Cuba can be a great place to do business, if you are patient enough to wade through the bureaucracy. Cubans are proud of their country and are eager to do business with foreigners, but because it is a Communist state, there is protocol that must be followed.
Cubans are highly educated. The official language of the country is Spanish, and the majority (about 95 percent) of Cubans is Roman Catholic, according to Culture Crossing.
If you want to do business in Cuba, you will have bureaucracy to work through. Begin with the Cuban Chamber of Commerce to find the proper government officials to meet with. You will want to schedule business meetings at least one week in advance. You will be expected to be on time for business meetings, but it is a long-standing tradition for your Cuban hosts to keep you waiting for up to one hour. Do not be insulted; this is just standard practice. Before the meeting begins, engage in some small talk. Family is important in Cuba, and the subject is a good conversation starter.
Most business officials speak English, but having an interpreter present is still a good idea. It is common to be interrupted while speaking and this practice is not considered rude. It is, however, rude to look away from a person while you are speaking. Use of slang denotes poor education and is considered vulgar. Use of profanity is highly offensive in the Cuban business world. While many Cubans speak English, it will be helpful to have some rudimentary Spanish phrases and terminology memorized.
Dress and Appearance
Men should wear long-sleeved shirts to meetings, but a tie and jacket are not necessary. Short sleeves are not appropriate at meetings. Women may wear dress slacks or a dress to meetings. Be aware that Cuban men will not hesitate to appreciate clothing that accentuates the female body. To keep matters focused on business, find clothing that is not too revealing or clingy. Though the climate is hot and muggy, casual clothing is not acceptable for business functions. Shorts, short-sleeved shirts and sneakers are best left for days when you will not be meeting with clients.
Lunch is the main meal for business meetings and will last around two hours. Dinner is more formal and business is not typically discussed. It is common practice for men to stand when a woman enters the room or leaves the table. Drinking is a large part of the culture in Cuba, especially during business lunches. If you bring a gift for your hosts, do not give anything lavish. A small token from your home country (that costs less than $25 in U.S. currency) is appropriate.
Tips and Taboos
Avoid the subject of politics with your clients. Even if they are not fond of the Communist Party, Cubans are loyal to their country and will be offended by negative talk of the political system. Request permission prior to photographing anyone, and never photograph members of the military, policemen or any areas that are heavily guarded. Blowing your nose while in public is considered gauche and should be avoided. Littering is against the law in Cuba.
Cate Rushton has been a freelance writer since 1999, specializing in wildlife and outdoor activities. Her published works also cover relationships, gardening and travel on various websites. Rushton holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Utah.