Cuba’s modern digital telephone system is the responsibility of the Empresa de Telecomunicaciones de Cuba (Etecsa, tel. 07/266-6666 or 118, www.etecsa.cu), headquartered in the Miramar Trade Center in Havana. It has a central office (telepunto) with international phone and Internet service in all major towns.
There are still quirks, with some days better than others. And phones are scarce: Cuba has one of the lowest rates of telephones per capita in Latin America: only 12.6 per 100 people in 2008 (the lowest in the region, trailing even Haiti).
Call 113 for directory inquiries. The national telephone directory is available online at www.pamillas.cu, and on CD-rom (Grupo Directorio Telefónico, tel. 07/266-6305). Etecsa also publishes a dandy little Yellow Pages for Tourists (Páginas Amarillas Para el Turista). Telephone numbers change often. Trying to determine a correct number can be problematic because many entities have several numbers and rarely publish the same number twice.
Most commercial entities have a switchboard (pizarra).
Public Phone Booths
Etecsa operates glass-enclosed telephone kiosks called micropuntos (telecorreos where they combine postal services). They use phone cards, sold on-site and at tourist hotels. There are two types of phone cards: Propia and Chip.
Propia cards use a number specific to each card that is keyed into the telephone when prompted. Propia cards are for local and national calls (blue, 5 pesos and 10 pesos) and for international calls (green, CUC5, CUC10, and CUC15). You can add value to the same card at telepuntos. At last visit, per-minute rates using Propia were: CUC1.40 6 p.m.–6 a.m. and CUC1.95 6 a.m.–6 p.m. to the United States and Canada; CUC1.65 and CUC2.35 to Mexico, Central America, and Caribbean; CUC2.10 and CUC3.05 to South America; CUC2.55 and CUC3.65 to Europe and the rest of the world.
Chip cards (CUC5, CUC10, and CUC20) are used for local, national, and international calls. They are inserted into the phone and the cost of the call is automatically deducted from the card’s value. If the card expires during your call, you can continue without interruption by pushing button C and inserting a new card. At last visit, per-minute rates using Chip were: CUC2 to Canada; CUC2.25 to the United States; CUC2.60 to Mexico, Central America, and Caribbean; CUC3.40 to South America; CUC4 to Europe and the rest of the world.
Stand-alone public phones tend to be on noisy street corners. Some still accept 5- and 20-centavo coins, which can only be used for local and national calls. When you hear a short “blip,” immediately put in another coin to avoid being cut off.
Public phones do not accept collect or incoming calls.
When calling Cuba from abroad, dial 011 (the international dialing code), then 53 (the Cuba country code), followed by the city code and the number. For direct international calls from Cuba, dial 119, then the country code (for example, 44 for the U.K.), followed by the area code and number. For the international operator, dial 012 (Havana) or 180 (rest of Cuba).
In April 2009, the Obama administration announced that U.S. telecommunications companies would be allowed to establish direct connections with Cuba; at press time, the Cubans had not yet agreed.
Cost per minute varies depending on time of day and location of the call. Calls from domestic phones cost CUC1.20 6 p.m.–6 a.m. and CUC1.80 6 a.m.–6 p.m. to the United States and Canada; CUC1.70 and CUC2.50 to Mexico, Central America, and Caribbean; CUC2.20 and CUC3.25 to South America; CUC2.55 and CUC3.80 to France, Germany, Italy, and Spain; and CUC2.80 and CUC4.20 to the rest of the world. Rates are much higher for operator-assisted calls and from tourist hotels, most of which have direct-dial telephones in guest rooms.
For local calls in the same area code, simply dial the number you wish to reach. To dial a number outside your area code, dial 0, then wait for a tone before dialing the local city code and the number you wish to reach. For the local operator, dial 0. Local calls in Havana cost approximately 5 centavos (about a quarter of a cent). Rates for calls beyond Havana range from 30 centavos to 3 pesos and 15 centavos for the first three minutes, depending on zone—tourist hotels and Etecsa booths charge in CUC equivalent.
Cubacel (Calle 28 #510, e/ 5 y 7, Miramar, tel. 05/264-2266 or 07/880-2222, www.cubacel.com, daily 8:30 a.m.–7:30 p.m., Sat. 8 a.m.–noon) provides cellular phone service and has offices in most major cities. Cuba has roaming agreements with several countries, and in April 2009, President Obama granted permission for U.S. companies to do deals with Cuba.
If your service provider doesn’t have an agreement you may still be able to use your own cellular phone in the country. Cubacel can activate most phones (except fixed service provider phones, such as Verizon) and can provide you with a local line: CUC40 for Cubans and residents; tourists pay CUC3 daily plus usage (CUC0.30–0.50 per minute). They also sell cell phones (from CUC49 Motorolas to CUC331 Samsungs).
Cell phone numbers in Cuba have eight digits, beginning with 5, and omit the provincial area codes.
© Christopher P. Baker from Moon Cuba, 5th Edition