Stephen Cooper

Stephen Cooper

October 6, 2017

As hard as it is to get onto the internet in Cuba, it’s a shock that many websites are blocked there as well. Luckily, with a VPN you can unblock all these websites. We’ve reviewed 150 different VPN companies over 5 years, and here’s the 5 best we’ve picked, based on this.

List of the Best VPNs for Cuba

You may be lucky enough to be staying in a hotel that has a WiFi hotspot. However, if you’re staying in a budget hotel, you won’t have that luxury. If you’re in a high-end hotel, you won’t get a signal in your room. Instead, you’ll have to go into the lobby in order to connect. In most places, the internet is only available in specific locations in the street. That makes it difficult to use a laptop. You should plan on using your smartphone for internet access while in Cuba.

The Cuban government doesn’t have the resources to put in place the internet filters and monitoring systems that China, Iran, and Saudi Arabia can afford. The government’s main way to control the spread of dissent through the internet is to make it really difficult to get online. Consequently, there are no blocks on access to social media sites. You can also access internet telephony apps in Cuba. However, the internet service is so slow that you’ll find WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger almost impossible to use. You certainly won’t be able to watch streaming video online. You need a connection rate of 3 Mbps in order to stream HD video and 2 Mbps for SD video. The Cuban internet system delivers 1 Mbps at its best rate.

Your main priorities when looking for internet access in Cuba are a lightweight device and plenty of patience. As there is very little internet traffic in the country, the government monitors everything. As such, you need extra security for your connections. A Virtual Private Network (VPN) will keep your communications private while you’re in Cuba. If you hanker for entertainment, download movies and shows onto a tablet before you go. A VPN can protect you from prosecution when you use P2P networks to download copyrighted material. For more information torrent VPNs , take a our best VPN for torrents article.

Quick Links to Our 5 Best VPNs for Cuba

  1. ExpressVPN
  2. Buffered
  3. PrivateVPN
  4. VyprVPN
  5. PrivateInternetAccess

Thanks to its contacts with China, the Cuban government promises to improve the quality of internet access in the country. The proposed imported technology may make the internet in Cuba faster, but it won’t make life easier for those who want to access foreign websites. Along with faster routers, the Cuban government will also be importing all of the blocking, filtering, and monitoring software that makes up the Great Firewall of China. China has the most restricted internet access in the world. As such, Cubans can look forward to more internet access difficulties in the future.

You can read more about how to get internet access in Cuba below. Firstly, let’s take a look at our list of the five best VPNs for Cuba.

Best VPNs for Cuba: Summary

10.0/10.0

ExpressVPN Homepage
PROS:
  • Special Offer: 49% off today!
  • 30-day money-back guarantee
  • No logs
  • Fast speeds
  • Servers in 94 countries
  • Will defeat the Great Firewall of Cuba
CONS:
  • Only three simultaneous connections allowed

ExpressVPN gives you all of the basic requirements that you need from a VPN in Cuba right now. It also has all of the extras that you'll need when the Cuban government upgrades its internet to be like China's. In Cuba, you need a VPN that isn't going to slow down the connection. Our ExpressVPN review found it has a very fast network. The servers of this company surround the Caribbean - its headquarters are in the British Virgin Islands. The other important feature that you need from a VPN in Cuba is automatic WiFi protection. ExpressVPN includes that in its app.

Keep up your subscription to ExpressVPN for future visits to Cuba because this is one of the best VPNs for use in China. When Cuba installs Chinese internet monitoring technology, ExpressVPN will really come into its own. The company is fine about its customers downloading files with torrents and it keeps no logs, so you can safely build up your video library before you fly to Cuba.

Try the best VPN for Cuba now!

