FCC addresses US citizens traveling to Cuba
July 20, 2015
by Mark Ollig

Since diplomatic relations between the US and Cuba reopened, questions have arisen about when US citizens can begin planning their next vacation there.

Americans wishing to visit Cuba strictly for tourism will still need to wait a bit; however, you can visit now if your travel purpose meets certain criteria.

Some of them include: family visits, or if you’re a teacher, researcher, or journalist; or if you’re visiting to partake in athletic competition, educational, or religious activities.

The complete US government criteria list is comprised of 12 categories of authorized travel to Cuba.

So, while booking your plane flight with a destination to the José Martí International Airport in Havana, you may want to know what the current status of using your cellphone, or the Internet, is in Cuba.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) posted a telecommunications “frequently asked questions for travelers to Cuba” section July 10 on their website.

One of the questions asked included: Will my US mobile phone work in Cuba?

“Not in most cases,” replied the FCC.

The reason is, many US telecommunication carriers do not have cellular roaming service agreements with the Cuban national telecommunications company, known as ETECSA.

The FCC does say visitors can rent a SIM card (subscriber identity module – a “smart card”) with pre-paid minutes to use while in Cuba from Cubacel (ETECSA’s mobile phone subsidiary).

One can also rent or buy a compatible mobile phone while still in the US to use when you arrive in Cuba. These phones may be obtained from mobile communication companies such as: Cellular Abroad, Cello Mobile, or Mobal.

Once your plane’s wheels touch down in Cuba, you could rent a mobile phone from Cubacel; the FCC reports they have offices in Terminals 2 and 3 at the José Martí International Airport in Havana.

Folks in the US will be able to call you in Cuba if you’re using a Cuban mobile phone or SIM; they cannot call you directly on your US mobile phone, because of the non-roaming in Cuba.

Callers from the US need to dial 011, and 53 (Cuba’s country code), followed by the Cuban telephone number, which contains eight digits for a mobile phone.

The FCC provides this example of calling Cuba from a US landline: 011-53-5555-5555.

When placing a call from Cuba to the US using a Cuban landline phone, you’ll need to obtain a Cuban pre-paid calling card.

You would dial 166, then the card code, and press the hash/pound/octothorp key (#). Next dial 119 (the international line access code), then a “1” which is the US country code, followed by the three-digit area code and seven-digit phone number you want to call; ending with the hash key again.

Your somewhat humble, telephone call-processing translations programmer knows the hash key tells the telephone processing system that no more digits are expected, and to process the call without delay.

Yes, it is a very lengthy dialing process, isn’t it?

Of course, you could pay more for a simpler process by placing the call back to the US from your Cuban hotel room’s landline phone.

The FCC said calls from a Cuban tourist hotel to the United States cost around $2.50 per minute.

This calling process is much simpler: dial 119, then a 1, followed by the three-digit area code and seven-digit phone number.

Now that we have an idea on how to place phone calls, what about accessing the Internet when we get to Cuba?

In larger Cuban cities, like Havana and Santiago de Cuba, Internet cafés, or “telepuntos” are available where a person can purchase an Internet “access ticket.”

This access ticket provides a username and password, and grants a person access to the public computers and Internet by the minute or the hour.

The cost of Internet access is approximately $4.50 per hour.

One should take into consideration that Cuban Internet connection speeds are not uniform, and a particular Internet access gateway may not have the bandwidth for supporting video or voice calls.

If you access the Internet from a larger Cuban hotel accommodation, they usually will provide a computer or business center, where better-quality Internet access is available at a cost of $6-$10 per hour.

Here in the US, we are used to being able to access the Internet via large Wi-Fi coverage areas, such as inside a coffee house; however, Wi-Fi coverage is not yet as easily accessible in Cuba.

However, starting this month, Cuba intends to begin offering Wi-Fi availability in 35 of its government-run centers at a price of $2 per hour.

The US Dpartment of the Treasury’s “frequently asked questions related to Cuba” (including the 12 categories of authorized travel Cuba), was updated May 15, and is available online.

You can read this document file at: http://tinyurl.com/US2Cuba.

The FCC website is: http://www.fcc.gov.

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