Communication in Cuba

Forget any worry you might have about disappearing into a communications black hole on arrival into Cuba. Despite what you may have heard, the country is embracing modern communication, and with a little planning, there’s no reason you can’t use your favourite methods of communication as you would at home.

Access to the web

It’s first worth noting that internet access in Cuba is not as widespread as it is in most other parts of the world, and you’ll struggle to find WiFi hotspots in restaurants and bars. It’s therefore worth having important pieces of information written down. You’ll also likely to notice that the speed is much slower than you’re used to. Be patient! Computer terminals with internet access can be found at the shops of ETESCA, the country’s sole telecommunications company or at many 3-5* hotels. You’ll need to buy a scratch card with a username and password first, which gives you an hour’s surfing that lasts 30 days. It’s even simpler if you have your own device, as major towns and cities have WiFi hotspots in squares, parks and larger hotels. Free WiFi is almost impossible to find, and you’ll have to pay for this access by buying a 1 hour ‘Nauta’ card. Bought from an ETESCA shop, Nauta cards cost 2 CUC (Cuban Convertible Pesos, equivalent to US$1). Queues for the cards can last up to 2 hours however, so it’s not uncommon to buy them instead from locals at a slightly higher price. (Hotels can charge up to 5 CUC for the same card.) For this reason, it’s well worth buying enough for your whole stay on the island when you come across them.

Roaming

You can use your mobile phone as you do at home provided you meet the following prerequisites: your phone provider has an agreement with Cuba’s local provider Cubacel, you have activated global roaming on your contract, and your phone works on a frequency band of 900MHz. It’s best to check these before your arrival in Cuba. Please note that roaming in Cuba can be very expensive (especially when using data).

Getting a local SIM

If your mobile is unlocked, you can also rent a local SIM card from Cubacel, the mobile division of ETESCA and one of Cuba’s two mobile networks (Cubacel and Digicel). Once you’ve bought some credit (top-up cards cost 10 and 20 CUC) you can make calls and send SMS text messages (but not access the internet) like any other Cuban. Renting a SIM costs 3 CUC per day, and you must return the SIM when you leave the country. You can also opt to rent a handset for an additional 6 CUC per day. There’s a handy ETESCA store in terminal 3 of the airport. Calls within Cuba cost 0.35 CUC per minute during the day and 0.10 CUC at night, while international calls are always charged at 1.20 CUC per minute. An SMS message will cost you just 0.09 CUC within Cuba, and 0.60 internationally.

Using a Landline

The easiest way to make a landline call is to use the phone at your accommodation. The cost may be a little higher than when using a public telephone booth, but you only end up paying for the actual length of the call (rather than needing to buy a phone card) and you won’t find yourself cut off if the call takes longer than you expect. Public telephones are available across the country. To make use of them you’ll need to buy a phone card, currently available in 10 and 25 CUC units, from ETESCA. Calls to most parts of the world outside Cuba can cost a very expensive 4 CUC per minute.

Posting letters

The Cuban postal service is slow but generally reliable when sending postcards and letters. We don’t recommend sending parcels by this route (use DHL instead) given the number that seem to get ‘lost’. Postcards with stamps already attached can be found in many shops, saving you the hassle of queuing up for a stamp yourself at the post office. To send a postcard internationally costs around 1 CUC, but delivery times to North American and Europe can take anything up to a month! With all the communications options available in Cuba, there is no reason to worry about lacking connectivity with the rest of the world so long as you keep our hints and tips in mind.

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