HAVANA — The majority of Cubans receive a state salary of $20 per month. That number averages out to around $0.71 per day, well below the international poverty line of US$1.90 per day. But the $1.90 figure does not account for the many services that the Cuban government provides for free, such as healthcare and education. So what is the cost of living in Cuba?
To understand the cost of living in Cuba, it is necessary to understand that Cuba has two currencies, CUC and CUP. A single CUC is roughly equivalent to US$1. This currency is generally used by foreign tourists. The other currency is the Cuban peso or CUP, and $1 is good for about 24 CUP. This is the currency used by Cuban nationals for most daily purchases.
That monthly figure does not have to cover some basic costs that factor into the cost of living in other countries. Education and healthcare are both public and completely free. The government provides housing, so Cubans do not have to pay taxes, rent or mortgages, either. Basic food is also subsidized through the individualized ration book that every Cuban receives.
Most Cubans do expend a portion of their monthly salary to supplement their allotment of rice, beans, bread and other necessities. Pork, the protein staple of the Cuban diet, costs a little under the $0.02 per pound. The cost of bottled drinking water in Cuba ranges from $0.75 to $1.
One of the biggest expenditures for the average Cuban is transportation. The local city bus costs about $0.02. Collective taxis, another popular form of urban transport, cost just more than $0.40. Outside major cities like Havana and Santiago de Cuba, transportation is much more expensive and harder to come by. In general, Cubans do very little traveling outside of their respective cities or towns.
Cubans save on certain services, but when it comes to goods, what is the cost of living in Cuba? High transportation costs and import taxes from countries like China result in high prices for household appliances. Some basic goods, such as toiletries, cost the same amount as in the U.S. But a $3 deodorant is one-eighth of the total monthly salary. Internet access is incredibly hard to come by in Cuba, and every hour of internet use costs $1.50.
Since the 1990s, most Cubans have been supplementing their state salaries with private incomes. These earnings vary widely, with some taxi drivers able to make a few hundred U.S. dollars a day. Private sector jobs are limited and concentrated in popular tourist areas, but for those lucky enough to earn $10 or $20 extra per month, the cost of living is vastly reduced.
Cuba is also a largely agricultural country, so the true cost of living varies between urban centers like Havana and rural provinces like Pinar del Rio. The government’s commitment to equal access ensures that there are schools, health clinics, food rations and CUC markets with additional supplies in every town.
All things considered, what is the cost of living in Cuba? It turns out to be much lower than in the U.S., but in some ways, Cubans must pay a greater share of their much smaller incomes. One important indicator to consider is the use of remittances sent home from abroad. In Latin America, this important source of income is primarily spent on educational and medical costs. Even though Cubans face many of the same difficulties as their Latin American neighbors, they are at least able spend their extra income on developing small businesses and improving their quality of life.
– Bret Serbin