Living in Cuba

Exploring and Living in Cuba

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With the new era in Cuba-U.S. relations, the country has become very popular.

You really only have have two options for accommodation during your visit to Cuba. They are either a hotel or a casa particular (homestay). Cuba currently has about 180 hotels and 30,000 rooms available. Due to the current influx of tourists more and more new hotels are being built. But accommodations still remain in short supply, especially in Havana. To find hotels in Havana or other parts of the country, just get on the Internet and start searching. Long-term hotel stays can be very expensive.

However, if you take your time and look around you will find more reasonably priced lodging. Your best bet is to rent a room from a family in a casa particular. Your lifestyle and resources really determine what type of living facilities you end up with. Since you will probably be using Havana as a starting point or home base.

Casas Particulares

This lodging is basically a Bed and Breakfast, a private room with full accommodation in a house with a Cuban family. The private rooms are less expensive than a hotel room and are the cheapest lawful lodgings you will find for your stay in Cuba. Prices vary between 30 cuc and 50 cuc (cuc = peso convertible 1 cuc=1 USD) nightly. Sometimes breakfast is included but in most cases it’s an extra charge of 3-4 cuc. In Old and Central Havana prices are around 25–30 cuc. In a 'better' district like Vedado 35-40 cuc is a normal price and in the residential upper class district Miramar 50 cuc or more is common. The Vedado and the Miramar districts area far quieter than the Old and Central Havana area, but the distance to Old Havana is about 3 to 5 miles so you need a taxi, almendrón or a Coco-taxi.

Always ask price and conditions before you make a deal.

A casa particular gives you the "real Cuba feeling", since it puts you in direct contact with Cubans. Renting a casa (private room) helps a Cuban family and in turn they can help you to with information about restaurants, transportation, renting a car, or by explaining the life in the country. It will also give you more privacy than just staying with friends.

Cuban citizens are not allowed to give shelter to tourist or foreigners. It is also worth noting that the people of Cuba are poor and you help to support them financially by choosing a more authentic stay such as a homestay rather than opting for a hotel.

Owners of casas particulares are taxed 80-90 percent of their earnings from your stay and actually take home very small amounts from the cost of your accommodation. Ignoring this law can lead to severe fines, up to 1000 cuc, a sum that equals five years salary for the average Cuban.

 The author’s Cuban friend, Eddie G., runs a five-room casa particular in Havana’s Vedado neighborhood. It is located in his family home that he was able to keep over the years. A room costs $35 per night. Breakfast is an additional $5. Owners like Eddie can be very helpful and provide vauluabe contacts, help you with a car rental s or a car driver for a few days for anyone thinking of staying in Cuba long term or living there. Eddie introduced the author to several Americans and Europeans who live full time in Cuba. Both were interviewed extensively to provide information for the guidebook.

If you desire close contact with the people, a casa particular is the only way to go, but it may not be for everyone. Do not expect complete hotel accommodations like a lobby, bar, restaurants, elevators, swimming pool, 24-hour room service, Internet, 24-hour surveillance which in most cases not provided in a casa particular.

The quality of the amenities may vary, depending where you choose to stay. Some of these services may be provided in the better casa's in the Vedado and Miramar area. Safety is generally not a problem in homes, but hotels are safer because of the 24 /24 h surveillance and the possibility to rent a safe.

In Old Havana some casas are situated in old decaying buildings. Some people will find this a real adventure while others will not find these accomodations suitable.

Be careful when choosing a casa particular. The room should be a legal. You should avoid illegal and unlicensed casas particulares. A legal casa means that the owner has an official license to let the room(s) and has paid the taxes (200-300 cuc each month even if he cannot rent his rooms). Be advised that there is a strong undergroung economy in Cuba. The owners of some casas particulares bribe tax collectors in order to pay fewer taxes. Government workers like tax collects are very underpaid and don’t pass the opportunity to earn a few extra cucs.

While hotels can be very easily booked online in advance, due to the lack of Internet availability in Cuba it is much harder to organize a homestay in advance in this manner. There are basically three ways to find a room in a casa particular.