Visit ExpressVPN »30-day money-back guarantee

9.4/10.0

Buffered Homepage
PROS:
  • Special Offer: 49% off today!
  • Easy to use
  • Fast connections
  • Strong encryption
  • No usage logs
  • P2P: yes
CONS:
  • Some connection logs

This VPN provider from Gibraltar has servers in 34 countries. It is a fantastic VPN that provides excellent privacy thanks to OpenVPN encryption. It is ideal for anybody in Cuba who wants to stream in HD thanks to its fast connection speeds. This VPN is easy to use and has software for all platforms. It keeps no usage logs and provides a 30-day money back guarantee. Finally, it can also be installed on 5 simultaneous devices, to protect all your devices.

9.2/10.0

PrivateVPN Homepage
PROS:
  • Loved by consumers
  • Super fast for streaming
  • Zero logs
  • Fully featured for security and privacy
  • Fantastic customer care
CONS:
  • Not much

PrivateVPN is an amazing service from Sweden that users praise regularly. It is a superb choice for use in Cuba. It is fast, efficient, easy to use, and extremely reliable. It also provides lightning fast speeds for streaming in HD. PrivateVPN truly is a pleasure to use and has all the important security features you might need. It also has servers in over 50 countries.

Encryption is military grade OpenVPN and this VPN keeps zero logs. Amazingly, this fantastic VPN is also super cheap. Why not try the 30-day money-back guarantee to see why this VPN is proving so popular?

9.0/10.0

VyprVPN Homepage
PROS:
  • Three-day free trial
  • Servers in 58 countries
  • Good speeds
  • No logs
  • Unblock US Netflix
CONS:
  • No refund period after the free trial

VyprVPN has a sneaky, snakey logo and the VPN service is as slippery and undetectable as a snake in the grass. This VPN company invented its own cloaking methodology, called Chameleon. The success of Chameleon in evading detection makes this service a big hit in places like China. It also unblock Netflix US. The company offers two levels of service, but only the Premium plan includes Chameleon.

You don't get a money-back guarantee with VyprVPN. Instead, the company offers a three-day free trial. Take advantage of that to check the performance of its servers in your homeland. VyprVPN has server locations in over 70 countries. The company keeps no logs.

8.8/10.0

PrivateInternetAccess Homepage
PROS:
  • Seven-day money-back guarantee
  • No logs
  • Good speeds
  • Strong WiFi protection
  • Allowance of five simultaneous connections
CONS:
  • Relatively small server network

PIA only has servers in 25 countries, so it's not nearly as big as ExpressVPN. However, it's much cheaper. The company has servers in the USA, which should be all you need while you're in Cuba. The VPN has very good procedures to protect its customers on WiFi networks, so this VPN will serve you well in Cuba.

Our PIA review found that the company keeps no logs and is fine about people using its network for peer-to-peer (P2P) downloads. That means you can stock up your tablet with movies safely when you're getting ready to go to Cuba.

Using a VPN in Cuba: Considerations

Internet Access in Cuba

The state-owned internet service in Cuba is called Nauta. There is a local alternative called ETECSA, but this is no use to you if you want to access the real internet. You will see a few internet cafes in the center of big cities, but these are ETECSA outlets.

The ETECSA system operates more like an intranet. It doesn’t give access to services outside the network. Instead, you can access state-controlled alternatives on this system. As such, you can access email on ETECSA, but only if you have an ETECSA email account. You can also only send messages to others in Cuba with an email account on the same system. Sites that you can visit on the ETECSA network include government information websites, a government-run encyclopedia, and cached versions of foreign websites that support the Cuban government. You can’t access your Yahoo, Gmail, or Hotmail account through this system. You also can’t get onto overseas websites, such as the Wall Street Journal or the BBC.

Getting Nauta Credit

If internet is available in your hotel, Nauta will run it. You buy a pre-paid calling card at the front desk. This has silver strips on the back, which reveal a username and password when you scratch them off. You can only buy cards with one hour of internet access, though you can buy several cards at once. You can use the cards at any WiFi hotspot, because Nauta owns every hotspot. Be sure to carry a few cards around with you.

