San Salvador, El Salvador Report of what it's like to live there - 06/05/18
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?
We have been to several posts including Mexico, Guatemala, Spain, London, and Jerusalem.
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?
New York. There are direct flights on Avianca to NYC about 5 hours. Also 2.5 hours to Miami. DC is longer as there are no direct flights.
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?
Most folks live in houses near the embassy in the Cumbres area or outside of it. There are a couple other apartment options near the Multiplaza mall or in San Benito/Zona rosa. That involves a bit of traffic depending on the time of day. Sometimes it can take less than 10 minutes or during rush hour it can be 20. However, San Benito has lots of the best restaurants/bars/museums in El Salvador that you can walk to so that could be worth it.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Groceries readily available for decent prices at Pricesmart (Costco) and at Super Selectos the supermarket chain. The latter offers imported American stuff at highish prices. Also, the Green Corner is an organic supermarket in San Benito area
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
I order ethnic stuff like Indian curry pastes online as there is only one Indian restaurant here. Also, specialty flours are hard to find at a decent price. I also order non-sugary cereals. The embassy commissary gets in some of the above a few times a year.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
There are various restaurants in strip malls near the embassy to include Smash Burger, Koi sushi, and all the fast food chains. There is also pizza delivery. The better restaurants are in Zona/Rosa/San Benito areas.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Ants, gekkos, and mosquitos.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
DPO and pouch. The facilities and staff are very good.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Daily housekeepers cost about US$20 per day for maids who have been vetted. Gardeners are a staple at most houses and some have live-ins and nannies, too.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
The embassy has a small gym and a running track. There is a Pilates type studio close to embassy. Zumba and yoga are offered at the embassy and 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?
Yes, yes and yes.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
Various. I believe there are Catholic, Mormon, and non -denominational.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Some Spanish is a necessity in most situations. Tutors are available through the embassy, schools, and locally.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Getting around the neighborhoods may be tricky if a person is not very mobile. Our relative visited in a wheelchair twice and we made it work but some roads and sidewalks are in bad shape so it was challenging in areas.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Only taxis and Uber are used.
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?
Folks have SUVs, small cars, trucks etc. It's a mixed bag w/ no reports (that I've heard) of carjacking. I have heard of a couple of tires being stolen off the back of SUVs.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes, and not sure how long it takes.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Local providers are Claro, TIGO etc who come to embassy weekly to help embassy folks. Very convenient.
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 lots of vets and animals at post. No quarantine. Just be careful about shipping animals during the summer heat embargoes.
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?
Some telecommute, lots of EFMS work at post, and a couple do fitness training, etc.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
Lots. The embassy global employee specialist can offer more info.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Business attire. Casual on weekends and at the beach. Depending on your position at post could attend various receptions which are business/cocktail attire. Also at least one ball/formal event. You could attend more if you're involved w/ the military or local diplo community.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Yes. It is rated a critical threat crime post, but rarely have there been any problems for embassy community. I heard of one guy who was robbed while he walked down the street. I also heard of another who was hiking and got his phone ripped off. The embassy guards patrol the housing areas constantly. We are told about areas we cannot go, but it does not affect our life at post.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
The embassy has a good health unit. The hospital is in San Benito and is very good.
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?
Air quality is okay. There seem to be a lot of cars with some bad exhaust issues but it doesn't seem to effect many people that I've heard, as no one lives downtown. Rainy season hits in May/June for a few months and clears out the air pollution. Best to ask health unit if breathing problems are an issue.
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)?
Sunny all the time and even during rainy season it peaks out for half the day.
6. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Warm and sunny most of the year. Rarely cold. Wet season is May/June for a few months, but the rain usually hits later in afternoon. We can still go to beach without issues.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
Post has an American School, British school, French, German and a couple of others. Post has kids at all of the above with most attending the British and the American. We chose the British school (ABC) for our kids because it had a more academic reputation offering the IGSCE and IB programs, both highly respected globally. The middle school/secondary (6th grade up) offers electives (French, drama, etc.) as well and the curriculum is very student-friendly and hands on. Also, the school was extremely supportive and accommodating for transferring students as my son was in the middle of a 2 year IGSCE program. We didn't feel the American school was trying to work with us and our individual situation.
Another thing we also really like about ABC is that they do a lot of performing arts, drama and music and film, digital video awards etc. which seems to be lacking at the other schools (according to friends). They also have Model UN, Steam, a week of work internship for 9th graders, Habitat for Humanity, and global trips. ABC has a swimming pool and offers various sports, BB, soccer, archery, track, etc. The American school has a more impressive track field but ABC uses it for meets. New folks should really check out all options and chat with the principals, etc., and take the kids for a tour. See which school gives you the best vibe and fit for your child. Don't assume you'll want to be in the same system as your last post as you may be surprised and have to switch later on as a couple families have done.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
Both EA and ABC offer help for special needs. Best to discuss specifics with the school when you contact them.
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?
There are a few offerings round town including ABC, and ACTON, (maybe EA? ) and some local options. Lots of embassy littles go to ABC and Acton is a new option for some.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Yes, lost of options, surfing, gymnastics, karate, dance yoga, soccer, flag football, ultimate frisbee, rugby, etc.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
The expat community is not so big. There are various embassies so you can get to know the folks at the Canadian, Spanish, Brit, French, and Columbian embassies. However, there are usually just a few people at each of their embassies. You can meet some of the expat parents at the schools (especially Brit, French and German schools) but this post doesn't attract a huge expat community like other places.
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?
Besides meeting lots of Salvadorians at the embassy, you can meet folks at various other places. The beach is great if you surf or you can join the beach club. There are also churches, a local football club, and ultimate frisbee is usually played at embassy. The British school has a lot of the teachers playing, local bars, or clubs, etc.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Great place for all types.
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
I believe so.
5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
The beaches are our favorite, especially the surf beaches, and the volcanoes and lakes are lovely.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Some nice museums, a few quaint towns, some very good restaurants, and great beaches.
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
There are good wooden furniture and handicrafts, ceramics to be found up near Ataco and on road to beach, some artisan stuff as well and some very good artists can be found in San Salvador and in Ataco and Suchitoto.
9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Everything is fairly close to each other and you can find just about everything you need or like. ANd it's close to the beach or lakes or volcanoes. Something for everyone. And you can fly out to Nica, Costa rico, Mexico or Miami in a few hours. And can drive to Guate in 4 hours!
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
That driving would be so crazy to me. I hate it and use taxis all the time, but I have friends who drive all the time.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
4. But don't forget your:
Sunscreen, surfboard, and umbrella for the rainy season.
5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
Just some guidebooks and a bird book.
6. Do you have any other comments?
In my opinion, it's not dangerous like some think. Housing is nice. Good food is easy to find. Local breweries, good coffee. Cheap help. Great embassy compound.