Buy a local SIM card to reduce your roaming rates.
Since opening itself up to international tourists recently, Cuba is fast becoming a popular travel destination. Using your phone there can be expensive so, to keep costs down, why not switch to a local SIM card so you can take advantage of better plans, deals and tariffs? Cuba has prepaid SIM cards available for tourists, with great offers to reduce your bills. So, whether you’re planning a quick break, an extended trip or an island hop, check out the best SIM card offers available on finder.com.au.
The Caribbean island of Cuba is under communist rule. There are two phone operators called Cubacel and Digicel and both have been tried, tested and trusted by both locals and international visitors. Coverage can suffer in some parts, but this will happen with any phone and network you use there. Cuba has one of the least connected populations in the world. There are very limited coverage areas and the Internet is also scarce.
There are 2G and 3G wireless services on the island but 4G is not yet available. SIM cards can only be used on unlocked GSM phones. SIM cards can only be rented with passport registration and by handing over your IMEI number (the unique ID number for your device).
Few foreign operators offer roaming in Cuba, so it’s strongly advisable to purchase a local SIM card to avoid astronomical roaming rates and to not run the risk of not even being able to roam at all. Both Cubacel and Digicel are run through the state-owned ETECSA telecommunications network and can be expensive. ETECSA also offers Wi-Fi vouchers for several hotspots across the island, with nearly 1,500 access points at present.
Cubacel is the main provider in Cuba and offers 2G and 3G services to customers. It has good coverage for voice and SMS but doesn’t offer Internet through its own platform. The Internet must be accessed through roaming on international networks and as a result it can be quite expensive.
Cubacel will record your IMEI number before allowing you access to its SIM cards. This is done to try and prevent phone thefts and crime across the island. If you don’t register your IMEI number, your phone will be blocked (not just the SIM card), so make sure you register!
SIM cards have to be rented by tourists, because purchasing them is no longer allowed. You can rent a SIM card and a phone when you arrive in Cuba and you’ll have to return them before you leave, or face a fine, which you must pay before being allowed to leave. Cubacel stores are located at Havana airport and all around the island.
The following is an overview of Cubacel rates:
- SIM cards can be purchased in the following denominations: CUC10, CUC20 or CUC40, which includes the same amount of credit.
- In addition there is a CUC3-a-day rental fee for the SIM card.
- Standard rates are charged at CUC0.35 per minute during the day and CUC0.10 per minute at night for calls within Cuba.
- International calls are always charged at CUC1.20 per minute.
- SMS rates are charged at CUC0.09 to send within Cuba and CUC0.60 to send internationally.
Digicel has recently partnered with ETECSA in Cuba to offer much lower data roaming rates. The Digicel roaming SIM card can be purchased through its website or on Amazon.com. Some retailers do stock the SIM in Cuba, but you’ll really have to shop around. This SIM card must also be purchased in US dollars for US$25 and comes with 100MB data.
The following recharge amounts can also be purchased through the Digicel website:
- 100MB: US$25
- 300MB: US$50
- 500MB plus 40 domestic minutes incoming and outgoing: US$100
The plans above can only be used once the SIM card has been activated in Cuba. The standard default rate is US$0.17 per MB, which is the lowest rate currently in Cuba.
Some top tips from finder.com.au staff
- Cubans call a SIM card a “Chip” or a “SIM”.
- English is widely spoken, but the official language is Spanish.
- Ask the retailer to help set up the SIM card for you. They are the official sellers and should be happy to help.
- There are limited stores on the island, so get there early to receive the best help.
TripAdvisor reviews can help guide you through which SIM cards have been tried and tested in Cuba. Here are some top tips from TripAdvisor users:
- “Tourists are able to rent a SIM card at a cost of CUC3 per day, plus you have to pay a minimum of CUC10 to put a credit balance on the card.”
- “The Etecsa website says that the limit for tourist SIM use is 45 days. However, beyond 45 days is definitely not an issue.”
- “You can bring your own phone, but to operate on our network, verify that you have 900MHz GSM technology and that your phone is unlocked. Hiring can be done in Terminal 3, in the Cubacel office found there.”
You will need a SIM-unlocked GSM-compatible international phone. To double check that you have this, or whether it’s possible to unlock your device, contact your provider before you set off on your travels.
- You can purchase prepaid credit when required
- No in-store contract needed
- Could be compatible with your current phone
- No phone devices offered with the SIM card packages
- Can only be used in SIM-unlocked GSM phones
- Roaming can be very expensive
- One of the least connected countries in the world
- There are limited stores in Cuba
Cuba has very limited options for other providers to roam on the existing networks. It’s highly advisable to rent a local SIM card while you’re there because you might not be able to use your phone at all otherwise. If the prices don’t work out cheaper than your own provider, then we strongly suggest that you stick with your home plan. Check prices before making any decisions.