Living in Cuba

Exploring and Living in Cuba

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Telephone service

Cuba's telephone system is antiquated and in need of an overhaul. Presently the country only has about 350,000 telephone lines, the lowest in Latin America. However, in an effort to modernize the Cuban Telecommunications Company, Empresa de Telecomunicaiones de Cuba (ETECSA), (Etesca, Tel: 266-6666, www.etecsa.cu) has started to expand service install new digital exchanges in the country's main cities. Its local offices called telepunto with Internet and international phone capabilities are located in every city and town.

Good news! On February 15, 2015 Cuba’s state telephone company Etecsa and the U.S. firm IDT agreed to establish a direct telephone connection between Cuba and the United States. The reestablishment of direct telephone communications between the two countries will improve communication between both nations. Previously phone calls between the two had to pass through a third country, making them expensive and poor in quality. The Cuban state telecommunications company, Etecsa, has said the new phone connection could eventually be used for Internet communications, as well.

It is easy to make an international call from a hotel. If you don’t have a phone, use the phone and fax office at a hotel for long distances or international calls. Some hotels have direct dialing.

 In Havana, international calls may also be made from the Minister of Communications building at the Plaza de la Revolución, 351 Obispo Street. Small cities and towns have telephone offices where both local and long distance calls are made. Within Cuba, for calls within your area, just dial the number directly. For calls outside your area, dial O, the city or area code and local number. Public pay phones or micropuntos which work with phone cards or accept Cuban coins or centavos.. They are all over the country but can’t be used for international calls and service is poor.

Propio cards can be used for local calls and chip cards will have to be used for international calls.

Rates are determined by distance. Local rates within the country are 5 cents (USD) and long distance within Cuba costs $1.00-$2.00. Long distance vary depending on time of day: the cost is $2.50 per minute to North and Central America and $5.00 to the rest of the world.

To make an international call to the U.S. from Cuba dial 119, then the country code, the area and number to reach other countries. To place a call through the operator, dial 012 for local calls or 09 for international calls. There is a phone book but it is often difficult to find the number you are looking for. The national telephone directory is avaialable at: www.pamarillas.cu .

 To call Cuba from the U.S. or Canada dial your international access code 011 followed by Cuba's country code-53, the area or city code and the local telephone number in Cuba. You may need the help of an operator.

If you don’t speak Spanish you will have problems making and receiving phone calls, sending faxes and mailing letters. Here are a few key Spanish phrases to help you.

  • Yo quisiera mandar un fax — I would like to send a telegram/fax.
  • Yo quisera hacer una llamada persona a persona — I would like to make a personal call.
  • Yo quisiera hacer una llamada de larga distancia — I would like to make a long distance call.
  • Yo quisera hacer una llamada de cobro revertido — Reverse the charges.
  • Por favor, comuníqueme con este número — Please dial/connect me with this number.
  • La línea está ocupada — The line is busy.
  • Aló, hola, diga — hello
  • número equivocado — wrong number
  • Yo quisera hablar con..... — I would like to speak with......
  • No se encuentra.... — so and so is not in.
  • Quisera dejar un recado — I would like to leave a message.
  • marcar — to dial
  • cabina — phone booth
  • moneda — coin
  • el correo, la oficina de correo — post office
  • buzón — mail box
  • estampilla , sello — stamp

Useful Telephone Numbers

  • Airport..........................................................................Tel: 45-3133
  • Ambulances................................................................Tel: 204-2811
  • Fire.................................................................................Tel: 81-1115
  • Police.............................................................................Tel: 82-0116

Here are the codes of the different provinces:

  • Camagüey  32
  • Ciego de Avila 33
  • Cienfuegos   43
  • Granma 23
  • Guantánamo 21
  • Havana 7
  • Havana Province 47
  • Holguín 24
  • Isla de Junventud 46
  • Las Tunas 31
  • Matanzas  45
  • Pinar del Río 48
  • Santi Spíritus 41
  • Santiago 22
  • Trinidad 41
  • Varadero 45
  • Villa Clara 42 

 Cell Phones

For the average Cuban, a cell phone is a means to access and disseminate information outside of the government's censorship apparatus, and an avenue to greater economic autonomy. Increasingly, ordinary Cubans clamor for cell phones, USBs, and laptops because these are avenues to greater independence and self-expression.

In the 1990's cellular phone service was introduced to Cuba by a state-run company called Cubacel, the first mobile telephone system. The company was a joint venture with Sherritt International. In 2005, the Cuban government bought Sherritt out and merged Cubacel and C-com into a division of ETECSA. The two names continue as brands.

