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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

One of the last great communist bastions in the world, Cuba’s economy remains largely centrally planned. It will be nothing new to expats working in Cuba that most of the country’s industry and the majority of the workforce rest mainly within the government’s purview.

However, as expats working in Cuba will have noticed, since Raúl Castro’s ascension to the premiership, following his brother Fidel Castro's refusal to stand for reelection due to illness, the Cuban economy has leaned further toward the market.

Due to troublesome international relations, including but not limited to the US trade embargo, Cuba’s economy has been in perpetual trouble since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, which had once offered Cuba preferable trade conditions.  Although Venezuela has stepped up and somewhat filled this void, the country’s political instability has led Cuban officials to once more court Russia and China for foreign investment and increased trade.

Moreover, since the beginning of Raúl’s tenure as President of Cuba, new economic reforms have been underway. In April 2011, the Communist Party signed a package with over 300 measures, taking the country closer to a market-oriented economy.

 Although over 80% of the Cuban workforce were employed by the state only a few years ago, increased privatization has seen a steady decline in this percentage. In just three years, the number of Cubans working in private industry has more than doubled, from 150,000 to 400,000. Farmers are now allowed to sell almost half of their output to the highest bidder rather than the state and the government has diversified and begun promoting the creation of co-operatives. Expats working in Cuba and tourists visiting the country will undoubtedly notice the number of privately owned co-operative restaurants popping up around country.  

Economic Growth and Challenges

Although the economy had remained relatively stable under Raúl Castro from 2008-2013, seeing an average GDP growth of 2.7%, the year 2014 has seen a marked decline with projections estimating a final growth of 1.4%. While working in Cuba is an attractive prospect for many, the country still faces a number of challenges restricting steady growth.

Not only is the country still dealing with the collapse of the Soviet bloc, but it also has to contend with the rising petroleum cost, falling nickel prices, and the effects of several hurricanes. Moreover, the sugar industry, once Cuba’s main exporter, has come under increasing strain.

 Falling prices, heavy rainfall, outdated equipment, rundown mills built more than sixty years ago, and disorganization have all led to the decline of the industry. Now that sugar is merely the country’s seventh largest export, the industry’s failures have put increasing pressure on the government to open the sector to foreign investment.

However, as mentioned above, the government is doing its best to fix the economy and one of its greatest gestures towards this end can be found in its opening of the tourist industry. Moreover, those living and working in Cuba might be surprised to hear that the government plans to unify the currency.

The country currently maintains two currencies, the national currency, the CUP and the CUC. While the former is the standard currency, the latter was created after the fall of the Soviet Union to shield the country’s communist project from the capitalist market.

Thus, the CUC is a transferable currency mainly used in the tourist industry. However, since it is fixed to the US dollar, the CUC is worth 25 times more than the CUP. To make matters worse, only the CUC is accepted in some places, like parts of Havana, meaning that those who have access to it, such as those with official ties, can lead a more lavish lifestyle than the normal citizen.

Those thinking of working in Cuba should be aware that, while the planned reform is an important step in revitalizing the economy, economists have warned that the dual project of devaluing the CUC and revaluing the CUP might shake up the social structure, lead to inflation and result in discontent.

The economic reforms mentioned above are just some of the ongoing reforms in Cuba. Expats will be happy to learn that it is now easier for them to purchase and sell private property, for instance. Unfortunately, for a number of reasons, ideology first and foremost among them, 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, you should be aware 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.

 

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