Embarking on a journey as a digital nomad in Cuba stirs a mix of excitement and uncertainty. This Caribbean island, with its rich history and vibrant culture, offers an unconventional yet fascinating destination for the modern nomad.
However, several questions naturally arise: How reliable is the internet? What are the living costs? Can I find suitable accommodations?
This blog post delves into these concerns, providing essential insights and practical tips to navigate the unique challenges and opportunities of living and working remotely in Cuba.
Let’s unravel the mysteries of being a digital nomad in this intriguing country!
You might also like: Complete Guide for the Digital Nomad in Medellín
Why be a digital nomad in Cuba?
Cuba is an exciting place with lots of history for a small island. It occupies a huge space in popular imagination, even becoming a topic of electoral debate in many developed countries. That alone should be a reason to want to see Cuba closely. But wait, is Cuba a destination for digital nomads? It could be, and I’ll tell you why!
First off, I can assure you this will be a unique experience. Maybe you’re tired of the usual destinations among digital nomads: cosmopolitan cities that are always more or less similar. Well, Cuba is different. You’ll be confronted with a place that seems to have stopped in time, where the logic of things is entirely different from what we’re used to.
Cuba has history at every corner, and being there feels like you can see and touch it. It’s a fascinating country with one of the world’s most surreal and compelling stories. It’s a privilege to understand it firsthand, to talk with Cubans to get their perspective and to see up close the consequences and development of this history for the current moment.
Anyone who sees geographical flexibility as an opportunity to learn more from the world should consider Cuba on their list of destinations. As digital nomads, we have access that regular tourists usually don’t because we spend more time and, in a way, end up “living” the dynamics there.
Of course, as foreigners, we still have privileges unreachable for the average Cuban, especially those charged in dollars. Nevertheless, this is an excellent experience for those who go with an open heart to live something they’ve never lived before and are willing to sacrifice a bit of the comfort we seek in big metropolises to see a new world.
Connectivity and Internet in Cuba: How Does It Work?
This is the million-dollar question and the reason many digital nomads give up on going to Cuba. Before traveling, I researched the subject a lot, and all the information I found online discouraged me from going.
However, being stubborn, I bought a ticket to spend 30 days in the country, and if it was actually impossible to work from there, I was prepared to take a vacation. In the first week, I discovered that, although expensive and unstable, the internet was sufficient for my needs. I ended up staying 87 days in the country, without failing any of my professional obligations.
So, how did I manage to work via the internet in Cuba?
Like everywhere else in the world, in Cuba, you can access WiFi networks or use the country’s 4G mobile network. The difference is that WiFi is not available in most Airbnbs or family homes. There is WiFi in larger hotels, but in my experience, it was always much slower than using the 4G network.
This is because, just before the pandemic, the Cuban government improved the speed of the mobile network and expanded access to it in the country.
I got a local SIM card and used a phone to tether to my computer, thus allowing me to work.
How much does internet cost in Cuba?
Phone SIM cards are sold at ETECSA stores, the Cuban telecommunications company. You’ll need to present your passport, pay for the SIM card, and top-up. Currently, a package with 4GB (4g) + 12 GB (3g) costs 950 pesos, or 4 dollars at the unofficial exchange rate.
This is the largest internet package available at the moment and it usually lasted between 5 days and a week for two people working full-time. And I must say, I do some heavy tasks, like downloading and uploading videos and using Canva a lot.
Remember, Cuba is undergoing a intense inflationary process at the moment and prices might be different during your trip.
In three months, we spent 170 dollars on mobile data for two people.
Public WiFi and Hotels in Cuba
You must have heard that Cubans use the internet in the square, right? Well, that’s true! When they do it, they’re connecting to public networks provided by the government.
You can also access these networks. But for that, you need to buy a card with credits to access the network. The cards are sold by time, and you can buy 1, 2, or 5 hours of internet access. As soon as you connect, it starts counting the time, stopping when you disconnect. You can use the card as many times as you want until time runs out.