Cubans can only own one line at present. Coverge is poor in some areas but generally good in Havana and Varadero. Cubacel will activate your cell phone. Regular monthly service charges are about $40. There is an activation fee and air time is around 50 cents per minute for calls within Cuba and about $2.50 to $5.50 for international calls.

You should bring your own cell phone with you since they are very expensive in Cuba. You may use it with one of Cubacel's SIM cards. Their main office is in Miramaris Tel: 7/880-22-22 or website: www.cubacell.com. They also have branches at José Martí International Airport, in Varadero, in Santia and in other major cities.

 Cubacel also rents cell phones for under $5 per day plus a security deposit of around $100. Charges are about 35 cents per minute. You may make and receive international calls with your rented phone.

 In October 2015, Verizon is the only US-based company offering roaming services in Cuba. Voice and data are offered. No other service is compatible with US-based cell service. As of mid-October 2016, AT&T customers can talk, text and use data while in Cuba. AT&T follows Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile offering roaming capability in the island nation. The goal is to give AT&T ‘s customers uninterrupted connectivity and a continuous mobile experience.

Here are AT&T’s rates:

VOICE

SMS/MMS

DATA

$3/minute

$.50/SMS & $1.30/MMS

$2.05/MB


Traveler advice: Cuba’s mobile network capacity is limited. The author’s experience with U.S. mobile phones in Cuba is that calls work fine but Internet access is limited or non- existent. Even on WiFi Internet, you can experience blocked access to some useful sites including: Google (gmail). However, many people are able to access gmail via their smartphone.

To call from abroad, you must first dial the country code (53) followed by the code of the city or town and then the number. 

Internet

Cuba still suffers from some of the lowest connectivity rates in the world. Only 3.4 percent of homes in Cuba had Internet access. Businesses, organizations and ministries may send and receive e-mail, have web sites and access the Internet services. However, the use of e-mail by private citizens is starting to grow. Cuba allows some locals such as journalists, doctors and athletes to have Internet access at home. But anyone who wants their own router for a WiFi signal needs permission from the Communications Ministry.

The government established WIFI spots but charges its people people $2 an hour to use them; the average salary is $20 a month. Some Cubans buy dial-up connections on the black market — for about $200 per month — or rent time on wireless connections at big hotels. The lobby of the Habana Libre hotel in downtown Havana serves as an office for Cubans who write software, build apps, unblock or fix mobile telephones, or rent houses. They huddle daily on deep armchairs and pay $8 per hour for Wi-Fi. Tech-savvy young Cubans often piggy-back on the signals of hotels and government offices.

If you need Internet your best bet is to head to one of the larger hotels such as the Habana Libre, the Melía Cohiba, Hotel Nacional, Hotel Saratoga, Golden Tulip, and Meliá Havana all offer full internet access and e-mail for an hourly fee. A one-hour session witihin a hotel costs of 5 CUC (equivalent to USD). You can also purchase temporary access to the country’s public Internet from other hotels. These pre-paid Internet cards are 
not rechargeable. They are like those old school phone cards and connect to Internet at a range of hotels by using the login details provided on the card. Temporary access to Cuba’s
 public Internet is offered
through prepaid The cards have
 an active period of 30 calendar 
days from the first connection.
 They may be purchased at ETESCA’s locations and in hotels, airports andother places where there are a lot of turists.

You can also public WIFI in Matanzas, Cienfuegos, Guantánamo, Villa Clara, Ciego de Avila, Isla de La Juventud, Camagüey, Pinar del Río, Las Tunas, Granma, Holguin, Santiago de Cuba, Sancti Spirtus and other areas.

Were the government to improve Internet connectivity and telecommunications, Cuba could develop a competitive outsourcing sector, either state-run or independent.

Internet Services are also available to the general public at any of the state-run Etesca's offices all over the country. At these Internet services offices they sell one-hour user cards. Internet access for Cubans is restricted. Tourist hotels all provide this service for their guests

You may receive and send e-mail in Havana at the Infocom office in Miramar. They also provide web page design and software services. You may contact them at: Oficina Comercial de Elecsa, Calle 22 e/ 3ra y 5ta, Miramar, Playa, Cuidad de la Habana, Tel: (24) 7036 Fax: (24) 3977 E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

 On February 9, 2015 NETFLIX announced its availability in Cuba. The company distributes movies and television series on the Internet. They will offer their services once Internet coverage widens to give more people access and more people acquire credit and debit cards to subscribe to the service. With this decision NETFLIX becomes the FIRST U.S. Company to take advantage the improvement of relations between the U.S. and Cuba after a 50-year hiatus. The monthly cost of subscribing to the service will be $7.99, the same amount paid in the U.S.

