San Salvador, El Salvador Report of what it's like to live there - 06/09/15
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?
Also lived in Mexico City, Mexico.
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?
Home base is complicated. To Newark, NJ, it is about 5-6 hour direct flight. To MSP it is a connection in Houston. Direct flights to Miami (lots). It can be a little expensive to fly out of here- more than I thought it would be considering how close we are to the U.S.
3. How long have you lived here?
We have been here one year out of a two year tour.
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
My spouse is part of the U.S. Embassy.
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
We have a big, comfortable home. Commute time to Embassy is 4 minutes in car or 12 minutes walking.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Groceries: depends on what you eat. If you want to eat like an American they can be expensive. But for local staples everything is cheap. There is a Pricesmart (Costco) and American-style supermarkets. Just be careful to check prices because sometimes something like shaving cream is US$12 a bottle for a US brand and US$1.50 for the Salvadoran brand.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
The food here is a problem. Salvadoran cuisine (mainly pupusas) is good but just not super interesting. There are very nice restaurants here, but they are all sort of medium-good in terms of food. That said, if you like American chain food they have tons of that here. Probably similar to U.S. prices but I haven't eaten at any of them. There are lots of fun/funky restaurants to explore!
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Mosquitoes are a problem here because they carry dengue and chikungunya. But they aren't so bad that people use mosquito nets. You just have to protect yourself outside.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Pretty cheap. I think US$15-$20 per day for full time help?
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
There are gyms all over. Even a few Crossfit gyms. The costs vary from about US$30 per month to... US$100? I think there are even US$10 a month gyms but I don't know the quality. There are also some sport clubs with more serious facilities (pools, tennis, etc.)
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?
I use them. Always use caution.
5. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
You can probably get by on little. But it helps to speak Spanish.
6. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Not where we live. There are handicap spots, ramps, etc. I don't know what the reality would be like in other, less-affluent parts of town, though. I imagine those would be hard.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Can't do local buses here (safety), and there are no trains. Taxis are called via the Embassy- they are safe.
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?
We like our SUV for the clearance. But the roads/highways are pretty great here. Plan to be in your car a lot- it is not really a walkable place (crime and layout) and so unfortunately we have to drive everywhere. Which is a bummer.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes. We pay US$80 for internet and home phone.
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?
Not really. Well, there are some good jobs but they pay very little. There are many good schools if you are a teacher.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Yes. El Salvador is rated critical for crime. Gangs and violence are a terrible problem here and the country recently became the most murderous in the world. However, living where we do we do not see the violence. It is a concern but not one I see evidence of in my day-to-day life. This is good but sad- it is definitely the normal life for many locals but we do not see it.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Mosquito borne illnesses are the big ones. The medical care is very cheap and can be good, but it is definitely not U.S. quality. Double-check any advice you get here.
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?
Eh. It is much, much cleaner than Mexico City, but when driving on the highways I leave my windows up and use recycled air due to the buses that chug out nasty emissions. But from my house I never notice bad air.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
The big grocery chain has a gluten free section!
5. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Rainy season in the summer, which usually means overcast morning, warm sunny afternoon, spectacular evening storms. October-December are the "windy" season- lovely breezes and clean fresh air. Starts to heat up in January until the next rainy season. But it wasn't oppressively hot until March...
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
International schools here are great. There are many international schools with good reputations and people all seem happy.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
Not so much on this one. But there is a school here that accepts kids with IEPs and behavioral problems. The families with kids there seem to be happy with it. Other schools do not really offer services/help to those students.
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. Preschools/daycares usually run 7am to 12pm. They are about US$200 per month. Or a little more or less. Very good schools where people feel safe/happy to send their kids!
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Yes. But it seems like a lot of dance for girls and soccer for boys. Which is a disappointment if you want your girls to play soccer.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
The Embassy community is really great here- this is one of the best parts of our tour. Many regional offices are located here, so there are many USG departments and a very diverse community. We have also met other expats who are here for many other reasons.
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?
Hang out with friends, go out to eat. There are concerts and an theater with plays/dances/musicals. Some people go clubbing. Go to beach, go on road trips, etc.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Families with young kids, yes it is a GREAT post. Older kids (high school age) probably not so good- there is no freedom for those kids due to the security situation here. Singles/couples? Probably not the best. Although there are some great vacations to take from here! It is a small country, so everything is close, but the tourist infrastructure is not great. That said, there are a ton of road trips in easy distance...
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
No. This country is VERY conservative.
5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Yes. I think there are problems with racism here. It is a very conservative place.
6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
We have met so many amazing people here- both locals and foreigners. It is a small country, very easy to get around. There is not a TON to do but we have little kids so for us it is perfect!
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
We hit the beach a LOT. World-class surfing, or just hang at the beach. Lots of biking here, both road/mountain. Climbing volcanos, exploring small towns.
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Head to Guatemala to buy really lovely art. But there is some nice stuff here, too. Pottery, hand-woven hammocks, etc.
9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
We live in a very beautiful house in a lovely neighborhood. The country is very small and accessible- the beach is 30 minutes from our house. It is basically always beach weather. Weather is awesome- warm/hot but not terribly hot. Household help is cheap, and other labor as well. If you can live like a local, you can live fairly cheap here.
10. Can you save money?
Yes. If you're careful.
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Yes! We love it here. It is the perfect slow-paced life for our family.
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Sweaters and coats.
3. But don't forget your: