San Salvador, El Salvador Report of what it's like to live there - 03/15/18
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, this is our second post with the US government; we previously served in Lima. I have also lived in Asia and New Zealand.
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?
There are direct flights to LA and NYC (5 hours). Miami and Houston are about 2.5 hours.
3. How long have you lived here?
Three years with one year left.
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, military, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Amazing. Houses are huge, with tons of natural light. We have a small yard, but most embassy houses have large yards with fruit trees. Housing is generally great and people seem happy. It is a 15 minute walk to the Embassy.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
You can get pretty much anything here, except organic specialty items. PriceSmart (similar to Costco) has most items you would want from the US, and local fruit and vegetable markets have a wide array of produce for very little. We also have a fruit/vegetable delivery truck that comes to our house once a week, as well as a guy who delivers fresh fish, and someone who delivers fresh milk.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Anything you can't find locally (specialty baking supplies, organic dry goods) you can order on Amazon. Maybe more food from Trader Joes?
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Pupusas are delicious, plenty of American chain restaurants, as well as sushi, Indian and Chinese. We eat out much less than in our previous post, because the food scene is nothing spectacular.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
An occasional cockroach, but the embassy pest control has taken care of those pretty quickly. I have heard of people spotting iguanas or snakes in their yards but we haven't had that happen.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
DPO and pouch.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
We have a live-in empleada, a day maid, a gardener, and a driver. Depending on experience, wages are usually $15-$20/day.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Pilates, Golds, climbing gyms, yoga studios, Crossfit, etc. The cost is less than in the US.
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?
Yes. We have had no problems.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
There are English language churches (Catholic, I think), but not many.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
There is a lot of English, but quality of life improves with Spanish. The embassy offers classes twice a week and there are also classes at UCA.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Easier than other cities I have lived in, because you do drive most places and if you don't drive its relatively easy to hire a driver. There are also plenty of caregivers.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Taxis are safe and cheap if you use an embassy company. Local buses are not recommended.
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?
Definitely bring a 4x4 if you expect to travel. Some of our favorite places in this country are only accessible by four wheel drive.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes, an internet connection is available. We switched from Tigo to Japi, although haven't noticed much difference in speed.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Bring an unlocked phone, as iPhones are expensive here. If you are working for the embassy they will provide you with a phone. We 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?
We don't have pets, but most people do and seem happy with the options.
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 work at the embassy or telework.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
Yes, plenty of need for volunteers in El Salvador.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
The tropical climate means relatively casual.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Yes, gang violence is a problem and you need to be aware of where you are driving. That said, we have traveled all over the country by car and have rarely felt unsafe. However, you will see plenty of armed guards which unfortunately becomes part of life here.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Zika and other mosquito born illness, although this hasn't been a problem for us.
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?
Great air quality, perfect weather.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
There can be mold in the houses (we haven't had a problem), allergies from pollen (lots of green spaces, lush surrounding).
5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?
I am not aware of any issues.
6. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Perfect climate. Sun year round, cool breezes in San Salvador (hotter by the beach). July-September is rainy season, but rain rarely disrupts activities during the day. Wonderful downpour starting at 4-5pm and lasting throughout the night.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
Our kids go to the British school, which is wonderful. Reggio Emilio inspired model through fifth grade, at which point they transition to the British model. People also like the American, French, and German schools. For an alternative educational system, Acton academy is close to embassy housing. It has a Montessori school up to age 5/6 at which point kids transition to Acton, which goes up to middle school.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
Not great support, which seems to be standard for the FS.
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?
Plenty of preschools--two Montessori preschools (including Acton) are a 5 min drive from the embassy. There is a Waldorf preschool about a 20 mins drive, and another Montessori and Reggio Emilia 30 mins away.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Plenty. My kids have taken ballet, dance, gymnastics, karate, swimming and tennis.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Small expat community, mostly Americans. Close-knit embassy community with tons of activities. Relatively easy to make friends outside the embassy.
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?
Most of our social circles outside the embassy come through our kids' schools.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
San Salvador is not a very interesting city. It has been great for us (we have small kids, but not babies) because of the amazing options for travel outside the city. We go to the beach a lot, the crater lakes are spectacular, and hiking the volcano is unforgettable.
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
There is an LGBT scene, but I don't have any experience with it.
5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
I haven't experienced any, but it is a very Catholic country so their are religious prejudices.
6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
The amazing beaches (and beach houses), surfing, fishing, the lakes, the awesome group of friends we have, regional travel to Guatemala and Nicaragua, the schools, the volcanoes, the people--I am already having anxiety about leaving and it's still a year away.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Rent a house at lago de coatepeque, a crater lake surrounded by dramatic volcanoes. Stay on Isla Teopan in the middle of the crater lake. Visit remote beaches like la Barra de Santiago, where you can kayak, fish, enjoy beach bonfires. Climb Santa Ana volcano. Whitewater rafting near Metapan. Surfing near El Zonte/Tunco.
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Hammocks, tie dye. For better shopping, head to Antigua in Guatemala.
9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Good schools, great weather, access to amazing travel.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
How much I would fall in love with this place. How kind Salvadorans are.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Absolutely, I hope to come back.
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
4. But don't forget your:
Sunscreen, bathing suits.