San Salvador, El Salvador Report of what it's like to live there - 10/29/14

Personal Experiences from San Salvador, El Salvador

San Salvador, El Salvador 10/29/14

Background:

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

My first expat experience with the Foreign Service; although I have lived in Mexico and in Europe.

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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?

From the Southwest, I flew to Houston, then to San Salvador. 4 hours of flying and a very easy trip.

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3. How long have you lived here?

I lived there for two years from 2011-2013.

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

U.S. Embassy.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

Most singles and couples without children live in apartments in the center of town. Families live in houses about 5 minutes from the Embassy. Typical commute time is usually 5 minutes from the houses and can be up to 35 minutes from the apartments. Traffic (and the despised traffic circles) make morning and afternoon commutes a lot longer to the center of town.

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

A little cheaper than in the U.S. and everything is available here. Produce is great and cheap. Most people shop in the Super Selectos.

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

Nothing I was able to get everything there or through Amazon.

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

All of them are here, though KFC was shut out by the local Pollo Campero.

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

None that I can think of but I lived in an apartment so did not have any problems. Some people had ants in their house.

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Daily Life:

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

DPO and pouch, both great. You could get anything you needed.

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

Great domestic help for US$15 a day.

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

Yes the Embassy has a great gym, so do most of the apartment complexes, and there are tons of gyms and yoga studios in the city.

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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?

You should not use credit cards in the gas stations and only use them when you can see the machine. Cloning is very common. Many people at the Embassy got their cards cloned; it was a nightmare. But, at the restaurants and Super Selectos markets, I used mine all the time with no problem. I never used them at the gas stations though.

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

There is a large Mormon temple, Catholic of course, lots of Protestant denominations and some Jewish services.

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

Some Spanish makes your life much easier but most people speak English

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

Yes, not many accommodations and it would be rough for people with disabilities.

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Transportation:

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

Acacia taxi is what the Embassy recommends and it is safe and affordable. You can call day or night and they are very reliable and safe. The local buses are not safe and not recommended, but luxury buses to Antigua or Tegucigalpa are safe and very nice.

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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?

Any vehicle is good, though some prefer a 4x4 for going out of town. Most people had Toyota Corollas.

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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?

Yes and it is about US$75 a month through a bundle with cable and telephone service. Not sure what stand-alone costs.

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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?

Most people get Tigo and it is pretty cheap though customer service is terrible.

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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?

No and there are great vets in San Salvador. Actually there is a great vet right across the street from the Embassy.

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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?

A few people got good jobs in the community, though most people worked at the Embassy. EFMs were generally happy.

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

Many NGOs and lots of opportunities.

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

Salvadorans are very sharp dressers. Women do their hair, wear heels and wear makeup. Embassy attire is business attire and there were no casual Fridays when I was there.

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Health & Safety:

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

Yes many. El Salvador is a very high crime post. The RSO warns us often about restricted areas, and gangs and crime are a very real thing. That being said, I just followed the RSO advice and never had problems. I stuck to places where it was safe to go and walk, would not wear expensive jewelry in public, and did not go to the restricted neighborhoods. During festivals and events with lots of people standing close together, many Americans got pick pocketed. You just have to be vigilant.

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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?

Medical care is generally good, dentistry is excellent. For serious health problems and maternity care, you would be medevaced to Miami. A few women chose to have their babies in El Salvador and all was fine.

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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?

I thought the air was very clean and fresh, no pollution problems. My current post has terrible pollution problems so I can honestly say that San Salvador and El Salvador in general have very clean air.

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4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?

Regular seasonal allergies affect some people in the spring and fall.

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

Best. Weather. Ever. There is a rainy season, which is pleasant. High winds in November are pretty surprising.

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Schools & Children:

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

American, British and International schools are where most Embassy employees take their children. There is also a French school and German school which offered good curriculum. I met a lot of people who had gone to the American school and received a very good education. Many of the high school kids got into great schools.

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

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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?

Yes plenty, but you have to pay.

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

Yes all kinds through the schools.

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Expat Life:

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

Large expat community and morale was very good. I can now compare it to my second post where morale is generally low, and I never met anyone who was unhappy there, but maybe because I was so happy people never showed that side to me.

