Cuba is a fascinating country, and its Caribbean situation and friendly population make it an appealing choice for a visit – but you may find that working on the island is a more challenging prospect than in other parts of the Caribbean and in practice, may prove next to impossible. Cuba is very slowly starting to privatize but its economy still faces a number of hurdles to overcome.
The trade embargo imposed by the USA obviously has not helped matters, but Cuba faces other challenges, too, including a split currency. Although the Cuban Communist Party Congress recently started to encourage small and medium sized businesses to operate outside central control, there have been reports that these are now becoming restricted once more.
Overall, Cuba is an interesting choice for the experienced and adventurous expat worker who is looking for something a little different, but your options will be severely limited and you may conclude that it is worth waiting for your Cuban work experience until the political climate eases.
Before you look into working in Cuba, you should be aware of a number of issues with its currency: the island has two currencies, the standard currency of the CUP (Cuban Peso), and the CUC (Cuban Convertible Peso), which was intended to protect the economy after the fall of the Soviet Union and which is fixed to the US dollar. It is thus worth more than the CUP and is not accepted throughout the whole island. Your salary is likely to be in CUP, will be low compared to other Caribbean nations, and you will only be able to use this currency in the internal market.
Casual labour is reserved for Cubans (such as bar tending, for instance). Expats can still become tour guides or tour operators, but a more reliable form of employment would be to join an international company which has a branch in Cuba. However, Cubans will still be prioritized when it comes to hiring, because most of these companies are joint ventures with Cuban companies and the latter have 51% ownership.
You are also likely to be unable to work in Cuba if you are American: restrictions had eased in the mid 20-teens, but both the USA and Cuba itself have started closing down any reciprocity with the emergence of new regimes in both countries.
If you are still determined to find work here, you can apply to the Ministry of Work and Social Security for a work permit.
Journalists, freelance writers, businesspeople, volunteers and photographers are allowed to work in the island but you will need a specific kind of visa and work permit. Your visa is likely to be for a limited time (for example, 2-3 months). Teaching English is also an option but you may want to revisit this as and when the political climate changes.
If you have a TEFL certificate, you may wish to explore the option of teaching in Cuba. Most jobs will be in Havana but expats warn that they are likely to be severely limited in duration: as above, for 2-3 months or even just a few weeks. Your rate of pay will be commensurate with local salaries and as such, extremely low. It is recommended as a cultural experience, perhaps more as a working holiday, than a genuine form of employment.
Typical working hours are 35 – 40 hours per week. The country tends not to have strict working hours, with most businesses opening from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. throughout the week and 9 a.m. – 12 p.m on Saturdays. Cuban employees have Sundays off.
The average salary in Cuba is estimated to be around USD$30 per month. A university professor can expect to earn in the region of CUP 1500 (around USD$68 per month). The minimum wage has recently been raised to CUP 400 (around USD$16 per month).
It is extremely unlikely under current conditions that your spouse will be able to work, even if you yourself find a job.
It is advisable to approach international companies which have branches in Cuba rather than local companies, although note that most companies are joint ventures and thus still focus on Cuban hires.
You are unlikely to find job fairs or much recruitment abroad for vacancies in Cuba. Secondment from a company for which you already work may be your best option.
If you are approaching a joint Cuban/international venture, ask them if there is anything specific that they require.
If you are applying for a specific and professional post – for example, in medicine – and are successful in being hired, you will need to present a proof of technical and practical capacity, consisting of your qualifications and experience. You may need to have these apostilled and translated into Spanish.
If you’re entering Cuba as a tourist, you will need to obtain a tourist card before you travel. This can be done through your nearest embassy or consulate. There is a mandatory airport tax of 25 Cuban Pesos, a fee that should be included in the cost of your flight ticket. If you are unsure whether this fee has been included in your ticket cost or not, you should check with your airline provider or travel tour agency as soon as possible.
Cuban authorities have health screening at entry ports that check your temperature for indications of an infectious disease, such as the Zika virus. In terms of customs regulations, some electrical items with heavy power consumption, and other goods such as GPS systems, may be confiscated upon entry to Cuba. Confiscated items are more often than not returned to their owner upon departure.
UK Emergency Travel Documents (aka ETDs) are accepted for entry and exit, as well as airside transit.
