Written by Kieran Proctor

How To Get A Local Mobile Phone Number In Cuba (2024)

Getting a local phone number or ‘chip’ in Cuba is both cheap and easy. Despite what you might have heard, ...

Getting a local phone number or ‘chip’ in Cuba is both cheap and easy. Despite what you might have heard, the 4G LTE mobile phone SIM cards aren’t restricted to locals. And having a mobile data connection in Cuba will allow you to connect to the internet without using WiFi parks or relying on hotel wifi.

Here’s everything you need to know about getting a local phone number in Cuba. So you can access the internet during your holiday, just like you would in any other country.


Where To Get A Local SIM Card For Your Phone In Cuba

You have two options for acquiring a local Cuban SIM card. You can order a disposable tourist SIM online, for pickup at the airport when you land. Or you can simply go in person to any ETECSA shop once you arrive in Cuba and buy a local SIM card.

ETECSA stands for Empresa de Telecomunicaciones de Cuba S.A. It’s just like any other mobile phone store you’ve been to elsewhere in the world. And buying the SIM card direct from ETECSA will be significantly cheaper than buying it online.

With that said, queuing up for things seems to be a Cuban national past time. There are always lines in Cuba and depending on the time of day that you visit, there may be a line.

I would suggest visiting the ETECSA store 15-30 minutes before it’s scheduled to open in the morning. So you can be first in the door and finished before any line starts to form.

The Two Types Of Cuban SIM Cards

There are two (2) types of rechargeable SIM cards in Cuba. The ‘tourist SIM’ and the ‘national SIM’. Tourist can buy either type. And the primary difference between them is how long they last.

  • Cubacel Tourist SIM Card – 30 Days (maximum)
  • Cubacel National SIM Card – 360 Days (after each recharge)

The tourist SIM cards will also try to limit you to tourist ‘data packs’. That will run out to $70USD or more for 50Gb of data. In comparison, I spend 950CUP for 16GB of 4g LTE ($3.80USD) using a ‘national SIM’.


What You Will Need To Get A Local Cuban SIM Card And Number

In order to get a SIM card in Cuba you will need to take your mobile phone, passport and tourist boleto (Tarjeta Del Turista / visa). Whenever you interact with a government service in Cuba, they will always want to see your passport and visa.

The staff at ETECSA will use the details in your passport to register the SIM card that you buy in your name and activate it. They will insert it into your phone and ensure that it works. And they’ll confirm your phone number is active before you leave the store. That way you can start using your new Cuban phone number as soon as you walk out of the shop.

The last time I was in an ETECSA store the cost to get a Cuban SIM card, phone number and have it activated was 1000 CUP ($4 USD). And this included several gigabytes of free mobile data. In comparison, the tourist SIM bought online costs about $35USD.

ETECSA have different promotions all the time. And the amount of calls and data included will vary depending on their current promotion.

Using a mobile phone in Cuba

Where To Recharge A Cuban Phone Number

There are two (2) ways to recharge your mobile balance and add credit to your account in Cuba.

The slowest method is to return to an ETECSA store and buy more credit. This involves traveling to the store and perhaps, depending on the day and time, queuing up for service. Yet, if you’ve changed money at the informal black market rate, then paying in pesos is by far the cheapest option.

The fastest and most convenient option, is to recharge online with your foreign credit or debit card. This can be done through sites like RecargasACuba. But the recharge will be significantly more expensive.

If you’re recharging in person at ETECSA with cash acquired at the informal black market rate, a 1000 Cuban peso (CUP) recharge will cost roughly $4USD. If you’re recharging online via RecargasACuba, a 1000 CUP recharge will set you back around $45USD.

One way I avoid the lines in Cuba, is I send my housekeeper to get the recharge for me. I’ll give her 10,000CUP ($40 USD) to put on my account. And I tip her 1000CUP ($4 USD) for her time. That way I don’t need to line up.


What Not To Do With A Cuban SIM Card And Phone Number

This is basic commonsense, but because there are a lot of scammers that hang around tourist areas and try to make friends with tourists, I’ll cover it anyway. For those looking to sell drugs or engage in some other form of illegal activity that doesn’t track back to them, a burner phone or number that is registered in someone else’s name is ideal.

You will more than likely encounter these types of people in Cuba. And they definitely hang around the Old Town in Havana and the various parts of Havana frequented by tourists.

If you’re standing in a line for an ETECSA shop they will try to start a conversation with you. And if they find out you’re buying or recharging a Cuban SIM card, they will give you a sad story about how expensive phone numbers are in Cuba and how you should leave them your SIM card when you exit the country.

Don’t do it.

If you want you can transfer your balance to a Cuban with one of the codes covered in the next section. But you should never give someone else the SIM card that is registered with your name and passport details. If you do, it will likely be used to facilitate illegal activity.


Cuban SIM Card Mobile Phone Codes

Once you’ve put credit in the form of local Cuban Pesos (CUP) onto your phone, either via an ETECSA shop or the internet, the next thing you need to do is select a pack with calls, SMS and mobile data. This can be done by using the following codes on your phone and selecting the option that meets your requirements.

The codes below allow you to check your balance and bonus balance, add a data pack and if you want, you can transfer some credit to another local Cuban phone number.

  • Check your balance: *222#
  • Check your bonus balance: * 222 * 266 #
  • Add a pack with calls, SMS and data: *133#
  • Transfer balance to another person: *234*1*(phone number of the other person)*1234*(amount in CUP)#

The last code on the list allows one person to transfer mobile phone credit to another person. And because of this, an informal mobile phone payment system has sprung up in Cuba.

Some local Cubans will accept mobile transfers as payment for goods or services. Because they can either use the credit, sell the credit or transfer it to their MLC balances. Once they transfer it to their MLC balance they can use it to purchase goods at the government run dollar stores.

Being able to transfer credit from one local phone to another is also a handy feature, if you’re almost out of credit. Cuban’s use the balance transfer feature as a form of pager. They will ping a friend’s number for as little as 1 CUP when they’re almost out of credit so that friend calls them.

Best VPN For Cuba
Don’t travel to Cuba without a VPN – Your device wont work without it!

Foreign eSIM Cards That Work In Cuba

For those of you with later generation mobile phones that can’t take a physical SIM card, or if you can’t be bothered with the above processes, airalo has an eSIM that works on the cellphone network in Cuba.

The airalo eSIM is $9.50 and gives you 1GB of data to use over 7 days. It will allow you to access the internet, send and receive iMessage and FaceTime calls and use WhatsApp.

Basically, it works like the standard physical SIM cards but is software instead of a physical card. With that in mind, you will still need a VPN to go with it. In order to bypass the internet restrictions in Cuba.

The airalo eSIM is available here.

Creating A Hotspot – Sharing Mobile Data In Cuba

The Cubacel SIM cards, both the ‘tourist SIM’ and the ‘national SIM’, are capable of creating a wifi hotspot and sharing data with other devices. You can tether your phone to your laptop or tablet in Cuba without any extra fees or difficulty.

If you do run into any problems using data on your Cuban SIM card, check your ‘access point’ in settings. Go to ‘setting’->’cellular’->’cellular data network’ and check the details match below.

  • Name: nauta
  • APN: nauta

Also, make sure if you’re using an iPhone in Cuba, that you have the follow settings switched off:

  1. Switch off ‘wifi assist’ (settings > mobile data > slide ‘wifi assist’ to off)
  2. Switch off ‘Location Services’ (settings > privacy & security > ‘location services’)

Further Resources

Before traveling to Cuba you should familiarize yourself with Cuba’s unique internet requirements. Because getting online in Cuba isn’t like the rest of the world. They even have their own local versions of popular services like Uber.

Here’s a list of articles you should read (click each to open) before visiting Cuba:

Where Can I Get More Information About Cuba?

I’ve made my Cuba travel guide available on this website. And I recommend you read it, before traveling to Cuba. It will help you navigate Cuba and Cuban society.

My ultimate guide to Cuba will save you a lot of time and a significant amount of money on your trip to Cuba. Read the most up to date guide to traveling in Cuba.