people using telephone booths in Havana

Internet and Cell Phone Service in Cuba: A Guide for Americans

Cuba is many things, but a digital paradise it is not. Purchases are made in analogue cash, websites are blocked by the government, and until a few years ago, cell phone service didn’t include the internet. 

That has all begun to change, but Cuba’s digital landscape remains out of step with much of the world. These differences can make it difficult for foreign travelers visiting Cuba to navigate the system and stay updated on changes. 

With this in mind, we put together this helpful guide to prepare you for the adventure that is the Cuban internet, so you know what to expect and can stay connected during your trip.

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A Brief Overview of the Digital Landscape in Cuba

For many years, internet access in Cuba was limited and tightly controlled by the government. Only students and certain professions that required web usage were given permission to connect, and only at slow speeds and in small doses. Tourists could access it in hotels, but fees were high. 

Then, around 2015, public wifi hotspots were introduced, allowing Cubans to access the internet on a per-hour basis. In 2018, mobile data became available, and then in 2019 wifi in private homes was legalized. 

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Connecting to the Internet in Cuba

Despite the recent improvements, internet access can still be slow and unreliable compared to what Americans are used to. There are also periods when internet isn’t accessible for anyone, so keep this in mind when trying to connect. It happens less often than it used to, but sometimes the internet just doesn’t work. 

For visiting foreigners, there are a few different ways to access wifi and/or mobile data. None of them are perfect, and you may end up having to accept less internet activity during your trip. But hey—you’re in Cuba! Use the lack of connectivity as an excuse to take a break from the internet. 

Here are our recommendations for connecting to the internet and making local calls on your cell phone in Cuba: 

Connect Via Wifi at Your Accommodation 

Almost all private hotels, rentals, bed & breakfasts, etc. will offer wifi. In some cases, it may require purchasing a card with login credentials and a time limit. In others it will simply require a network password that the host gives you for free. 

This is a good option if you’re the type of traveler who just wants to check in here and there in the morning and evening. This leaves you the rest of the day to fully immerse yourself in all that Cuban culture has to offer. 

Get an eSIM Card

Recently, a handful of providers started offering eSIM plans for Cuba. An eSIM is a virtual SIM card—it allows you to have a local phone number and access Cuba’s 4G cellular network, all through an app. Airalo offers a 1GB plan for $9.50 USD, and can be topped up at any time. 

Having a local number is a real game changer. It gives you the ability to to use your phone outside of your hotel or B&B to hail taxis, text guides, check weather, etc. Connecting to the internet on the go has incredible advantages (duh!) over the other other options available to travelers. 

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Connect at Restaurants or Cafés 

Most privately owned restaurants including the growing number of private coffee shops and breakfast spots offer wifi to paying customers. While you wait for food and drink, you can connect up to update the world on your adventure. 

Emergencies: Tether to a Local’s Phone 

In tour group situations guides will sometimes offer to share their mobile data connection by tethering to a tourist’s phone. In an emergency or for an urgently needed connection, this is a good option. At your accommodation or during a guided tour, there’s no harm in asking your host if they would let you tether and offering to pay a few dollars. 

No Longer Recommended: Getting a Local SIM Card 

If you are in Cuba for an extended period, you’ll save money over the eSIM option if you purchase a SIM card from ETECSA, the state-owned cell phone company. They offer a tourist SIM plan which is valid for 30 days and costs 34.99 USD. The plan offers plenty of data, call time and texting, and you can also top up if necessary. 

We don’t recommend this option for several reasons. First, it requires your phone to be unlocked (not connected to a U.S. cell carrier) and have a physical SIM card slot, which most newer phones don’t have. It is also a bit of a risk, since you have to pick it up after you arrive, which can get complicated. The more convenient and dependable option is an eSIM, even if it’s slightly more expensive for longer trips.

CAYOS: Cuba Travel for Americans

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Making Calls from a Cell Phone in Cuba

Local phone service in Cuba is provided by ETECSA, the state-run phone company. There are on other options for cell carriers in the country. In Havana, most areas have decent coverage, though rural areas can be spotty.

Will a U.S. Cell Phone Work in Cuba?

Yes, most U.S. cell phones will work in Cuba, but we don’t recommend it. Major U.S. carriers, such as AT&T and Verizon, have roaming agreements with Cuban networks, but roaming charges can be exorbitant. Normal phone use could easily rack up hundreds of dollars in charges in a day.

It is more economical to use an eSIM card or Wi-Fi instead of relying on U.S. roaming services. But it’s also good to know that in an emergency you should be able to connect, even if it is expensive. 

Using a VPN in Cuba

We recommend using a VPN (virtual private network) in Cuba for several reasons. A VPN can help protect your data from potential surveillance and cyber threats, and it can also help you access websites that may be restricted in Cuba. Make sure to install and configure your VPN before arriving in Cuba, as downloading one once you’re there can be challenging due to slow internet speeds. We use NordVPN, but there are many other options out there. 

Making Audio or Video Calls Over Wi-Fi 

You may think that using apps like FaceTime, Skype or WhatsApp to make calls over wifi will avoid the steep roaming charges of cell phone carriers. But calls made from these apps—even when you are connected via wifi—will be billed as roaming calls. Even a quick call can rack up a large bill, and you may have trouble disputing while you’re in Cuba. The last thing you want is to have to call a U.S. cell phone support line during your trip. will can save money, be cautious. 

Using Offline Tools During Your Trip

Given the challenges of internet connectivity in Cuba, it’s wise to download and use offline tools during your trip. Maps, travel guides, and language translation apps that work offline can be invaluable. Make sure to download all necessary content before you arrive in Cuba to ensure you have access to the information you need, regardless of internet availability.

Navigating Offline With Google Maps

Google Maps can be incredibly useful in Cuba, especially when used offline. Before your trip, download offline maps of the areas you plan to visit. This will allow you to navigate streets, find points of interest, and plan routes without needing an internet connection.

We offer a carefully curated and constantly updated collection of maps in different categories for travelers to use during the planning phase of their trip or for on-the-ground navigation. Our maps can also be a lifesaver when exploring areas with limited connectivity.

Staying connected in Cuba requires some planning and adaptability, but with the right preparations, you can make the most of your trip while ensuring you remain in touch with the world. Whether you’re navigating the streets of Havana or exploring the countryside, we hope this guide has helped you stay connected and enjoy a seamless digital experience in Cuba.

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