Travelling from the USA to Cuba is still on uncertain terms, due to the American government’s ongoing economic embargo of Cuba’s government. In October 2019, the transportation department announced that it would suspend flights from the United States to nine airports in Cuba, starting in December. This affects every international airport in the country with the exception of Havana. Americans also cannot travel to Cuba for tourism purposes, and cruise ship routes between the two countries have been banned.
Nationals of Kosovo may not enter Cuba, or even transit through Cuban airports.
It is notoriously difficult to obtain a visa for Cuba. You will need to secure one prior to travelling there, whether you are planning to visit or relocate. The type of visa you will need to apply for depends on a variety of factors, such as how long you plan to stay in Cuba, why you are travelling there, your nationality, whether you have any relations there etc.
Some of the most common types of visa for travelling to Cuba include:
The spouses and children of Cuban citizens who wish to stay at the home of their Cuban relatives, must present their passport and a document attesting to their kinship (e.g. a birth certificate).
In addition to the standard supporting documents – such as a valid passport, copies of your biometric pages, passport-size photos and completed and signed application forms – you will require documentation such as your marriage certificate, your children’s birth certificates (if applicable) and potentially a copy of your permission for residency abroad.
Cuban business and work visas are becoming more common than they used to be, as Cuba is slowly privatising its economy for the first time in decades. You will need to make an application at your nearest consulate, and you may be required to make a personal appearance there before your business visa application is accepted.
Employment in Cuba can be complicated, to say the least. One reason for this is that Cuba still has two currencies. Another is that the government only introduced taxes in 2012 – they did not exist when Cuba was a communist state.
You will need to apply for a work visa in advance.There are multiple sub-categories of work visa available, so ensure you choose the correct one for your profession. The types of work visa available for Cuba are as follows:
• D-1 visa for employees with technical, scientific, or other specialised qualifications
• D-2 visa for students and scientists
• D-3 visa for artists
• D-4 visa for athletes
• D-5 visa for asylum seekers and refugees
• D-6 visa for journalists
• D-7 visa for traders and business people
• D-8 visa for religious workers
• D-10 visa for medical tourists
Essentially, there is not really a separate ‘study visa’ for students looking to study in Cuba. Instead, there is a subcategory of the work visa (D-2), which allows you to undertake your studies. In addition to standard supporting documents, you will need a letter of enrolment or acceptance to present to the consulate when you make your application.
Official visit visas
Also known as diplomatic visas, official visit visas are available for Cuba and are only applicable to diplomats, ambassadors and politicians visiting from other countries.
A work permit is an absolute must before you can legally work in Cuba, and you will need to have secured an offer of employment before you apply for one.
Job availability for expatriates in Cuba is relatively low, and almost all jobs in Cuba are distributed by the state. Generally speaking, it is easier for expats to find work within the tourism industry, or else a highly-specialised position that requires specific qualifications and vocational experience. Cuba has seen a rise in the biotechnology and pharmaceutical sectors, an industry which is expected to further expand and which benefits from large amounts of government funding. This is a promising emerging area for qualified expatriates.
Applications for work permits can be made at your nearest embassy or consulate in your country of residence.
Permanent residency in Cuba is very difficult for most foreign nationals to obtain. One of the only guaranteed ways to get permanent resident status is to marry a Cuban national.
However, retirees with sufficient funds can benefit from what the government refers to as ‘snowbird’ visas. These visas allow you to stay in the country for up to six months at a time, and they can easily be extended.
If you wish to pursue an application for permanent residency in Cuba, you will need to file an application at your consulate. This process can take anywhere between three and six months. You will need all the standard supporting documentation, as well as proof of liquid assets and/or income from pension payments and any dividends. You will also require a certificate of regular residency, which you can obtain from the police station or the office of the mayor, and a criminal record check. You will also need to participate in a medical examination, which will include blood tests and chest X-rays.
Many expats take out private medical insurance, even if this is not a requirement of residence, because healthcare is expensive in their destination country or because certain treatments and procedures are not available.
When taking out health insurance, be sure to check factors such as the annual and lifetime policy limits, whether there are any exclusions which are likely to affect you, whether you are limited to treatment from specific types of healthcare providers, and whether the policy covers emergency evacuation for medical treatment.
