San Salvador, El Salvador Report of what it's like to live there - 07/14/16
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?
No, we have lived in Europe, Asia and Latin America.
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?
El Salvador is a regional travel hub so there are a lot of direct flights to the United States. United, Delta and American Airlines all fly here, but the real advantage is Avianca (when not flying for the USG) with over 10 direct flights to the U.S. For whatever reason, however, El Salvador tends to be the most expensive country in Central America to fly to...
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?
Almost all families are housed in a gated community very close to the Embassy (less than a mile away). There are some in another complex about 15 minutes away and others in apartments in a different part of the city. The traffic can be bad at weird times, but overall this has been a "traffic lite" post for us. The housing tends to be very nice for whatever family size/rank applies to you.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
The grocery options here are amazing! After serving in many hardship posts, we were delighted the first time we went to the grocery store, which is well stocked with many of our comfort foods. There's also a PriceSmart, a subsidiary of Costco, where you can buy much -- but certainly not all -- of the selection in the U.S. By far, this has been our easiest post in terms of groceries.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Lite microwave popcorn, sourdough pretzels and tampons.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Though the grocery shopping options are great, the restaurants are sadly lacking. Most of the food is "just okay," which takes the pleasure out of going out. There are some upscale restaurants with pleasant ambiance, but the food is just bland or not cooked well.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Yes -- this is mainly due to the rainy/dry seasons (see below)
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Through the Embassy mail facilities.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
This price varies a lot. Depending on the overtime, we tend to pay our live-in around $125/week for work from Monday morning through Saturday morning. Salvadorans pay a lot less and demand much more in terms of working hours.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
The Embassy has amazing facilities: a pool, tennis courts, a decent gym, a jogging loop, soccer field, etc. There are cross fit and pilates studios nearby too. There are groups of cyclists and runners to join. Given the security situation, it's not advisable to do these activities on your own.
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?
My credit card was compromised several times so I stopped using it. There's an ATM at the Embassy but I'd be careful of using one outside.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
There's an English Catholic mass and English Mormon services.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Many Salvadorans speak good English. That said, among themselves the conversation is always Spanish. Local classes are available. I couldn't imagine living here without at least some conversational Spanish.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Probably, but since you can't use public transportation or walk around, the difficulties are probably limited.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
U.S. Embassy personnel are not permitted to use public transportation. There's a taxi company, Acacya, that's reliable. The commissary also has transportation options for larger groups.
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?
Anything works, but it's a hilly country so make sure your car can do hills/mountains!
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes, they can often install it prior to arrival. The quality can be spotty so many people change it after they arrive.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
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?
Good vets and kennel services.
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?
Most spouses keep their jobs (i.e. telecommute), work in the Embassy or teach. The local salaries would be far below what someone from the U.S. would expect.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Salvadorans tend to be more formal. Then again, the richest often dress down and the country's most powerful men wear guayabera shirts.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Yes. It's mostly gang-related and USG personnel are not targeted, but a lot of "random" crime does affect us. Plus, it affects our Embassy colleagues, our domestic staff, and more. This is not a post where you can walk around or just spontaneously explore -- much has to be planned.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Zika, chickungunya and dengue are increasing concerns.
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?
Very good, among the best posts we've been to.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?
6. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
It should start raining in May/June and end in November but each year we've been here has been very different.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
For such a small country there are lots of school options. Some people also send their kids to local (i.e. bilingual private) schools.
2. 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?
Parents are spoiled for choice.
3. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Surprisingly yes, from gymnastics to horseback riding to chess...you sometimes ave to work hard to find instructors what your kid likes to do but there are options.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
This is a very unique aspect to this post. There are expats, but they're very integrated here. There's no vibrant expats club or "Women's Society" clubs as other posts tend to have. The U.S. Embassy is way bigger than any counterpart (and even, sometimes, it seems the Government of El Salvador).
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?
Salvadorans are super friendly and helpful and we have lots of Salvadoran friends. That said, we've had to make a huge effort. They're used to Americans coming and going and don't think to include us in ways we'd like to be included. Also, lots of people promise to invite us to their beach/lake houses and we're still waiting for those invitations....
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
It's a great couple/family post. It can be great for singles too.
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
El Salvador is very conservative and a bit behind with LGBT rights.
5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Salvadorans tend to be religious, either Catholic or Evangelical with a growing Mormon population. Salvadorans tend to have a conservative outlook. Women's rights are not especially respected among some socieconomic groups.
6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
I enjoy going to the beach, and the fish market and try to go every weekend. Amazing waves and surf! I also liked Morazan.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
I'm still looking for them!
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
This is the place where I've done the least amount of shopping. There's a trend to develop more "artisanal" pop-up markets and things so this is changing...
9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Salvadorans are pro-U.S. and very friendly. It's close to the U.S. It's not the most exciting place I've ever lived, but it's very navigable once you know your way around.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
How conservative people can be.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
3. But don't forget your:
4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?