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Working in Cuba?

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Alberto Mendez

Living in Cuba, from Spain

"From all the websites I checked before moving to Havana, InterNations seemed to have the highest quality and looked the most inviting."

Cynthia Fleming

Living in Cuba, from Great Britain

"I discovered that I wasn't the only British spouse looking for an expat women group in Havana. So we got together and organized one."

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Cuba at a Glance

Working in Cuba

Unfortunately, business life in Cuba is not always peachy. Read our guide on working in Cuba to learn about the economy, job opportunities, key sectors, and more. Once you are prepared for this Caribbean adventure, you will feel right at home in Cuba's business world.

Cuba’s Economy

Cuba has one of the very few remaining centrally-planned economies in the world. Expats working in Cuba will quickly learn that the government controls most of the industry in the country and also the majority of the workforce. About 83% of the Cuban labor force is employed by the state, with an additional 5% working for companies which are closely connected to the state. Moreover, most businesses and companies are government-owned. Doing business in Cuba got particularly problematic following the collapse of the Soviet Union. It left the Cuban economy with the loss of preferential trade and support from overseas.

Since then, the government has made sure to support the growing tourism sector and provided licenses for self-employment. Thus, a small private sector which caters mostly to foreign visitors has developed in Cuba. In April 2011, the Communist Party has signed a package with over 300 measures, taking the country closer to a market-oriented economy.

Economic Growth and Challenges

Cuba’s GDP has grown by about 2% in 2010, making for a slight improvement, compared to a growth of 1.4% in 2009. However, although the prospects for working in Cuba seem rosy, the country still has to face a number of challenges in order to keep a steady economic growth. Opening up to the tourism industry, for instance, was a step in the right direction. However, Cuba still deals with the aftermath of the fall of the Soviet Union.

Moreover, Cuba experienced a significant number of economic disruptions in the first decade of the 21stcentury. Not only did sugar and nickel prices fall, but the rising petroleum costs and the effects of several hurricanes, among many other issues, took their toll on the country. The living conditions of people living and working in Cuba are still below those of 1989. As a result, a flourishing black market has developed in Cuba, for food, clothes, and household goods.

The economic reforms mentioned above were the last in a long line of reforms. Expats will be happy to learn that it is now easier for them to purchase and sell private property, for instance. Unfortunately, none of these reforms have led to true market liberalization. Instead, there are many restrictions which still keep companies from investing and expats from working in Cuba.

Job Opportunities and Employment in Cuba

Nevertheless, there are still some job opportunities available for expats who plan on working in Cuba. For instance, you can always find employment  in Cuba-based offices of foreign companies or agencies. However, as most of these are joint ventures together with Cuban companies, Cuban applicants are usually treated preferentially.

Within the tourist industry, expats interested in working in Cuba may find employment as tour operators or representatives. You can, however, not expect to be hired as a barman, entertainer, or cleaning staff. These types of jobs are reserved for Cubans. Many expats with plans on working in Cuba also find employment as freelance writers, photographers, or journalists. However, keep in mind that you need a special work permit for this.

Keep in mind that almost all jobs are distributed by the state. Securing a work permit, the prerequisite for working in Cuba, is definitely not easy as Cuban citizens are treated preferentially. For more information on work permits, have a look at our article on moving to Cuba.

InterNations Expat Magazine