Despite what you may have heard, getting a 4G mobile SIM card and phone number in Cuba is both cheap and easy.
In this article we will cover:
- Where to get the SIM
- What you’ll need to get the SIM and it’s cost
- Where to recharge the SIM card or put credit on your account for extra calls, texts and mobile data
- What not to do with a Cuban SIM card
- Some helpful codes the locals use to check balances, send credit to others and how they use their mobile phones as a kind of informal payment system
Where to get A Local SIM card for your phone In Cuba
Simply go in person to any ECTECSA shop.
ECTECSA 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.
With that said, queuing up for things seems to be a Cuban national past time. They are always in lines and depending on the time of day that you visit there may be a line.
I would suggest visiting the ECTECSA store 15-30 minutes before it’s scheduled to open. So you can be first in the door and finished before any line starts to form.
What you 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 (tourist ticket / visa).
The staff at ECTECSA will use the details in your passport to register the SIM card 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 leave the store.
The last time I was in an ECTECSA store in December 2021 the cost to get a Cuban SIM card, phone number and have it activated was 1000 CUP. And this included several gigabytes of free mobile data.
ECTECSA have different promotions all the time. And the amount of calls and data included will vary depending on their current promotion.
Where to recharge your Cuban phone and add extra credit for calls, texts (SMS) and mobile data
There are two(2) ways to recharge your mobile balance and add credit to your account.
The slowest method is to return to an ECTECSA store and buy more credit. This involves travelling 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 method and most convenient option is to recharge online with your foreign credit or debit card. This can be done through sites like RecargasACuba.
If you’re recharging in person at ECTECSA with cash acquired at the informal black market rate a 1000 CUP recharge will cost roughly $9USD. If you’re recharging online via RecargasACuba a 1000 CUP recharge will set you back around $45USD.
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, we’ll cover it anyway.
For those looking to sell drugs, run prostitutes or engage in some 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 ECTECSA shop they will try to start up a conversation. And if they find out you’re buying or recharging a Cuban SIM card they will give you a sob 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 under no circumstances give someone else the SIM card that is registered with your name and with your passport details.
Cuban SIM card Mobile Phone Codes
Once you’ve put credit in the form of CUP onto your phone, either via an ECTECSA 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 pack and if you want, transfer some credit to another 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)#
With that last code allowing one person to transfer mobile phone credit to another person an informal mobile payment system has sprung up in Cuba.
Some local Cubans will accept mobile transfers as payment for goods or services as they can either use the credit, on sell the credit or transfer it with another code not covered here to their MLC balances and use it to purchase goods at the government run dollar stores.
It’s also a handy feature if you’re almost out of credit as you can ping a friend’s number so they call you for as little as 1 CUP.
You can also find a list of the four (4) most important apps to have on your phone in Cuba on this website.
There is more to come on Cuba shortly including its attractiveness as a digital nomad destination.
Liked this article? Subscribe to the blog and check out our other travel articles on Cuba.
Where Can I Get More Information About Cuba?
I’ve made a Cuba Frequently Asked Questions Page (FAQ) available on this website. And I would strongly advise you to read it before travelling to Cuba.
My Cuba FAQ page will save you a lot of time and a significant amount of money on your trip to Cuba. Cuba is not the sort of destination in which you can just arrive unprepared.
Read the Cuba FAQ Page here.