San Salvador, El Salvador Report of what it's like to live there - 03/23/15
Personal Experiences from San Salvador, El Salvador
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
Not a first experience.
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?
Midwest. About 7-8 hours. San Salvador is a very well connected airport with direct flights to LA, Houston, Dallas, Miami, Atlanta, New York, DC, and others. About a year ago you could find sales for around US$400, however now the minimum seems to be about US$700 to get anywhere. Regional flights are ridiculous at about US$300-400 for an hour long flight. Using miles however for these flights is pretty reasonable.
3. How long have you lived here?
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Mostly houses. Most housing is located walking distance from the Embassy. Others have short commutes though it can vary based on construction projects. Houses are generally large and okay, though the finishings are never that nice. Houses are typically surrounded by 12+ foot high walls, razor wire, security cameras, and bars on every door and window. Sometimes it feels a bit prison like.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Very good. A brand new modern grocery opened across the street from the embassy and Pricesmart/Costco is a block away. Prices are similar to DC. Some items though like quality meat is expensive as well as a few American imports.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Cereal and brown sugar. Brown sugar is not available here and cereal is very expensive and is somewhat limited to very sugary options. Many people order flour and sugar from the States although versions of both are available here they just tend to be less refined.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Everything is here from McDonald's to Ruth's Chris. Prices are a little less than DC and the service is typically good.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Mosquitoes. Dengue fever is a real issue here along with Chikungunya.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
DPO. Typically 7 days. There is a pouch address available but that takes minimum 3-4 weeks.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Very good. Prices are US$80-100/week for live in or live out.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
The Embassy has a gym, pool, two tennis courts, walking track, disk golf course and sports programs. There are also many gyms around the city that offer various classes (zumba, yoga, pilates). There is a large world gym just around the corner though I do not know the quality.
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?
Credit cards are accepted everywhere. We've had no issue.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
There is an English Catholic mass and an expat non-denominational church.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Some Spanish will help, but you can get by without.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Yes! Sidewalks are uneven with huge steps and drop offs. Some establishments do have handicap spots and there are some elevators in some buildings.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
No. RSO recommends one taxi company which is good. Besides that, everything else is prohibited.
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?
Nearly everyone has an SUV, though for trips in country just about any car will be sufficient.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Speeds are usually slower than advertised, but I think a 10mb is US$100/month. We have a combo plan which includes cable, home phone, and 2mb internet for US$60/month.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
iPhone plan costs about US$30/month through the Tigo rep at the Embassy.
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. Several vets including one across the street from the embassy. Vet care is very affordable.
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?
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Work is business casual. Public anything goes. All women wear 4 inch platform heals and tight spandex.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Yes. This is a critical crime post though honestly it rarely impacts us. Overall, just be smart and stay out of the gang areas. Several folks walk to work and feel fine.
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 okay. Anything mildly serious gets medevaced. Post has an RMO, local doctor, and several nurses. Dental service is good and fairly cheap
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?
Pretty good. There are times when the air is somewhat dusty and during sugar cane harvest there is ash in the air. Overall, pollution hasn't seemed too bad.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
Mold, dust, and pollen can be problematic.
5. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Warm and relatively high humidity during the summer with afternoon showers. The rest of the year is dry with truly ideal temperatures.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
Don't have much to say about the schools other than what I hear. Two major options: American School and British School. Schools cater to elite Salvadorean community rather than a true international student body. Students not speaking Spanish may have a difficult time assimilating.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
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 and very cheap! There is a wide variety as well with many from the Embassy using the French or Montessori, each taking children younger than 2 years of age.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Embassy offers swim lessons. There are soccer and basketball programs at the schools, and the British school has a swim team.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
The U.S. has the biggest presence by far ("battleship in the pond"). Most other Embassies have 2 or 3 people here. Lots of NGOs.
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?
Dinners out. Malls. Nice movie theaters. Birthday parties at the embassy pool.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
All the above. There is a children's museum, beach, and zoo for families. Beach, clubs, outdoor activities for couples/singles.
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
You shouldn't have too much problem.
5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
In general no...
6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Renting beach houses, climbing volcanoes, visiting neighboring countries.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Playas Negras is a beautiful beach in the western part of the country where the surf is much more gentle and children are able to play in the water. There are very few houses on the beach, and it felt like we had the entire beach to ourselves.
8. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
The weather is great. The city sits about 3,000 feet above sea level and is about 10F degrees cooler than the beach/airport. Temperatures usually top out around 85F and don't dip below 60F even during the coolest part of the year. El Salvador is a small country with a relatively good road system. You can get just about everywhere in the country within three hours...great for exploring volcanoes, beaches, villages, and so forth.
9. Can you save money?
A couple people here say no, however the vast majority would agree that you can live a great life here for less than the USA.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
That you can get just about everything here.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Yes. This is an easy tour a three-hour flight from the USA. Nearly everyone here has relatives in the U.S. so everyone has a positive impression of America.
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
4. But don't forget your:
Bathing suit, sense of adventure to explore outside the city and of course an umbrella or two for rainy season.
5. Do you have any other comments?
Morale here is generally high to very high. Several choose to extend or do a second tour here.