There is a lot of confusion regarding the possibility of using one’s cell phone in Cuba. Indeed, up until 2015, the answer was easy as you couldn’t use your phone, period. Now, some US providers actually allow you to use your phone in Cuba. Verizon was the first provider to allow roaming. However, and as this CNN article mentions,
“The service isn’t cheap: Voice calls will cost a pricey $2.99 a minute, data will set you back $2.05 per megabyte and texts will be charged at hefty international rates.
Sprint’s rates are slightly lower yet still very expensive while T-Mobile and AT&T currently do not offer service.
There are two big problems with using your cell phone in Cuba. The first is that the Cubans cannot call a US phone number. Therefore, if your hotel or a friend wants to call you and you have a US phone number, you are out of luck. The second is that there is no really good way to make sure that people do not call you unnecessarily. What I mean by this is that any non-important phone call will go through and whether you want to or not, you will have to pay for the call. If you turn off the phone, besides defeating the use for having a phone to begin with for the most part, you will still pay for the calls going into your voicemail.
A good alternative is to use the National Geographic Travel SIM or the Travel Phone. The service provides two phone numbers, a US number and a UK number. The US number is a new one that you can give out to whomever you actually WANT to reach you (or, if you want everyone to call you, you can simply forward your current number to the new number). The UK number is the one that you will want to give to the Cubans so they can call you.
The FCC has a good article about cellular communication as well. Besides mentioning Cellular Abroad, they also mention renting a local Cuban SIM card in Cuba through Cubacel. There is no mention of the rates but they are surely very good – at least to call within Cuba. You probably cannot call back to the US however. Additionally, you need to fill out a lot of paperwork to get the SIM card and, when you are done with your trip, you need to go back to the store and return it. Probably not the way that most people want to spend their time in Cuba.
In sum, you now can use a cell phone in Cuba. It may not be your cell phone but if you need cellular and data connectivity during your trip, it is possible and legal to do. Now that the easy part is done, the hard part is finding an easy and legal way to Cuba to begin with.