If your hotel has WiFi, there’s no guarantee that it will have connection cards available. Their supply is irregular and many outlets run out periodically. You can go to another hotel to buy them, but you may need to buy a drink or a meal at the hotel bar in order to qualify to purchase the cards. The hotel may also limit your purchase to just one card.

If you can’t get a Nauta card from a hotel lobby, you’re in for a taste of local lifestyle. You’ll have to queue at a telecom office or newsstand in the street in order to get a card. Official sales points are few and far between. Waiting times are usually between 30 minutes and an hour, depending on the time of day. As these booths have no indoor areas, you’ll be queuing in the sweltering heat, so take a battery-operated fan or a parasol with you.

As with any commodity that attracts long queues, Nauta is available from ticket touts who mill about close to the queues. A card costs $2, but you can cut out the queue by buying one from a tout for $3. This is a high price for an hour of lousy internet access. A trip to Cuba can end up being expensive.

Once you get to the front of the queue for a card, buy a ton of them. These cards are valuable commodities that appreciate in value by 50% as soon as you get hold of them. Use them as gifts for the people that you meet and to barter with. The average monthly salary in Cuba is $20, so this $2 card is an expensive luxury for the locals.

Using Nauta Credit

The locations that sell Nauta cards are also the homes of the WiFi routers, so you can use the credit as soon as you buy it. Unfortunately, these outlets don’t have seating, so you’ll be standing in the street, in the glaring sun, when you access the internet. If you can take a lightweight portable stool with you, the experience will be a lot more comfortable. The best device to use while standing in the street is a smartphone. However, you won’t be able to use that phone to make calls in Cuba because the cell network is only second generation.

Another option is to buy multiple cards, track down a hotel that has a hotspot, and sit in the lobby. The desk clerks may get a little jumpy if you’re not staying there. However, tell them that you’re waiting for a friend and order a drink to calm their ire. You can get away with this strategy as a foreigner, though Cubans are not so fortunate.

The credit starts ticking down the first time you connect. Even if the service is impossibly slow, it will expire within an hour, regardless. Even if the connection doesn’t seem to be doing anything, your credit will still expire after an hour. If you just can’t get any service at all, it’s better to log off as quickly as possible and preserve your credit for another time. The credit lasts for 30 days from the first moment of connection. The logout option isn’t easy to find on the main Nauta screen. Enter http://1.1.1.1 in the address field of your browser to get to the logout screen quickly.

The first thing you’ll see when you connect to the Nauta network is a warning message from your device. This tells you that you’re about to connect to an unsecure network. This is why a VPN is a good idea. The VPNs on our list have automatic WiFi protection. Make sure you have the VPN turned on before you connect to the Nauta network. The VPN software will apply encryption to your connection across the WiFi network. This is important because many sites that run https, such as all webmail systems, won’t let you in if you try to access them over unsecure networks. As such, you’ll run down your hour’s credit looking at a series of blocking messages.

One good aspect of the Nauta account management system is that it is also available in English. You can buy credit online, but only if you access the system from overseas. This function is available at www.etecsa.cu (ETECSA runs Nauta). The website won’t let you pay for credit online while you’re in Cuba, but a VPN can get you around this problem. Connect to a VPN server in a nearby country – a server in Miami is always a good bet. This will make you seem to be in Miami and the ETECSA system will allow you to pay for credit online and avoid queuing for Nauta cards.

Best VPNs to use in Cuba: Conclusion

Life can be tough in Cuba. High speed broadband is something that people in many other countries take for granted, but that’s not the case in Cuba.

The VPNs on our list work well in China, so if you intend to travel to Cuba regularly in the future, these services will continue to serve you well once the Cuban government upgrades its internet status from “almost non-existent” to “repressive.”

Best VPNs for Cuba: Side-by-Side Summary

Image Credit: DayOwl/Shutterstock.com

Stephen Cooper
May 18th, 2018

Stephen Cooper is a techy geek with a social edge. Downshifting from a successful IT career in Europe, Cooper moved to the Caribbean and now keeps up to speed with Internet technology poolside.

