Making headlines for opening up international relations and embracing travelers from every country, Cuba is a destination on many people’s mind. Cuba has remained true to itself during times of industrialization; you can still dance at a habana, eat to your heart’s content of moros y cristianos, and stay up late musing the African, indigenous American, and European influences that braid the island. The stars have aligned and right now is the perfect time to teach abroad in Cuba; the changing landscape of the twenty-first century and the liberalization movement is motivating the nation to spread valuable knowledge to the next generation of Cubans.
Cuba is the largest island in the Caribbean, but a large portion of Cuban citizens live in the capital and largest city, Havana, which is located on the country’s northern coast. Havana offers many teaching opportunities for young teachers looking to get a start in the international teaching scene, instructing all grades from elementary to high school in a variety of subjects. In general, all schools in Cuba use Spanish as the language of instruction, with the exception of a few English and French-instructed international schools, which are mostly based in Havana. The nation’s capital is chockful of live music and incredible food (yuca con mojo - yum!), so those who decide to call this city home will have plenty available to them. Havana also has a fascinating history of pirate raids and a street layout made up of lots of twists and turns, so exploring will surely be enthralling.
Other smaller cities where it is possible to find teaching jobs in Cuba include Camagüey and Santiago de Cuba, both none the richer culturally, but all the richer in their more remote experiences.
Teaching Jobs in Cuba
All Cuban citizens are entitled to an excellent education, so schools in Cuba must align with a set of strict national standards. Since the Cuban school system is close-knit, those looking to teach in Cuba may find it easiest to contract out their job search to a teaching placement provider, rather than approaching and applying to individual schools.
Pre-Primary Education. Pre-school in Cuba focuses on themes common throughout the world, such as improving language skills, encouraging pattern recognition, and rewarding social skills. A master’s degree in early childhood education or a bachelor’s and five years of relevant experience is generally required to secure one of these coveted teaching jobs in Cuba.
Primary Education. Elementary and middle school students wear different colored uniforms for each grade throughout most of Cuba. Interestingly, primary teachers in Cuba tend to follow their students from grade to grade for several years, encouraging a deeper teacher-student connection over the course of several years; therefore, teachers must sign a minimum of five-year contract in order to be hired for full time primary school teaching jobs in Cuba.
Pre-University Education. High school aged children enter “pre-university” education in Cuba, where students must choose whether they’d like to enter a path toward university education or attend a vocational school. To enter university, students must score well in subjects such as Cuban history, Spanish, and mathematics, so teachers ept in any of the latter subjects will likely find their job search to be a bit easier.
Private Tutoring. Many expats living in Cuba have a desire for their children to learn English. If you are not fluent in Spanish, it is unlikely you will find a full-time teaching jobs in Cuba at a school, but English tutors for families can earn sufficient wages. Networking is a large part of securing these type of positions.
Salaries & Costs
Cuba boasts the most advanced education system, on all levels, in all of Latin America. This is largely because Cuba leads the world in educational funding; Cuba invests a huge 13 percent of its GDP into their national schooling system, the highest of any nation in the world. Monthly salaries for teachers in Cuba average around 525 Cuban pesos, which converts to roughly $20. This may sound meager to those accustomed to thousands of dollar salaries, but keep in mind that Cuba operates very differently compared to other first world nations. Cuba is a socialist nation, meaning that salaries are kept low across all professions, encouraging a sense of equality.
In fact, salaries are mostly symbolic in Cuban culture, because most everything it takes to live is heavily subsidized by the government, so additional payments are provided just to ensure that citizens can dress how they want to and prepare specialty meals if desired, promoting individual expression. For employed citizens, therefore, food and housing is provided at little to no cost. Therefore, the conversion between Cuban pesos and US dollars is all but meaningless to those living in Cuba. A Cuban peso is the virtual equivalent to a dollar while in Cuba, meaning that items that cost a dollar in the United States (a bus ticket, fruit at the market) cost one peso in Cuba.
Accommodations & Visas
Again, housing in Cuba operates very differently than in other nations. If you are employed as a teacher, your school will provide you with accommodation for a small percentage of your salary. Living arrangements are not a stress factor for Cuban citizens, because the government guarantees safe living spaces for employed persons. International teachers often live in apartment complexes together, near the school that they are employed at. There are many misconceptions about living in Cuba; the first being the state of slum living in inner city parts of Havana and Santiago. Cuban citizens are guaranteed excellent and safe housing, and existing slums remain only as tourist attractions in most cases.
Securing a visa to teach abroad in Cuba may be a challenge for people of certain nationalities, U.S. citizens in particular. U.S. citizens are not eligible for travel visas, but rather must have proof of intent to teach in Cuba. However, for the most part, visa processes in Cuba are similar to other Latin American nations. You can apply for a 90-day tourist visa, or, if you have been offered employment by a particular school, you can be sponsored for a longer visa. Most people looking for teaching jobs in Cuba use a third party placement company; these companies usually streamline the visa application process for aspiring teachers.
Benefits & Challenges
The biggest challenge you will face is the misconceptions many hold about Cuba. Due to its strong socialist central government, many individuals in the Western world believe Cuba to be a desolate third world country that its citizens are trying to abandon. Instead, people that travel to Cuba have their opinions expanded when they see the high standards of living, excellent education system, and the near eradication of poverty that much of Latin America suffers from. You are sure to fall in love with Cuba’s lively population, its love of classic cars, and infamous music and food.
It is an exciting time to travel to Cuba. As the Cuban government adjusts their political ideologies in the face of twenty first century advantages, including the allowances of small businesses, property ownership, and internet access, Cuba’s population must rapidly adapt to their new lifestyles. International teachers can help ease this transition while educating the nation’s young minds!