Too frequently, potential buyers of health insurance look only for the lowest cost of premiums before really considering the specific benefits and areas of cover they may actually need. Some plans are cheaper for a reason. Often they include large voluntary deductibles on any claim you might make in the future and may severely cap the benefits received under the plan. Clients should define their needs first, establish the particular area of cover they need, then determine their annual healthcare insurance budget. Only then should they look to premium comparisons, last of all.
Do not buy a plan without studying the policy wording carefully. If in doubt, ask, and only when completely satisfied complete all application forms fully, to the best of your ability.
Important questions to ask the insurance provider:
1. Does the plan allow for cooling off periods, cancellation and then repayment of premium in full?
2. Does the plan offer “Moratorium” or is it “Full underwriting” and do you need to have a medical examination before joining?
3. Does the insurer offer a 24 hour help line, 7 days a week, available from anywhere in the world (freephone)? Most insurers now offer this facility.
4. Are pre-existing conditions excluded when joining and if so, for how long are such conditions excluded?
5. Are all and any nationalities accepted or are there restrictions which apply to local nationals? Some insurers will only take expatriates abroad and not local nationals into an overseas plan.
6. Does the plan allow you to continue cover unbroken through your lifetime? In most cases insurers will continue to offer existing clients cover year on year, irrespective of age or claims history, although premium rates charged can increase dramatically with age.
7. Does the insurer allow for any doctor or consultant or hospital within the plan? Are there any restrictions in this respect? Most international plans do not place restrictions on either hospitals or doctors, but almost all demand that their help lines are called first, prior to approval of any inpatient care.
8. Does the insurer provide for the direct settlement of bills presented by hospitals worldwide, regardless of location (or do you have to pay first)?
9. What are the insurers procedures for outpatient claims? Do these require any pre-authorization or if stated in the plan can you just pay and claim? How long before you get money back from the insurer? 14 days? 28 days?.
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Cuba isn’t the easiest place to move to as an expat, with a huge range of restrictions surrounding foreigners and property. However, to those who are willing to make the leap, Cuba has a lot to offer, from eclectic architecture to incredible live music and breathtaking beaches. Cuba may have a rocky past, but many are willing to look past this, and to instead lose themselves in the country’s rich culture and relaxing atmosphere.
With luxury tourist resorts being built at an astonishing rate, tourism in Cuba is starting to boom, yet moving there permanently isn’t quite so easy. But for those whose hearts are set, here is everything you need to know about renting or buying property in Cuba.
There are 14 provinces in Cuba, and the rustic capital of Havana is one of the most popular places among foreigners. Areas in popular tourist destinations are being renewed, albeit at a slow rate.
When you arrive in Cuba, you will need to find temporary accommodation before you can start your property search. Foreigners are unlikely to be given a good deal, so if you have a Spanish-speaking friend, you may want to ask for their help.
Traditional real estate agents are difficult to find in Cuba, but there are still a few ways for foreign nationals to search for property. For example, you can look for signs on buildings, or, if you speak Spanish, you can ask around. There are also a few websites that list available houses and apartments, including:
Rent in Cuba is generally affordable, although you will pay higher premiums in the popular tourist areas. You may also have to pay more if you don’t speak Spanish.
Cuba has a dual currency system. Visitors use the Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC), while locals use the Cuban Peso (CUP). CUCs are worth more, and you are not allowed to take them out of the country. The dual currency system in Cuba can be confusing to foreigners, so make you get clarification when you are negotiating rent, so that you don’t get ripped off.
A one-bedroom apartment in a city centre will cost you less than $200 a month in rent, while one outside the centre will cost you even less. For a larger apartment, you’ll pay up to and over $300 in the city centre.
To buy a small, old flat in Havana, you could spend as little as $10,000. If you want to purchase a villa in a sought after area, you could spend up to $500,000. Lavish and luxury houses can cost over $1m.
The vast majority of the spaces available to rent are known as casa particulars. This is where you rent a room or apartment in a family’s home. It’s a popular choice of accommodation, as it’s a great way to become familiar with the Cuban way of life. It’s also a good option for those looking for somewhere to stay while they are searching for property. Casa particulars are very affordable, and if you want to stay in one long-term, you’ll be able to negotiate a great price.
Once you’ve agreed a price with the owner, you will need to give them your passport. They will then fill out your details, and you will have to sign a contract. Casa particulars are generally very relaxed, with most preferring that you pay at the end of your stay.
