San Salvador, El Salvador Report of what it's like to live there - 08/21/21
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?
This was not my first post. I have also lived in the UK, Singapore, Mexico, the DR, and Barbados before here.
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?
DC is our current home. There are direct flights or you have to go through Miami or Houston. It's fairly easy to get back and the Salvadoran airport is very efficient and easy to navigate.
3. What years did you live here?
4. How long have you lived here?
Two years and nine months.
5. 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?
Housing is great. Close to the embassy - walking distance - and most people seem very pleased with their houses or apartments.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Grocery costs are generally inline with what you would pay in DC. Imported goods like butter or beef or speciality items are generally twice as expensive. However, there are a lot of fresh vegetables and fruits that are grown locally or nearby Guatemala that are very reasonable. There is a PriceSmart and an excellent local grocery store chain called SuperSelectos that has just about everything.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Other odds and ends can be bought via the DPO.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
There are some very nice restaurants here with a wide culinary range. A lot of American fast-food which is good if you like it. But also Sushi, Indian, Italian, Burger joints, Mexican, Paella, Thai, healthy food and gluten free options, etc. With Covid, most restaurants went into full on delivery mode. A group called HUGO will deliver practically anything to you for almost nothing.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Not really. There are mosquitos - especially in rainy season and some ants, but the high elevation of the city keeps most pests at bay and makes it one of the best climates to live anywhere in the world. Certainly nicer than most of the US.
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?
Very reasonable. $20/day for full-time help. Gardeners come every 2 weeks for $15/day.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Embassy has excellent gym and grounds for exercise. Many Salvadorans run on the street , especially early on Saturday and Sunday mornings. There are some nice parks for bike riding. There is a tennis, golf, surfing, horseback riding lessons and hiking within an hour from where we live, which is just outside San Salvador.
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, they are used often and I haven't heard of any issues. We use the ATM at embassy.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
I think there are one or two churches that have services in English.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
You should have a basic understanding of Spanish to get around. Many people speak some English but I wouldn't bet on it. There are local tutors for $10/hour and classes at the university for $75/month.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
I'm not sure what the medical care is like for them but there are plenty of ramps for wheel chairs and elevators at the malls, etc.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
We don't use the buses. However, Uber is quite safe and reliable. Very cheap.
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?
Roads are generally excellent here. An SUV always makes it easier to drive in traffic. We have an SUV and used it off road in Guatemala and once when we went to hike a volcano. I wouldn't take a convertible (though someone at post has one) or a Mini Cooper-like car, although there are quite a few on the road. While there are some aggressive drivers, it is nothing compared to the DR or places like that.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Excellent internet. We had it installed before we arrived because our sponsors were awesome, but normally it probably takes a few days once you order it. It goes out every now and then but rarely for more than 30 minutes. They seem very good at fixing electrical and connectivity issues here.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Local service here is $30/month and works in US and the region.
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?
Plenty of good vets. One in particular is American and on call 24/7. Very reasonable grooming andthere are one or two kenneling services. Depending on your pet...I'd say mixed reviews. We have found a pet sitter who stays in our home or our housekeeper looks after them. No need to quarantine, however hard to fly them in with increasingly restrictive US Airline rules. We had to use an Air Cargo company out of Miami because American wouldn't let them on the plane. They arrive in the afternoon (at least when we came they did), and the airport is by the coast - so always too hot in the afternoon. Pet travel hardships are more an issue with the US airlines than anything else.
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?
EFM jobs at embassy which are typically low-paying, though some have retirement benefits. More and more spouses are finding it easy to work remotely. The local salary scale would probably not be worth it.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
There are churches and local charities that would require fluency in Spanish. But I think there are quite a few opportunities if you look for them.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Work: typical State Department fare, suits and summer dresses. Formal required for weddings, balls (when they had them) and some Embassy occasions, depending on the ambassador.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
There are a lot of gangs in El Salvador. However, that being said, they do not seem to impact the Embassy Community or upper middle class. They call it a bubble. While you do not go by yourself to downtown San Salvador or take roads you are unfamiliar with, you can pretty much drive to most places you want to go, i.e., the beaches, the lakes, the volcanoes, the malls and restaurants. Frankly, while I take precautions, I feel like there are more security concerns in DC or NY. I will say this as well, I have dropped my watch at the PriceSmart and left my expensive water bottle at the grocery store. Both times they were with customer service when I went back.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
No particular health concerns. People in the city seem very Covid-responsible and masks are worn in all stores, etc. There is some good care and a diagnostic clinic for tests, X-rays, MRIs, etc. I would fly back to the US for anything that required a hospital stay for more than a day.
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?
Good air quality. Some allergies in the spring when everything is blooming, but nothing a Claritin doesn't take care of.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
All fruits and vegetables have to be disinfected. There is some gluten-free options but it is not everywhere. Still they have gluten- free pasta and pizza, etc.
5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?
Not that I am aware of.
6. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Weather is between 75 to high 80s. Evenings can be cool in the winter months - sometimes requiring a sweater. It does rain a lot during May to November - however, mostly at night. When it does rain during the day, it tends to be a quick storm, followed by sunshine. While the US is suffering from major heatwaves this summer, it has been very pleasant here.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
British, American and a few other international schools. No experience but my friends say - like many places - they tend to serve the local rich kids and bend to the pressure of their parents - sometimes to the detriment of respecting gay rights, etc.
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?
No experience but nannies are very reasonable. There are pre-schools too.
3. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Karate, horse riding, tennis, golf and surfing.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Not very large. The US embassy is large but the German, British and other diplomatic missions are small. There are a number of wealthy Salvadorans with US passports and a few Americans who have married Salvadorenos and who choose to live here.
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?
Pre-covid, there were opportunity to meet others at bars, restaurants, music and dance clubs or via softball or soccer leagues. There are a number of beach and golf clubs that you can join as well. Club Salvadoreno is very popular because they have a beach location and one on a lake with water sports and golf.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Great for families because of the schools and cheap childcare. Good for couples too - though with Covid the going out has been severely restricted. Not sure it is super great for singles, but some folks get into the surfing scene. You can surf in the early morning and still make it back in time for work.
4. Is it easy to make friends with locals here? Are there any prejudices or any ethnic groups who might feel uncomfortable here?
Yes, it is fairly easy to make friends with locals. I'm not sure about LGBT or other ethnic groups.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
Probably not. Very religious - fundamentalists and Catholics.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Not really, as far as I can tell. They have public service announcements about preventing violence against women - so I'm guessing that is an issue here. There are some women in the cabinet and who hold local office.
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Body surfing at the beach, hiking volcanoes, learning golf, going to Antigua, Guatemala (a lot), having fun happy hours and dinner parties.
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
I think you need to find some hobbies and embrace them...like surfing or golf.
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
There are some interesting things to buy and great wood working. We have had several gorgeous pieces of furniture made for us out of locally grown Teak or Conacaste wood. (FYI, very heavy!) We have bought a beautiful hammock here. There are many more interesting handicrafts in Antigua and Lake Atitlan, Guatemala. A 5-hour drive but popular long weekend destination.
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Weather is awesome. Great access to fresh fruits and vegetables - and many US products. Quite close to the US.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Winter clothing and potentially preconceived opinions about El Salvador based on US media reports.
4. But don't forget your:
Active wear and binoculars.
5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
I would read about the Civil War and the US involvement in it. Also current stories about El Salvador and its current populist president.
6. Do you have any other comments?
Most people extend their stays here if they can.