Communication in Cuba – be it sending a postcard, making a phone call, or writing an email – is getting easier all the time, although it can still appear complicated compared to many other holiday destinations. A little planning ahead of time can be required, but if you follow our guide below you’ll be able to stay in contact with the rest of the world without issue.
Connecting to the internet
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 not all casa particular guesthouses, for example, will offer access, either via a PC or WiFi connectivity. This is changing rapidly however.
Should you need one, computer terminals with internet access can be found at the shops of ETESCA, the country’s sole telecommunications company. You’ll need to buy a scratch card with a username and password first, but the benefit is that any unused minutes can be used at a later time within 30 days. Internet cards can cost anywhere between 1.5CUC and 6CUC per hour of access depending on where you buy them from.
Life is made much simpler if you have your own device, whether that’s a laptop, tablet computer, or smart phone, since major towns and cities have WiFi hotspots in squares, parks and larger hotels. There are currently over 1000 hotspots across the island and this is growing each month. You will have to pay for this access (free WiFi is almost unheard of), which you do via the purchase of 1 hour WiFi cards (often called a Nauta or Cuba Internet Card).
Queues for buying these cards can be long (up to 2 hours), so it’s not uncommon to buy these cards from locals at a slightly higher price. Hotels will charge charge even more for the same card. It’s well worth buying a small bundle when you do come across them, and bear in mind that connectivity speeds in Cuba are much lower than you will probably be used to, but sometimes it is good enough to make a Skype voice-only call. It’s also always worth having important pieces of information, such as hotel addresses, written down in hard copy in case you can’t access the internet for any reason. 4G is not yet available in the country either.
Making Mobile Phone Calls
You’ll be able to make use of your mobile phone provided you have global roaming activated, your phone network has a reciprocal contract with ETESCA (which it should unless it’s a US company), and if your phone works on a frequency band of 900MHz – all things you will need to check before your arrival in Cuba.
An alternative means of making mobile calls in Cuba is by renting a local SIM card (and even handset) from Cubacel, the mobile division of ETESCA and one of Cuba’s two mobile networks. This gives you a local number with which to make calls or send SMS text messages (but not access the internet) once you’ve purchased a top-up card for 10 or 20 CUC.
Renting a SIM costs 3 CUC per day, and it’s not possible to buy them. Your phone will need to be unlocked for use with any network, and you’ll also need your passport and your phone’s unique IMEI identification number. If your own handset doesn’t work at 900MHz, you can rent one for an additional 6 CUC per day. There’s an ETESCA store in terminal 3 of the airport where you can rent and return your SIM (or face a fine). A the time of writing this blog piece, 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.
The country’s second mobile network is Digicel. Their SIM cards can be bought via their website and Amazon.com, and although it is possible to find them in Cuba it’s much easier to buy them online beforehand. The benefit of Digicel over Cubacel is that it allows internet access as well as calls and SMS messaging. The standard default rate is US$0.17 per MB, the cheapest rate in Cuba. Recharge amounts can be bought online at $25 for 100MB, $50 for 300MB and $100 for 500MB of internet plus 40 minutes of domestic call time.
Using Cuba’s landlines
Your best bet should you want to make a one-off call from a landline is to use the phones in your hotel. The costs will be slightly higher than a public telephone, but you only need to pay for the actual length of the call (rather than buy a phone card) and you won’t find yourself cut off if the call takes longer than you expected. To make an international call you’ll need to dial 119 before the number.
Alternatively, public telephone booths are available across the country. 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 will cost 4 CUC per minute.
You might still like to send the folks back home a postcard to boast about your travels, in which case the Cuban postal service is a slow but generally reliable system. To make things easier you can buy pre-stamped postcards in many shops, saving you the hassle of having to hunt down a stamp for yourself. The cost of sending a postcard internationally is around 1 CUC and delivery times to North American and Europe anything up to a month (or more). We don’t recommend sending anything other than a postcard or thin letter, due to the number of parcels that get ‘lost’ on route. Instead, use DHL, which has offices throughout the country.
Far from being an isolated destination where communication is difficult, Cuba is embracing communications technologies old and new, meaning there’s no reason to break contact with home – unless you really want to!
Do you have questions? Just leave your comment below!