Internet Cafes: How to Find One and Tips for Using Them

Laptop and Coffee
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Internet cafes, also called cyber cafes or net cafes, are places that offer computers with some form of online access for public use, usually for a fee.

Cyber cafes can vary in appearance, ranging from plain spaces with an array of computer workstations, to small hole-in-the-wall locations with a simple computer and dial-up modem, to actual cafe establishments that also offer food and drinks for purchase. You can find computers with internet access for public use at copy centers, in hotels, on cruise ships, in airports, or just about any place that can get access to the internet. These may also provide hardware allowing you to print and scan documents.

Internet cafes are particularly useful for travelers who do not carry computers with them. They are common in many countries, and using their services is often inexpensive if you're only checking email, sharing digital photos, or using VoIP for short periods of time.

In many countries where computers and internet access are not widely available or affordable, cyber cafes also provide an important service to the local population. Be aware that these may be very busy locations and they may also have strict usage limits.

Fees for Using Internet Cafes

Internet cafes usually charge customers based on the amount of time they use a computer. Some may charge by the minute, some by the hour, and rates can vary widely depending on the location. For example, access on a cruise ship may be very expensive and connections may not always be available; be sure to check in advance to find out the cost. 

Some locations may offer packages for frequent users or those who may require longer sessions. Again, inquire ahead of time to see what is available and would work best for your needs.

Tips for Finding and Using an Internet Cafe

Do your research at home before traveling and make a list of the cyber cafes you find to take with you. Travel guides often provide locations of internet cafes for travelers.

There are a few global cyber cafe directories that can help you find one near your destination, such as cybercafes.com. A Google Maps search of your intended destination can show you what will be found nearby. 

It is wise to check in advance to find out if an internet cafe is still open. They can have unusual hours, and close down with little or no notification.

Security When Using Public Computers

Computers at internet cafes are public systems, and as such are less secure than those you use at your home or office. Take extra precautions when using them, especially if sensitive information is involved.

  • Bring along a USB flash drive with your portable programs, settings, and documents. The good thing about this method is you can have all your data with you but when you unplug the USB flash drive, none of your information remains on the computer. Make sure the USB flash drive has an antispyware and antivirus program installed on it. Be aware, however, that some locations may not allow you to use a personal USB drive on their systems for security reasons.
  • Memorize login credentials for any systems you may need to access, such as your email account. Look for the message from a system that asks if you area accessing from a public or private computer, and be sure to select "public." This helps ensure that personal information is not kept on the computer after you are finished.
  • Remember that your computer screen may be visible to others passing by or sitting behind you.
  • When you are finished with a logged-in session such as email, always log out when you are finished so that users who come after you don't accidentally gain access to your account.

Cyber Cafe Tips

You can make your experience using a cyber cafe smoother and more efficient by keeping these miscellaneous points in mind. 

  • If you have technical difficulties on the computer, talk to a manager and switch workstations (it'll be a lot faster than waiting for tech support).
  • Always be aware of any time limits on usage, or else you may find yourself logged out of the system while in the middle of something important.
  • If the passwords you use for systems you hope to access at an international cyber cafe utilize special characters such as ampersands and the like, you might want to change them to ones that do not use them, as those characters may not be available on foreign keyboards.
  • Keyboards can harbor a lot of germs, and public keyboards can be especially bad sources for bacteria. Researchers at the University of Arizona found that the average desktop can contain 400 times more bacteria than the average toilet seat. Always wash your hands or use a hand sanitizer after using a public keyboard.