Aren’t smartphones really cool, and sometimes a little bit creepy? You are carrying around way more computer power than was needed to land men on the moon. You can even have a “conversation” with the digital personal assistant in your phone which will only become more and more sophisticated as the years go by.
Of course, a phone is totally useless without a network. You wouldn’t expect to be able to use the full capabilities of your phone if you were in North Korea, or on a journey through the Australian outback. You might not even be able to use your phone so well in a really crowded area, such as at a music festival when a bunch of other people are also trying to access the network.
One of the biggest communication questions that people have when traveling to the area is “Will my cell phone work in Cuba?” Here we aim to answer that question for you, and give you the lowdown on all you need to know about smartphones and Cuba! There are a lot of misconceptions about whether or not you will be able to use your phone while in the island nation, so it’s time to get to the bottom of it!
Coverage in Cuba
Will my cell phone work in Cuba? Yes, although with limits. There is pretty good network coverage across most of the island, with only a few patches without coverage in the rural areas. But this is the case in most countries, isn’t it? Cell phones are so ubiquitous and all encompassing, if you find yourself without a network and in need of making a call, have a chat with one of the locals – they’ll know where you need to stand for coverage for sure! Generally speaking, the level of coverage in Cuba is surprisingly good when you consider that Cuban citizens have only been legally allowed to own a cell phone since 2008.
So, what about these limits then? The only problems that you will have with your smartphone is the use of the smart part of it. While you’ll have enough coverage to make calls and send text messages, this is a different thing from being able to go online with your phone – to check where you might be, say, or what the Spanish for ‘two hamburgers please’ might be!
Getting online is still possible, and we’ll talk more about that a little later. For now it’s enough to say that the network still needs a little bit of time to develop, especially in terms of accessing the internet on your phone.
There’s no doubt that planning ahead is important when asking yourself the question ‘will my cell phone work in Cuba?’ Contact your phone service provider and make sure that they have a roaming agreement with the local Cuban service provider (who are called Cubacel). Cubacel has a roaming agreement with a huge number of service providers around the globe, although this is not the case if you have a US service provider – so be warned! Some U.S. providers do have an agreement with Cubacel, but most don’t. You should check directly with your provider just to be sure.
The Cost of an Incoming Call
Once you’ve established that your phone will be able to connect to the network in Cuba, you need to find out how much it will cost. Find out the cost of both calls and text messages, and also ask whether you’ll be charged for incoming calls. If your phone service provider’s agreement with Cubacel results in a charge for an incoming call, you need to find a way to work around this.
A straightforward, although not totally efficient way to do it is to talk to the friends, family members, and co-workers who call you the most often and ask them to not call you while you’re on holiday unless it’s an emergency… which is the main reason you will have your phone with you in Cuba anyway! And though using a service like WhatsApp or Facetime instead seems like a great idea, you’ll hit the same limitations on internet access will discuss later.
Another way to reduce costs when asking ‘will my cell phone work in Cuba?’ is to find out about any voicemail charges. Ideally you would not be charged when someone leaves a voicemail, so it can be easiest to just divert an incoming call to your voicemail unless you really need to answer it. If you will be charged for receiving voicemails, as does happen on some service providers abroad, make sure you turn the voicemail feature off before arriving in Cuba – or risk facing a hefty bill when you return home! There might also be other call diversion methods on offer, so you should speak with your phone service provider about this when checking out their charges for calls, texts, and voicemail.
Will My Cell Phone Work in Cuba When Going Online?
Accessing the internet on your phone is another matter to getting coverage entirely. If your phone happens to have enough coverage to access the internet via data, please remember that international roaming charges when using your phone to go online can be very high. This is not just a Cuban thing, but it’s a problem that you face when you go to pretty much any foreign country. Your phone service provider will be able to tell you how much this will cost, but no flat rate is available. So this is really only handy if you happen to know how many megabytes your data usage will be.
All in all, it’s best to just avoid going online while roaming on your phone in this manner while in Cuba. You might even want to turn off the automatic updates feature that is standard on most smartphones. You don’t want your phone to access the network without your knowledge so that it can download the latest updates for the various apps it uses!
Mobile WiFi in Cuba
You can still access the internet on your phone while in Cuba, but you need to find a WiFi hotspot. Though hotspots aren’t as readily available as elsewhere in the world, it is becoming easier and easier. 35 zones were established in July 2015, with more added all the time. A good place to find them is the larger hotels, such as the Hotel Nacional in Havana, and major parks and public spaces.
All the hotspots are operated by the Empresa de Telecomunicaciones de Cuba S.A (ETECSA). ETECSA is the government-owned telecommunications company, and they also operate Cubacel. To use a hotspot, you will need to buy an access card from an ETECSA store, and this will allow you an hour of usage. Cards can also be bought from hotel receptions, saving you the need to join sometimes long queues at ETECSA stores. WiFi usage costs around 2 Cuban convertible pesos per hour. You will be given a scratch card which contains an access code. You simply activate your browser and enter the code as you would on any public WiFi hotspot, and browse as usual.
Please note that many browsers will view the Cuban network as unsecured, and so you might receive warning messages from your browser before you begin to access the internet. Though we can’t guarantee your safety online while surfing the web in Cuba, these are generic warnings you’re probably used to receiving at home too!
If you were thinking of taking your cell phone to Cuba, now you know you can! But if you’re travelling on vacation, don’t forget to look up from your smart phone screen and see the incredible beauty of Cuba!