Bahamas internet options have sure expanded since we were there in 2016. Far more options exist, with greater coverage and speed and considerably lower prices.
As we’re planning to spend three months in the Bahamas this summer, I’ve been doing a lot of research on this topic. Our primary weather forecasts (Chris Parker) come via email, and of course there’s The Boat Galley.
The features that are important to me might not be the same as for you.
- Coverage area: can I get internet in some of the more remote anchorages?
- Am I limited in what sites I can access?
- How fast is the service?
- I’m a heavy user, so cost is a consideration.
- Automatic billing or do I have to deal with checking usage and paying when I need more data?
- Customer service
- Is there additional hardware? If so, what’s the cost
The Options for Bahamas Internet
Eight basic options exist for getting internet in the Bahamas:
- Using wifi at local businesses
- International roaming on a US-based cell phone plan, such as Verizon or AT&T
- T-Mobile’s International Plan
- BTC (aka Batelco) — Bahamas Telephone Co.
- Google Fi
- Iridium Go!
Cruisers coming from other countries may have other options with cell phone companies from their home countries, but I have no experience with those. I’m coming from the US and these are my options. We’re planning to cruise the Berries and Abacos; Dave and I enjoy staying at more remote anchorages instead of always being in towns.
Wifi at Local Businesses
In towns, there is generally a bar or restaurant that has free wifi while you’re there. You usually have to buy something. It’s almost always passworded and I know some people will go in once, get the password and then use the internet on the boat with a wifi extender. My feeling is that unless the business says it’s okay for you to do that, it’s not. They want the bandwidth for their customers; they are offering wifi to attract customers. If you use it without buying something, you’re effectively stealing from them.
My take: Wifi at local businesses simply isn’t going to work for me. I need coverage in areas where there are no businesses, I need it on the boat and I need it all the time. Best for extremely low budget cruisers and as a backup to all other possibilities.
If you’re traveling for just a few days, international roaming might be an option, but it generally doesn’t work for cruisers. Data is expensive — the last I heard was $10 a day for less than a gig. As far as I know, no cruisers go this route.
My take: Absolute no.
T-Mobile International Data
T-Mobile’s 55+ Plan has an international option, and I already have it as it allows unlimited high-speed hotspot data in the US. This costs an additional $25 per line and is what I use for all my internet in the US. In the US, I get 4G speed almost everywhere and my phone serves as my hotspot.
The plan also offers unlimited international data. So it seems like a no-brainer for our trip to the Bahamas. Just take my phone and the minute I’m within range of a tower, it will connect and I’ll have service.
It used to be that T-Mobile international service in the Bahamas was extremely slow. Like dial-up speed slow. T-Mobile still says that it’s all 2G data. A few people have recently told me that they have decent speed now; others still complain about how slow it is. So some areas may actually have 3G or 4G data. It’s my understanding that T-Mobile works through BTC, the local phone company, so coverage areas are about the same.
People can call your US number and it will ring if you have coverage in the Bahamas and you can also call out just as if you were in the US. Rates vary by where you are calling.
My take: I’ll be staying on my T-Mobile plan while we are in the Bahamas. It would be nice if it works well, but I’m not going to count on it. With my need for reliable and reasonably quick connections for weather and TBG, I want to have another plan in place and then I can compare the two.
If I were already on T-Mobile and did not need as much data as I do, I’d initially go with just T-Mobile for my Bahamas internet, although I’d have an unlock code for my phone just in case I decided I needed to switch to a local SIM. More on unlocking phones below.
When we went to the Bahamas in 2016, I got a BTC SIM card and put it in my existing phone and used it for hotspot data. Back then, it cost $50 for 5GB. Now it’s $35 for 30GB. You can also get combination voice and data plans.
BTC’s speed isn’t blazing but it’s good in most places. They claim 4G LTE but it’s actually “where available,” not everywhere. In more remote spots, you’re probably not going to have enough speed for streaming videos. But for just surfing the web and email, it’s fine.
If your phone is unlocked and uses a SIM card, you won’t need any new hardware. And you can get the SIM card before you leave the US, so you can connect as soon as you’re in range of a tower. To get a SIM card before leaving the US, go to MrSimCard — a SIM card from them costs a little more than buying it in the Bahamas but their assistance is fantastic as far as telling you if your phone will work and exact directions for getting connected once in the Bahamas. BTC also has stores in just about every town in the Bahamas and you can get set up almost anywhere you go. Customer service is generally good in the local shops.
You can top up your account online or buy cards in local stores. For years, BTC was the only telephone service in the Bahamas and they’ve got the systems down pat. They do not offer any sort of automatic payment for the types of accounts that cruisers typically have.
