San Salvador, El Salvador Report of what it's like to live there - 07/15/11

Personal Experiences from San Salvador, El Salvador

San Salvador, El Salvador 07/15/11

Background:

1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?

No, this is my fourth expat experience.

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2. What is your home city/country? How long is the trip to post from there, with what connections? How easy/difficult is it to travel to this city/country?

Washington, DC

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3. How long have you lived here?

two years

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4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, military, teaching, retirement, etc.)?

Embassy employee

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?

Families live in houses and couples/singles often live in apartments. Embassy employees frequently live very close to the embassy. Traffic is an issue if you live further out but the city is quite small and traffic isn't as bad as it is in other countries in the region.

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2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?

Grocery prices are close to American prices.

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3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?

real vanilla extract, spices, brown sugar, any veggie/vegan food that can be shipped, toiletries, and children's books

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4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?

There is every flavor of American-style fast food here. It has flooded the country. If this is not your style, you will have to do some searching to find good food in San Salvador (even though there are a lot of restaurants).

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5. What kinds of organic, vegetarian and allergy-friendly foods are available, such as organic produce, gluten-free products, meat substitutes for vegetarians, etc?

There is an organic market next to Hospital Diagnostico (CLUSA).They get new produce on Wednesdays and Fridays (fruit, vegetables, honey, nuts, and other things).Yemaya is a restaurant that sells "healthy" food, not necessarily vegetarian. You can also find some things at the Merliot Market like chia seeds, cashews, flax, herbs, and various homeopathics. You can also buy a 50-pound bag of whole wheat flour from the mill near the botanical gardens.

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6. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?

Mosquitoes, cockroaches, and some other buggies.

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Daily Life:

1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?

embassy DPO

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2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?

locals pay $10/day and embassy people pay $15/day (labor is cheap here but be careful, you get what you pay for if you want to use a local nanny)

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3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?

There are some gyms in town and yoga studios.

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4. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?

Be careful.

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5. What English-language religious services are available locally?

There is a Protestant Union Church that is popular among expats. There is also an English service at one local Catholic church.

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6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?

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7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

You must have survival Spanish. The better your Spanish, the easier life will be for you.

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8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?

The city is not wheel-chair friendly.

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Transportation:

1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?

Do not use local transportation except for taxi companies that are commonly used by the embassy or your place of employment.

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2. What kind of car do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car do you advise not to bring?

You really need to bring an SUV.It is amazing just how quickly you find yourself needing one even if you primarily stay in-town.

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Phone & Internet:

1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?

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2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?

Everyone has TIGO.There are many complaints but it could be worse.

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Pets:

1. Are qualified veterinarians and/or good kennel services available? Do animals need to be quarantined upon entry to the country? Are there other considerations regarding pets that are particular to this country?

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2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?

There some good veterinarian options in-town.

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Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:

1. What types of jobs do most expatriate spouses/partners have? Locally based or telecommuting? Full-time or part-time? Can you comment on local salary scales?

There aren't many jobs in the embassy and most are admin-focused. There are local NGOs that may hire or would appreciate volunteer help.

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2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?

This is a conservative culture and dress is important.

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Health & Safety:

1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.

You will never forget that you are living in a high security threat country. It will affect every aspect of your life.

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2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?

Dengue is common.

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3. What is the air quality like at post (good/moderate/bad)? Are there seasonal air quality issues? Does the air quality have an impact on health?

OK for a developing country. Keep your windows closed and use recycled air when driving. The pollen can get out of control in the dry season.

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4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

Half the year is dry with not rain and the other half is very wet. It can be very hot but it is always much more comfortable in the shade. The rainy season can be tedious especially since there really isn't much to do in the city.

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Schools & Children:

1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?

The British School has the best reputation in the country. In general the academics in-country are not that well regarded.

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2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?

Arbol de Dios makes extensive accommodations for special-needs kids. Many kids have shadows and there is a nurse on-site.

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3. Are preschools available? Day care? Are these expensive? What has been your experience with them, if any? Do the schools provide before- and/or after-school care?

Most embassy families choose Barquito de Papel. The British School or recommends the Montessori School. A few families use Arbol de Dios since it is close. In my opinion, the Montessori School is the best option.

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4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?

They are available for school-aged children primarily.

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Expat Life:

1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?

There is a small expat community even though there is a large American embassy.

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2. Morale among expats:

Mixed. This is not an easy country for people who love their personal freedom and who would like a variety of activities during the day.

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3. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?

There are a couple of movie-theaters, several bars, a few museums, and many restaurants. Security concerns put damper on the social life in the city in a significant way.

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4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?

This is a good city for families with older school-aged children who are active in sports. It's rough on singles and families with small children.

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5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?

Discretion is essential here.

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6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?

There are very few people of African-American descent and I have heard of some horrible comments directed at young children in the international schools.

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7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?

The beach and the countryside are lovely. Guatemala and Honduras as easy to visit and well-worth the trip.

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8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?

The beach is close and is perfect for surfing. The volcano is right in town and is fun for a short hike. There are also some great day-trips (especially if you have an SUV) and travel opportunities.

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9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?

hammocks, local handicrafts, Llort art, and wind chimes.

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10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?

Kind people, beautiful country, great weather for much of the year, and bountiful travel opportunities.

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11. Can you save money?

Yes. The bonus of a city in lock-down is that you do not have as many places to spend money.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?

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2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:

socks, sweaters, coats, and jogger stroller (unless you use it on a track behind walls).

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3. But don't forget your:

sunscreen, swim shirt, sun hat, pool equipment, toys/books for kids, and most of the clothes that you need (unless you will find a good tailor here).

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4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

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5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

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6. Do you have any other comments?

The best advice I received was almost exclusively from long-term expats living in El Salvador. There aren't many of them, but do try to sniff them out. Stay safe but do whatever you can to not always follow the crowd of short-timers when planning beach and local trips.

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