Probably the first things that spring to your mind at the mention of Cuba are Fidel Castro and Che Guevara smoking big Havanas, the Bay of Pigs invasion and the Russian Missile crisis.
Cuba has something of an… interesting international representation. It’s well-known for its less-than-favourable relationship with the USA, Havana rum, Fidel Castro and Che Guevara.
However, Ernest Hemingway was right when he said that living in Cuba is so much more. With its 2,000 miles of coastline, crystal clear Caribbean waters, spectacular scenery, deep-sea fishing and Samba lifestyle, Cuba is a fantastic place to visit.
But what about retiring in Cuba? That’s exactly what we’ll cover in this guide. It might not be everyone’s first choice, but with its amazing weather, great healthcare, and vibrant culture, Cuba has much more to offer than you might think.
Is Cuba a good country to retire to
With 300 days of sunshine and a gorgeous Caribbean climate, a first-rate healthcare system with well-trained doctors and interesting food and culture, retiring in Cuba might be to a lot of people’s tastes. The USA is only 90 miles away, and, while technically not legal, is fairly easy.
So, what does Cuba have on offer for expats wanting to retire there?
First, Cuba is a very friendly place. Cubans are patriotic and proud of everything their country has to offer, for good reason. Importantly, they’re very welcoming of foreigners, meaning you won’t find it difficult to integrate into local communities.
Cuba has a reputation for its incredible culture. Music is massive there, so you won’t have a problem finding music festivals or street performers, and much of it feeds into the national art and theatre scenes. Plus, Cuban fashion is something else.
As mentioned, Cuba has great weather. It varies between 18 and 32 degrees throughout the year and gets around 300 days of sun. But, you must balance this against the humidity. As a relatively small, warm island, Cuba is muggy for most of the year. This is something that many expats struggle with, so bear it in mind.
However, there’s obviously plenty of sea, and nothing takes the edge of a muggy day like swimming in the Caribbean. There are plenty of other outdoor activities, including hiking, water sports, fishing, and much more. It’s the perfect place for outdoorsy people.
Can foreigners live in Cuba?
Technically, foreigners can live in Cuba, providing they can get a visa. Work permits and business visas are incredibly difficult for foreigners to obtain, and the only guaranteed way of living in Cuba is to marry a Cuban national. However, the Cuban government is becoming more open to the idea of retirement and has started to initiate “snowbird” visas.
A snowbird visa is valid for 6 months and is fairly easy to renew. You need to leave the country, but many expats fly elsewhere for a weekend to reset the visa’s clock.
The first step is getting a tourist card from a Cuban embassy, which you can convert into a snowbird visa in the country. However, visa-holders can only buy property under a few circumstances, which many expats find limiting.
While there are country club-style developments under construction with government backing in Cuba, apartments listed for sale may be leasehold, not freehold, generally with lease terms around 50-75 years.
It’s currently very difficult for foreign nationals to own freehold residential property in Cuba outside of international owned complexes.
The majority of expats and retirees living in Cuba rent “casa particulares” or homestay accommodation. Prices range from £10.00 to £30.00 per night, although you can negotiate significant discounts if you plan to live in Cuba for more than 2 or 3 weeks.
Can foreigners buy property in Cuba?
Until very recently, non-citizens were unable to buy property in Cuba. This has now changed, as the country offers a Real Estate Resident visa. However, the rules are still fairly restrictive.
To buy property in Cuba to obtain a real estate visa, you must either:
- Marry a Cuban
- Buy property in the name of a Cuban citizen (spouse, family member, or friend)
- Buy directly from a foreigner who owns property in Cuba
The most likely option for many is the third, although this depends on finding someone with property for sale. As it’s the most viable option for many foreigners, you might find massive disparity in property prices.
Living in Cuba: the pros and cons
Living in Cuba in retirement definitely has more pros than cons. However, it’s worth considering both sides before making a potentially complicated move to the country.
The pros of living in Cuba
1. Very welcoming
Even though expats struggle to buy property in Cuba, the country as a whole is very welcoming. You’ll easily integrate into social clubs, bars, and local expat communities.
2. Great food
Cuban food is a mix of Spanish, African, Chinese, and more. Due to trade embargos, Cuba produces almost all of its own food. Luckily, it’s high quality, varied, and relatively inexpensive.
