AT&T is expanding its international roaming coverage to include Cuba, becoming the last major US wireless carrier to offer service on the island.
AT&T inked an agreement with the government-owned Empresa De Telecomunicaciones De Cuba (ETECSA) that will allow its customers to talk, use data, and send texts while visiting Cuba.
Pricing and availability will come "at a later date," according to the company's announcement. Although AT&T and its competitors have been rolling out cheaper international roaming plans in recent years, Cuba is not included in any of them. Sprint and Verizon offer Cuba roaming access, but their plans are of the expensive pay-per-use variety.
Voice calls in Cuba on Verizon cost $2.99 per minute, while data is $2.05 per megabyte. So if you blow through a gigabyte of data uploading selfies to Instagram, tapping into Google Maps, and texting friends back home, you'd end up paying more than $2,000. Sprint's pricing is slightly cheaper, at $2.49 per minute and $1.99 per MB of data. Texts on Sprint cost 50 cents to send and are free to receive.
T-Mobile includes Cuba in its $15-per-month Stateside International Talk feature. That means calls to landlines and wireless phones in Cuba from the US cost $0.60 per minute. Like its competitors, the carrier also has a roaming agreement with ETECSA, but pricing and availability have not yet been announced.
Americans planning a trip to Cuba have few other good options to stay connected besides these expensive per-megabyte rates. ETECSA does offer public Wi-Fi hotspots, but there are only about 65 of them in the entire country. Logging on requires a $2-per-hour paid ticket, and during the busiest hours the connections slow to a crawl.
Another option is a pre-paid SIM card from Cubacell, an ETECSA subsidiary. Those come with credits in amounts of $10, $20, or $40, plus a $3 daily rental fee for the SIM card. Cubacell charges $0.35 per minute for calls within Cuba and $1.85 per minute for calls to the US.