Moving to El Salvador

El Salvador, a densely-populated country, is located in the heart of Central America. It has a population of a little over six million, largely consisting of European descent. The major industries are agriculture, trade and manufacturing. The Salvadorean economy heavily relies on trade income from exports to the US and the Caribbean. Remittances from Salvadoreans working abroad is also a main source of foreign income. Since more citizens opt to work abroad where they are paid more, many Hondurans and Nicaraguans are migrating to El Salvador to take up jobs the locals don’t want.

El Salvador is one of the fastest growing economies in Central America. Tourism is an important driver of growth. The sector accounts for 3.5% of the national economy. The top attractions in El Salvador are the parks and beaches as well as trekking around volcanoes.

Explore the wonders of El Salvador – its culture, traditions and sociable people.

 

Important things to know

1. Entering the country

Except for nationals extended with visa-free privileges, foreigners traveling to El Salvador are required to secure either a visa or a one-entry tourist card. A tourist card works similarly with a transit visa. It can be secured from Salvadorean immigration officials upon arrival in the port of entry. Tourist card holders may stay in the country for up to 90 days. Those who wish to extend their stay may do so by applying for a multiple-entry visa, issued free of charge.

Nationalities that don’t need visas to enter El Salvador:

  • Australia
  • Britain
  • Canada
  • EU
  • US

Under the Central America-4 (CA-4) Border Control Agreement, citizens El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua may travel freely across these four countries without needing any visa. This privilege is also extended to other nationalities including Americans. The length of stay, for a maximum of 90 days, is determined at the first port of entry.

Requirements for visa applications:

  1. Duly filled-out application forms
  2. A current passport with an expiration date of at least six months away
  3. A passport-sized photo
  4. Proof of financial sources to fund the entire visit
  5. For minors, a notarized travel consent from the parent/guardian
  6. Application fees

2. Prepare for natural disasters

Because of its geographical characteristics, El Salvador experiences a number of natural calamities each year. There are six active volcanoes, a coastline vulnerable to hurricanes and a long wet season that results to flooding and landslides. Each year, the country records about 2,000 seismic activities measuring an average of 5.0 on the Richter scale. In choosing a place to live, take note of the proximity to active volcanoes and fault lines. It’s also important to have emergency numbers handy. Signing up for an international health insurance plan with medical evacuation and repatriation would also be useful in cases of emergencies.

3. Look forward to local fiestas and national holidays

Salvadoreans love celebrations. Fiestas, local term for vibrant celebrations, are held as tribute to religious patrons. Most fiestas are commemorated in local levels. The national holidays are pretty much similar with those observed in other countries in the region.

Day Holiday
January 1 New Year’s Day
Thursday before Easter Sunday Holy Thursday
Friday before Easter Sunday Good Friday
Saturday before Easter Sunday Holy Saturday
Sunday between March 22 and April 25 Easter Sunday
May 1 Labour Day
May 10 Mother’s Day
June 17 Father’s Day
August 4 – 5 Fiestas Patronales Holiday
September 15 Independence Day
December 24 Christmas Eve
December 25 Christmas Day
December 31 New Year’s Eve

4. Be cautious about traveling alone

Generally, El Salvador is a safe destination for foreigners. However, it’s important to take caution when going to certain places in the countryside. The country is battling crimes mostly perpetrated by gangs or “maras”. There are thousands of gang members in El Salvador involve in drugs and weapons trafficking, extortion, carjacking and violent street crime. When travelling to remote locations, always do so in groups.

There are regular street protests in El Salvador in relation to political or economic issues. Foreigners who join these political rallies or demonstrations may lose their right to remain the in the country, regardless of their visa or residency status. The possession, use or trafficking of illegal drugs are severely punished in El Salvador. Possession of unlicensed firearms is punished with long jail terms. Educate yourself about local laws to avoid prosecution.

 

Things you should do

1. Play football

Football is huge in the Latin American world. Salvadoreans adore their national team, locally known as La Selecta, which was the first team in Central America to qualify for a FIFA World Cup in 1970. The team qualified again in 1982. The first known football game in the country was in 1899 between Santa Ana and San Salvador. The official colour of the national team is blue, so expect a sea of blue during the next FIFA season.

2. Go on outdoor adventures

El Salvador is blessed with breath-taking natural tourist destinations. Plan an ultimate nature journey at El Impossible, the most important ecological reserve in the country, which is home to more than 500 bird species. Explore the volcanoes at the Cerro Verde national park. Cerro Verde is also known as the cloud forest for its steamy jungle and crater lakes. El Salvador has amazing coastlines and beaches such as:

  • Barra de Santiago
  • El Puerto de la Libertad
  • Playa El Sunzal
  • Costa del Sol

You can also have a historical trip to the ruins of the Maya settlements in:

  • San Andres
  • Tazumal
  • Joya de Ceren

Check out El Salvador’s Environment Ministry website for more information.

3. Go shopping

El Salvador has one of the lowest cost of living in Central America. No foreigner should fly home without buying a hand-made souvenir in El Salvador. Local products are relatively cheap, yet beautifully crafted. Ceramics from Ilobasco are perfect gifts for family and friends. The ceramic orbs called ‘sorpresa’ have meticulously made miniature dioramas that show Salvadorean lifestyle such as bakers at work or dancing children. It’s advisable to bring a local with you to haggle in your behalf.

