In Cuba there is a selection of furnished and unfurnished apartments and even houses for rent to foreigners. As a standard rule of thumb, newcomers to any country should never buy a house, condominium or other property “right off the plane”. Only a fool would make such a stupid mistake. When looking for a place to rent it is always best to shop around and compare prices if you are looking to save money. The first thing you should do is find a hotel or room to use for temporary living while you search for permanent lodging and decide where you want to live. Then search for an apartment or house to rent for at least six months to a year in order to get acquainted with the customs and living conditions and to sample the weather. After this time if you decide that living in Cuba is not for you, you are not burdened with having to get rid of a piece of property.
To find a house or apartment start by talking to other foreigners who live in the area you like. This won’t be difficult since a kind of bond exists between foreigners living abroad. You will make good friends easily. They will almost always know someone who is renting or selling property. If you can read Spanish try looking in the local paper. The prices are usually lower and you can find good deals. If you don’t understand Spanish you should learn the following words so you can understand ads and signs when looking for housing: agua caliente-hot water, alfombrado-carpeted, amueblado-furnished, sin muebles-unfurnished, baño-bathroom, cocina-kitchen, cochera or garaje-garage, contrato-contract, déposito or anticipo-deposit, dormitoriobedroom, guarda-guard, jardín-garden, seguro-safe, patio-patio, parqueo or estacionamiento- parking. Talk to people on the street and let them know you are looking to rent. Walk around the neighborhood in your favorite area, ask questions and look for signs that say “Se alquila “which means “for rent”. When you do find a house or apartment to rent, try using a native Spanish speaker to approach the owner and ask what the price is. This way you can find out what the real price is and not be taken advantage of because you are a foreigner.
In most Latin American countries there is a two tiered price system: inflated prices for tourists and real prices for residents. Knowing this can save you money in the long run. When you do find a rental, before handing over any money or signing a rental agreement be sure to see if: there is a hot water tank and it works, all the faucets and valves work and there is adequate water pressure, all the toilets function properly, the water is potable; the light switches and plugs work, each room has enough outlets, the house or apartment has a phone, the roof leaks—very import any during the rainy season, there is garbage service available; there are signs of cockroaches, other bugs or rats, all of the locks, doors and windows work correctly, the house is secure against robberies, there is enough closet space, there is mail delivery, there is a bus stop, market, hospital and school nearby—if you have children. Air conditioning is necessary. Are pets permitted? Are there noisy neighbors and heavy traffic? Even if you are renting on a month-to-month basis, you should make sure your house or apartment meets most of the above conditions. If you do decide to sign a lease or contract, make sure you know what you are signing. Have your lawyer or some other knowledgeable person check all the papers. Have a copy translated for yourself. Ask for lower rent if you sign a long term deal. Also make sure the owner will take care of repairs and provide security. A live-in maid or gardner can help watch your place when you are away.
If you decide you want to remain in Cuba and choose to buy property, be sure and follow the same procedure as we suggested above when renting property. If everything meets with your satisfaction, you are almost ready to buy. However, first check to see if the person who is selling you the property is really the owner. In Latin America it is common practice for someone who is not the owner to sell a piece of property. Another scam is to sell the same property to several different people. Check all public records like the title of the land and see if there are encumbrances or taxes owed. Whatever you do don’t buy anything ‘sight unseen’, however tempting it may seem. Don’t be an impulsive buyer. When buying don’t forget to compare prices in the area to make sure you are getting a good deal and not paying too much.
Also find out about taxes, transfer costs and other fees. Finally, go to a reliable lawyer and have all the paperwork checked before any money is exchanged or anything is signed. We have heard too many horror stories of foreigners being swindled in real estate ventures in other Latin American countries. So, do your homework and be careful! It is also advisable to talk with other foreigners who have purchased real estate. Find out what obstacles they have encountered. Be sure to ask them for advice and any other helpful information they are willing to provide. This is especially true if you decide to build a home. By doing your home work you can save yourself a lot of grief and unnecessary errors in the long run. If you do build a home someday, don’t expect things to go as smoothly as you planned. Things work differently in the third world. Make allowances for untimely delays, the work ethic of your laborers, bureaucracy, and the availability of certain building material