7 responses to “5 Best VPNs for Cuba – Unblock Snapchat, Facebook and other Social Media

  1. Juan says:

    Douglas, you are suggesting bitcoins, but that might not work as you expect.

    The main problem is that since online purchases from Cuba are forbidden by the embargo laws, in practice you cannot buy bitcoins unless you use a VPN (see the irony?)

    Also, since connections are slow and only from WiFi hotspots at public parks, you cannot mine bitcoins either (unless you have a hardware which can work off the power grid and crunch at least 6 TH/s)

    Having said this, at least for Android there are a few apps which work reasonably.

    1. Douglas Crawford says:

      Hi Juan,

      Have you tied using websites such as LocalBitcoins.com, where you but Bitcoin from private individuals, rather than through organized Bitcoin exchanges? As long as you can negotiate some way to transfer funds to the seller, I can’t see why this wouldn’t work (some sellers will even accept buyers who use Tor, although there is usually a premium on the exchange rate for this).

  2. Henry says:

    Hi Stephen,
    Good review. Is there any reason not to include NordVPN?
    I’m considering NordVPN and I wonder if you tried it on Cuba and your opinion.
    Thanks,

    1. Stephen Cooper says:

      Hi, Henry,
      NordVPN is one of my favorites, so it is a good choice. The company has servers in Mexico, Costa Rica, and the United States, which would be good options for connections from Cuba. I tend to rank NordVPN higher for situations where a user wants to download with torrents, get into streaming video sites, such as Netflix, or use the excellent extra privacy functions, such as connecting to Tor through the VPN or using their double hop encryption.

      None of the great features of NordVPN are useable in Cuba because the main issue there is that the internet is really, really slow. It would be a huge impedance on the connection to try to work with Tor or select a route through two VPN servers with double encryption, you might never get through to your email before your 1 hour credit runs out. That’s why, despite the fact that I like NordVPN, I didn’t choose it as one of the best for Cuba.

    2. Henry says:

      Thank you, those are good points to consider. I may still give it a try since I will be using it most of the time with high-speed internet and just for a short trip to Cuba. NordVPN has really good deals comparing to ExpressVPN prices. Also, running 6 devices simultaneously is a nice feature, to share it with people that cannot pay for it. I guess that using it only for safe browsing and wifi protection while in there will be enough.

  3. Lokus says:

    Good article. But just like you said, people in Cuba prefer free solutions rather than paid those solutions, but it’s not because the people in the island are poor… That’s the last of the concerns if we’re talking to pay things online. The huge problem is that people in Cuba can’t pay anything online because they don’t have internationals credit cards that can use for that. The problem isn’t the money, is the metod for pay online such services.
    And, even if the cubans have internationals credit cards, the US Government’s laws prohibit the 99% of US and related online services from make ‘business’ with people in Cuba. Is a massive mess, not only from inside the island, also from outside, specifically US and its ridiculous laws.
    So, for that reason people in Cuba prefer free services, just because it’s a nightmare pay things outside Cuba from inside, and by a nightmare I mean almost impossible.

    I came to this site searching for VPNs that can be used from Cuba, but I expected find free VPN services, because as I said before people un Cuba can’t pay anything online…
    I’m disappointed. Instead I found a list of paying services, with monthly pays… Monthly pays? How can you expect that people in Cuba pay monthly for an online service? This article isn’t realistic at all… And, opposite to its title, is completely useless for people in Cuba.

    1. Douglas Crawford says:

      Hi Lokus,

      Thank you for your comments. You raise a valid and interesting point, but please consider the following:

      1. Most of the services listed here (except ExpressVPN) accept payment using Bitcoins, which allow them to be used by Cubans.
      2. We already have a list of 5 Best Free VPNs that can be used by Cubans.

      That said, I will update this article in the new Year to more clearly address this issue (including only listing VPN providers who accept Bitcoin.)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *