Cuba remains largely off the grid, thanks to scarce, sluggish, expensive Internet connectivity. ETECSA, the government telecommunications monopoly, operates a few cybercafés in Cuba's more populated areas. These operate under various names (Telepunto, Minipunto, or Centro Multiservicios) and there are less than 200 in the entire country. (Havana has only a dozen outlets.) You purchase a scratch card with PIN number at a cost of CUC$6 per hour of access—you must show a photo ID to buy the card—and can use the remaining balance at other branches. Waits for a computer can be long. Large hotels offer Internet access to guests, usually in the form of a public terminal or two, never free and always slow. Only a tiny number of hotels in Havana and Varadero offer Wi-Fi, and it's neither free nor speedy. ETECSA has begun setting up a few Wi-Fi hotspots around the country for the standard CUC$6 hourly charge. Many websites are blocked. In theory, social-networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter are permitted, as are foreign news media such as the New York Times and Miami Herald, but bandwidth is so lethargic the pages will likely never appear. If you can tap in, plan on checking email and little else.
Cuban phone service has been improving, due to partial privatization and joint ventures with foreign investors. Cuba has been upgrading its phone system over the last few years to a nationwide system of eight-digit phone numbers that does away with area codes. You'll still see area codes on signs, stationery, and business cards; simply scrunch everything together to get the current number (old area code + old phone number = 8 digits total). Though Cuban homeowners suffer a phone shortage, hotels and other tourist enterprises do have the newest equipment. The blue public phones operated by the government-run ETECSA are cost-effective, abundant, and allow you to dial direct to anywhere in the world. Most hotels offer fax service to guests and, sometimes, nonguests, though you can send faxes for less from the local post office. Thanks to Raúl Castro’s attempts at reform, private individuals may now purchase cell phones, a boon for those few who can actually afford them.
Cuba's country code is 53, and there's direct-dial service to the country from North America and Europe. The quality of the connection can leave much to be desired. All eight-digit mobile numbers begin with a 5.
Calling Within Cuba
To make a call within Cuba, dial the eight-digit number.
Calling Outside Cuba
All major hotels offer international phone service at very high rates—the more expensive the hotel, the higher the phone rates—so be sure to check the price beforehand. It's considerably cheaper to dial direct from an ETECSA pay phone. To make an international call, dial 00 plus the country code, area code, and number. The country code for the United States and Canada is 1.
You can buy cards in denominations CUC$5, CUC$10, or CUC$15 at most hotels, or centrally located telecorreos and centros de llamadas internacionales. Many phone centers are open 24 hours a day. All ETECSA pay phones accept cards.
ETECSA is also Cuba’s wireless provider, alternately referred to as Cubacel. The mobile network extends to all but the most remote areas of the island and allows for the use of AMPS cell phones (American norm).
You may be able to purchase a new SIM card from ETECSA to use your own wireless phone in Cuba (assuming your phone is unlocked and uses GSM-900), or you can rent one of theirs—an expensive proposition. The temporary line can be set up only at the ETECSA/Cubacel office in the arrivals area of Terminal 3 at Havana’s Aeropuerto Internacional José Martí. Security deposits run several hundred dollars (depending on the length of usage), and rental fees are about CUC$6 a day for the equipment plus a daily CUC$3 for the line. Expect to pay CUC$0.40–0.60 cents per minute for a call within Cuba and CUC$2.45 per minute to the United States. A hefty per-minute airtime fee is charged, in addition to long-distance or international fees. Several car-rental agencies include cell phones with the rental of standard or luxury vehicles.
Cuba has no roaming agreements yet with wireless carriers in the United States. If you have an account with a non-U.S. company, you may be able to use your own phone while traveling in Cuba. Roaming fees can be steep, however: CUC$1 a minute is average. You normally pay the toll charges for incoming calls. It's almost always cheaper to send a text message than to make a call, because text messages have a very low set fee.
ETECSA/Cubacel. Calle 28, No. 510, e/Calle 5 y Calle 7, Havana, 5264–2266 ; www.etecsa.cu.
Mobal. 888/888–9162; www.mobalrental.com.