 According to The "Freedom on the Net" report published by Freedom House, a pro-democracy think tank in Washington D.C., "Despite modest steps to increase Internet access, Cuba remains one of the world’s most repressive environments for information and communication technologies. High prices, old infrastructure, prohibition of home connections, and extensive government regulation have resulted in a pronounced lack of access."

Mail

 The Ministry of Communications or El Ministerio de Comunicaciones is in charge of the country's post offices and telephone services. There are branches located all over the country. In Havana there is a post office conveniently located in the lobby of the Hotel Havana Libre Building 23 and L Streets.  In fact, most tourist hotels sell stamps and offer basic postal services.

 Other post offices in Havana can be found at the Estación Central de Ferrocarriles on Avenida Bélgica and Arsenal in Old Havana; at 23 Street at C in Vedado and in the Ministry of Communications building on Avenida de la Independencia betwen Plaza de la Revolución and the bus station. In Havana Vieja, dollar post offices are at Oficios No. 102 on Plaza de San Francisco de Asís, and in Centro Havana in the Gran Teatro on Paseo de Martí at the Capitolio end of the building.

 Besides mailing correspondence, post and telegraph offices offer the following services—fax. You can buy stamps (sellos) at hotels and post offices (oficinas de Correos). In general, postal rates are low. A letter to the U.S. and Canada costs around 65¢, to Europe 75¢, 05¢ within the country, 65¢ to South America and 65¢ to Central America. A postcard costs around 50¢ to all countries.

 It is better to send all correspondence from Havana. Mailboxes are blue in Cuba. Just as in the rest of Latin America, postal service is unreliable and slow. Mail from the provinces and other parts of the country, takes much longer to reach its overseas destination.  Even so, letters can take up to a month to get to some foreign countries. So, it is best to ask a tourist or someone else to mail your correspondence abroad. When mailing from Cuba it is advisable to write the country destination in Spanish to speed things up.

Cuba and the United States announced recently that they have struck a deal to re-establish direct mail service, which was cut in 1963 at the height of Cold War tensions. It said the “pilot plan” would take effect and then be rolled out permanently, as part of improving U.S.-Cuba relations.

The news came six days from the first anniversary of the historic announcement by presidents Barack Obama and Raúl Castro that the two countries would renew diplomatic ties after more than half a century. The two countries had started work on restoring postal service in 2013, even before the rapprochement was announced. They have already re-established a direct telephone link.

The major effect of regular mail service would be in opening a new channel for the movement of goods between the U.S. and Cuba, which suffers from widespread shortages of basic consumer products ranging from batteries to diapers. Mail is, however, unlikely to become a near-term rival to informal networks of importers that pay couriers to bring hundreds of millions of dollars of goods a year into the country in their checked bags.

Cuba maintains strict limits on the size, weight and value of packages sent by mail in order to maintain its state monopoly on imports and exports. Further complicating matters is the renowned inefficiency of the Cuban postal service, the subject of frequent complaints about lost and delayed mail.

The safest and fastest way to send letters and parcels is via the international courier service DHL. So, If you are sending parcels you might want to try their international courier service in Miramar, Tel: 7-204-1876 Within Cuba, 53-7-204-1876, ouside of Cuba http://www.dhl.com/en/cu/country_profile.html This is a very reliable service with tracking facilities on the Internet, but it’s not cheap.

The rates for a letter weighing less than 8 ounces from the U.S. to Cuba are about $70 and from Cuba to the U.S. around $25. It usually takes about four business days for a letter or package to reach Cuba from the U.S. and three business days from Cuba to the U.S. Obviously, if you are going to the U.S. or Canada it is easier to mail your letters or packages from there.

  To see what you can send by DHL see: https://www.lonelyplanet.com/thorntree/forums/americas-cuba/topics/dhl-in-cuba

Cuba has its own parcel service, located at:

Cuba Pack International

Calle 22 n° 4115

Playa (Miramar) La Habana

 Caribbean Radio Services, a Panamanian registered company with an office in Havana, provides voice and paging service in Havana and the resort of Varadero. They rent and sell satellite and telephone equipment, telex equipment, facsimile machines and cellular phones.

 Telegrams may be sent from post offices. Most hotels and tourist facilities have fax machines for your convenience.

 

Guidebook

Official Guide to
Cuban Spanish

Official Guide to Cuban Spanish

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Disclaimer

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