When I visited Cuba this past June, I wondered if being a remote worker could be possible in a country with such an out-of-date telecommunications infrastructure. And so, during my all too brief seven days exploring Havana, Trinidad and Santa Clara, I kept my eyes open for potential Workfrom locations, and my iPhone scanning for public Wifi hotspots.
To travel to Cuba legally as a US citizen, your purpose must fit within one of 12 categories. However, as of March 2016, travelers no longer need to submit written requests for a license. And you can now plan a self-directed trip versus having to go through a licensed tour group. This makes planning a visit to Cuba a lot simpler and cheaper. The implied edict is don’t just sit on a beach. Engage with Cubans, learn and share and look for common ground whether through business, or people-to-people connections. Don’t get me wrong, my husband and I were in Cuba on vacation, an activity not yet fully sanctioned by the US government. But we took this message to heart and had a great time getting to know our Airbnb hosts, and chatting with museum guides, cigar factory workers, and taxi drivers everywhere we went. And, to keep things legal, I opted for “journalism,” thus this blog post. Though admittedly, I did my research between sips of icy cold Mojitos.
Getting to Cuba today is much less of a challenge than even a year ago. You can buy tickets through Mexico or Canada through sites like CheapAir.com with a US credit card. And soon, pending final government approval, you’ll be able to do the once unthinkable — hop on a direct flight from JFK to Havana on Jet Blue, or from MSP to Santa Clara on Sun Country. These are exciting times.
But as to the question of can you work remotely in Cuba… Well, the answer is a hesitant maybe. From coffee shops to bars to shady parks — there are plenty of places to work. The problem is the Internet. Being a remote worker in Cuba would not be easy or cheap and your Internet access would not be 100% reliable. But it would be possible to stay in touch with clients and coworkers and squeeze in some work. And since a growing number of bars and restaurants have access to public Wifi, you can opt to do so while enjoying a Hemingway Daiquiri and singing along to “De Camino a la Vereda.”
We saw demand for Internet access everywhere we visited. In city squares and side streets, people of all ages accessed public Wifi hotspots on their smartphones, perched on curbs with laptops, stood in long lines to purchase Internet access cards from the state run telecommunications company ETESCA. In addition to the 175 public Wifi hotspots throughout Cuba, many larger hotels, like Hotel Nacional in Havana or the Iberostar in Trinidad offer Wifi for a fee. And the country’s first free Wifi hotspot opened last year at artist Kcho’s studio in Havana.
Next up is a pilot program in Habana Vieja that will bring broadband service directly to homes, including an apartment we rented through Airbnb. When we arrived at the apartment, host Santhy and his business partner Raul welcomed us warmly, offering glasses of Havana Rum and good conversation. Raul spoke excitedly about the opportunities home Internet access would open by making it easier to run private business through websites like Airbnb, and stay in touch with family overseas. Santhy said access was scheduled to be available in August, but, knowing how things go in Cuba, he said, October, or maybe November, but really December was more likely.
So, go to Cuba. Maybe you’ll get some work done, but most of all you’ll experience a gorgeous, eclectic country on the verge of exciting change. I can’t wait to go back.
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To connect to any public Wifi hotspot in Cuba, purchase an ETECSA card at CUC$2 per hour at a ETECSA Telepunto store. To avoid the lines, you have a few options. Find a hotel or restaurant selling the cards. Or, you can buy a card from a scalper for a premium. Just make sure the card is still wrapped in plastic. Scratch the card to reveal the username and password codes. You can purchases cards for 30 minutes up to four hours and can reconnect using the same card until all the minutes are used up.
El Floridita in Havana
El Floridita is a state owned bar and restaurant, and admittedly something of a tourist trap. The bar is always humming with loads of tourists and live music, so not likely the best place to get a lot of work done. But as one of Ernest Hemingway’s favorite haunts, it’s a great spot to enjoy a frosty Daiquiri Floridita with your Wifi. If you need a break from your hotel room, you can enjoy the bar’s historical ambiance and still stay connected.
La Marquesina & Leoncio Vidal Park in Santa Clara
Cuban dive bar La Marquesina takes up a corner of the historic Caridad theater building and overlooks the Parque Vidal in the heart of Santa Clara. The bar has plenty of tables inside and out, and the ETECSA Wifi hotspot in Leoncio Park provides a decent connection. It’s a great spot to wile away a few hours checking email, and people watching with the locals. Taxi drivers, cigar factory workers, tourists and students congregate here for icy mojitos and cold Cristals, the not half bad Cuban lager. A Cuban flag embellished with Che, Santa Clara’s favorite adopted son, hangs proudly above the bar.
Iberostar Grand Hotel Bar in Trinidad
For CUC$2 and the price of a cocktail, you can enjoy a decent Wifi connection in the Iberostar Grand Hotel’s first floor bar. Located right off the lobby, it’s a spacious room with plenty of seating and blissfully cool air conditioning. Purchase your ETECSA Wifi access card from the bartender along with your mojito. You can also purchase Wifi as an add on if you’re staying at the hotel. If you’d like to purchase additional cards, there’s an ETECSA store front just down the street from the Iberostar, but the lines are long.
About the Author
Pam Statz is an editor at Workfrom, helping us all find great spaces to get work done wherever we roam. Join the movement at workfrom.co