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5 Best VPNs for Cuba (?)

Until recently, Cuba was one of the poorest counties in the world for internet access. Not only was access to it among the most tightly controlled (.pdf) in the world, but it was slow, with virtually no broadband making the internet only accessible through domestic telecommunications infrastructure (i.e. modems) or expensive satellite phones. Its total bandwidth was limited (.doc) to just 209 Mbit/s upstream and 379 downstream, and until 2007 a permit was required to even own a private PC (and is still required to operate a WiFi network). To make matters even worse, the US government sponsored reverse filtering, encouraging websites to prevent access from Cuba.

Despite these considerable difficulties, but perhaps unsurprisingly given their isolation from the rest of the world, the internet has always been very popular among a population starved of international contact for over 50 years. Consequently, in country where state salaries average $20 USD a month, 25.6% percent of the population (2.8 million users, 79th in the world) had access to the Internet (in at least some form) in 2012.Those without internet access of their own could use one of Cuba’s hundreds cybercafe’s, but with a cost of $1.50 per hour for a local connection, and between $7 and $10 to access the international network, the cost was prohibitive to many. Instead, a cottage off-line data brokering industry emerged, where semi-legal data mules sold hard drives full of internet content (known as the ‘Paquete Semanal’, or Weekly Packet), including the latest TV shows, movies, programs, and magazines to a data-hungry public.

Built along the same lines by tech-savvy enthusiasts who could not afford ‘real’ internet access, an ad hock ‘street net’ (also dubbed ‘SNet’) has developed, comprised of ‘expensive but powerful hidden Wi-Fi antennas and Ethernet cables strung over streets and rooftops spanning the entire city.’ This semi-legal (strictly speaking illegal, but the authorities seem happy to exercise discretion and turn a blind eye) home-spun intranet has allowed hundreds Cubans to chat, play Warcraft, share data, and otherwise participate in an online community of the kind that has long been denied to them.

Things are changing fast however, following US President Obama’s recent rapprochement with the long isolated Republic, and the 2013 completion an undersea fiber-optic cable from Venezuela. Last month controversial streaming service Netflix announced that it would available to the 5 percent of the population that has access to broadband, and just last week the first free public internet service offering open WiFi opened in Havana.

If you would like to read more about the internet and how it is changing in Cuba, this discussion is continued towards the end of the article.

VPN for Cuba?

To be honest, this article started as a general look at the internet in Cuba, and its title was a bit of a joke – after all, in a country where internet access is so limited, listing VPN providers does admittedly seem a little premature.

However, internet access in Cuba is changing fast, and will continue to become available to more and more people. Given that it is heavily censored by a government that considers the internet ‘a tool for subversion of the 1959 Cuban Revolution,’ and which imposes ‘excessive penalties for political dissent expressed on the Internet,’ there is a clear need for Cubans to access the on-line world both free of censorship, and privately.

In the past this has been mainly achieved through the use of satellite cell phones (many of which are paid for by friends and relatives abroad), but VPN is a much cheaper and more flexible solution. The list below focuses on paid-for services (all of which permit P2P), but we understand that due to low national wages many in Cuba might prefer to use a free or cheap service, and so should check out our lists for those. CyberGhost, in particular, is worth noting, as not only is it our favorite free service in general, but it has servers in Miami and Mexico City.

The OpenNet Initiative (ONI) lists all filtering in Cuba as ‘No data available at this time,’ so we have no idea if VPN services are being censored, although as the Great Firewall of China demonstrates, even the best such filtering systems in the world can be overcome. We also have no idea if any legal penalties against VPN use are in place, so advise extreme caution among users.

Obviously, no VPN company runs servers from inside Cuba, so all the providers listed below run international servers that can (hopefully) be accessed by Cubans wishing to use the internet privately and uncensored.