Casa particulars usually have their own entrance, so that you have privacy, and many will have a private bathroom, kitchen and living area too. They also usually include a double bed, air conditioning and basic furniture. The owner will most likely be willing to provide a laundry service and meals for an added cost, and they may even help you arrange activities and trips.
It is essential that, if you are renting, you visit the property and have a thorough look around, before you sign anything. Never rent without having seen the property first, and take a Spanish speaker with you to ask the landlord any questions. Rent is usually paid monthly, and notice periods are usually very relaxed.
Despite the relaxed vibe when it comes to renting, you should still ensure you have all necessary details, before you sign anything. Be sure to ask the landlord the following questions, to avoid getting caught out:
• Does the property operate with weekly or monthly pricing?
• When is rent due and who is it payable to?
• Does the rent include the cost of maintenance, such as cleaning or gardening fees?
• Who is responsible for the payment of utilities?
• What is the notice period?
There are several restrictions in place when it comes to buying property as a foreigner in Cuba. For over 50 years, even locals have struggled to freely buy and sell houses, and, although this has changed recently, the government still retains tight control over the housing market. Foreign ownership of real estate is extremely restricted.
There are three ways for foreigners to buy property in Cuba. They can marry a Cuban; they can buy in the name of a Cuban relative; or they can purchase from another foreigner.
Therefore, if you’re neither married to a Cuban nor have Cuban relatives, you’ll need to buy a home from another foreigner. Most foreigners in Cuba will own apartments in Havana, a number of which were built in the 90s. As a result, you may not get your dream sea view condo.
Note that the above only applies to non-American foreigners. American buyers are still not able to purchase property in Cuba for themselves due to the Trading with the Enemy Act, which was passed in 1961.
Tax can be another tricky aspect of buying property in Cuba. Both sellers and buyers must pay 4% in tax. The conditions surrounding the sale of houses are different to in any other country. You may only pay with cash in a Cuban bank account, so you will be unlikely to get finance. To acquire property, you must go to a Cuban bank to pay, and you are not allowed to pay less than the legal value of the house.
Once you’ve chosen the property you want to purchase, it will be valued by the Housing Institute Office. Following this, you and the seller will go to a notary to transfer ownership. This can be a lengthy process, but one that’s worth it for your dream property.
Consider if you want (or are able) to transport your belongings yourself or whether you will need the services of a removals company that deals with international moves. Unless you are travelling very light, or making a fairly short move by road, you will probably need professional help to ship your possessions. Ask for quotes from several companies first, ensuring that they visit your home to carry out a survey of your requirements. It may be worth paying extra for the removals firm to pack your possessions for you, particularly if they are going to be transported to a distant country and need special protection for the long journey. Make sure you bring to their attention anything fragile or precious that needs particularly careful wrapping and packing.
Before agreeing to a quotation, ensure that you are fully aware of exactly what is covered in the price, and that the service to be provided meets all of your requirements. For example, does the service include both packing and unpacking of your household effects? What about disassembling and reassembling of furniture? If you are planning to put anything into storage in your destination country while you find accommodation, does the price include final delivery and unpacking at your home, or will you need to arrange collection of the items? Obtain a firm estimate of the likely arrival date of your items and obtain contact details for any agents that will be dealing with the removal in your destination country. Ensure that the removals company is aware in advance of any practical considerations such as the lack of an elevator to your apartment, or likely parking problems.
If using a removals company, you may be required to take out their insurance cover for your possessions. Whether or not this is the case, ensure that you have adequate insurance for anything of actual or sentimental value that could get lost or damaged during the move. Take the time to accurately complete or check an inventory of your possessions to be moved, as this will form the basis for any insurance claim for losses or damages. Find out if insurance is included in the price quoted by the removals company, or whether you are required to pay extra for this.
The removals company should arrange any customs and importation documents on your behalf, but if you are arranging the move independently you will need to find out what documents are required and what import duties and taxes are payable (and whether you are eligible for exemption from these).
Make sure that you set aside the important documents you will need for the journey, such as passports and air tickets, and keep these easily accessible in your hand luggage.
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QUICK LINK: Cuba health insurance
The emergency number in Cuba is: 116.
