available. The income tax rates are progressive and range from 15% to 50%, for individuals earning over $50,000 CUP ($2,000 USD)  per year being taxed at the highest rate.

Expatriates are taxed on a monthly basis at 15% from the income gained or generated in Cuba. The Cuban government does not tax expatriates on income from overseas sources, including social security, pensions, interest, dividends, and other payments. 

There are no tax treaties between the USA and Cuba, so it is possible for U.S. citizens to be taxed twice on the income they earn in Cuba.

Capital Gains Tax in Cuba

There are no capital gains taxes in Cuba.

Consumption Tax in Cuba

Although there is no VAT or GST tax in Cuba, there are sales taxes. Currently, they are 2% on wholesale sales, 10% on retail sales and 10% on services. There are also excise duties levied on alcohol, cigars and cigarettes.

Real Estate and Property Tax In Cuba 

There are no property taxes in Cuba. However, there are restrictions on the number of properties that a person can own, with residents only being allowed 1 property in the countryside and 1 in a major city.  

When purchasing a property, you must pay a small $35.00 CUP fee to a notary and a real estate fee of 4% on the value of the property.

Retirement Tax

There is no retirement tax in Cuba, with all foreign income being 100% tax free.

Inheritance Taxes in Cuba 

There are no gift, wealth, estate, and/or inheritance taxes in Cuba.

Entertainment In Cuba 

Cuba is an exciting destination with many restaurants, dance halls, bars, and cafes to enjoy. It also has an exciting artistic scene with active music venues, cinemas, and theaters. If you prefer to spend time in nature, you will love Cuba as it remains a pristine location with many areas of unspoiled natural beauty.   

Entertaining yourself is also quite affordable:

  • $8.00 CUC ($8.00 USD) for two movie tickets
  • $50.00 CUC ($50.00 USD) for two theater tickets
  • $26.00 CUC ($26.00 USD) for dinner for two at a local pub
  • $31.00 CUC ($31.00 USD) for three course dinner for two with wine and desert
  • $5.00 CUC ($5.00 USD) cocktail at a local club
  • $2.50 CUC ($2.50 USD) for a cappuccino 
  • $2.30 CUC ($2.30 USD) for beer at a local pub
  • $27.00 CUC ($27.00 USD) for a monthly gym membership

Related: Pros and Cons of Living in Cuba

What to Expect Before Arrival In Cuba  

Immigration and Visa Information

The most challenging part of moving to Cuba is that it can be very difficult to get a visa. All visa are relatively short term (1 year or less), so you will need to continually renew your visa to remain in the country. There is only one way to become a permanent resident and that is marrying a Cuban national. 

There is a new specialized visa for retirees called the snowbird visa, which lasts for 6 months and can be extended by simply leaving and re-entering country. Many retirees will simply fly back to Florida for a weekend away every six months, then return to Cuba to have their visa renewed.

To obtain a visa, you will need to get a  tourist card from one of the Cuban diplomatic missions. You must also have a return ticket to another country, proof of medical coverage, and evidence that you have enough money to support yourself.

Can I Use USD in Cuba?

Yes, as of December 2020, it is possible to use U.S. currency in Cuba. The majority of taxi drivers, restaurant owners, and market stalls will accept USD. However, they are very likely to give you change in CUC or CUP.

How Much Cash Can I Bring into Cuba?

You can bring in up to $5,000 USD in undeclared cash and other assets. Larger amounts will need to be declared.

How Much Does it Cost to Live Comfortably in Cuba?

The amount of money you will need to live comfortable in Cuba will depend on where you live and your preferred lifestyle. If you are renting a flat in an affordable part of Cuba, you may only need $750 per month. However, if you want to enjoy a comfortable lifestyle in a popular part of Havana, you may need closer to $1,500 USD per month.

How Much Do You Need to Retire in Cuba?

If you decided to retire in Cuba at age 65 and lived to 78 (the average American lifespan), you would need about $234,000 USD. This would give you $1,500 a month — enough money to enjoy a comfortable lifestyle, with a nice apartment, plenty of money to entertain yourself, and enough cash to leave Cuba every 6 months to renew your visa. Of course, this figure varies based on your preferred standard of living and lifestyle. 

Related: Pros and Cons of Retiring in Cuba

Sample Monthly Budget

  • Rent: $550 USD for a three bedroom apartment 
  • Utilities: $55 USD
  • Transportation: $30 USD for two monthly bus passes
  • Fuel (If you own a car): $30 USD 
  • Groceries: $100 USD
  • Eating Out: $200 USD
  • Entertainment: $200 USD
  • Internet: $150 USD
  • Health Insurance: $200 USD
  • Clothes/Shopping: $150 USD

This is a total of $1,665 USD. For this amount, you will be enjoying a very comfortable lifestyle in Cuba, with plenty of money for eating out, sightseeing, and shopping. It will be an exciting retirement as you could enjoy everything Cuba has to offer.

Related: How to Get Married in Cuba

Final Thoughts

Cuba is a beautiful country with a rich culture and relaxed lifestyle. Its close proximity to Florida make it ideal for American retirees who want to live comfortably without a huge price tag. It’s easy to understand why this stunning country is becoming popular with retirees!

Related: English Speaking Caribbean Islands