One of the first questions people ask me is how can I work in Havana with such slow internet in Cuba. People are so afraid to travel here because of wifi in Cuba that this post is over 3000 words to explain Cuban internet.
Here’s the real deal, there are lots of posts about internet in Cuba. This information is usually outdated. This post was last updated May 17, 2019.
Internet in Cuba is changing rapidly, every year the price decreases, more locations open up and it gets faster. In 2016, Cuba partnered with Google to add more servers for a faster internet connection.
I’ve based myself out of Havana for the last eleven months to work on a Cuban food and travel guide, yes you can actually work online in Cuba. It’s not the cheapest or the fastest but it is possible.
That said, please keep in mind I’m living in Havana. So wifi in Havana is going to be much better, faster and more prevalent than wifi in small towns. When I visit spots like Vinales, Varadero or Las Terrazas Cuba I only travel with my phone, not my laptop and my internet use is less intensive.
Do Cubans Have Access to the Internet?
Absolutely! And they are just as addicted to it as we are! With one exception, most can realistically only get it in designated wifi spots in parks and hotels. Mobile internet is possible for Cubans but cost prohibitive, more on that below.
Internet in Havana is pretty good in the central areas of Havana Vieja and Vedado where there are lots of hotels where people sit outside, or in parks.
Outside Havana, wifi in Cuba can be a bit more unpredictable. However, the Cuban government recently announced it was rolling out nationwide Internet coverage in Cuba. The goal is that every hotel will have wifi in Cuba.
I don’t know what this means for expanding wifi in parks, but often locals will congregate outside a hotel – so more coverage is better for everyone.
There are currently 725 locations with Cuba internet. A full list of where you can get wifi in Cuba is here on the ETECSA site, in Spanish (sorry anglophones!).
Is Internet in Cuba Fast?
Yes and no. It’s certainly not as fast as the United States or Canada. There is practically no broadband service, wifi comes by satellite and an undersea fibre optic link so you’re sharing it with everyone else.
You aren’t going to be live streaming on Instagram and videos may need to buffer. But Internet in Cuba is fast enough to video chat – which is what all Cubans are doing in the parks. Seriously…they love video chat.
The strength of wifi in Cuba depends on where you go, when you access it and the weather. The absolute worst time to access wifi is on a weekend afternoon when it’s cloudy. Remember, you’re sharing wifi with everyone else. Weekends tend to be slow as do rainy, windy or cloudy days. After all, it is an island.
How to Get Internet in Cuba
Internet in Cuba is just a tiny bit more complicated than in most countries. You need to:
- Buy a NAUTA internet card
- Find an ETECSA wifi hot spot
Where to Buy a NAUTA Card in Cuba
The most difficult part of accessing internet in Cuba is the process of buying an internet card. But there are a few places you can do it.
- ETECSA Offices: The cheapest but most inconvenient option. Cuba Internet is 1 CUC/hour (remember 1 CUC = 1 USD). But depending on the location there are often long line-ups. Most ETECSA offices are open every day from 8:30am-7pm, but not all. You’ll need to bring you passport, cash and service will be in Spanish. In some places tourists don’t need to wait in line, in other places they do.
- Hotels: The most expensive but also most convenient option. If you aren’t confident with Spanish or don’t want to wait in line it’s often worthwhile just going to a hotel. All NAUTA internet cards come from ETECSA and buying one at a hotel doesn’t mean you’ll get faster wifi, you’re only guaranteed to pay more. It’s usually 2 CUC per hour, but in touristy Old Havana a hotel may charge 8 or 12 CUC/hour. However, you do not have to show your passport here.
- At the Park or Main Square: Often times there will be someone selling cards for a convenience fee of 1.50-3 CUC/hour depending on what the person wants to charge you. Look for someone whispering tarjeta de internet as they walk by, they aren’t selling drugs, but reselling these cards is illegal so it’s done on the down low…even though everyone knows about it. If you buy from someone in the park make sure the card hasn’t already been scratched.
How to Access Internet with a NAUTA internet Card
It’s very easy to access internet in Cuba once you have a prepaid NAUTA internet card, simply scratch off the username and password, and logon to the site (instructions below).
All of the internet in Cuba comes from one place, the Cuban government agency ETECSA, which creates wifi hot spots around the country.
- In parks or main squares.
- Outside the ETESCA offices.