Cuba has long been a popular Medical Tourism destination for patients worldwide that seek high quality medical care at low costs. According to the Association of Caribbean States, nearly 20,000 international patients visited Cuba in 2006 for medical care. Cuba is especially attractive to many Latin American and North American patients given its easy proximity and relaxing environment.
A wide range of medical treatments are provided including joint replacement, cancer treatment, eye surgery, cosmetic surgery and addictions rehabilitation. Costs are about 60 to 80 percent less than U.S. costs. For example, Choice Medical Services a health tourism provider, provides a hip replacement at leading Cuban hospitals for US$5845
Cuba is considered very healthy except for the water; even many Cubans boil their water. That said, some travellers drink untreated water without ill effect. The best solution is bottled water and lots of it, especially for visitors who are not used to the 30+°C/85+°F temperatures. Bottled water (agua embotellada) is easily found and costs between .65 and 2 CUC for a 1.5L bottle, depending on the shop.
Cuban milk is usually unpasteurised, and can make visitors sick. Additionally, tourists should be wary of vegetables washed in tap water. Despite the warnings, most Cuban food is safe to eat and you do not need to be paranoid.
The island is tropical and thus the host to a number of diseases. Some recommend an aggressive program of inoculations when planning a trip to Cuba, but most travellers come with little or none. Hepatitis B and Tetanus shots are recommended by most travel clinics.
HIV/AIDS infection is less than 0.1%, however as always, you should exercise care and make sure you or your partner wears a condom should you become sexually active while in Cuba.
Finding medication is often very difficult. It is highly recommended to stock up on off-the-shelf medication before heading to Cuba, as pharmacies lack many medications that westerners might expect to find. Do not attempt to import psychoactive drugs into Cuba. Havana also features a clinic (and emergency room) for foreigners, which offers extremely prompt service.
Banks often close at 3pm, and earlier on the last day of the month. Cadecas (exchange bureaus) may be open longer, especially in hotels. When going to a bank allow enough time as service is usually slow and many people may already be waiting. Foreigners may get preferred treatment in exchange for a small tip.
You must bring your passport in case you want to exchange traveler\’s checks or make a credit card advance, although cash can be changed without a passport. Exchange rates do vary from place to place, and some hotels do give significantly worse exchange rates than the banks.
There are many ways of sending money from one country to another. As always, expats can save themselves a lot of trouble and expense if they do a little research and shop around for the best deal.
International Bank Transfers
For most expats, currency transfer involves transferring small to medium sized amounts regularly from an existing bank account back home into a new overseas bank account in the local currency. These may be pension payments, benefits, or any other form of income.
Your home bank will usually be glad to oblige. You can set up facilities with them “on demand” whereby you fax or call them on the phone, provide a secret code or two, tell them the amount in question, and they will transfer it to your new bank, automatically converting it into the relevant local currency. Some banks also allow you to make international payments online. Whatever method you choose, transfers normally take between 3-7 days although 1-2 day transfers are often available but be prepared to pay more for these.
You can also set up regular transactions that are processed automatically on a fixed day of each month. Many state pensions and benefits can be paid directly into your new bank abroad without going through your home bank at all. Some private pension organisations may also offer the same facility.
When you first set up a transfer of funds abroad, the sending bank or institution will ask you for various codes that identify the destination bank. Often they will ask for IBAN (International Bank Account Number), BIC (Bank Identifier Code) or SWIFT codes but don?t panic – your new bank will give these to you and they may even already be listed in your new chequebook or bank statements.
As far as charges are concerned, you will probably be required to pay a flat fee per transaction. Additionally a percentage fee is often charged for the currency conversion itself. You may also find that your receiving bank charges you for receiving the transfer. Charges vary by bank but can quickly add up – ask your bank(s) for an indication of the fees involved.
As a general rule, transferring larger sums less frequently usually works out cheaper than transferring smaller amounts more often. However, if you need to transfer regular amounts of at least a few hundred pounds/dollars or need to make a larger one-off payment (e.g. for a house purchase) you should consider the services of a currency broker.
Cash Machine/ATM Withdrawals
Thanks to modern technology, most people abroad can go to a cash machine/ATM and withdraw local currency funds directly from their home bank account. This is a useful option to have for expats but exercise caution – many banks make hefty charges for using this type of facility. You may also find that withdrawal limits are in place (as a security measure) even if you significant funds in your account back home.
