Is Cuba A Third World Country?

Cuba has been a popular travel destination for its lovely weather, stunning beaches, friendly people, and affordable travel options. Depending on who you ask, many consider Cuba to be either a third-world country or an underdeveloped country. But is Cuba a third-world country, or is that just a common misconception?

As of 2022, Cuba would be considered a third-world country by certain standards. However, it would be more appropriate to classify Cuba as either a low-income country or a developing country. That said, Cuba has a lot of wonderful qualities that make it a much more beautiful country than many people might realize. 

Outside of Cuba’s famous resorts, there is a lot to explore about Cuba that would make it much easier to classify them as a developing country. 

Is Cuba A Third World Country?

Cuba is considered a third-world country by much of the world. The economy in Cuba does have some improvements to be made. In terms of essentials like housing and food, there are some areas of Cuba that experience a shortage in terms of availability. The job market is also fairly slim in Cuba, with little opportunity for Cubans to create their own job opportunities. 

Recent studies have found, however, that Cuba ranks quite high when looking at human development. This includes factors such as life expectancy and quality of education. It also includes the condition of its environment and how it has been either protected or exploited. The country’s natural environment has been taken care of extremely well by both the government and the citizens. 

Due to the government’s structure in Cuba, there isn’t much of an income gap based on occupation. The salary for each job, regardless of education or skill level, remains around the same. The government has a huge say in how much money a person can make in Cuba. For those who work in Cuba’s tourism industry, there is the potential to make more money through earning tips. 

Why Classifying A Country As Third World Is No Longer Accurate 

The meaning of what constitutes a third-world country has changed since the terminology was coined. At first, a country’s status as either first, second, or third-world was related to its allies. As such, who countries had certain agreements with and how they were involved in the UN and NATO would determine their classification. 

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The meaning changed around the 1990s to describe a country’s economic situation, as well as how it was set up in terms of innovation. There is also the public’s perception of what constitutes a third-world country, which can lead to the average person misclassifying a country based on opinion rather than tangible evidence. 

As such, trying to classify a country as the first, second, or third-world is no longer considered accurate, as it can mean different things to different people. This is above and beyond the negative connotations associated with this terminology. Instead, the more appropriate terminology that paints a clearer picture of a country’s overall condition would be underdeveloped, developing, or developed. 

Is Cuba A Developed, Developing, Or Undeveloped Country?

Cuba would be considered a developing country, though some might argue it is underdeveloped in some aspects. Even though the U.S. embargo that has existed on Cuba had initially had a negative impact on Cuba, the people and the government were able to find alternative methods to ensure they could produce what they needed to live on the island. 

As such, Cuba has been able to become quite innovative in terms of agriculture and creating food sources. They were able to do so without exploiting the environment, and this has also led to new ways to generate some movement in the economy. For example, the government called for people to use balconies to grow small gardens for themselves, which helped to generate food sources for individual families. 

The Communist structure of Cuba’s government is also part of the reason the country is classified as developing. The government has a lot of say in the daily lives of Cubans. There is not as much potential in Cuba to start your own business or earn a substantial income, which could be good or bad depending on how you look at it. 

Cuba’s Economic Structure 

Since the economy plays so heavily into a country’s classification, it’s important to look at Cuba’s economic structure to determine how it has earned its classification and third world or developing. Cuba is known for having very little economic freedom in terms of earning potential and business venture opportunities. That said, Cuba has been experiencing somewhat of an increase in economic security over the last few years. 

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Taxes are also pretty high in Cuba. For individuals, the income tax rate goes as high as 50%, and for corporations, it goes as high as 30%. Government spending is also fairly high, at almost 70%. There are not a lot of privately owned businesses in Cuba, as the government doesn’t allow for it. 

One point of contention for many Cubans is the inability to start a business, as well as the severe limitations on owning property or transportation. This has led to some unrest in Cuba as of late. There are some people who are self-employed, mainly in the retail sector. 

Due to the embargoes in place, there is not a lot of trade coming in and out of Cuba. This has caused some economic strain on the country for many years, and it doesn’t seem as though it’ll change anytime soon. It is also very difficult for citizens to own property, as the government owns the majority of homes and other structures in the country. 

What Makes Cuba A Popular Tourist Destination 

While Cuba has had its fair share of financial crises, the government has been aware that investing in creating beautiful tourist resorts would be part and parcel with feeding the economy through tourism. The country and its government has created a variety of resort areas with attractive amenities and affordable prices. 

Cuba has also been ranked as one of the most sustainable countries due to their efforts to reduce their carbon emissions. The country, as a whole, also believes that keeping the environment clean and protecting its natural resources is a major priority. Tourists can easily see the fruition of these efforts by how stunning the country is, how clean the water is, and how lovely the ecosystem is. 

Due to these environmental efforts, which can rival the efforts of many other countries in the world, the government and the citizens of Cuba have been able to avoid exploiting the lush nature, any available resources, and keep the land pristine and as free of waste as possible. Their coral reef system is one of the healthiest in the world. 

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How Cuba Compares To Western Countries 

The culture in Cuba is vastly different than in Western countries. For example, Cubans don’t rely on large supermarket chains to supply them with food and other household essentials. It’s common for some Cubans with balconies or available land to grow some of their own food, or shop at smaller markets for other essentials. 

The Internet is also somewhat scarce in Cuba, and those who wish to use it will pay a high price for it. They also do not use credit cards for their purchases, and they don’t have a vast amount of fast food and convenient food options that they can take on the go. 

Cuban Culture 

Cuban people have earned a reputation for being incredibly friendly and open to sharing their culture with tourists. The reputation is a deserved one, though as with every country, you’ll find a range of people who are happy and proud and some who are not. This can be explained easily, as there are some areas of Cuba that are more impoverished than others. 

Cubans also take quite a bit of pride in their music and their food. Cuban jazz is one such form of music unique to the country, and many clubs will hold music nights for Cubans to dance the night away. Music can be heard when walking the streets of Cuba, and many businesses will have people strumming a guitar or bands playing throughout the day. 

As with other countries, the culture can vary depending on where you travel in Cuba. Each pocket of the country has their own unique customs and traditions that the people who live there hold dear. Even though, by Western standards, Cubans live with very little in terms of luxury, it doesn’t seem to phase Cubans or leave them unhappy. 

Final Thoughts

Taking a step outside of Cuba’s resorts, you will see some impoverished and underdeveloped areas, but you will also see a bustling ecosystem with ample resources still intact, areas for wildlife to safely roam, and incredible natural features.  

While tourism has helped boost Cuba’s economy, there is still much progress that can be made in order to help Cuba move from developing to developed and avoid being labeled a third world country. 


Marta Kovachek
About the author: Marta Kovachek graduated from the university with a master’s degree in Economics. Marta enjoys writing about the current economic situation and loves helping our readers to find their next "destination". From places to live to complex social and economic topics, we always enjoy Marta's work. Please contact us in case of any questions.
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