Staying in Touch in Cuba

Last Updated: March 25, 2019

ETECSA is Cuba’s national communications company. Through Etecsa and their partners, visitors can acquire domestic and international telephone service, cellular service in Cuba, data, wifi service, internet navigation rooms and more.

LAND LINES
All hotels in Cuba have international  telephone access.  Rates for calls are fixed depending on the hotel’s star rating (the higher the star rating, the more they can charge you, up to a maximum posted rate). Charges for telephone calls in hotels are processed by the minute, not portions thereof.
An alternative to using your hotel’s telephone service is to purchase a pre-paid international calling card in Cuba (from $10 CUC), which you can use from any public or private telephone. Your card will automatically be discounted according to usage (by the second). The cards can also be used for national telephone calls in Cuba. A separate card (Tarjeta Propia) is sold in national money for domestic use only. It is an economical option for calls within Cuba, and far more convenient than public coin telephones. The card can also be used in public telephones (rather than using coins) or from private homes. Current international rates for phone cards/international cellular calls are as follows:

Destination Residential
USA, Canada, Central America, Mexico & the Caribbean $1.00 CUC/min
Venezuela $0.70
Rest of South America & Rest of the world $1.00

CELL PHONES
Some cell companies (now including Verizon from the USA) offer roaming/data plans that include Cuba. Check with your provider for details. If not using a roaming plan in Cuba, you will want to remember to keep your phone in airplane mode to avoid excessive charges. Cuba operates on the GSM system, using the 900 MHz band. If your cell phone operates on the same system/band, it will have widespread coverage in Cuba. Even though they are equipped with GPS (which, according to Cuban customs, is not permissible), iPhones are accepted for entry.
For cheaper calling within Cuba, visitors can activate a temporary line/SIM card from an ETECSA airport/city office on an unlocked 900-MHz GSM phone. The current rate is $3.00 CUC/day. A minimum $10.00 CUC recharge (prepaid call credit) and passport presentation are required.

RATES FOR CUBAN CELL PHONE CALLS IN CUBA (CUC/minute)
Between prepaid cell phones
07:00 – 22:59 (Normal Rate) – Outgoing call $0.35/minute / Incoming call from landline $0.35/minute
23:00 – 06:59 (Reduced Rate) – Outgoing call $0.10/minute / Incoming call from landline $0.10/minute

INTERNATIONAL CALLS (CUC/minute)
From Residential or Public Phones :
$1.00 CUC/minute

MS
Send a text in Cuba $0.09 (free to receive)
Send an international text from Cuba $0.60 (free to receive)
View rates

INTERNET: While WhatsApp works (better for texting than video), Skype doesn’t work here at all, and if sending attachments to Cuba, reduce their size prior to sending, as not everyone has high-speed connections (some are still dial-up).
Wifi Access in Cuba:
Identification is usually required to purchase the $1 CUC/hour Nauta access codes/cards for access at WIFI_ETECSA hotspots and the availability can be spotty. The bandwidth is occasionally saturated during daytime/early evening hours. View rates for temporary & permanent connections. Wifi hotspot locations are available across Cuba, especially in public parks. When you purchase the cards at hotels, remember that they’re often restricted for use just at that location. The ones you purchase from Etecsa are good in any public hotspot and don’t need to be used in their entirety in the same location. All cards automatically expire 30 days after their first use.
Data in Cuba: 
3G Data was introduced for Etecsa cell phone users in Cuba in December 2018 and the service coverage continues to gradually improve. Many Canadian and even some US cell phone companies (such as Verizon) now have roaming agreements with Cuba. Check with your cell provider for further info.
ETECSA Multiservice Centers:
ETECSA has a network of public computers across the country where you can purchase 30 minute or 1 hour internet access cards from $1CUC/30 minutes. Use is normally limited to daytime connections when an attendant is present and you sometimes have to wait your turn in a lineup of locals/visitors.

Important Telephone Numbers:

Ambulance: 104, Fire Station: 105, National Police: 106, Information: 113

With the expansion of private businesses in Cuba, the Yellow Pages are also becoming an increasingly interesting source of information. Their party, room rental, photography, furniture, and cafeteria/restaurants sections have expanded. There’s even pickup/delivery laundry service listed there now.

For alot of people, traveling to Cuba is relatively like going off the grid. Depending on the  accommodations you choose and your roaming plan, it’s very possible that’s what it’ll feel like. It’s not necessarily a bad thing when you’re on vacation. You might just even have a chance to truly reconnect with yourself and those around you.

4 thoughts on “Staying in Touch in Cuba

  1. Great information. Did you ever notice a lag while talking to people over there? I was recently in Cuba, and did a photo shoot for the resort we were staying in. I am trying to send them the images, one or maximum 2 at a time, and when I call to see if they have received them, they have a 3 second lapse between me talking and them answering. Is this a big brother situation, or is it just crappy phone lines?

    • Kevin, my best guess would be the latter. It’s rare that I receive an international call here in Cuba on a good line and I’ve learned to deal with the delay in telephone conversations. Most people in Cuba are used to it. Email usually works much better for me than phone calls. Since I posted this blog there’ve been a few updates such as:
      -a few more hotels with wi-fi connections (although the cards you need to actually connect can sometimes be elusive)
      -email accounts on Cuban cell phones which cost less than texting. Which has in turn put an excessive demand on the cell network, making it impossible to get through by calling many cell phones in Cuba when you want/need to now.
      -my $60/80 hrs/month dial-up internet account was suddenly upgraded (with no previous announcement) to 220 hours/month in February. It was a very happy day when I finally figured it out. Although it’s as slow (or slower) than ever. This morning I spent 4-5 hours trying to put a recharge on my cellphone via http://www.ezetop.com, since there’s a promotion for a few days where you get double the amount you top up applied to your phone. For $54.98 USD right now I get $100 CUC in credit. I was more than a little miffed by the cute little message they sent when I finally scored a complete on the payment screen. Something along the lines of the “easiest” way to top up your cell phone. Yeah, right. Come knock on my door and tell me that to my face, why don’t you?!?! There are days when I could tear my hear out trying to communicate from Cuba, but my best advice is just to take a deep breath, or better yet, take a break and try again later.

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