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.
This post is long but it’s because I wanted to be thorough. TLDR: Yes tourists can get a Cuban SIM card!
Here’s the real deal, there are lots of posts about internet in Cuba. This information is usually outdated and internet changes so quickly here. This post was last updated January 5, 2020.
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. Cuba now has 4G service.
I’ve based myself out of Havana for the last two years 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.
Cubans have permanent accounts that they access. On January 4, 2020 the price was lowered to $.70/hour for Cubans. However, many think it needs to be $.50/hour or less. Currently tourists pay a bit more of $1 CUC/hour for wifi cards.
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 room 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 1034 hotspots 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. Wifi cards are 1 CUC per 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: 188.8.131.52
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 184.108.40.206 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?
Some do. Cubans need a wifi booster to amplify the signal from the hotspot (a nearby wifi park).
It was once illegal to do this. The most popular way was through a Nano which cost a couple hundred dollars and smuggled into Cuba then sold on Revolico – basically Cuba’s version of Craigslist. You can see these white cylinders all over rooftops in Havana.
In 2019, wifi extenders became legal with a license. It can be cost prohibitive to some so in some cases the extender is legal and other cases it is not. The danger isn’t necessarily having one illegally, but people climbing to your roof to steal it.
This is how some casas are able to provide internet in Cuba for guests.
You still need to buy wifi cards and log in. The closer a casa is to a hotspot the better the wifi reception will be.
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!
How to get a SIM Card in Cuba
There are currently three official ways to get data in Cuba:
- Buy a regular Cuban SIM card
- Buy a tourist SIM card
- Roam using your data at home
Each has their own merits. I’ll break down the options for you but first let’s talk about data service in Cuba.
There is cell service in Cuba. Cell phone service in Cuba is expensive, Cubans pay to make calls. But they’ve do not pay to receive call from cell phones in Cuba or from international callers.
But with international rates often at $1/minute it is best to keep the conversations short and call people over wifi on apps like IMO or Whatsapp.
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.
Should You Get a Cuban SIM Card
It depends on how long you are staying. It can take up to 72 hours for a SIM card to be activated.
Data is easy to access in main cities but in between there are dead zones. If you just need to connect every once in a while a wifi card is very easy
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 typically takes 36-72 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.
Mobile Internet Prices in Cuba
In December 2019 the government announced new lower rates which included 4G service in Cuba.
Keep in mind mobile internet was only announced in Cuba on December 6, 2018. They have come a long way with the introduction of 3G then 4G, expanding coverage and providing low cost options.
This is still very expensive for Cubans and many cannot afford it. There are currently 2 million Cubans accessing the internet with mobile data.
Yet there is a huge movement on Twitter with the hashtag #BajenLosPreciosDeInternet or to drop Internet prices.
Cubacel Talk Rates
- CUC 0.35 per minute during the day
- CUC 0.10 per minute at night
- Regardless of time CUC 1.20 per minute for international calls
- CUC 0.09 per text within Cuba
- CUC 0.60 per text internationally
As I said, cell service is pricey.
Cuba’s New Tourism SIM Card – Cubacel Tur
One of the biggest issues for tourists was how long it takes to activate the regular Cuban SIM card so they introduced a new option.
Cubacel Tur is a temporary phone number which is active for 30 days.
The basic package costs 25 CUC and includes:
- 1G of data
- 20 minutes for calls
- 20 text messages
You can buy additional 600 MB of data for 7 CUC or 4GB for 30 CUC.
However, you must buy this in advance through international distributors. You pick up the SIM Card at Terminal 3 of the José Martí Airport at the CubaTur counter.
Unfortunately you cannot load more credit onto the phone with ETESCA in Cuba.
The Best Way to Get Internet in Cuba
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 particular.
As always service in the city will always be better than in remote, rural areas so you can’t depend on it.
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.
Think of it as Cuban Uber. It’s an extremely new app where you can request a cab and get approximate fares. However you will need to pay your driver in cash. The downside is that the first driver who responds gets the fare, unfortunately they could be up to 15 minutes away.
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!
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