The rules of WiFi in Cuba and how to stay connected

Cuba is a developing country, and because of that staying connected to WiFi can sometimes be a challenge. Spend any amount of time away from a wifi signal or cell phone signal while you’re on vacation and you might go through a bit of withdrawl. Never fear, WiFi in Cuba is strong and plentiful, as long as you know where to look.

Cuba WiFi hotspots

You’re not going to find Wi-Fi at restaurants, bars, or any other place where people gather. Forget about heading to a coffee shop to grab a latte and a quick signal. It just won’t happen, and it’s way too expensive for normal businesses to offer. So, where are the Wi-Fi hotspots? Look to the street corners.

No Cuban WiFi Here

No Cuban WiFi Here

As you’re walking down the streets in Havana, you’ll be sure to come across groups of young men and women all hanging around on their phones. Some of them are face-timing, some of them are playing games, but they’re all connected to the internet. The wifi network is access by looking for the ETECSA signal (empresa de telecomunicaciones de Cuba, SA).

Cuba Wifi HotSpot

Cuba Wifi HotSpot

Access is for 2 CUC an hour and you can get cards from people selling them at the hotspots. If you buy it from a vendor there, you’re probably going to pay 3 CUC because it’s being sold secondhand, so expect to pay that and don’t think you’re being ripped off. In reality those people work it out with the convenient stores to let them sell it and work a % cut back. Those vendors will take 50 cards and give a percent back to the store than gave them the cards. Just pay the 3 CUC and chalk it up to a quirk of the nation. Once you turn off the wifi signal, your counter stops running, so it’s entirely possible for you to get by with a card a day if you just want to check emails and send messages.

WiFi Vendor Selling Access Cards

WiFi Vendor Selling Access Cards

Hotels

If you’re staying at a hotel, chances are there will be Wi-Fi, and it will be of higher quality that you’d find on the street. It may also come with a higher price. We stayed at the Four Points by Sheraton and the cost was 5 CUC an hour. Because of our platinum status we were given as much free internet as we wanted in 6 hour chunks.

Sheraton WiFi Access

Sheraton WiFi Access

Access was via code and to “stop the clock” you just had to go to 1.1.1.1 in your web browser and it would shut off the timer. While 5 CUC is expensive, you’re able to surf in your underwear and the comfort of your hotel room, so there is a certain “comfort tax” associated with it, if you will.

Cell Phone Data

Good luck. AT&T does offer international access at over $2/MB. Verizon also offers data for a fee, but will shut you off if you use too much. The data is so slow that it’s only good for messages and Google maps. You’ll probably save more money my just using the Wi-Fi hotspots in your hotel or on the street corner.

Stay Connected Cuba

Stay Connected Cuba

Stay Disconnected

It’s not THAT bad to be disconnected for a while, is it? I mean, considering we stuck to the hotel Wi-Fi and didn’t use any of the street hotspots, we were mostly disconnected throughout the day. It was nice to be able to just enjoy being in a city without constantly having to connect to an Instagram or Facebook account. So, connect when you need to, but don’t feel too bad about not connecting when you don’t have to either.

Author: Jon Nickel-D'Andrea

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4 Comments

  1. Every few blocks now there is a young enterprising Cuban with a hotspot selling slow service for 1 CUC an hour. That is now how most Cubans are getting online.

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    • Really. I didn’t see those. Since the usual cards are 2 or 3 CUC, are these half used? How do they get them discounted?

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      • They don’t. They set up a repeater at a hot spot and then log in with a normal card on their street. Then they use their own (illegal) router to share the signal with people for 1 CUC an hour. It’s a slow but very enterprising business that will probably go away in the coming years as wifi becomes more prevalent in homes and businesses. As you walk around the neighborhoods, just look for huddled Cubans on their phones and wait for one of them to offer you a connection. Should be a buck but they may try and ask for more if you’re a foreigner.

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        • Gotta admit. That’s pretty damn entrepreneurial.

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