- Many hotels – both inside and out.
It’s hard to miss a wifi hotspot in Cuba because you’ll find a group of people with their heads down staring at their phone.
How to Log On and Log Off Wifi in Cuba
The good news is that when you open your wifi settings on your laptop or there are usually only a few accounts. Hotels often label their own and otherwise it’s marked as ETECSA.
Once you connect your browser should pop up and ask you to login. If your browser doesn’t pop up, just open it and type: 126.96.36.199
The screen will update once you are connected, and give you a running time limit.
To log off simply go back to the screen (type 188.8.131.52 if you don’t still have the Nauta screen up), click the “Cerrar sesion” button to logout. You will receive a confirmation notice.
Sometimes when wifi is particularly bad I don’t seem to be able to logout so I just turn off wifi on my phone. I lose a few minutes but eventually the account closes on its own. Your card is valid for 30 days so keep it close.
Hotels in Havana With Wifi
Right now all of the major hotels in Havana have wifi in the lobby. If you buy a wifi card at a hotel you are paying an additional fee for the convenience of skipping the ETECSA lines.
Hourly fees range from 2 CUC to as much as 8 CUC at Hotel Seville; however, the higher price does not mean it will be better. All internet in Havana comes from the same source so why pay more?
Note: Cuba has committed to having wifi in all hotel rooms in the country in 2019. Things are changing!
What Makes Some Wifi Spots Faster than Others
It’s simple. It’s the number of people on a given spot. So if everyone is accessing wifi at the same time on one corner it’s going to be slow. That’s why Sunday afternoon is always bad if you are near a park because everyone video chatting. But Monday morning when no one is around is fantastic
The Best Wifi in Vedado
As I need to work daily I have been at a lot of wifi spots. My favourite is Hotel Capri, which is within viewing distance of Hotel Nacional yet wifi is half the price at 2 CUC/hour or you can buy a 5-hour card for 10 CUC. They have a great art deco lobby and a number of bars and restaurants inside.
Across the street is a local restaurant with traditional Cuban food called Caribeña that is very affordable with a menu in CUP. They have an outdoor patio where you can access wifi.
Other than the hotel Habana Libre, you can use an ETECSA card at all of the hotspots. For some reason Habana Libre has propriety cards that don’t work elsewhere and are the most expensive at 4.50/hour, yet I’ve found the wifi to be some of the worst.
You cannot use regular ETECSA cards in the hotel, but if you go to the restaurant La Rampa next door you can use a regular card as it’s across the street from a major hotspot – and also the home of La Coppelia ice cream!
My second favourite wifi spot is Hotel Presidente (photo above). The wifi isn’t as reliable but they have a beautiful outdoor patio and the staff are so sweet (please remember to tip them). They sandwiches are pretty good and prices are surprisingly reasonable.
Outside Havana: Internet in Cuba for Tourists: Do Resorts in Cuba Have Wifi?
Yes, many hotels and resorts in Cuba have wifi. However, you should always ask in advance and ask how much you will receive.
Wifi in Cuban hotels and resorts isn’t the same as the rest of the world. You need to ask your hotel for a wifi card, it will give you the login name and password for the internet in Cuba.
In many cases, hotels give a free hour of internet each day. If you need more you can always buy more, in some cases you can buy a 5-hour internet card that is good for 30 days.
Prices vary depending on where you buy it. If your hotel is charging 4 CUC/hour for additional wifi cards you may be better off asking where the local ETECSA office is so you can buy your own.
Note: There are several hotels currently testing providing guests with 12 hours of wifi a day resort-wide so internet on resorts in Cuba will likely improve soon.
Do Casa Particulares Have Wifi?
Technically no one should have wifi access in their homes unless they are opposite a park or hotel. But Cubans are tenacious and if you look closely at the rooftops of some buildings you will see a small white cylinder on top.
This is a wifi booster called a Nano, it amplifies the wifi so the hotspot will reach farther and Cubans can get wifi in their homes.
Nanos are illegal, not sold in stores in Cuba and cost a couple hundred dollars. You need to know someone who knows someone to buy one abroad and to smuggle in it. This is how some casas are able to provide internet in Cuba for guests.
I’ve also heard some AirBNB hosts will provide Nauta internet cards that guests can simply buy at cost so they don’t have to wait in line at ETECSA.
