Living in Cuba

Exploring and Living in Cuba

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Unlike twenty years ago, the majority of people (especially travelers) know the term “culture shock.” However, there still exists an “it won’t happen to me” attitude in many who move overseas. The symptoms can be severe, including difficulty sleeping, loss of appetite, paranoia and depression. Denial of the possibility of Culture Shock and ignorance of its symptoms can result in increased difficulty in adjusting to a new life overseas. A basic understanding of the reasons why it happens and what you can do about it are essential when making an international transition.

   Culture shock occurs when people find that their ways of doing things just don’t work in the new culture. It is a struggle to communicate, to fulfill the most basic needs, and many find that they are not as effective or efficient as before in their jobs and in their personal lives. All this loss of competence threatens a person’s sense of identity.

   Absent are the abilities and relationships that we relied on to tell us who we are, are absent, and we find ourselves a little lost in our new homes. To re-establish ourselves in a new context requires proactive planning in a number of different areas of life.

There are four basic areas of Culture Shock, like four legs to a chair. They are the physical, intellectual, emotional and social. To have the smoothest possible transition, one needs to employ a balanced approach in each of the areas.

  After a transition such as an overseas move, the rhythms of everyday life are interrupted, including our exercise and eating habits. Often people neglect their exercise regiment because they don’t know where to find a gym or they don’t feel safe running or exercising in public places. Similarly, diets are neglected or some begin drinking too much alcohol. The way that our bodies feel physically directly affects our emotional health. A healthy diet and consistent exercise can help balance our emotional lives when confronting the difficulties of an international move.

  The second area of concern is the intellectual dimension. When we step into a new culture we often find that we understand very little about the local customs and history. Due to our lack of understanding we sometimes assume that people think like us and value the same things we do. Reading and inquiring about the history and the culture of Cuba can help one to see things from a Cuban’s perspective and develop greater empathy for their culture and ways of thinking.

   Tending to emotional needs when moving overseas will help us weather the ups and downs of the adjustment period. Finding people who are in similar positions that you can talk to and confide in helps to alleviate some of the loneliness that one feels.

   When a person begins to feel down, sometimes they are listening to negative “tapes” in their head. One’s “tapes” consist of the things we tell ourselves or the conversations that we have in our own minds. The negative tapes need to be consciously changed to positive and hopeful messages. From “I am a failure and I hate this place” to “things are getting better every day.” It may seem somewhat Pollyanna-ish, but it really works.

  Finding a group of friends, learning the language, and getting involved in clubs or activities help to fill the social needs that we have when changing our latitude. This requires time and dedication, especially if one wants to meet locals. Meeting locals is essential for long-term happiness overseas, but it can take a long period of time and a great deal of proactive planning. It may sound harsh, but it’s important to remember that the locals don’t really need you. They have their families and friends from their entire lives. You need to insert yourselves in their lives.

  In my time working with people in international transition I have seen may cases of fabulous success, but I have seen many spectacular failures. If a person develops a plan and proactively carries it out, it is very probable that you will find success and happiness in your new Latin home. 


Throughout this book the author has provided the most up-to-date information available on living in Cuba or Latin America. The author has also given many useful suggestions to make your life in Cuba more enjoyable and help you avoid inconveniences. Adjusting to a new culture can be difficult for some people. The aim is to make this transition easier so you can enjoy all of the marvelous things that Cuba offers.

You will notice countless other different customs and cultural idiosyncrasies after living in Cuba for a while. No matter how psychologically secure you are, some culture shock in the new living situation will confront you. The best thing to do is respect the different cultural values, be understanding and patient, and go with the flow.

The fastest way to fit in with the locals is to speak the native language. You do not have to be fluent in Spanish. The locals will recognize your interest; doors will open and friendships will blossom.

Another thing: if your purpose in coming to Cuba is to recreate your life in the US, it is better to stay in the States. You will find it perhaps more expensive, and not like the US. Though it might seem strange to have to say it, this is not the US but a third world nation.