Summary

Rank Provider Starting Price Grade Link

1

ExpressVPN_Logo $12.95/mo Read Review > Visit Site >

2

logo $6.95/mo Read Review > Visit Site >

 3

VPNArea Logo $9.99/mo Read Review > Visit Site >

4

logo $6.00/mo Read Review > Visit Site >

5

Screen Shot 2013-02-25 at 18.38.21 $9.99 Read Review > Visit Site >

Winner

ExpressVPN

  • PROS
  • 30 day money back guarantee
  • Funky Android app
  • No usage logs
  • Great speeds
  • Great iOS support
  • Servers in Miami and various Central American countries
  • CONS
  • No simultaneous connections
  • US based

Based in the US (with servers in Miami) ExpressVPN also also has servers in Venezuela, Guatemala, Panama and Costa Rica, and  is a great all-round choice as it offers a balanced range of services perfect for the mainstream VPN user. It keeps no usage logs (although some connection logs are kept), has great speed performance, and has simple but highly functional Windows and OSX clients. It also has nifty apps for Android and iOS devices, perfect for protecting your internet connection on the move, with the Android in particular deserving praise for its elegant Home screen widget. With a very generous 30 day no quibble money back guarantee, there is little reason not to give ExpressVPN a try.

Try Out the Best VPN for Cuba Today!

Visit ExpressVPN »

30 day moneyback guarantee

2nd place

PIA

  • PROS
  • Accepts Bitcoin
  • No logs
  • Fast
  • Up to 256-bit AES OpenVPN encryption
  • Uses shared IPs
  • Servers in Florida
  • Client features port forwarding
  • VPN kill switch and DNS leak protection
  • 5 simultaneous connection
  • Android app
  • P2P: yes
  • CONS
  • Some advanced settings may be difficult for some to grasp (but advanced settings usually are!)

Another US company (with servers in Florida), PIA has a fearsome reputation when it comes to protecting users’ privacy, as it keeps no logs keep, uses shared IPs, and accepts anonymous payment via Bitcoins. It also has newly implemented strong OpenVPN encryption (to up to 256-bit AES OpenVPN, with SHA-256 hash authentication and 4096-bit RSA handshake encryption), a very fully featured Windows and OSX client with DNS leak protection, IPv6 leak protection, port forwarding, and an internet kill switch, and allows up to five devices to connect at once (ideal for using with its excellent Android app). Some people complain about PIA being ‘over techy’, but more experienced users will likely love it.

» Visit PIA


3rd place

VPNArea

VPNArea Logo

  • PROS
  • No logs
  • Based in Bulgaria (no DRD)
  • 5 simultaneous devices
  • Uses shared IPs (although currently there are not enough people to share them with)
  • Good speeds
  • Great Windows client
  • Great customer service
  • Accepts Bitcoins
  • 7 day money back guarantee
  • Shared IPs
  • CONS
  • Minor teething issuese

While VPNArea is a new and fairly small Bulgarian company, it has very solid roots. It has a very well designed client (with DNS leak protection, a per-app kill switch, auto-IP changer, and server statistics), and its customer support is among the friendliest and most informed we have come across. It also has lots of servers all over the place (including all over the US,  Colombia, Mexico, and Panama) a 7 day free trial, fantastic connection speeds, and 256bit AES encryption.

The fairly minor issues we encountered are largely due to them being a new service. Overall we wholeheartedly recommend VPNArea.

Visit VPNArea »


4th place

LiquidVPN

  • PROS
  • Modulating (shared) IPs
  • No usage logs
  • Fantastic client with customizable scripts
  • Basic service is very cheap
  • Port forwarding
  • Stealth server
  • P2P: yes
  • CONS
  • Based in US

This new provider is making something of a splash (excuse the pun) in the VPN world thanks to its adoption of innovative technologies, such as its flagship ‘modulating IPs’, which continually change your IP address, making it very difficult to track your actions on the internet. Also cool is the highly customizable VPN client which can run scripts such as Fix DNS leaks, Disable Internet on VPN, Close Program on VPN Disconnect, and many more, as is the option to use add an extra layer of security by connecting to a server using a second TLS key (although this comes at a cost in speed). LiquidVPN keeps no usage logs , uses 256-bit encryption.