If you’d like to book a casa particular vetted through AirBNB and you’re new to the site you can use this code to save money and I get a credit too!
What About Mobile? Is There Cell Service in Cuba?
There is cell service in Cuba. Cell phone service in Cuba is expensive, Cubans not only pay to make calls but also to receive them so they tend to keep the conversations short and prefer to call people over wifi on apps like IMO.
I can’t tell you how many times I called a friend only to get a message that they ran out of money on their account. If you don’t mind paying for time to reach someone you can buy cell credit online at Cuballama as well as Ding.
Mobile Internet in Cuba
On December 6, 2018 the government announced that Cubans could now access internet on their phones for a fee. There are a number of mobile internet packages starting at 600MB for 7 CUC up to 4GB for 30 CUC.
I know you’re thinking wow this is huge. Cubans can get 4GB for 30 bucks. Everyone must be online now video chatting family and friends around the world!
Unfortunately, the average monthly salary for Cubans is less than 30 per month. My friends joked that Cubans better look at photos of food online because they won’t be able to eat, but at least they can watch YouTube.
Yet, my friends also conceding that at least it was a start. When wifi in Cuba was first available it was very expensive and now it is more reasonable. They believe the same will happen with internet on phones in Cuba.
I have my own theory.
I believe it’s purposely expensive so that the system isn’t overloaded immediately. And as ETECSA begins to handle more and more Cubans using internet on their phones, they will lower the price.
Yet, as I roam on Cubacel too I noticed once it was opened up my phone was dreadfully slow and I could only use it late at night. I’m hoping these growing pains will soon go away.
Cuba Cell Phone Service for Tourists
As a Canadian, I can access both my data (Internet) and phone service in Cuba for only $12/day, which is capped at $150 a month. As I’m here for a month at a time it can be a bit pricey but well worth it. My service provider Koodo accesses local provider Cubacel.
So I’m at mercy to local service. My apartment in Havana is concrete so I have trouble getting a cell phone signal indoors and sometimes outdoors when it rains. But otherwise it’s pretty good.
In Canada, Bell and Telus offers the same for $12/day, and cap at $150 as well. Unfortunately Rogers does not work in Canada.
Although technically Americans should not be able to use their phone in Cuba, I’ve heard anecdotally that it is possible but very expensive.
- Verizon has coverage but no roaming package. Current costs are: $2.99/minute for talk and $2.05/MB for data. Texting is $0.50/text to send, $0.25/text to receive.
- Sprint has coverage but no roaming package. Current costs are: $2.49/minute for talk, $1.99/MB for data and $0.50/text.
- T-Mobile offers $2.00/minute for talk, $0.50/text and $2.00/MB for data. They also offer an additional Global Plus Plan. However, I don’t think the infrastructure in Cuba can deliver on its promises of high speed streaming as one of the Simple Global countries. For texting you cannot text a Cuban number, unfortunately they have blocked it.
- AT&T offers a whopping $3.00/minute to talk, $0.50/text and $2.05/MB for data.
Buying a SIM Card in Cuba
Unlike in other countries, buying a SIM card is complicated, costly and time consuming. If you are visiting Cuba for less than two weeks it’s not likely worth your time, buying wifi cards and finding a park (there are tons) is a million times easier and the service is more reliable.
Moreover not all phones work. Most US phones work but iTunes does not work in Cuba so download apps beforehand. While in Cuba I use ExpressVPN for both my phone and laptop.
Plus outside Havana service can be sketchy. Although data in Cuba is technically 3G in my experience that is only in some areas.
However, if you’re around 3+ weeks and really want to buy a SIM card in Cuba and speak Spanish here’s how to do it.
- Visit an ETECSA store. You will need to show your passport
- You can buy a SIM card for an unlocked phone for 40 CUC, which includes 10 CUC worth of test, data and text.
- It can take up to 36 hours to activate
- You can check your balance by calling *222#
- To add more money you can use DING or Cuballama and use your credit card. Download the app before you go. Occasionally there are promotions where you buy so much and get bonus time.
- This is a re-usable SIM card so you can use it again.
Some casa owners, who were already buying wifi cards so their guests wouldn’t have to wait in line, also have an extra SIM card. They will often rent the SIM card for a small convenience fee. As internet on phones is new it’s a very new service some are quietly offering.
Coverage isn’t throughout Cuba, there are lots of dead zones. Again If you’re traveling for a week or so it’s much less trouble to just go with a wifi card.