You can find these cards in various ETECSA stores around the cities, in hotels, and sometimes even in small street stalls. But here’s a tip: the cards can be a little more expensive in the hotels, so it’s worth looking for an ETECSA store.
Once you have the card, you need to find a WiFi hotspot. These hotspots are generally located in public squares, cafes, hotels, and other public places. You’ll know you’re in one of these places when you see a bunch of people looking at their phones.
Personally, I found this form of access very slow and hardly used it during my time in the country.
On the other hand, higher-end hotels, especially those geared toward international tourism, tend to offer better connectivity. You can either stay in one of these places or buy a WiFi card at the reception and access it from the hotel’s lobby, cafes, and restaurants.
I did this at a resort in Cayo Santa Maria, and it was one of the best connections I had in months, but this quality varies in each establishment.
Verdict: How difficult was it to work with Cuba’s internet?
I won’t lie that I didn’t get frustrated at any point. The internet, both WiFi and mobile, can be very unstable and completely drop from time to time. Therefore, I would only recommend the experience to those with some flexibility in their work.
As I said, I didn’t fail to meet any of my commitments, including maintaining my social media posting schedule and making all the video calls I needed. However, there were days when things simply didn’t go smoothly, and I ended up more stressed than I should have been. You know when it takes hours to do simple things because technology doesn’t help? Yeah, that.
So, I believe it is possible to work remotely in Cuba, but it’s not necessarily easy. We have to lower our expectations regarding the timing in which things will be accomplished and go at a different pace. Sometimes, you’ll have to leave things for tomorrow; there’s no way around it.
One popular tip around the Internet is to organize everything to do most of your work offline and only use the Internet when necessary. I didn’t do this because it’s almost impossible for me, but it’s something you might try if it makes sense for you.
Visas and Regulations: How Long Can I Stay in Cuba?
Since November 2022, most foreigners entering Cuba on a tourist visa can stay there for 90 days. Before that, most people could only stay for 30 days, renewable for another 30.
This change undoubtedly benefits those who want to spend time as a digital nomad in Cuba without worrying about bureaucratic procedures.
The visa is straightforward to obtain. It’s called Tarjeta de Turismo, and it is just a small form where you must include your personal information. It costs only 20 dollars, and most of the time, you can buy it at the time of check-in, directly at the airline’s counter. This is true for most airlines that fly from other countries in Latin America, such as Copa and Wingo. However, you should confirm whether the airline provides this service if you are flying from other places.
In case it is not provided, the best thing to do is to buy it from a visa or travel agency. Do not fly to Cuba without a visa since they are not available on arrival, and the bill in case you do that is quite expensive.
Why You Should Use a VPN to Access the Internet in Cuba
In Cuba, some web pages and online services are restricted or blocked. This includes specific news sites, social media platforms, and some streaming services.
Although I found it less restrictive than I had imagined, a VPN allows you to bypass these restrictions by accessing the internet as if you were in another country. It enables you to access these services as if you were in your home country or another country with fewer internet restrictions.
During my time in Cuba, I used the Shurfshark VPN. It is supposed to be the best VPN for travel, because it works on all sites, including Netflix, which is rare. And the best part is that you can get up to 83% OFF on your subscription, plus 3 months free if you get the annual plan.
Therefore, installing a VPN on your computer and mobile phone is essential for visiting Cuba. Do this before entering the country, as once there, you won’t be able to install it.
Accommodations for Digital Nomads in Cuba
Finding the perfect spot to drop your digital anchor in Cuba is quite easy! Here’s the lowdown on accommodations for digital nomads in Cuba:
- Casa Particulares: These are the primary choice for tourists in a short stay in Cuba, and you might consider them if you plan to stay longer. Staying in a ‘casa particular’ lets you experience authentic Cuban hospitality. They’re typically affordable, and you get to mingle with locals, a plus for cultural immersion. However, there might be better options than that if you value privacy and a sense of having your own home. Nevertheless, there is a way around it. It is possible to find casas particulares that rent rooms and studios with independent kitchens, toilets, and even entrances.
