Useful Information

Exploring and Living in Cuba

  • Register

Throughout this book we have provided the most up-to-date advice and rules for living and retirement in a Latin American country like Cuba. We have also provided many useful suggestions to make your life more enjoyable and help you avoid inconveniences. Adjusting to a new culture can be difficult for some people. Our aim is to make this transition easier so you can enjoy all of the marvelous things that living in a Latin American culture offers. 

Before moving permanently to anywhere in Latin America, we highly recommend spending time here on a trial basis to see if it is the place for you.  We are talking about a couple of months or longer, so you can experience how life really is.  Remember visiting Cuba as a tourist is quite another thing from living here on a permanent basis. It is also good to visit for extended periods during both the wet and dry seasons, so you have an idea of what the country is like at all times of the year. During your visits, talk to many retirees and gather as much information as possible before making your final decision. Get involved in as many activities as you can during your time in the country. This will help give you an idea of what the country is really like.

The final step in deciding if you want to make the move is to try living there for at least a year. That’s sufficient time to get an idea of what living in Cuba is really like and what problems may confront you while trying to adapt to living in a new culture. It may also allow you to adjust to the climate and new foods. You can learn all of the do's and don’ts, ins and outs and places to go or places to avoid before making your final decision.

You may decide to try seasonal living for a few months a year. Many people are snowbirds and spend the summer in the United States, Canada or Europe and the winter in Latin America (which is its summer), so they can enjoy the best of both worlds—the endless summer. 

Whether you will choose to eventually reside in Cuba on a full- or part-time basis, keep in mind the cultural differences and new customs.  First, life in a Latin American culture very different. If you expect all things to be exactly as they are in the United States, you are deceiving yourself. The concept of time and punctuality are not important in Latin America.  It is not unusual and not considered in bad taste for a person to arrive late for a business appointment or a dinner engagement. This custom can be incomprehensible and infuriating to North Americans but will not change since it is a deeply rooted tradition. 

In most cases bureaucracy moves at a snail’s pace which can be equally maddening to a foreigner.   In addition, the Latin mentality, machismo, seemingly  illogical reasoning, traditions, different laws and ways of doing business seem incomprehensible to a newcomer.

You will notice countless other different customs and cultural idiosyncrasies after living in a Spanish-speaking country 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.  Once again, Learning Spanish will ease your way.

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.

Whatever you do, try to avoid being the “Ugly American”. We know cases where Americans have caused themselves a lot of problems by their obnoxious behavior and by trying to impose their American ways on the locals.

You should also read Survival Kit for Overseas Living, by L. Robert Kohls, Intercultural Press, P.O. Box 700, Yarmouth, Maine 04096.  This guide is filled with useful information about adjusting to life abroad.

Someday Cuba will be exciting place to live but presently poses many obstacles for the newcomer. Don’t expect everything to go smoothly or be perfect at first. By taking the advice we offer throughout this guide and adjusting to the many challenges, you should be able to enjoy all of Cuba's wonders.

Our recommendation is not to burn your bridges or sever your ties with your home country; you may want to return home.  

Try taking the adaptability test in this section to see if you are suited for living abroad.

Here are some observations of a person who moves to Latin America:

  1. Culture shock can be hard the first year here.   Make yourself as comfortable as you can.  This is not the time to hole up in a one-room place with cold water after leaving your comfy nest in the United States or elsewhere. You are dealing with language  and cultural differences.
  2. Affiliate with something.  Attend language school, church, clubs or other activities. You can be alone in a crowd, and you are far from home.  Reach out to friends.
  3. Have something to do.  I have seen the Hammock Syndrome affect many: nothing to do, tilt the rum bottle, hang out looking for women (or men), lose goals and lose focus.  Volunteer, build a house, have a pet, but build a life.     
  4. You must learn the language. If you don’t, you are not really living in a country; you are just existing. Listen to people speak and try to copy them.  It is the way a child learns his native language. Get a best friend who is local and cut a deal.  I teach you, teach me. Hey, one hour a day.
  5. Let yourself fall in love with this country.  There are a million wonderful things about it. Avoid people who fuss and complain; it is so very boring but it reinforces negativity. Ever meet a Frenchman or a German in the United States who sits around all day talking about the potholes in Texas? I bet you would avoid that guy after a while or suggest that he go back to Stuttgart or Timbuktu. I allow myself only one tiny complaint a day.
  6. Do what every successful expatriates does and have a creative life with goals.
  7. A controversial comment, but I feel I must make it: men seem to “make it” in Latin America better than women who move there from abroad. There are many reasons for this and many exceptions, I suppose. However, American women and other women: be aware of this tendency and do all you can to ameliorate it. Find a way to belong aside from your life with mate or husband.
  8. Leave the S.C.C . (Second Coming of Columbus) syndrome at home. No matter what you think ofLatin people, they do not need another European-type to come save us from ourselves or to help civilize the people.  Get involved in the community, but avoid the rich gringo role.“

Here are some reasons why some people don’t adjust to living abroad. These observations are is from a foreigner who moved to Latin America.

“This is not a definitive list, but in my experience the expatriates. I’ve known who return to their home countries in North America or Europe do so for the following reasons, in order of frequency:

“1. Need more money.  So they go back, make a chunk of money, return, do that a few times, then either settle down up there, or stop spending so much here and settle down here.

“2. Can’t adjust to the culture. There are many people I know who cannot adjust, get totally wiped out emotionally from a robbery and become sure-fire cynical.  And the number of people who couldn’t live without the consumer power, options and protection they were accustomed to, really, those are the quickies — in and out in a year. “

“A few I have known who have gone back to their homes were not sufficiently prepared for a different culture. I had one acquaintance who complained bitterly that should speak English. She was angry all the time about banks, stores etc. She wanted an American city with third world prices and climate. Illogical and crazy, yes. Things here are done on a different time schedule and that drove another person I knew nuts.

“3. Missed family and friends. Grandparents seem to fit into this category, and might repatriate after years of living abroad.

“4. Death of a spouse and, severe health problems.

“5. Not realizing you are a guest, no matter how long you live abroad. You must be prepared to adjust to the culture, learn the language (or improve your ability to communicate in their tongue), realize that not everything is 100 percent (is it in the United States or wherever you came from?). Not finding a purpose for your life. Not not everyone whomoves abroad has trained for retirement for the most part.  Time weighs heavy; some drink more, some find more things to complain about because they haven’t anything to do. “

“6. Couples who don’t see eye to eye don’t last abroad. It takes unique people to move to a foreign country and couples should have a common goal to build a new life in this wonderful country.

“If he or she can’t leave papa or momma or the kids, don’t move abroad. If he or she doesn’t want to adapt to a new culture, don’t move. If your marriage is on the rocks and you think a geographic cure is needed, don’t move.”

You really need to do your homework moving to any foreign country.


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

Medal Award

Not ready to relocate to Cuba yet,
then check out 
Costa Rica Latin America’s #1
retirement haven


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.