3. Affordable cost of living
Cuba is an affordable country, even if you must bring suitable funds with you. You might have some difficulties with the local currency, though, as you can’t exchange US dollars in Cuba.
4. Amazing scenery
Cuba is everything you could want from a Caribbean island. It has rainforests, white beaches and mountains. Combine this with low levels of pollution, extensive nature reserves, and a range of activities, and you have the perfect country for outdoorsy people.
5. Top-level healthcare
Thanks to policy reforms in the 1960s, Cuban healthcare is as good as it sounds. As non-citizens, expats do have to pay, but it’s considerably cheaper than other national systems.
The cons of living in Cuba
1. Trade restrictions are noticeable
While food is relatively safe from trade embargos, the effects are noticeable elsewhere. Many cars are old, and new ones are expensive due to the currency’s low value.
2. Processes are culturally different
Cuban attitudes to punctuality and timekeeping are very hit and miss, and tipping and even bribery to ensure smooth service and getting things done is the norm. Also, be aware that driving habits are very different, and traffic rules aren’t mandatory.
3. Expats have few property options
Expats have a difficult time owning property in Cuba. While rent is affordable, this can restrict people’s ability to settle down and enjoy retirement. These restrictions extend to things like owning a business, too.
Cost of living in Cuba
Cuba is an affordable country thanks to its locally produced food and drink. Utility costs are also low, as is rent. You could pay as little as $160 US a month for an apartment outside a city centre.
Pricewise Cuba is around the same level as Croatia and Slovenia. The cost of living in Cuba is 19% lower than in the UK and 20% lower than in the USA.
This is why it features on our Cheapest Countries To Retire list.
But, it’s worth noting that currency conversion can be difficult for expats. Unsurprisingly, the country uses the Cuban Peso and no longer uses the Cuban Convertible Peso, which was eliminated at the beginning of 2021.
Non-residents in Cuba can’t use US dollars in the country, nor can they convert them. If the US dollar is your national currency, consider converting it into British pounds or euros before travelling, as these have favourable exchange rates in the country.
As non-residents can’t make money in Cuba, they must prove they have the funds to live. For an expat in retirement, this could range from $750 to $1500 US depending on where you go in Cuba. Havana is the most expensive area, but smaller towns and cities are far cheaper.
For expats living in Cuba on a longer-term basis, there are a few options for money. First, you can bring up to $5,000 US into the country without declaring it, although this might not be practical if you’re living there for up to 6 months.
You can still use your credit and debit cards to pay for things and withdraw money at ATMs. Using a foreign card will incur charges of up to 12% per transaction, though. Also, it’s worth noting that you can’t use any cards issued by American banks or their subsidiaries.
Expats with any kind of temporary visa (apart from a tourist visa) can set up a currency account with the Central Bank of Cuba. The account can hold money in 10 foreign currencies, including US dollars. Finally, foreigners can set up a prepaid card with BANDEC, which you simply top up with money and use like any other card.
Where to live in Cuba
While expats aren’t restricted in where they can rent in Cuba, there are clear advantages to choosing busier and more developed areas. Due to the restrictions on buying options, you’ll inevitably settle down in somewhere like Havana or another city with modern apartment complexes.
Generally, your options will include:
The most obvious place to start is the country’s capital. It’s a mix of colonial architecture, brightly painted buildings, and extensive history. Havana is Cuba’s cultural and political centre, and so attracts a vibrant mix of people.
Santiago de Cuba
Santiago de Cuba is the country’s second-largest city and is home to an annual carnival. As you can imagine, this attracts plenty of tourists, but the city’s history and nightlife make it worthy as a place to live.
Sancti Spiritus is located in central Cuba and is one of the country’s oldest settlements. It has numerous sites and activities and is more in touch with a “traditional” Cuban identity. Few tourists make their way here, so it stays quieter throughout the year.
No, this isn't the American state. Florida in Cuba is a relatively small and young town – it was only founded in 1907. It still retains plenty of Cuban charm and is another destination in touch with its heritage.
Final thoughts on retiring to Cuba
Retiring to Cuba isn’t for the faint of heart. It’s a country with plenty to offer but takes a lot more work than your traditional retirement destinations. Hopefully, in the future, the government’s increasing openness to foreigners will streamline the process.
We recommend you take a holiday to Cuba first and speak to expats who already live there. They can tell you what to expect from the country and what day-to-day life is really like. We imagine their answers will be overwhelmingly positive, though.