We wholeheartedly thank Carley, of the beautiful blog Home to Havana, for this amazing presentation of how it is to live in Havana as an expat.
Havana Cuba, while increasingly a bucket list travel destination and hotspot, is not an expat hub by any means. While some of the cities I’ve lived in in Latin America have become hotspots for digital nomads and expats relocating for work and play, Havana is still far from being a relocation hotspot. Chalk it up to the challenges expats face accessing global banking due to the United States blockade, the lagging internet speeds, or the lack of presence of foreign companies to draw many foreign workers here. It can be a bit of a challenge to live in Havana, still, but for those willing to make the way there is so much advantage to be had.
One of the challenges for expats looking to settle in Cuba can be finding a way to remain in the country. Permanent residency is challenging to get, almost always requiring a direct family connection in Cuba. When sponsored by a school, company, or international organization with a job, work visas or student visas are much more accessible.
Another challenge for expats thinking of moving to Havana is the internet access in Cuba. Once extremely challenging, the internet is now much more accessible, with many now having it in their homes and on cellphones. This would have been totally unthinkable even a few years ago. For expats used to popping in to coffee shops to do work or connecting to wifi in restaurants, this can take some getting used to, but it’s getting easier than ever to be connected everywhere.
Where to live in Havana
There are also certain limitations on expats they may not be used to in other countries. While not a concern for every expat, only Cuban citizens and permanent residents are allowed to buy and sell real estate – something to keep in mind if you’re interested in sticking around long-term.
Rental prices, however, can be relatively inexpensive in bustling neighborhoods like Habana Vieja and Vedado, but even more so in residential neighborhoods like Santo Suarez, Playa, or La Vibora, just short bus rides away from the city center.
Yes, there are more challenges and restrictions for would-be expats than you’ll find in other cities, and there are not too many expats that do it. So why even move to live in Havana at all?
What challenges expats face are paid back in the delights of calling Havana home. Havana is a bustling and vibrant city with just over 2 million residents, yet with pockets of residential peace and stillness that make it a wonderful place to live. Despite being a big city, Havana is very much a city where people know their neighbors – there is a sense of community and neighborliness not very common anymore in other places. People are willing to talk, and take time to sit and listen. In that sense, it offers a tranquility that isn’t common in many cities, the perfect place for someone looking to slow down.
As the cultural capital of Cuba and one of the largest cities in the Caribbean, Havana leads the way in art, dance, culture, and much more. Major cultural centers like the Fabrica de Arte Cubano attract talent from around the world – rated by Time Magazine as one of the greatest places on Earth! Still less than a decade old, projects and spaces like these are sprouting up quickly across the city – it is an exciting time to see Havana change and grow and the creativity and ingenuity of the Cuban people on display.
Healthcare in Cuba is universal, comprehensive, and almost totally free for Cuban citizens. For foreigners with permanent resident status, healthcare in Cuba is also free, and like Cubans, permanent residents can attend the same neighborhood doctors, hospitals, and more. For foreigners without permanent residency status, there can be a bit more cost associated with medical care, but it remains low by international standards. Foreign visitors can only receive treatment in certain clinics and hospitals designed for foreigners – in Havana this includes Hospital Clínico-Quirúrgico Hermanos Ameijeiras and Clínica Cira García. Regardless of residency status, Cuba is known for having fantastic medical care and places significant priority on healthcare for all.
Children of expats have plenty of choice in their studies as well. There are three options for international schools in Havana – the Lycée Français de La Havane Alejo Carpentier with French instruction, Centro Educativo Español de la Habana with Spanish instruction, and the International School of Havana with English instruction. Children of expats are also able to public schools in Cuba if they choose as well, which are completely free of cost.
Havana also serves as the perfect gateway for exploring the rest of Cuba, including some of the best beaches in the Caribbean just a short drive outside of the city. Varadero is about two hours away from Havana, and with its perfect white sand and crystal water it is the ideal city getaway. Further outside of the city, many of the beaches are just about as untouched as one can find in the Caribbean. Cuba also has so many undiscovered travel gems that are still so far off the tourist radar in a way that they wouldn’t be in other countries in Latin America. It makes for an incredible ease of travel for expats with so much to see nearby.
While it may be a challenge to settle into expat life in Havana, Cuba, the rewards of making a home in this crazy and beautiful city far outweigh the challenges. As Cuba continues to open to the world even more, hopefully more expats are able to settle in Havana and get to know this incredible city.