San Salvador, El Salvador Report of what it's like to live there - 01/25/18
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?
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. There are no direct flights with any of the American carriers, so the flight home with a connection in Atlanta, Houston, or Miami is about 8 hours. Avianca has a direct flight to Chicago though, so for non-US government travel, itâ€™s very helpful.
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?
The majority of houses are in gated subdivisions within a 5-minute drive to the US embassy. Some houses are near these subdivisions, but not within the gates. Another subdivision is about 15 minutes away. Houses are spacious and comfortable with backyards, some are brand new and have never been lived in before. Of course there are odd layouts (2nd floor living rooms) and most do not have bathtubs, which is annoying with small children, but this can be solved by using a toddler tub or teaching them to be comfortable in the shower.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
You can get almost everything you need here in terms of groceries. There is a Pricesmart (same thing as Costco, even sells Kirkland branded items) two minutes away from the main neighborhood. Super Selectos is the grocery store near the embassy and they even have an â€œinternationalâ€ section. There are also other Selectos around town with even more variety. There is an organic produce truck that comes through the neighborhood once a week, and many people buy from him. Prices arenâ€™t that far off from DC. The embassy also has a commissary that sells hard to find American products. Things people buy off Amazon: cake frosting other than vanilla or chocolate, Jet Dry dishwasher liquid, Bissell carpet cleaning solution.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
I recommend shipping a Rubbermaid â€œrevealâ€ mop. All houses are 100% tile floors and it will make your life and/or your housekeeperâ€™s life easier.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
There are many American fast food and chain restaurants here. McDonalds, Burger King, Subway, Starbucks, Pizza Hut, Papa Johnâ€™s, Dominos, Smashburger, Taco Bell, KFC, Olive Garden, Chiliâ€™s, Tony Romaâ€™s. Every restaurant delivers, yes even McDonalds.
There are lots of steak houses, sandwich shops, cafes, Italian, Mexican, Seafood, Chinese, etc. You wonâ€™t go hungry, but there is nothing I would describe as amazingly delicious, when compared to a foodie city in the US.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
We get ants occassionally, but nothing that ant traps canâ€™t handle.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Diplomatic post office and pouch for Embassy employees. There is a DHL and a UPS in town.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Whether you choose a live-in employee or a live-out employee, household help is plentiful. The majority do not speak English. Going rate for an "empleada" is between $15-$20 a day. Most people also hire a gardener to come once a week, or once every other week.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
There is a decent gym at the Embassy and several fitness/sports classes are offered: yoga, aerobics, Pilates, swimming, tennis. Thereâ€™s also a basketball court, soccer field, and paved walking/running track. I have heard of a few people using the local Goldâ€™s Gym, which is nearby.
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 fine to use at most major retailers. They will bring the credit machine to the table and do the transaction in front of you. Most smaller businesses prefer cash. There is an ATM at the Embassy. Also, Iâ€™ve used the Scotiabank ATM down the street with zero issues.
5. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
I have gotten by just fine with my Spanglish. I took entry level Spanish lessons, but I actually learn more through day to day living. The locals are very forgiving as long as you are attempting to speak it and are polite. There are lessons at the embassy and at the local college.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Buses, no. Dispatch at the Embassy can call a taxi for you, and thatâ€™s your safest bet. Uber is now in full swing here, and it is approved to use.
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?
I would not bring a brand new car here. Itâ€™s inevitable you will get into an accident, or someone will scratch up/dent your car. People bring all kinds of cars here, but according to our mechanic, itâ€™s easiest to get Toyota parts locally. I think having 4x4 is helpful during rainy season, and also for driving up the volcano, or taking a road trip to the beach.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes high-speed internet is available. Most people choose Tigo or Japi for their internet service. Your sponsor can make an appointment for it to be setup when you arrive. Both companies have outages occasionally, but I rarely have problems streaming Netflix to the TV. As a side note, Tigo hardly has any English speaking channels (CNN, Fox News, HGTV, Food Network). We pay for USTVNOW to get American television.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Bring an unlocked GSM phone. The mobile phone service representatives come to the embassy cafeteria once or twice a week so that you can pay your bill or setup service. Although, I actually recommend paying for Tigo at one of their stores in the mall. Iâ€™ve had too many issues where the rep at the embassy did not credit my account in the system until days later, and I had to go without service.
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?
Yes there are many veterinarians available, and it is very affordable. A rabies shot is $15. Most will come directly to your house for routine vaccinations or dog grooming. It is not uncommon to hire a dog walker, or have your empleada walk your dog. It seems to be a very pet friendly society with several pet supply stores. There is no quarantine needed, and no USDA stamp needed, just the APHIS form done by your veterinarian.
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?
There are several EFM jobs at the embassy and they all require at least a basic level of Spanish. Some people teach at the local schools, some telecommute. Local pay is very low.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Same as DC, a mix of suits and business casual. Formal dress is needed for the Marine ball.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Yes, gang activity does exist, but for the most part it does not affect the day to day lives of USG employees. Take the same precautions you would in any major city.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
The medical care locally is ok in my opinion, but not up to US standards. I have been in some situations at the local hospital that were questionable, but nothing life threatening. Many people have dental/orthodontic work done here very reasonably priced, and with good results. Iâ€™ve also known people to have a good experience with dermatologists and cosmetic surgeons.
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?
Itâ€™s good. Some people complain during sugar cane burning season, but it doesnâ€™t bother the majority of people.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Beautiful tropical climate. Rainy season comes in the summer through the fall, but it usually only rains for a couple of hours and then stops.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
Plenty of school options: American School, British School, German School, and French School. Iâ€™d say most families are split between the British and American schools, with more kids at the British.
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?
There are several preschool options: Casa de Los Ninos, Acton Montessori, Arbol de Dios, and a Waldorf school (but this is a lengthy commute for most families).
3. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Swimming, dance, gymnastics, tennis, karate, piano, and Iâ€™m sure there are more that I donâ€™t know about.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
There are a good number of expats in El Salvador, embassy and non-embassy related. I would say morale is high, especially among families.
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?
There are tons of sponsored activities like trivia night, teen night, monthly playgroup, an embassy camp out, farmerâ€™s markets/local vendors/food trucks on site once a month, day trips to the city and other cultural sites, book club, cooking classes, art nights, and so much more I canâ€™t think of at the moment. People do a lot of entertaining at home, since we have nice backyards for grilling, etc. There are also opportunities to go out to dinner, movies, events at CIFCO, school related performances, beach club, and country club.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
I think it is good for everyone. There is a good community here with lots of activities for families, enough to keep kids and parents entertained. Singles and couple will have the freedom to do a lot of inter-country and regional travel.
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
Itâ€™s a conservative country overall, but I have seen LGBT in public places showing affection, so itâ€™s not unheard of, but usually only in more progressive or expat owned businesses.
5. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Iâ€™ve really enjoyed the amount of beach time Iâ€™ve gotten to spend here.
6. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Rent a beach house with friends or family. You can go all out and rent something fancy, or go more local and laidback and rent the bare minimum. Either way, itâ€™s a good time. Visit some of the restaurants on the volcano, they have amazing views of the city.
7. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Thereâ€™s some artwork and furniture to buy, but nothing for which I would go out of my way.
8. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Short commute time to work, and being able to have a lot of the comforts of the US available locally.
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Yes, in a heartbeat.
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
3. But don't forget your:
Beach chair, sunscreen, bug spray, and sun hat.