What’s life like in Cuba?

Cuba, quite expectedly, is like nowhere I’ve ever been. What do most people associate with Cuba? Cadillacs? Cigars? Communism? Having lived in China for 5 years, after visiting Cuba I can now fully claim that China is not Communist, Cuba is the king of Communism, or at least most of Cuba is. There’s definitely a two tier economy there- with the younger, tech-savvy, English-educated population profiting from tourists, and earning as much money per month as someone working on minimum wage in the West would earn in 2 hours! Read on to learn some on the insights I unearthed while visiting.

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Salaries

Minimum wage in Cuba is 25CUC per month (around €21), with doctors earning 45-48CUC (€42-45) per month.

Tourism is the best industry to profit from- for example our tour guide disclosed that he, offering free walking tours and earning tips, makes more money in one day that his mom earns in a month, working as a biomedical scientist. It’s phenomenal – and alarming. But perfectly depicts the two tier economy that is reality in Cuba, each dependant on a different currency (the CUP for locals and the CUC for tourists) – Communism for Cubans, overpriced tourist perks for tourists! And those that have invested in learning good English and tapping into the internet economy, can benefit from the latter – and support their families by working in Tourism. The young Millenials of Cuba really impress me – taking the Cuban tradition of hosting people in their homes and marrying it with AirBnB to maximise their exposure, and income. All the better to them!

Private enterprises can also be quite profitable, but private enterprises, unlike others, pay taxes to the government (rates vary widely, depending on the size and turnover of the business).

Bio and pharmaceuticals were also cited as important for the economy, with pharma exports and exports of people- doctors, etc ranking highly. Doctors who choose to go work abroad get paid more and can send stuff back to their family, so this is quite popular.

Those working in the tourism industry can make the equivalent of one month’s minimum salary in one hour ( eg by offering vintage car rides)

Property

Pre 2011, Cubans couldn’t sell or buy property. In 1959, the government gave the poor houses at reduced rates, which have been passed down from generation to generation since, likewise with old cars- they are passed from generation to generation.

Colonial houses are extremely expensive, costing up to 1 million CUC, whereas a basic apartment can be bought for 5000 CUC (€4500). Foreigners cannot own property – unless they marry a local or do so with business partner ( in which case the local’s name is on the lease- so you ought to really trust your business partner eh?).

Nowadays, the government only provides housing to those who are being relocated from derelict buildings.

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Free social services for all

For Cubans, healthcare, education and all social services are free, provided by the government. There is 98%+ literacy rate in Cuba. University is free, whereby after graduation, women must intern for 3 years and men for 2 years in a state job to repay the debt.

Rations in Cuba 

Every family is Cuba is entitled to ration provisions, which they can collect from the ration store. Rations for one month include 8 eggs, 14lbs rice, 18lbs sugar(!), beans and chicken per month – no vegetables or fruit are provided, but these can be bought at the free market quite cheaply (50cent for an avocado/ mango).

A ration store in Havana.

Internet in Cuba, since 2013

Cuba has only had internet access since 2013.

Sometimes, iPhones can get 3G from Venezuela but the connection is not reliable or strong (only iPhones). However, It is rumoured that companies are currently negotiating to bring more widespread internet access to Cuba.

Online shopping is practically non existent in Cuba (but possible, with delivery via DHL in the post office)

But Cuba is changing, so who knows what the next few years bring…

 

Selection of snaps from across Cuba depicting everyday life:

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