If it bothers you the idea of living in a third world nation bothers you, you might want to think twice about doing so.

There are a lot of people who move here with the intention of recreating their life up north, but in a warmer, more beautiful place. Often they get very disgusted because the Cubanos don’t seem to be on board with their desires.

Things Every Prospective Expatriate Should Know

When moving to a foreign country, making adequate pre-departure preparations is essential. Here are some tips to make your international move easier.

1) Be sure to undergo a complete medical check-up before leaving to avoid dealing with a major health issue overseas.

2) Take one or more advance trips to your destination to familiarize yourself. It’s worth the investment.

3) Take the appropriate documents on the advance trip to start the immigration paperwork. Consulate personnel in the country can secure the visa and residency permit more efficiently than those working thousands of miles away.

4) If you have dependent children, in your pre-departure research, be thorough in seeking the availability of education in your host country.

5) Make sure you and your family understand the country’s culture so that they know what will be accepted in terms of volunteer and leisure activities at your new home.

6) In case of health emergencies, make sure you know good health-care providers and how to contact them.

7) Use a travel agency for booking en-route travel so you may search for low-cost fares.

8) Check into purchasing round-trip tickets for en-route travel. They may be less expensive than one-way. And the return ticket may be used for other travel.

9) Remember the sale of your Stateside home increases year-end tax costs due to lost interest deduction.

10) Cancel regular services and utilities. Pay the closing bill for garbage collecting, telephone, electricity, water, gas, cable TV, newspapers, magazines (or send them a change of address), memberships such as library and clubs, store accounts (or notify them that your account is inactive), and credit or check - cashing cards that will not be used.

11) Leave forwarding address with the Post Office or arrange for a mail forwarding service to handle all your U.S. mail.

12) Give notice to your landlord or make applicable arrangements for the sale of your home.

13) Have jewelry, art, or valuables properly appraised, especially if they will be taken abroad. Register cameras, jewelry and other similar items with customs so that there will be no problem when reentering the U.S.

14) Make sure a detailed shipping inventory of household and personal effects (including serial numbers) is in the carry-on luggage and a copy is at home with a designated representative.

15) Obtain extra prescriptions in generic terms and include a sufficient supply of essential medicine with the luggage.

16) Obtain an international driver’s license for all family members who drive. Some countries do not recognize an international driver’s license

but they issue one of their own, provided you have a valid home country license. Bring a supply of photographs as they may be required in the overseas location for driver’s licenses and other identification cards.

17) Bring a notarized copy of your marriage certificate.

18) Arrange for someone to have power of attorney in case of an emergency.

19) Close your safety deposit box or leave your key with someone authorized to open it if necessary.

20) Notify Social Security Administration or corporate accounting department (for pensions) where to deposit any U.S. income. Make sure the bank account a d routing numbers are correct.

21) Bring copies of the children’s school transcripts. If they are to take correspondence courses, make arrangements prior to departure and hand-carry the course material.

22) At least learn the Language basics prior to going to a foreign country. Trying to integrate with the new culture without the ability to communicate can be frustrating if not impossible.

23) Learn about the country’s people and way of life before moving there. Go to your library, call your intended destination’s tourism board and read all of the travel publications (magazines and travel guidebooks) you can to educate yourself.

Though this short article only provides a brief overview of the essentials, use it as a guide to prepare yourself for a smooth transition abroad.


Official Guide to
Cuban Spanish

Official Guide to Cuban Spanish

For those who want to communicate with the locals and to develop basic Spanish survival skills, purchase our one-of-a-kind eBook which includes Cuban slang in English


"I always keep this book on my tablet so that I can maneuver through Cuba’s linguistic maze."

Max Gómez, Cuba Scout, Travel Expert

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Information herein is authorized through the courtesy of Christopher Howard, author of the best selling Cuba information source, Living and Investing in the New Cuba. Please be aware that all information herein is protected by COPYRIGHT © and misuse of it will carry a penalty by law.