- Airbnb: Cuba’s Airbnb scene is growing. You’ll find a range of options from cozy rooms to entire apartments. While less ubiquitous than in other countries, they offer more privacy and sometimes better internet reliability than casas particulares.
- Hotels and Resorts: For those seeking more comfort and amenities, hotels and resorts are available, especially in tourist hotspots like Havana and Varadero. They’re pricier but offer consistent quality and services, including potentially more stable internet access – a big win for digital work.
- Hostels: Budget-friendly and sociable, hostels are great for solo nomads. You’ll meet fellow travelers, and some hostels even cater to digital nomads with dedicated workspaces.
Where to find and book accommodation in Cuba
- Airbnb: It’s one of the most popular options for booking accommodation in Cuba. With a range of listings from private rooms to entire homes, Airbnb can cater to various preferences and budgets.
- Booking.com: This site offers a mix of hotels, casas particulares, and guesthouses. It’s user-friendly and often includes free cancellation options, which can be handy for flexible travel plans.
- Casa Particular Websites: You will find a few websites dedicated to casas particulares, the Cuban version of bed and breakfasts. Places like ‘MyCasaParticular.com’ or ‘CubaCasa.co.uk’ specialize in these accommodations.
- Hostelworld: Ideal for budget travelers and solo nomads, Hostelworld lists hostels focusing on communal experiences and, often, budget-friendly prices.
- Local Travel Agencies: Once you’re in Cuba, local travel agencies can also assist in finding accommodations, especially if you’re looking for something last-minute or off the beaten path.
Remember, internet access can be limited in Cuba, so booking accommodations in advance is a good idea. Also, read reviews and check for WiFi availability before getting there.
Climate in Cuba
Nestled in the Caribbean, Cuba enjoys an inviting and consistent tropical climate throughout the year. Here’s what you need to know about the climate in Cuba:
- Warm and Humid: Cuba typically experiences warm, humid weather with temperatures averaging around 25°C (77°F).
- Rainy Season: May to October is the rainy season, with frequent, albeit often short-lived, showers.
- Dry Season: November to April is generally drier and slightly cooler, making it the peak tourist season.
- Hurricane Season: It’s important to note that June to November is hurricane season, with September and October being the most active months.
Understanding the climate is key for planning your trip, especially for outdoor activities and packing appropriate clothing.
Despite the occasional rain or storm, Cuba’s weather contributes to its lush landscape and outdoor life.
Best Digital Nomad Destinations in Cuba
Cuba, with its unique charm and vibrant culture, offers several destinations that stand out for digital nomads:
- Havana: The capital city is a hub of history, culture, and relatively better internet connectivity. It is ideal for those seeking a lively urban experience.
- Trinidad: Known for its well-preserved colonial architecture, Trinidad offers a slower pace of life, perfect for those looking to immerse in local culture.
- Varadero: Famous for its stunning beaches, Varadero is ideal for nomads looking to balance work with relaxation by the sea.
- Cienfuegos: Known as the ‘Pearl of the South,’ it offers a tranquil environment with a touch of elegance and history.
- Santiago de Cuba: A city rich in music and heritage, it’s perfect for nomads interested in experiencing Cuba’s diverse cultural roots.
These destinations provide a mix of culture and comfort, making them ideal for digital nomads exploring Cuba.
Cost of Living in Cuba
Navigating the cost of living in Cuba as a digital nomad or visitor presents a unique set of considerations. Here’s what you need to know:
- Accommodation: This is likely your biggest expense. Prices vary greatly depending on location and type, with options ranging from affordable apartments (around $600 per month) to more expensive hotels and resorts ($200 per night).
- Food and Dining: Local eateries, known as ‘paladares’, offer reasonably priced meals, typically between $3-$5. Groceries for cooking at home can be more cost-effective but might lack variety due to import restrictions.
- Transportation: Local transport is quite affordable. Buses, known as ‘guaguas,’ are cheap, though often crowded. Taxis and car rentals are available but can be pricier, especially for tourists, since they charge foreigners in dollars.
