While Cuba is a close neighbor to the United States, however it has been long forgotten by travelers due to its tumultuous history and international relations. After many years of not being able to travel directly to Cuba, Americans now have the opportunity to do so, just like their peers from around the world! Cuba is brimming with a unique culture and stories that cannot be replicated elsewhere, and it is a very affordable place to intern abroad when compared to European countries and its neighbors in the Caribbean. It also offers wonderful warm weather, which is why the hospitality and tourism sector is booming.
Unbeknownst to most, Cuba is actually a group of islands. The main island is named Cuba and holds the country’s capital, Havana. As a newer location for internships abroad, Cuba holds a lot of potential for intern-seekers. The main cities of interest for internships in Cuba also happen to be the most populated ones: Havana and Santiago de Cuba.
Havana holds the most opportunities for internships in Cuba because of its sheer size, it’s home to about 2.2 million people. In addition, it is the capital city, major port, and leading commercial center of the country. As a result, it attracts over a million tourists a year. It is the main hub for business, international relations, and academics, which is very appealing for individuals looking for internships in Cuba. Havana is located along the northwest side of Cuba.
Santiago de Cuba is located on the other end of the main island, in the southeast area, and is home to around 420,000 people. Other locations in Cuba may be of interest to potential interns, however they are not as popular and well-known, or as populated. Santiago de Cuba is also a popular area for cultural related internships in Cuba, as its local citadel (San Pedro de la Roca) is a site on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
Internships in Cuba
With the upcoming travel opportunities between the United States and Cuba, tourism will most likely peak (especially given Cuba’s proximity to the U.S., Mexico, and other Caribbean islands). Tourism as of now is the second largest industry in Cuba (after exports of services), and recently generated over one billion dollars of revenue. This makes the field of hospitality and tourism one of the main options for internships in Cuba. Interns can expect to work in hotels and travel companies, mainly doing administrative work and learning the basics in entry-level positions. Depending on how long individuals intern in Cuba, tourism work may also include customer oriented tasks, which allow interns great face time with visitors and experience in the field!
A second category of internships in Cuba is related to its past history with the arts, such as internships in music, dance, and architecture. People interested in the humanities will take a liking to how much this country has to offer as well, since Cuban culture is a unique blend of African, South American, European, and North American influences. Internships in Cuba related to the arts and music have a large focus on fieldwork, and interns can expect to attend concerts or live shows and help out in museums. Arts internships in Cuba will help interns learn what it takes to run things behind the scenes.
Internships in Cuba can last anywhere from one to eight weeks, and beyond, depending on each intern’s personal preferences. Many internships can be combined with Spanish language classes to make the most out of your stay in Cuba. Work hours depend on the company where you are placed but can vary from part time to full time, though internships in Cuba will most likely not be paid (unless otherwise noted due to visa regulations). You will most likely need to have either academic or professional experience in the field you hope to intern in.
Salary & Costs
As a result of visa regulations, most internships in Cuba will be unpaid. Although, some may offer stipends for work done when funding is available. However, this should not discourage you from applying to intern in Cuba! The experience you will gain in Cuba is unmatched to anything in your home country, because it will make you stand out from the crowd of applicants for future jobs! In cases where monetary funding is not available, many programs or companies will offer other incentives, such as free language courses, lessons, meals, or lodging.
The cost of living in Cuba is relatively low compared to the United States and Europe. A meal at a casual restaurant will only cost around $5 per person. Buying food at a local market will save you money rather than eating at restaurants. A one-way ticket for local transport can be as low as four cents, and biking and walking are even cheaper options. If rent is not included in your internship in Cuba, housing can still be found for low prices; rent costs run around $200 a month outside of city centers and around $400 a month in city centers. Naturally, rural areas are less expensive than urban areas.
Accommodation & Visas
Living arrangements in Cuba may vary. Many internship programs will arrange for intern to stay with homestays, if participants are willing, or arrange for a small apartment accommodation (usually for couples or families). However, homestays are a wonderful option to immerse yourself deeper into Cuban culture and practice Spanish on a daily basis.
Individuals will need a visa to intern in Cuba. Most likely this can be arranged through the internship program provider or the company (or agency) that you will be working with; requirements may vary based on the type of internship you will be fulfilling. To enter the country, you will need a tourist visa (also known as a Tourist Card) along with your passport (which should be valid for at least six months after your date of departure). If you do not have a passport, you should apply for one immediately as the process can take up to 90 days.
Entry into Cuba is allowed considering that you will be going for educational purposes, but you should double check with the program or company that you are in touch with to make sure all is in order to do so. All internship programs and companies that accept interns must be approved by the Cuban government and the OFAC (Office of Foreign Assets Control). OFAC states that travel related transactions are permitted for certain activities, including but not limited to family visits, religious activities, athletic competitions, humanitarian projects, and educational activities.
Benefits & Challenges
The experiences you will encounter in Cuba will range from the warm and sunny weather every day to living in a country that is very different than most Western ones.
- Culture. Historically, Cuba is known to possess a culture that was frozen in time decades ago, because Cuban culture has been immaculately preserved throughout history.
- Language. Interns may face some challenges in regards to language if they have never studied Spanish (it is encouraged to do some studying before you head over!). However, with the vast tourism and hospitality sector, many urban areas will have people that speak English (this may not be the case for rural areas). Learning Spanish will also be fairly easy to pick up if you are interning in Cuba and living as a local too.
- Safety. Cuba has been described as one of the safest islands in the Caribbean.
- Visas. The process required for Americans to obtain a visa for educational purposes is not too much of an issue as American are allowed to travel to Cuba under OFAC policies, but be sure to obtain approval from your internship provider ahead of time. Advanced planning is key to receiving a visa successfully and on time.