» Visit LiquidVPN


5th place

TorGuard

Screen Shot 2013-02-25 at 18.38.21

  • PROS
  • No logs
  • Very fast
  • Shared IPs
  • SSH tunnelling
  • DD-WRT routers
  • Server status information
  • P2P: yes
  • Servers in Miama and throughout Central America
  • CONS
  • Encryption ranges from great to meh
  • Customer service could be better
  • Jurisdiction uncertain

TorGuard has improved over the last year, and now offers a fast no logs service, uses shared IP’s, and has a great Android app. Which county’s jurisdiction it falls under is somewhat unclear (parent in Nevis, HQ in US), but it seems to have things in hand (the nearest servers are in Miami, Mexico City, Panama and Costa Rica). TorGuard accepts Bitcoins, runs stealth servers to evade censorship firewalls (might be useful for Cuba), offers SSH tunnelling, and provides server information. The 30 day money back guarantee sounds good, but you should note that it is limited to 10 GB of data.

» Visit TorGuard


Notes on censorship and the internet in Cuba

Cuba was listed in 2012 as an ‘internet enemy’,

A digital cold war is being played out against a backdrop of demonizing the Internet and social networks, which are accused of having a destabilising influence and being orchestrated by the American enemy… Pro-government bloggers are waging a non-stop battle on the Internet against “alternative” bloggers critical of the authorities. The regime is preventing most of its citizens from gaining access to the Internet and is occupying the field in order to leave no cyberspace for dissidents.

According to a 2011 report,

The Cuban government has created a dual system with a national intranet and the global Internet. Most Cubans have access only to the national intranet which consists of an in-country e-mail system, a Cuban encyclopedia and websites that are supportive of the government… Cuba’s only two Internet service providers are state owned and surveillance is extensive… Additionally, Cuban regulations state that e-mail messages must not jeopardize national security; forbid the spreading of information that is against the “integrity” of the people; provide that all material intended for publication on the Internet must first be approved by the National Registry of Serial Publications; and prohibit service providers from granting access to individuals not approved by the government.

The rise of bloggers such Yoani Sánchez, who use the internet to criticize the government and raise international attention to its human rights abuses and violation of freedoms, has caused particular alarm, and according to diplomatic cables published by WikiLeaks in December 2010, a government more afraid of bloggers than ‘traditional’ dissidents launched its own campaign of pro-government blogging platforms.

As we noted earlier, however, things are changing fast. For a start, with the new breakthrough in US-Cuba relations, we can expect to see much greater investment in internet infrastructure as international companies seek to capitalize on this almost untapped market. As Brian Fung writing about Netflix coming to Cuba in the Washington Post noted,

The theory goes like this: When demand for services increases, Internet providers make the necessary investment in their infrastructure to meet that demand. That capacity, in turn, drives more appetite for Internet applications, which spurs more network upgrades, and so on.

In addition to this, in 2013 Cuba’s state-run telecom company ETECSA announced plans to begin offering in-home Internet connections by late 2014, and judging by its web page (Google Translate) this does indeed appear to be available, with prices starting at 350 CUP (approx. $13 USD) per month for a 64 Kbps connection to 11,680 CUP (approx. $440 USD) for a 100 Mbps broadband connection.

As the internet becomes increasingly available (and affordable), the government will find it ever more difficult to control the content its citizen’s access, or to prevent them expressing views it disapproves of (especially as Cubans inevitably begin to use censorship-busting and privacy enhancing tools such as VPN and Tor). How it will respond this new existential threat remains to be seen, but it seems certain that increased internet access will bring with it deep and fundamental changes to Cuban society, and that interesting therefore times lie ahead for Cuba…


Summary

Rank Provider Starting Price Grade Link

1

ExpressVPN_Logo $12.95/mo Read Review > Visit Site >

2

logo $6.95/mo Read Review > Visit Site >

 3

VPNArea Logo $9.99/mo Read Review > Visit Site >

4

logo $6.00/mo Read Review > Visit Site >

5

Screen Shot 2013-02-25 at 18.38.21 $9.99 Read Review > Visit Site >

Douglas Crawford I am a freelance writer, technology enthusiast, and lover of life who enjoys spinning words and sharing knowledge for a living. Find me on Google+

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2 responses to “5 Best VPNs for Cuba (?)

  1. 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. 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.)

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