- Internet Access: This can be a significant cost if you rely on purchased internet cards or data plans. Prices for internet access have decreased in recent years, but it’s still a notable expense for digital nomads. As said before, expect to spend at least 30 dollars per month on data if you plan to work full-time with it.
- Leisure and Entertainment: Costs vary widely. Museums and cultural sites usually have modest fees, while nightclubs and tourist-centric activities can be more expensive. However, beer was never cheaper in Cuba: $0,50 per can.
- Healthcare: While healthcare is generally affordable, having travel insurance as a foreigner is mandatory. Keep in mind that some companies do not offer coverage in Cuba due to restrictions. Check out the best travel insurance for digital nomads.
- Miscellaneous: Due to limited availability, daily essentials and personal care items can be more expensive than expected.
You can expect to spend between $800 – $1200 to live as a digital nomad in Cube, depending on your preferences and lifestyle.
Tips for Managing Costs:
- Eat where locals eat to save on meals.
- Consider a longer-term rental for accommodation savings.
- Use local transportation for an authentic Cuban experience at a lower cost.
In summary, while Cuba can offer a cost-effective lifestyle, particularly regarding local food and transport, expenses like accommodation, internet, and tourist activities can add up. Planning and local knowledge are key to enjoying the real life there while managing expenses effectively.
How to Exchange Money in Cuba
The exchange rate in Cuba in 2023 is around 240 pesos per dollar on the streets. The official rate used in government stores and banks is 110 pesos per dollar. Here are a few things you should know:
- Currency: Cuba operates with the Cuban Peso (CUP), known as ‘moneda nacional’. The second currency, known as CUC, no longer exists.
- Where to Exchange: You can exchange money at airports, banks, and official exchange houses (CADECA). However, the exchange rates are far worse than the ones you will find on the streets.
- Cards and ATMs: Credit and debit cards not issued by U.S. banks are generally accepted in government stores and restaurants but not in private establishments. It’s wise to bring all the cash you will need for the time you plan to stay in the country since ATMs are unreliable. Dollars and euros cost the same on the streets, so it doesn’t matter which one you bring.
- Budgeting: Estimate your weekly or monthly budget in advance to avoid frequently exchanging money.
- Keep Small Change: Useful for tips and minor expenses.
As the official currency loses value every day, Cubans will be eager to exchange money with you. The best thing to do is to find someone reliable who applies a fair rate and only deal with them.
Grocery stores work differently in there
Grocery shopping in Cuba can be quite a different experience from what you might be used to elsewhere. Due to import restrictions and economic factors, the variety of products in Cuban grocery stores is often limited compared to stores in many other countries.
The country has two types of stores – state-run stores and private markets. The state-run stores, also known as MLCs, operate in a currency that equals the dollar and only accept credit cards for payment. The products offered at these stores can vary a lot. Therefore, it’s recommended to visit them regularly to see what’s available and make purchases whenever you come across something you need.
Private markets, known as Mipymes, might offer more choices since they now have permission to import, but prices can be high.
Cuba operates a ration system for some essential goods, which means certain items are available at subsidized prices for Cubans but in limited quantities. That is the case with products as common as eggs. For foreigners, it’s only possible to buy these products on the black market, and the prices are high due to limited availability and high demand.
In 2023, a box with 30 eggs would cost $15 in the local farmers’ markets (agros).
Besides grocery stores, the agros are great places to buy fresh vegetables, meat, and other local products. Everything is organic and tastes delicious, but the variety is limited.
Some shops are geared towards tourists and may have more variety but at higher prices. Learning some basic Spanish phrases can help you shop where locals do.
Best places to buy essentials in Havana
- Mercado Agropecuario 19 y B: The best farmers market I visited there. There is a good variety of vegetables, meat, spices, and other local products.
- Home Deli (Calle 12 #508 e/ 21 y 23, Vedado): Many imported products, such as pasta, sauces, rice, cookies, and more. They also have frozen homemade food, such as lasagnas, that taste really good!
