As might be expected, the political scene in Cuba is very stable and does not experience a lot of changes.
Securing a visa or work permit is a difficult task, which requires patience and planning.
The best way to visit the country and admire its scenery is by using its rusty, but authentic trains.
Even in 2016, after moving to Cuba, you will undoubtedly notice the influence and remnants of the country’s history as a Spanish colony and be amazed by the colonial architecture the country is known for. But it is probably not just the novel architecture, which is mostly prevalent in the capital Havana, which has prompted you to get a work visa and move here. Instead, Cuba also evokes images of palm trees and beaches, of American Buicks and men playing dominoes whilst smoking cigars. But for expats who consider a move to Cuba, romantic imagination is not enough to make it in this country. Instead, being well-informed beforehand is essential.
The island of Cuba is located between the Caribbean Sea and the North Atlantic Ocean. Although Cuba may seem like a detached Caribbean paradise, it is located only 150km south of Florida. Cuba is the largest Caribbean country and also the westernmost island of the Greater Antilles.
The tropical climate is moderated by trade winds, making expat life in Cuba quite enjoyable. Throughout the dry season, lasting from November to April, expats moving to Cuba might experience droughts. From August to November, Cuba’s east coast is frequently hit by hurricanes, averaging one hurricane every other year.
Before moving to Cuba, you should be aware that you are about to relocate to the only communist state in the Western Hemisphere. Hence, there is only one party, the Cuban Communist Party or PCC. Raúl Castro Ruz, who replaced his brother Fidel Castro in 2008 as head of state, functions as the first secretary of the PCC. He is, in fact, both the chief of state and the head of the Cuban government. Cuba has enjoyed a broad period of political stability since the revolution. However, expats moving to Cuba should know that this has come under some strain since Raúl’s ascension to leadership, as his tenure marks a broad difference from that of his brother.
Upon becoming the leader of Cuba, Raúl introduced sweeping changes to the cabinet, including the firing of Carlos Lange, Fidel’s protégée. Moreover, his reign has also seen some of the most economically liberalizing policies the island has witnessed in the fifty years since the revolution (see our article Working in Cuba for more details). However, two of the most powerful officials in the party, José Ramón Machado and Ramiro Valdés, are staunch communists and have presented an ongoing opposition to the reforms (termed ‘updates’ by the government). Although it is important to note that there are no overt signs of political instability, the end results of continual reform and party internal strife remain to be seen.
Expats moving to Cuba should also try to get a brief overview of the governmental structure. The first vice president of the council of state and of the council of ministers is José Ramón Machado. Both the president and the vice president are elected by the National Assembly for a five-year term. The legislative branch consists of the Asemblea Nacional del Poder Popular (National Assembly of People’s Power). Its members serve five-year terms. Following elections, there are usually no big surprises, due to the one-party system. However, upon moving to Cuba you should make sure to not address politics and communism too directly. After all, Cubans are quite proud of their country and, particularly in a business environment, it is not a good idea to upset your local contacts and colleagues.
One of Raúl’s most lauded upcoming reforms (scheduled to be finished by 2016, but highly unlikely to be actually done on time), is the reworking of the Cuban currency. However, until this point, expats moving to Cuba should know that there are two currencies which are used in this country: the Cuban convertible peso (CUC), and the Cuban peso (CUP) or moneda nacional (MN). Are you moving to one of the bigger cities or tourist destinations in Cuba? In that case, you should make sure to use Cuban convertible pesos, as they are widely accepted. Only smaller towns and villages, or street vendors in the cities accept only Cuban pesos.
Please remember that Cuban convertible pesos can only be exchanged for Euros, British Pounds, Swiss francs, and Canadian dollars. ATMs, although they have become more common in recent years, do not always work. You should thus consider always carrying a small amount of cash to cover everyday expenses. However, try to avoid exchanging money on the street. Many a foreigner has been subject to scams and lost quite some money that way. The best way to avoid this is to not change money anywhere other than Cadeca exchange houses, or large hotels and banks.
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