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

Too many to count. Clubs, hiking, movies, great dining, weekend trips, dinners at home, book clubs, parties every weekend, walking at Paseo del Carmen, dancing in El Tunco. Heavy metal band at the seafood shop!

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

Great for all! This is a great city for singles especially. In just one year, four Embassy women married Salvadoran men, and one man married a Salvadoran woman. It was a crazy year of weddings. Lots of people have fallen in love here, and lots of people have made life-long friends. There is a lot to do every weekend, from going to the beach 25 minutes away to dance at the beach clubs, to dinner and movies at the malls, to a far away beach resort, yoga on the beach, yoga retreats, to camping in El Impossible which is a large national park. Paseo El Carmen is about 20 minutes away, and the entire street is blocked off to cars and you can walk and eat at great restaurants and have a great time with friends. Lots to do in El Salvador.

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

Yes I thought so. I knew a few gay couples and they were fine. This is a conservative country but I never heard of hardships or discrimination of any type for gays.

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

Yes unfortunately.I heard that in the distant past, African-decendents were expelled from the country, so there are very few people of color and it is unsettling. That being said, my African-American friends all made great friends and some fell in love with locals.

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

New Year's Eve fireworks, the entire country sets off fireworks and it is spectacular. Friends! The Bolas de Fuego (fireballs) on August 31. Proximity to other great tourist destinations like Roatan Honduras, Copan Honduras (with an amazing German brewery with spectacular food and beer), Antigua Guatemala. Lots of pre-Columbian destinations are relatively close, though not many in El Salvador. Going to El Tunco to watch surfing tournaments or just going dancing at the beach clubs. Great roads and highways so you can get away very quickly. Large and close embassy community. Great and very fresh food. Dancing at the shopping malls (it's a thing there) Nice art.

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

Copan, Honduras is a 4 hour drive away. There is a great German brewery and Copan is a spectacular little mountain town with really nice ruins. Also, the drive to Antigua, Guatemala is short and worth the trip. In El Salvador, Lake Coatepeque is great, and hiking the Santa Ana volcano, which has a sulfur volcanic bright green lake on top. It is like walking in another world. El Tunco surfer village is so much fun it can be too much fun. Great restaurants like Delikat, Ruth's Chris. Deep Sea fishing in Usulutan. Watching the famous heavy metal band at the local seafood shop. Just amazing! Too many to count.

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

Art from Francisco Llort, trips to other Central American countries, COFFEE!

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

This is such a beautiful country I could fill pages of the great things to do. There is a little something for everyone. If you are the outdoorsy type, there is gorgeous volcano hiking, surfing and surfing villages full of fun, zip lining, paragliding, swimming in crater lakes, deep sea fishing etc. For dining, there is everything from street pupusas to fine dining and amazing steaks and seafood for very reasonable prices. There are many malls for shopping, great beauty salons, lots of green areas, and the Embassy is absolutely stunning like Club Med. Pretty much the nicest Embassy anyone has ever seen. Also, the weather is perfect year-round (between 68-85 degrees F) so being outside is always a possibility. You can save money because prices are lower than the United States, and it is very easy to get back to the States when you get homesick. I would say the best thing is the weather though, it was absolute perfection.

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10. Can you save money?

Some, it is an inexpensive city to live in, though gas is expensive.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?

That it would love it so much! I had always thought of crime and gangs when I thought of El Salvador, and I was wrong. It is a vibrant, inviting and breathtakingly beautiful country with wonderful people. Had I known, I would have come here sooner and tried to say longer.

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

Without any hesitation! I loved it from the second I got off the plane and cried on my way to the airport when I left. These were the best two years of my life.

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

Heavy coats, flannel sheets, and your elderly shut-in desires. People will take you out and you will like it!

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4. But don't forget your:

Sunscreen, flip flops, high heels, bathing suit.

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5. Do you have any other comments?

Like any other post, there are people who loved it and people who did not really care for it, but nobody hated it. If you have some Spanish, feel safe in Latin America, and like to dance and party, you will love El Salvador. If you have children, there may not be that many things for the kids to do that are safe. This is absolutely the best post for singles and couples. Compared to the place I am in now, some people here are so miserable they can't wait to leave, and there is a huge culture shock. El Salvador is a nice introduction to the Foreign Service and expat life.

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