Can I Go and Live in Cuba?

28 12 2010

View from Santiago de Cuba

Somebody that I know did some work experience at the Cuban Embassy in London. She told me that a number of people would ring the embassy asking if they could emigrate to Cuba. It is also a question that I have seen asked on internet forums. The answer is, basically, yes but with great difficulty.

These are the different ways of spending extended periods of time in Cuba:

The tourist visa

A tourist visa is valid for 30 days (unless you are from Canada, in which case it is for 90 days). At the end of the first 30 day period, you can extend the visa for up to another 30 days, making a total stay of 60 days. At the end of 60 days you can then leave the island – the cheapest route is to Cancun – and return on the next flight, when another 60 day period will start. This can be repeated indefinitely.

This is probably the most commonly used route to spend extended periods on the island. It is also the most expensive – you need to pay for a flight every 60 days. Whilst in Cuba you must stay in licensed tourist accommodation – either a hotel or a private house with a licence (known as a casa particular).

Family Visa

This is for people with immediate family in Cuba (including a spouse). It works a bit like the tourist visa – i.e. valid for 30 days + 30 – but the main difference is that you can stay in the family accommodation, saving on hotel costs.

Student Visa

If you sign up to study at one of the thirteen universities in Cuba – and they all offer Spanish courses for foreigners – you can remain in Cuba for the duration of your studies. This could last for weeks, months or even years. For this you must either stay in university accommodation or licensed tourist accommodation.

Temporary Residence


Temporary residence is granted to people who obtain employment in Cuba. It is very rare for a foreigner to be able to do that. However, there are some foreign companies operating there and they do employ some foreign nationals. I have also heard of foreigners being employed as translators for media organisations. For people who obtain such employment, they are granted residence for as long as the employment lasts. It is not necessary to stay in licensed tourist accommodation.

The big downside to temporary residence status is that – like Cuban citizens – you must apply for permission to leave the country. This can take up to a couple of weeks. For a fee, there is a fast-track procedure, but even this can take up to three days.

Permanent Residence

For a foreigner who is married to a Cuban, it is possible to apply for permanent residency status. It is necessary to have the sum of 5000 CUC in a Cuban bank account and to be able to demonstrate that you will be financially independent. You also need to undertake some health tests and to get proof of no serious criminal record.

With this status, you are for all intents and purposes a Cuban citizen. You get an ID card and even a ration book. However, you have to apply for permission to leave the country, as with temporary residency.

Why would anybody want to live in Cuba?

Perhaps the people who ask about living there are seduced by the idea of living in the Caribbean sunshine for 12 months of the year. Some may think that it is some kind of socialist paradise and want to escape from the capitalist rat-race. Maybe some people have been there on holiday and think that it is a nice place to retire to. For others, undoubtedly, it is because they have fallen in love with a Cuban. Most have probably not given it a lot of thought or done much research.

For me, the major advantages would be:

  • Climate – 12 months of mostly sunshine would make a nice change from Northern Europe


  • Personal Safety – Cuba is a much safer place than almost anywhere else in the world, especially in the developing world


  • Landscape, Coastline and Environment – Cuba has some beautiful beaches and scenery. The low level of car ownership means that roads are much quieter than elsewhere.


  • The People – Cuban people tend to be very friendly and relaxed


The major disadvantages would be:

  • Availability of goods and services – for a foreigner with money, this is much easier than for the average Cuban. However, it can still be difficult to get certain things at certain times – such as deodorant or shampoo, or even cheese.


  • Communication – the Cuban newspapers do not carry much news. Access to the internet is expensive and slow. International telephone calls are very expensive.

Why this blog?

22 12 2010

Myself (left) and Fire Brigades Union colleague Dave Chappell at the José Martí Memorial in the Plaza de la Revolución in Havana


Cuba is a country that many people find interesting. It is unique. Its political and economic system and its cultural mix mean that it is unlike anywhere else.

The survival of the revolutionary government has been remarkable. People have been predicting its imminent demise for 52 years. These predictions reached a crescendo during the early 1990s after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Despite the unprecedented peace-time drop in production and economic performance that this caused, the Cuban regime survived and by the beginning of the next decade, the economy began to recover and improve.

When Fidel Castro ceded the presidency to his brother Raúl, first temporarily in 2006 and then permanently in 2008, again the revolutionary government’s opponents in the western media predicted its imminent collapse. Again they were proved wrong.

However, although the revolutionary government has survived, it is not currently prospering. The economy suffers from low productivity, low wages and widespread corruption and black market activity. Cuba’s economy is highly dysfunctional. It has an impressive record in producing university graduates and doctors, but produces little in the way of manufactured goods; and does not produce enough food to feed its population, leading to reliance on expensive imports, which the country is struggling to pay for.

The successful development of tourism has meant a regular influx of foreign tourists to the country and Cuban exiles in the USA and elsewhere regularly visit. This means that the younger generation of Cubans has much more knowledge of life elsewhere than previous generations have had and many have become impatient for improvements in living standards and for greater access to consumer goods. In addition, those with access to the tourist trade or with family overseas are often able to afford a lifestyle far superior to those in essential jobs, such as teachers, nurses etc. This has led to strains.

The Cuban Government is well aware of its problems and has been devoting much thought and energy to producing solutions to them. This has currently resulted in a programme of consultation with the Cuban people, through the Communist Party (PCC), the trade unions, youth organisations, the Women’s Federation  etc., on a programme of possible economic changes, to be discussed at a Congress of the PCC in April 2011.

The changes under discussion include the elimination of the ration book system; the end of the dual currency system; and reducing the number of people employed by the state.

I therefore think that spending the first quarter of 2011 in Cuba means that I will be there during an interesting period. Also, unlike the few foreigners who do write and blog from Cuba, I will not be based in Havana, but in Santiago de Cuba, in the east of the country. Consequently, I like to think that my observations on daily life and occurrences may be different to what people are able to read elsewhere and be of some interest to people concerned about Cuba.

Inevitably, any writing about Cuba, however much the author tries to be objective, is clouded by the author’s own beliefs and prejudices. My own position is that I would describe myself as a critical supporter of the Cuban Revolution. The overthrow of Batista in 1959 was a tremendous achievement. I believe that the revolutionary government genuinely set out to create a fairer society, one in which illiteracy, poverty and health inequalities were eradicated.

The immediate campaign of hostility from the USA, involving an economic blockade and the encouragement of terrorism, led to a siege mentality within the island. This has led to restrictions on individual freedom, as it would in any country that feared itself to be under attack from a powerful neighbour.

The harsh economic realities of the present world order in addition to that US hostility have meant that the revolution and its leadership have not been able to create the type of society that they have wanted to. People make history, but not in the circumstances of their own choosing.

However, I still believe that the leadership of the Cuban Government wants to build that fair society. I wish them every success in doing so. The alternative would be to replicate the kind of capitalist society that can easily be seen elsewhere in the region, where a wealthy elite live in gated communities whilst millions of their fellow citizens live in abject poverty in shanty towns, plagued by crime, leading to hundreds of young men losing their lives each year in drug-related gang warfare. I believe that the Cuban people deserve better.