  1. To find a room in a private home you can check out travel guidebooks like Lonely Planets Havana Guidebook or Moon Publications Havana by Christopher Baker. Both guides list homestays.
  2. You can also find an area you like within Havana or wander the streets of the smaller cities if outside Havana and look for a little blue anchor sign/plaque above the front door. This indicates that this is a homestay casa available to tourists. The red anchor indicates it is for Cubans visitors only. One friend of the author’s found a great casa particular in Vedado by pounding the pavement and asking questions. It really helped that he spoke good Spanish.
  3. Airbnb offers more than 1,000 properties including casas particulares across the island, with 40 percent in Havana and the rest in tourist destinations. A major drawback for the Cuban private lodging business has been the difficulty of renting from overseas on an island with one of the world's lower rates of Internet penetration and a constantly malfunctioning phone system. While dozens of websites such as TripAdvisor have listings for lodgings, most only provide phone numbers or email addresses for owners instead of the online booking and guaranteed reservations that Airbnb will offer. The Internet has the advantage that you can easely compare prices and location. The better casas particulares show pictures of the interiors and the neighbourhood and often give testimonials on their websites. It is good idea to make you selection in advance. If not, you will probably pay a commission included in the price, to the person who finds a casa particular for you once you are in Cuba. Normally an intermediary gets a five peso CUC fee per night from the owner.

For casas particulares:

For hotels:

Advice for renters

Havana Apartments Long Term Rentals

Some of the owners of Havana’s apartments offer a better rental price for longer stays. The best way to find a long-term rental is to ask people who run casas particulares, go from door to door in the neighborhood you like or ask people you meet.

 The author’s friend, Richard an American who lives in Vedado, rents a spacious one- bedroom apartment with many of the amenties of home for under $500 mohtly including utilities which are dirty cheap. Richard speaks little Spanish and found his place by word of mouth. He states, “Once you get settled, learn all of the ins and outs and make the right contacts thngs fall into place. You end up living much more affordably.” Richard plans to marry a Cuban citizen so he can purchase a beach-front condo and a car.”

Homes in Cuba

Foreigners cannot buy property or a home unless they have a first-degree Cuban relative or marry a Cuban citizen.

 Other solutions are a long-term lease of a casa particular (a legal private room) or the rent of a condo or in a place like a hotelsuite in the tourist center Marina Hemingway. Yacht owners can dock in the marina and stay on their boat.

In Cuba there is a selection of furnished and unfurnished apartments and even houses for rent to foreigners.

 As a standard rule of thumb, newcomers to any country should never buy a house, condominium or other property “right off the plane.” (not possible at thist ime in Cuba). Only a fool would make such a stupid mistake. Fortunately, for now this isn’t the case in Cuba due to current ownership restrictions. Many American who relocates to Latin American “falls in lust’ with a country and “leave their brain on the plane” — which means they do things that they would never do at home with their money.

Inside an American expat’s apartment in Vedado

To find a house or apartment start by talking to other foreigners who live in the area you like. This won’t be difficult since a kind of bond exists between foreigners living abroad who tend to gravitate towards each other. You will make good friends easily. They will almost always know someone who is renting or selling property.  If you can read Spanish, try looking in the local paper. The prices are usually lower and you can find good deals.

When looking for a place to rent it is always best to shop around and compare prices if you are looking to save money. The first thing you should do is find a hotel or room in a casa particular to use for temporary living while you search for permanent lodging and decide where you want to live. Then search for an apartment or house to rent for at least six months to a year in order to get acquainted with the customs and living conditions and to sample the weather. After this time if you decide that living in Cuba is not for you, you can oick up and leave.

 If you don't understand Spanish, you should learn the following words so you can understand ads and signs when looking for housing:

  •  Air conditioning.................................................aire acondicionado
  • Apartment....................................................................Apartamento
  • Backyard ......................................................... ......................Patio
  • Balcony..................................................................................Balcón
  • Bars (window)................................................... ..................Verjas
  • Bathroom .......................................................... .....................Baño
  • Beach.....................................................................................Playa
  • Bedroom ...................................................................... Dormitorio
  • Building............................................................. .....................Edificio
  • Carpeted............................................................ ................Alfombrado
  • Cable TV .......................................................... ....Televisión por cable
  • Condominium.................................................... .............Condominio
  • Contract... ..............................................................................Contrato
  • Deposit.............................................................. ................ Depósito, anticipo
  • Dining room .......................................................................Comedor
  • Dryer...................................................................................Secadora
  • Elevator............................................................. Elevador, ascensor
  • Farm .........................................................................................finca
  • Floor.............................................................. ............El piso, La planta
  • Furnished ......................................................... ...............Amueblado
  • For rent.............................................................. Se alquila, en alquiler
  • For sale.............................................................. ......................Se vende
  • Garage .............................................................. .....Cochera, garaje
  • Garden............................................................... ....................Jardín
  • Grassy area......................................................... ...........Zona verde
  • Ground floor ..................................................... ...........Planta baja
  • Guard................................................................. .....................Guarda
  • High speed Internet..................................... Internet de alta velocidad
  • Hot water …………………………………….................Agua caliente
  • House.........................................................................................Casa
  • Kitchen.................................................................................. Cocina
  • Laundry room.................................................... ......Cuarto de pilas
  • Living room.............................................................................Sala
  • Lower floor......................................................................Planta baja
  • Maid’s quarters...................................................... .Cuarto de servicio
  • Parking lot......................................................... ................Parqueo, estacionamiento
  • Patio .........................................................................................Patio
  • Peaceful, quiet................................................... ..................Tranquilo
  • Refrigerator..................................... ......................Refrrigeradora refri
  • Rent ................................................................................... Alquiler
  • Rooms...............................................................Habitaciónes, cuartos
  • Safe.................................................................... .......................Seguro
  • Shower............................................................... ...................Ducha
  • Stove.................................................................. ....................Cocina
  • Swimming pool.....................................................................Piscina
  • Telephone.......................................................... .................Teléfono
  • Tub.................................................................... ......................Bañera
  • Unfurnished....................................................... .............Sin muebles
  • View.............................................................................................La vista

Talk to people on the street and let them know you are looking to rent. Walk around the neighborhood in your favorite area, ask questions and look for signs that say “Se alquila “which means “for rent”. When you do find a house or apartment to rent, try using a native Spanish speaker to approach the owner and ask what the price is. This way you can find out what the real price is and not be taken advantage of because you are a foreigner. In most Latin American countries, there is a two-tiered price system: inflated prices for tourists and real prices for residents. Knowing this can save you money in the long run.

 When you do find a rental, before handing over any money or signing a rental agreement be sure to see if: there is a hot water tank and it works, all the faucets and valves work and there is adequate water pressure, all the toilets function properly, the water is potable; the light switches and plugs work, each room has enough outlets, the house or apartment has a phone, the roof leaks—very important during the rainy season, there is garbage service available; there are signs of cockroaches, other bugs or rats, all of the locks, doors and windows work correctly, the house is secure against robberies, there is enough closet space, there is mail delivery if available, there is a bus stop, market, hospital and school nearby—if you have children. Is air conditioning is necessary? Are pets permitted? Are there noisy neighbors and heavy traffic?

 Even if you are renting on a month-to-month basis, you should make sure your house or apartment meets most of the above conditions. If you do decide to sign a lease or contract, make sure you know what you are signing. Have your lawyer or some other knowledgeable person check all the papers. Have a copy translated for your records. Ask for lower rent if you sign a long-term deal. Also make sure the owner will take care of repairs and provide security. A live-in maid or gardener can help watch your place when you are away.

An apartment for rent in the Vedado section of Havana

If you decide you want to remain in Cuba and are able to buy property someday or under the conditions that are mentioned above, be sure and follow the same procedure as we suggested above when renting property. If everything meets with your satisfaction, you are almost ready to buy. However, first check to see if the person who is selling you the property is really the owner. In Latin America it is common practice for someone who is not the owner to sell a piece of property.  Another scam is to sell the same property to several different people. Check all public records like the title of the land and see if there are encumbrances or taxes owed. Whatever you do don’t buy anything ‘sight unseen’, however tempting it may seem. Don’t be an impulsive buyer.

 If you can eventually buy, do not forget to compare prices in the area to make sure you are getting a good deal and not paying too much. Also find out about taxes, transfer costs and other fees. Finally, go to a reliable lawyer and have all the paperwork checked before any money is exchanged or anything is signed. We have heard too many horror stories of foreigners being swindled in real estate ventures in other Latin American countries.

 So, do your homework and be careful! It is also advisable to talk with other foreigners who have been able purchased real estate. Find out what obstacles they have encountered. Be sure to ask them for advice and any other helpful information they are willing to provide. This is especially true if you decide to build a home. By doing your homework you can save yourself a lot of grief and unnecessary errors in the long run.

 If you do build a home or remodel an existing property, don’t expect things to go as smoothly as you planned. Things work differently in the third world, especially Cuba. Make allowances for untimely delays, the work ethic of your laborers, bureaucracy, and the availability of certain building material

Guidebook

Official Guide to
Cuban Spanish

Official Guide to Cuban Spanish

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Disclaimer

Living and Investing in Cuba - Live in Cuba - Retire in Cuba - Retirement Tours in Cuba 

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.