Cuba's digital destination

Communications (Internet & Cell Phones)

Communications (Internet & Cell Phones)

Written by and/or contributed to by Christopher Baker
Disconnected in Cuba’s virtual black hole
Internet access in Cuba is notoriously expensive and slow although has improved recently as ETECSA has set up an increasing number of Telepuntos, which offers reasonable Internet access for US$ 6 per hour. The national system requires that you buy a scratch card with user name/password, which you then enter into the terminal. The national nature of the system means that you can use any unused part of the time at any other Telepunto location.

In Havana, a number of the more upmarket hotels offer wi-fi access for US$ 6-8 per hour. This is an incredibly popular service since it allows you to use your Blackberry/IPad/laptop and not be restricted to a Telepunto computer. The quality of service varies and will almost be slower than you expect. The best hotels for this are the Iberostar Parque Central and H20 Hotel Panorama (Although the Panorama has been more unreliable recently). The Meliá Habana and Meliá Cohíba are reliable in terms of sale of cards at least but are sometimes overwhelmed resulting in poor service.

Outside Havana, options are more limited and even though most major hotels will have their own internet cafes, the speed of access is often enough to make you dream of your old dialup connection back home!

Roaming options on your mobile phone may be a good option but you need to check your company’s rates (see below).

Does Skype work in Cuba
Skype does work in Cuba from a limited number of locations that offer wi-fi service. Periodically, attempts have been made to block this; however, it does seem to function reasonably well from hotel lobbies such as the Parque Central or the Panorama in Havana.

Will my cell phone work in Cuba?
ETECSA, the national phone company, has roaming agreements with most major international carriers (excluding US carriers) so theoretically your phone should work in Cuba. It is worth checking rates before you go since horror stories abound of people who have used their cell phones to access data packages as well as voice and received huge roaming bills back home! As a general rule, roaming is great for texts, extremely expensive for voice calls and variable for data access.

For Canadian visitors, Rogers and Bell offer very good Caribbean roaming plans. Increasingly, many other international carriers also offer reasonable roaming plans, which include Cuba. This can run for as little as US$ 60 per month for data as well as some Internet surfing.

For those people who bring their smart phone but do not want to use the roaming services, then make sure that you keep your phone on airplane mode at all times since especially IPhones may start to pick up 3G signals and start racking up a bill!

Can I purchase a Cuban SIM card to use in my own phone?
The big advantage of a Cuban cell phone is that making calls within Cuba is much cheaper than with a roaming international phone. Bear in mind this still does not mean that it is cheap (see below)! You are able to rent a Cubacel SIM card from many of the major airports in Cuba, which have an ETECSA office. Alternatively, you should look for the nearest ETECSA office in the city. You will need to show your passport and you will need to pay CUC 3 per day for this service. In order for your phone to be able to use the Cubacel SIM card, it will need to be unlocked and to operate on the 900 MHz frequency. You will need to simply top up your phone through purchasing pay-as-you-go Cuban phone cards, which generally retail at CUC 10 or CUC 20 per card.

*Cubacel is the Cuban mobile phone division of ETECSA (the national Cuban state-owned telecoms company)

What are the phone rates if I am using a Cuban SIM card?
Voice calls National
Rates CUC/min
Between prepaid cells Between cells & land lines   Normal Reduced Normal Reduced Caller 0.35 0.10 Free Free Receiver 0.35 0.10 0.35 0.10 Normal rate: 7 am-10:59 pm. Reduced rate: 11 pm-6:59 am Voice calls International Destination Rates CUC/min       Caller Receiver     North,
Central
and South America
(except Venezuela);
and the Caribbean 1.60 Free   Venezuela 1.40 Free     Rest of the world 1.80 Free     SMS   National International     Sending SMS 0.09 1.00     Receiving SMS Free Free     * 8888 is an information service from the weather, to listings, to cooking recipes, etc.

Can I send a postcard from Cuba?
Letters and postcards have a funny way of arriving from Cuba at unexpected moments and are worth sending just for the surprise when the day comes that it arrives. This may be in a few weeks or a few months but typically will make it. Notionally, regular mail should take a month to Europe or North America. Stamps are available both in local currency and in convertible currency. Given that the postcards are only US 65c to all countries it is worth spending the extra cash for the boost in reliability. For important documents you should use the DHL office, which has branches in all the major cities.


  Christopher P. Baker is a professional travel writer and photographer, and leads tours of Cuba for MotoDiscovery and National Geographic Expeditions. His six books about Cuba include MI MOTO FIDEL: MOTORCYCLING THROUGH CASTRO?S CUBA (National Geographic Adventure Press), winner of two national book awards.
? Christopher P Baker
travel writer ? photographer ? moto-journalist ? cuba expert
cpbaker@earthlink.net | www.christopherpbaker.com

Lowell Thomas Award 2008 Travel Journalist of the Year  

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