Havana, Cuba Report of what it's like to live there - 10/02/17
Personal Experiences from Havana, Cuba
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
No, I have lived in several cities in Asia and the Western Hemisphere.
2. What is your home city/country? How long is the trip to post from there, with what connections? How easy/difficult is it to travel to this city/country?
D.C., no direct flights, connect through Miami, Charlotte, or Atlanta.
3. How long have you lived here?
Less than 6 months.
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Housing is all rented from the Cuban government. They are generally large but not all of them. Commute times are mostly 15-20 minutes.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Very difficult to get anything here. Some European brands but availability is hit or miss. Cost is high. Use your consumables.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Mostly Cuban food (rice and beans) but a few very good Italian restaurants with wood-fired pizza grills.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Santanilla ants - or mini fire ants. They are everywhere and I hate them.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Non-existent. We help each other take mail and packages back to the US when we go on R&R.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Almost everyone has some sort of help, either gardeners, nannies, or maids. Prices range from 10-12 dollars a day.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
A small CrossFit gym is close to the embassy. The Marines do not open their gym to the U.S. embassy community.
4. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
None that I know of.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
You need to speak Spanish.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Not organized, and while I would not fear for my safety if I got on one I would fear for where I might end up as opposed to my desired destination.
2. What kind of car do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car do you advise not to bring?
Something reliable. And cheap. Bring all of the parts.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Satellite dishes on the roofs of houses - very slow connectivity. Don't plan to stream anything, though video chat works ok if it's not cloudy.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
1. Are qualified veterinarians and/or good kennel services available? Do animals need to be quarantined upon entry to the country? Are there other considerations regarding pets that are particular to this country?
People with pets seem to do fine.
Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:
1. What types of jobs do most expatriate spouses/partners have? Locally based or telecommuting? Full-time or part-time? Can you comment on local salary scales?
No local economy jobs available.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
The U.S. embassy is on ordered departure for attacks against diplomats. So yeah.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Health care is not great, everybody medevacs out for anything serious.
3. What is the air quality like at post (good/moderate/bad)? Are there seasonal air quality issues? Does the air quality have an impact on health?
I think it's fine, other people complain. It's heaven compared to Asian megacities.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Think South Florida.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Small and shrinking. Morale is in the toilet.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
Bid on Havana with extreme caution!
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
If it went back the way it was before the "attacks," absolutely. As currently staffed, never.
3. Do you have any other comments?
Oh yeah, beware of hurricanes.