- Kombini (108 Línea, La Habana, Cuba): An excellent place to find imported food like Pringles and Italian pasta. They also have a good deli meats, wine, and cheese selection.
- MLC Aseo: There is a small MLC that only sells beauty and personal hygiene goods on the ground floor of the building La Torre, close to a Panamaricana store. This is a good place to buy shampoo, hair conditioner, and soap.
Apps to download before going to Cuba
Here are a few apps that can help in your stay in Cuba. Remember to download them before traveling to the country since they might not be available while in there.
- VPN: Essential for bypassing internet restrictions and accessing a wider range of online services.
- La Nave: This app works as Uber in Cuba. It is essential since the taxi drivers on the street will try to charge you much more than they are supposed to. Rides with La Nave use to be half of the price.
- Maps.me: A reliable offline map app that can be a lifesaver for navigating the streets of Cuba, especially in areas with limited internet connectivity.
- Mandao: For food delivery. Few restaurants are available, but still useful.
Digital Nomad Community in Cuba
Cuba is not a common choice for digital nomads, and it is possible that you are not going to meet any while there.
As internet accessibility improves, we may see a change in the upcoming years. However, this shouldn’t be a reason for not going right now. See this as an opportunity to get to know locals and mingle with them.
Cubans are very social and love to chat with foreigners. They will even go out for a few beers or a party with you. Talking to them is the best way to understand the country’s complicated politics and economy deeply.
Cafés and Coworking Spaces in Cuba
As far as I know, the two coworking spaces in Havana closed in the past few years due to government restrictions.
However, you can still work in cafés and paladares around the city. Hotel lobbies are also a great place to bring your computer whenever you want to leave home.
What to pack for Cuba?
- Hygen and beauty products: While basic toiletries are available, specific brands or products might not be, so pack accordingly.
- Medications and Health Supplies: Bring any prescription medications, as well as over-the-counter drugs you might need. Include basics like pain and fever relievers, antidiarrheal medicines, and band-aids.
- Sun Protection: Sunscreen, sunglasses, and a hat are essential to protect yourself from the intense Caribbean sun. I found sunscreen in stores in Varadero but not in Havana. They are not as easy to find as you would expect in a Caribbean country.
- Electronics: Don’t forget your charger and an adapter for Cuban outlets (110V, American-style plug). A portable charger can be handy.
You can not enter the country with a drone.
Challenges and Practical Tips Conclusion: Is It Worth Being a Digital Nomad in Cuba?
Navigating the life of a digital nomad in Cuba presents a unique blend of challenges and rewards.
Challenges of Being a Digital Nomad in Cuba:
- Internet Access: Limited and unreliable internet is the most significant hurdle.
- Infrastructure: Basic amenities and services may not meet the standards of more typical nomad hubs.
- Cultural and Language Barriers: Understanding local customs and Spanish language proficiency are essential.
Practical Tips for Digital Nomads in Cuba:
- Plan for Connectivity: Seek accommodation with reliable internet and consider local SIM cards.
- Embrace Local Culture: Engage with locals and learn basic Spanish to enrich your experience.
- Budget Accordingly: Prepare for unexpected costs and limited availability of some goods.
Conclusion: Is it worth being a digital nomad in Cuba? For those seeking a culturally rich and unique experience and who can navigate the logistical challenges, Cuba is a rewarding destination. It offers a deep dive into a vibrant culture and a chance to slow down and reflect.
However, it may not be the ideal choice for those reliant on high-speed internet and modern conveniences. Cuba is perfect for adaptable nomads who value rich experiences and cultural immersion over digital convenience.
Editor of Yes, Summer! I am a Brazilian journalist, writer, and digital nomad. I have been traveling the world, telling stories, and tasting local beers since 2010. I am the co-founder of 360meridianos, a reference in travel writing in Brazil, and author of the newsletter Migraciones. On social media, I'm always reachable at @natybecattini.