Renting a Phone in Cuba
You can also rent one at the airport or at Cubacel or Digicel stores if you have an unlocked phone. In order to rent a SIM card you must show your passport.
The carrier will record your International Mobile Equipment Identity number, which deters phone theft. You must return your SIM card before you leave.
It costs 3 CUC per day just for the SIM card and then you’ll need to buy prepaid phone cards. This allows only for cell service as data (aka internet) is not yet available.
- CUC 0.35 per minute during the day
- CUC 0.10 per minute at night
- CUC 1.20 per minute for international calls, regardless of time
- CUC 0.09 per text within Cuba
- CUC 0.60 per text internationally
The best route is to buy an Cuba internet card from ETECSA and use Google Talk, Skype, IMO, Facebook messenger or Whatsapp. If you need to make a phone call in Cuba landlines are still prevalent and you can use one at your hotel, resort or casa particulare.
As always service in the city will always be better than in remote, rural areas so you can’t depend on it.
Note: The Cuban government has been testing the infrastructure to provide internet access on cell phones. It’s never really officially announced but in 2018 there were a couple occasions where it was possible. Although not for long as Cubans crashed it quickly by all going on IMO video chat. That’s not an official report, just my own theory, which I believe strongly.
Is Facebook in Cuba?
Absolutely, although locals don’t really seem to use Facebook, my friends have accounts but don’t really post on their profile.
However, as a tourist you can find a lot of great resources for travel in Cuba with groups like the Cuba Travel Community, and Cuba Backpacker/Traveler, they do have people who run apartments and tours trying to sell you their business but also a lot of foreigners who live in Cuba and visit often.
Helpful Smartphone Apps for Cuba
Whether you decide to activate internet in Cuba or not, here’s a list of smartphone apps I use in Cuba and some are available offline.
It’s not 100% correct and it doesn’t understand crazy Cuban slang, but it does work offline. More importantly, if you need to communicate it’s good enough that Cubans will understand you. Also if you can use the camera aspect of it to auto translate menus and signs.
Although there is no Cuba internet censorship like you would see in China. I did run into some issues with US sites blocking access from Cuba because of the embargo.
For example, I could view Amazon, but when I tried to place an order to my house in Canada it was denied. I also couldn’t access Amazon prime video.
Fortunately I have Express VPN, a virtual private network app, where I can mask my identity and set my location as somewhere else in the world – in this case I chose Miami.
I have heard some dissident Cuban news sites are blocked, but they are in Spanish and I don’t know what they are. But regular news sites that are not always in favour of the government like Havana Times and Translating Cuba.
I didn’t find any websites I wanted to use were blocked in Cuba. However, I did overhear someone say they couldn’t log into Chrome or Gmail. and instead used UC Browser. I never had any issues, but to avoid this I’d login both before you travel and sign up for a VPN just in case.
UC Browser is a free browser created by a Chinese company. Cubans often use this browser, and it may be because the app allows you to download videos – although not YouTube. It’s a good browser app to have in Cuba as a backup. Get it here.
Although I use Google Maps as my go-to for directions, sometimes my signal is just bad, especially outside Havana.
I do download offline Google maps to my phone. But I also use Maps.me as I can access maps and directions without access. This is what Cubans use in Havana.
You can download the entire map of Cuba if you’re traveling all around the country. Get it here.
A must-have app for Cubans, if you go to the park and see people video chatting it’s 100% on IMO.
It’s similar to Facebook Messenger and Whatsapp, which were once unreliable in Cuba and so IMO took over.
You’ll only use it if you talk to a Cuban, but you need to authenticate your account so it’s best to download it at home. Get it here.
It’s described as the Yelp of Cuba with a list of paladares and ratings. Although I suspect it’s mostly foreigners and expats reviewing restaurants so I’d take it recommendations with a grain of salt.
It’s also why I wanted to write a food guide to Havana as most recommendations are terrible. Get it here.
Another Cuban app essential as it doesn’t require data or wifi to work. Cubans don’t email but they still like to share music and photos.
Zapya is a file sharing app, and it doesn’t matter if the other person is on iOS or android. It’s genius and I don’t know why it hasn’t caught on elsewhere. Get it here.
If you have any other questions about internet in Cuba or think there’s something I’ve missed please let me know in the comments below!