STAYING CONNECTED IN CUBA
Your trip to Cuba is an excellent opportunity to get in a digital detox. For those travelers who can't get off the grid, however, it's possible to stay connected in Cuba. If that will be by phone, then you just have to accept that your Cuban roaming comes with Cuban roaming charges. Or if you plan to use internet-based communication, understand that connecting to the internet is not always simple and, at times, simply not possible. Sincerely, why not step back 20 years and focus on connecting with the people you're with rather than those far away?
CUBA MOBILE PHONE SERVICE
Personal Mobile Phone Service in Cuba
It’s possible that your mobile phone will work in Cuba. Verizon and AT&T both have contracts with ETECSA (Cuba’s national telecommunications company) to provide roaming services. The price for texting is about 5 cents for incoming texts and 50 cents for outgoing texts. Voice calls are about $3/minute.
You can also rent a SIM card from Cubacel to use your U.S. mobile phone in Cuba. This, however, only works if your phone is unlocked and GSM-capable. Cubatel’s SIM cards come with pre-paid minutes, and a daily rental fee is included. Unless you have a few hours to spare trying to deal with this after you arrive, it’s not a very good solution. You can also buy a SIM card and put it in your compatible phone, but again, this takes time and won’t be worth it for people only coming for a week or two.
Renting U.S. Mobile Phones for Cuban Travel
Renting a U.S. Phone Before You Go
A select number of specialized mobile phone companies provide travel phones compatible with Cuban roaming. Before traveling to Cuba, you can rent compatible phones from Mobal, Cello Mobile, or National Geographic’s Cellular Abroad. Expect rental fees and additional texting and per-minute call charges with data optional depending on the type of phone rented.
Renting a Phone in Cuba
You can rent a phone from Cubacel upon your arrival in Cuba. Cubacel offices are located in Havana’s José Martí International Airport. Expect a nonrefundable deposit as well a daily fee, and additional texting and per-minute call charges still apply. Data’s not available on these rented phones.
CUBA INTERNET ACCESS
ETECSA, the national phone company, operates a number of internet cafés locally known as telepuntos in larger cities such as Havana and Santiago. You may purchase an access ticket in telepuntos that allow you to use the internet by the hour or by the minute. There are also some private internet cafes in larger towns or cities.
Hotel Business Centers
Many of the larger, modern hotels have a business center where guests can purchase internet access.
More and more public internet areas are sprouting up around Cuba. Most towns have several parks or public spaces where internet WiFi is available. In Havana and other large cities you will find multiple locations. You have to buy a card to connect to the system and the current rate (June 2023) is 24 CUP per hour. Cards can be purchased at Etecsa locations, hotels and for a small premium, from people on the street.
Approximately 50 major resorts and hotels throughout Cuba offer WiFi, and they generally charge an hourly rate.
Check out the FCC’s Cuba telecommunications FAQs page for further details!
Alternative Messaging Apps
We highly recommend you install WhatsApp, Signal or Telegram on your phone before you leave home. WhatsApp is the most widely used, but what matters is knowing which app your family or friends have and install that same one. When you are connected to the internet you will be able to use these apps.
Install a VPN (Virtual Private Network) on your phone and/or laptop:
If you plan on trying to communicate with people abroad, or need to do any banking or purchasing while in Cuba, then having a VPN is essential. Because of the US embargo, when a US company detects that the signal is coming from Cuba, you will often be blocked. Even for basic use like Facebook or messaging apps, having a VPN can avoid connection issues. You can easily purchase a VPN and install it before you go. You cannot purchase and install one once you are in Cuba.
You can learn about VPNs by doing a search, but simply put, they make your internet secure by encrypting data, but the main advantage is that you are able to choose a location outside of Cuba so that other computers think you are somewhere else. This does have the added advantage of protecting you from phishing, hackers or other internet threats.
It's easy to buy and set up a VPN and if you choose carefully it won't impact your internet speed very much. Some VPNs to consider are: Surfshark, NordVPN, VYPR and PIA. Again, be sure you purchase and set up your VPN service on your phone or any other device you plan to use in Cuba before leaving home.