Cuba, perhaps one of the most iconic and culturally unique Caribbean nations and currently a hot topic in the political sphere, is more than just a time-warped island nation. Cuba also has opportunities for students to undergo an international internship.
For Americans in particular, interning in Cuba is one of the few legal ways to visit the nation (with the recent changes in Cuba policy being the driving force behind this), and definitely an avenue to consider if you've always wanted to explore and learn more about Cuba. Do note, however, that going through an organized program provider or established organization is the best way to find an internship in Cuba. Independently organizing your own is extremely difficult, if not impossible.
From interning in Havana with the UN, to traveling further outside Cuba's capitol to get field experience with an environmental or medical internship, Cuba is sure to offer you an intern abroad experience unlike any other in the region.Photo: Adam Lerner
When and Where to Look
There are two major cities on the island: Havana and Santiago de Cuba, both home to many opportunities for internships. Since the embargo is in the process of being lifted, many of the opportunities for Americans are strictly for college credit. However, this is not your only option -- especially if you’re a passport holder of another nation.
Application times vary from program to program and many have rolling applications. This being said, if applying for a college credit internship, student or teacher internship it is always good to apply between May and June for the fall term and October and November for the spring term.
Prices of the programs can range from 1,000 USD to 3,000 USD depending on the length of stay, program type, equipment necessary, and visas required. Placement for a lot of these programs will also take anywhere from one to three months to find the spot perfect for you.
If you are not a student looking to travel to Cuba for an internship one of the best options is to go through a program provider. There are multiple different options but some allow you to work or intern while being enrolled in a course like Cuban dancing or Spanish, allowing for a total cultural emersion.
The labor laws are constantly changing to help improve working conditions for the people. Since the lifting of the embargo a United States citizen can travel to Cuba under 12 categories such as study, journalism, educational programs, or religious activities. Most internships fall under educational programs.
Most programs will assist in the right paperwork necessary to enter Cuba legally although this process can take a few months help is always provided and can be found by contacting the State Department directly.
Cuba's visa laws are pretty complicated, and it's always smart to make sure to read the rules thoroughly.
Getting an internship in Cuba is a little different than other countries. For once, you're better off going through a program (because of legal constraints) and pairing the internship with language or cultural studies.
Internships exist in fields ranging from hospitality and tourism to journalism, medical, architecture, environment, and science.
Though competitive, there are also opportunities to intern with the UN in Cuba. These are only open to a select number of graduate students.
Work and Culture in Cuba
Despite the Communist regime, Cuba is slowly turning its economy into a forward position. Since the 60s when Castro took over the country there have been many changes. From the practically homeless initially being able to afford higher rents to being yet again stripped of those riches granted, Cuba is finally finding an economical balance.
A true melting pot, Cuban culture is influenced by French, African, Asian, and Spanish traditions creating one of the most artistic and culturally colorful societies.
Architecture is dripping with romance and history just waiting to fill up the memory card on your camera. It makes you wonder if walking to work is really like that scene in Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights where everyone is swaying to the rhythm of music, playing the guitar, and basking in the Cuban sun.
A typical workweek is 48 hours, as required by the government. Although the number of government or public employees has dropped from 91% to 77% since the 1960s laws are still set in place by the government regarding hourly wage and hours.
In attempts to open up the economy Cubans are now able to file for licensing to become self employed, start their own business, or become a homeowner boosting the moral of the Cuban people.
Although there are many attempts to promote individuality and improve the economy there are still hints of communism such as portioned and rationed foods and controlled television. But, despite all of this color and life still run rampant through the streets of the old cities.
Working in a communist country means there are certain laws that must be followed such as wage and hours per week. Cuba has one of the lowest wages in the Western hemisphere ranging anywhere from 5 USD to 20 USD per month. As an intern, you shouldn't expect to get paid in Cuba.
In past years, due to the embargo, an overflow of government employees, and a lack of tourism working conditions were heading south, but in recent months due to the government's downsize and opportunities to work for private companies the direction has been reversed.
Accommodations will often be provided as well as proper working conditions. Most internships will most likely be unpaid or paid in just enough money for spending money during our time on the island.
Surprisingly low wages can be frightening when thinking of working for an extended period of time in a country. However, cost of living in Havana is fairly low. On average, excluding rent, monthly expenses can be kept under $100 unless you want to tack on Internet which will bump up your bill by another $100.
Factoring in rent, a 3 bedroom apartment in the city center is only $250 per person and basic electric us under $10 a month. A three-course meal can be found for under $15 and beer is only $1.
It can also be helpful for the shopaholics out there to know that there are not a lot of department or commercial stores -- the first Zara was just opened less than a month ago.