Phone unlocking: Your phone has to be unlocked to use a BTC SIM card. Most US carriers will give you an unlock code that you enter when you put the foreign SIM card in for the first time (you can do this while you’re still in the US, you don’t have to be in the country where you have the SIM card). Check with your US company for details, but it’s a really good idea to get an unlock code before leaving the US even if you think you’re going with a solution that doesn’t need it, just in case.
Your other option is to buy an unlocked phone before leaving the US (Amazon and eBay usually have a large selection) or get a BTC phone once you get to the Bahamas.
My take: BTC is a solid option for
The Mifi unlimited monthly plan costs $75 per month.
There’s a lot of confusion about the
If you intend to use an Aliv SIM card in your phone, make sure you have an unlocked phone or the unlock code for your phone.
My take: There are serious questions about
MyIslandWifi is the brand-new kid on the block, selling to cruisers just since mid-December 2018. And cruisers are raving about the service. $75 a month gets you truly unlimited (no throttling ever) high speed internet. You are only limited by coverage and any network congestion (which we never experienced).
MyIslandWifi uses BTC towers but different frequencies, so you get the extensive coverage that BTC offers but avoid the network congestion. MyIslandWifi and cruisers I’ve talked to report connecting even when 25 miles from a tower, although signal strength and speed increase as you get closer. Top speed is 4G LTE and they claim it’s available across the network. Cruisers report that speed within about 10 miles of a tower is fast. For even greater reach, you can put the battery-powered router up the mast or on the top deck of a trawler.
You can get their
You can also have a Mifi shipped to you in the Bahamas if you decide you want to switch while you’re there. They can ship to most populated places in one to two days. If you’re in a remote location, you’re going to have to have it shipped to the nearest town and go there.
When you order the
MyIslandWifi is data only, but you can get phone service IF your phone has wifi calling capability. Connect your phone to the Mifi network and go into settings, select wifi calling and then tell it to ONLY use wifi calling (every phone is slightly different how you do these steps). Turn off cellular calling and data. Your phone will ring and you can make calls and text just as if you were in the US. This worked wonderfully for us, both for friends and family and also for those times that your bank sends you a text code, etc.
Customer service is excellent. The company president gives out his cell phone number for anything that customer service can’t handle. I called the company number on a Sunday afternoon and Leo, the president, answered and talked to me for about an hour!
My take: I used MyIslandWifi in the summer of 2019 in the Bahamas and loved it. The combination of coverage, price, speed, truly unlimited data, ability to get the unit in the US, set up autopay and great customer service makes it a no-brainer for my needs.
Google Fi is a true worldwide phone and data solution, with service in over 100 countries. Unlimited talk and text cost $20 per month, although calls outside your home country are 20 cents a minute. Data is $10 per gig for the first six GB, then free thereafter. Throttling occurs at 15GB.
Google Fi may be compatible with your existing phone but generally requires a new Fi-compatible phone. The least expensive costs $149.
My take: Google Fi is great if you’re frequently jumping countries; cruisers who use it love it. It’s not the best solution for cruisers who will just be spending a season in the Bahamas. For us, it would cost $80 a month, require a new phone and throttle our internet at 15GB. BTC,
The Iridium GO! is a satellite-based internet solution. However, it’s not at all like “real” internet. Yes, you can connect from anywhere in the world. But it only lets you use apps that are specifically designed to work with it, and connection speed is still painfully slow. Still you can get mail and weather anywhere with it.
An Iridium GO! costs about $1,000 for the hardware and $140 a month for unlimited data.
My take: I’d love an Iridium GO! to ensure we always have weather info. But it’s not the answer for our internet needs.
None of the Bahamas internet options is truly bad; all are improvements on what we had in 2016 and we made things work then. Decide what’s most important to you, where you plan to go both in the Bahamas and after, and what your budget is.
Technology isn’t as hard to master as it was just a few years ago, but getting good instructions for how to set things up once you get to the Bahamas is critical: it’s tough to call for help when you can’t call.
Because we’ll be cruising in hurricane season and also because of The Boat Galley, multiple communication channels are key for us. We’ll have:
- T-Mobile International phone (unlocked so that if I feel the need to switch to BTC I can)
- MyIslandWifi router
- inReach tracking and texting satellite device
- Borrowed satellite phone set up to be able to receive
- NOTE: We do not have an SSB or ham radio on Barefoot Gal
Yes, it’s overkill. But communications are critical when cruising in hurricane season. I say that, but really, getting weather info and being able to get help in the event of a medical emergency are two of the most important safety items for cruising, period. We’ll skimp on some other things to have good and redundant communications ability.