You can also use VISA or Mastercard credit cards to obtain cash in this fashion and if you pay the amount off quickly and avoid interest charges then fine – but once again credit card charges for cash withdrawals can be high. Check the rates carefully.
Currency brokers (also called foreign exchange brokers) offer significant advantages over traditional banks. Firstly, brokers will often be able to offer you a better rate than your bank. Secondly, the entire process is more transparent – many banks require you to accept the exchange rate available on the day they process your transaction, whatever and whenever that may be, but a specialist broker will offer greater flexibility, even allowing you to specify the rate you want in advance.
Currency brokers are smaller companies than major banks so always check their background carefully. Ask existing expats for their own experiences and recommendations before choosing a firm to handle your own foreign exchange requirements.
A good broker will discuss all the options with you and enable you to make the best decision for your circumstances. Using a broker will typically off the following advantages:
1) Currency brokers generally provide superior exchange rates to the high street banks. The currency brokers have access to the interbank rate and do not have the high costs that the banks have. This means that they can usually offer better exchange rates.
2) Use of a free Market Watch/Order Service: This allows you to tell your currency broker your target or budget exchange rate and they will ring you if that exchange rate level is reached. As the rate moves every few seconds, currency brokers can act as your eyes and ears on the market.
3) Ability to fix the exchange rate in advance using a Forward Contract. If you know you need to convert/move funds in the future but don?t yet have the money you can reserve a rate in advance using a Forward Contract. During this period, you are exposed to exchange rate movements and therefore, a forward contract is ideal if, for example, you have agreed to buy a house and want to fix the rate now but will not be making payment for a couple of months.
Savings from currency brokers can vary from between 1 and 4 per cent on the exchange rate alone, and specialists do not typically charge any fees for transmitting the funds abroad, unlike banks which often levy expensive fees or charges. If you are emigrating and transferring a large sum of money – such as the proceeds of a property – a foreign exchange company could potentially save you thousands.
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Cuba is an intriguing country in which to live and work, with an interesting recent history in which politics has dominated every aspect of life. If you are intending to live and work in Cuba, whether as an English teacher or in another sector, one of your first priorities will be to consider the ease with which you are able to communicate: how fluent do you have to be in the local language, for example? We will look at your best options as an expat in Cuba below.
The official language in Cuba is Spanish, but if you are already a Spanish speaker – for example, if you have learned the language in Spain itself – be prepared for some substantial regional differences. Cuban Spanish is sometimes not completely intelligible to speakers from Spain and as with every country, there are regional differences. However, if you learn some basic words and phrases in Spanish, you will be able to get by:
• meet and greet
• days of the week/months of the year
• shopping and food-related vocabulary, including eating out
• some basic medical vocabulary (e.g. asking for a doctor’s appointment)
• some basic banking vocabulary (e.g. opening a bank account)
Cuba offers private tuition in Spanish, including some immersive courses, for example in Havana, Santiago de Cuba and Trinidad, and it is thus possible to visit the island in order to learn Cuban Spanish. It is a lot cheaper than learning the language in other Latin American countries, although you may experience difficulties in entering the country if you are American, depending on the political climate: at the time of writing, relations between the USA and Cuba are not at their most positive.
Linguistic experts recommend an immersive learning experience, but if you are planning to go there as a couple, it is a good plan to make a pact to speak in Spanish together during your time out of class. Immersing yourself in Spanish language television is also a good plan. Expat learners report that Cuban teaching is of a good standard and comparable with classes and tuition in other Latin American countries. The University of Havana has details of classes (some teachers may moonlight by giving private Spanish classes) and so does the listing service Revolico.
Cubans themselves tend to be more bilingual in English in urban areas, particularly places such as Havana where there are more Western tourists, but in country districts you are likely to find that people are monolingual in Spanish. Habaneros tend to have thick accents, however, to the extent that even Cuban expats report difficulties in communication, and like all languages, the use of slang can be baffling.
In addition, Cubans are famous for speaking quickly and if your Spanish is limited, it can be difficult to keep up. However, Cubans are also informal and friendly, so do not be afraid to ask people to slow down when they are speaking to you. There is one English language bookshop on the island but you may find books in English in street markets as well.
Rely on your own knowledge and a good phrasebook rather than digital translation: not only is this more reliable generally, but Cuban wifi is sometimes slow and you may not be able to access your phone at all times.
English may be used in the workplace in some international companies, such as banking, airlines and tourism, but it would be unwise to count on this. Moreover, you may have difficulties in finding work. It is advisable to ensure that you have a good standard of Spanish before seeking work in the country.
If you have a TEFL certificate, you may wish to explore the option of teaching in Cuba. Most jobs will be in Havana, but expats warn that they are likely to be severely limited in duration: for 2-3 months or even just a few weeks. Your rate of pay will be commensurate with local salaries and as such, is likely to be extremely low. Working in Cuba is therefore recommended as a cultural experience, perhaps more as a working holiday, than a genuine form of career advancement.
It is always easier to get work in international education if you have at least a certificate in either TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) or TESOL (Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages). Cuba has a high standard of both education and literacy and thus prefers highly qualified TEFL personnel, although your salary may not reflect this in international terms.
If you are intending on teaching English in Cuba, it is preferable if you have experience in teaching schemes such as the Cambridge English exams or IELTS (International English Language Testing System): the English test for study, migration or work. Some teaching experience in the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) will also be helpful. This assesses analytical, writing, quantitative, verbal, and reading skills in written English for use in admission to graduate management programs, such as the MBA.
You may also find work more easily if you are experienced in teaching English for particular sectors, such as tourism and hospitality, or the airline industry. You are most likely, however, to find work in either public schools or private international institutions. You should be paid more in the private educational sector.
Most Cuban schools prefer at least a Bachelor’s degree: basically, the rule of thumb is that the more qualifications you have, both in TEFL and in academic subjects, the easier you will find it to get work.
There is also a demand for translation and interpretation between English and Spanish in Cuba, for instance in translating newspaper articles into English, but your Spanish will need to be of a high standard if you are to seek work in this sector, particularly when it comes to simultaneous translation, and you are likely to need the relevant qualifications.
The government of Cuba spends more than 10% of GDP on education, well above the OECD reporting average, but it does not organize PISA tests, making it difficult to pinpoint the scale of improvement in education standards in the country. That said, the literacy rate stands at around 96%. The education system overall is very highly regarded in Latin America. Until very recently, the government effectively banned private schools, but they are now seen as an increasingly important addition to the system.
State education in Cuba is compulsory for ages 6 – 15 or 16, and is provided free for all children up to university level. The system has undergone massive reforms, under a series of government-led drives to improve equality and standards.
Alongside the state system there are a few, mainly Church-run, semi-private schools, and large numbers of private tutors operating at a small localized scale, teaching a wide variety of subjects.
There are also two independently run international schools in Havana, where multilingualism is strongly encouraged, and generally classes are given in English or French.
State education provisions, controlled by the Ministry of Education are divided into several levels:
• pre-education (optional before age 6)
• primary education (from 6 to 11)
• compulsory basic secondary school (from 12 to 15/16)
After completion of compulsory secondary school, students can choose whether to continue with general academic studies, with the ultimate aim of going on to university, or to enter a technical school or vocational college, where training programs would include medicine, construction, engineering, IT, agriculture and many other fields.
Tertiary education is provided by colleges and universities throughout the country.
The curriculum at all levels is set by the Ministry of Education, with the express aim of offering a consistently high standard of education, and an emphasis on improving equality.
Homeschooling is not an option in Cuba, being banned under law. All children must attend school.
Private schools will have almost the same curriculum as state schools.
There are also two international schools running on UK or French curricula, with one or two offering the full International Baccalaureate Diploma Program (IBDP).
The International School of Havana is fully CIS accredited, teaches in English, and offers education from nursery/preschool to grade 12, with the International General Certificate of Education (IGCSE) offered at grade 9 and 10. It also offers the IBDP.
The French School of Havana is under the auspices of the Agency for the Teaching of French abroad (AEFE). It consists of an école primaire and a collège et lycée. It teaches primary and secondary school programs, following the French education system, also teaching Spanish and English.
You need to be aware that international schools are in general very popular with expats, so it will be necessary to contact them as soon as possible to secure a place for your child. Fees can also be quite expensive, which may need to be factored in to contract negotiations with your employer.