The best places to shop are:

After shopping, you can unwind at nearby cinemas, restaurants or nightclubs. If you’re going out for a night out in Zona Rosa district, be sure to dress well to blend in with the stylish crowd.

4. Come out of your shell

Salvadoreans know how to have good time. They are sociable people who love conversations. When invited to a home, arrive 30-45 minutes late as it is uncustomary to arrive on time. Dress well and don’t leave right after eating. You’re expected to socialise for at least an hour after dinner. Unless prompted to, avoid business talks at social gatherings. Pack jokes and short anecdotes to entertain others. Salvadoreans can be quite sensitive, so be careful when making statements. If you need to criticise someone, do it privately.

Before eating, wait for the host/hostess to say “buen provecho” (“enjoy your meal”) and always eat with utensils. This also applies to toasts. Wait for the host/hostess to signal the toast before sipping your drink.

 

Living like a local

1. Time to brush up your Spanish

Spanish is the official language in El Salvador and the local Spanish vernacular is called caliche. The native languages Nawat and Maya are still spoken by some indigenous groups, who compose about 1% of the population. English is also spoken in the country, but foreigners are encouraged to learn basic Spanish to get by.

2. Lay down your hair! Casual wear is acceptable in El Salvador

El Salvador has as tropical climate and two seasons: the wet and dry seasons. You can pack lightweight clothing such as shirts and summer dresses. It’s advisable to have waterproof clothes, raincoats and umbrella all year ‘round as rain showers occur even in summer. If you’re spending time outdoors such as in beaches and the countryside, be sure to cover up against dangerous insect bites. Always have insect repellent lotion with you.

3. Don’t forget to bring gifts to special events

Salvardoreans observe gift-giving traditions in special events such as birthdays, weddings, baptisms, religious occasions and holidays. When you receive a gift, open it right away and thank the giver. Some of the acceptable gifts in any type of event are pastries, sweets, wines and roses. Avoid giving scissors as these suggest severing ties, and lilies and marigolds unless you’re going to a funeral.

4. Be careful when driving in El Salvador

Foreigners can use their US driver’s license for up to 30 days. If you need to drive longer than this period, you’d need to secure a local driver’s license. Driving at night can be dangerous because of few street lights and reflectors, and missing manhole covers. It is better to hire a skilled local driver if you need to go around the country.

If you get involved in a road accident, you’re required under the law to stay at the scene until authorities arrives. Drivers of vehicles that injure or kill another person are detained until a judge decides on the criminal liability.

 

Cost of Living in El Salvador

 

The cost of living in El Salvador is quite cheap, in comparison to other Central American countries like Costa Rica. Mercer ranked the capital city, San Salvador, at 199th to measure the cost of living for foreign nationals in 214 cities around the world.

Buying Real Estate

In general, the government of El Salvador allows foreign nationals to purchase real estate in the country. However, foreigners and Salvadoran nationals cannot own a piece of property that is more than 245 hectares. Furthermore, expats cannot purchase rural lands in El Salvador, except if it will be used for industrial purposes. Prospective real estate buyers in El Salvador are strictly advised to be extra cautious about property rights.

State-owned registry Instituto Libertad y Progreso registers all properties bought in El Salvador. Aside from clearly identifying the owner of a property, this kind of registry which is common in the Central American region is also the most secure way of guaranteeing ownership of real estate in El Salvador. More often than not, property owners do not need to purchase property insurance because the system of Instituto Libertad y Progreso is very accurate.

Once a foreign national has chosen a property that he wants to buy, a notary prepares and notarizes the sale agreement. Registration fee or “Derechos de RegistroporVenta de Inmuebles/Alcabala” will then be paid, which is 0.63% of the property price. Transfer of Real Estate Tax or Impuesto de Transferencia de BienesRaicesshould also be paid at 3% over the excess of $28,571.43. Then, the deed of the property will be submitted to the Registry office and to the Municipality. The entire property registering process takes about 18 to 32 days.

Property prices in El Salvador vary, depending on the size and location of a house, apartment, or condo. Apartments located in the city centre ranges from $1,136 to $3,000 per square meter, while an apartment outside the city costs around $2,300 to $5,380 per square meter. 

Renting

Since El Salvador is a very small country, the choices for rental accommodations are quite limited. Most of the time, foreign nationals choose to rent in San Salvador because this is where the centre of life in El Salvador can be found.

  • One-bedroom apartment inside the city centre of El Salvador - $200 to $500 a month
  • One-bedroom apartment outside the city centre - $100 to $250 a month
  • Three-bedroom apartment in the city centre - $450 to $600 per month
  • Three-bedroom apartment outside the city centre - $200 to $450 per month

Utilities

The price of basic utilities in El Salvador, like electricity, water, heating and garbage range from $58 to $120 a month for an 85m2 apartment. Cable or ADSL internet connection with unlimited data and speed of 6Mbps costs about $30 to $60 a month. One-minute local call costs via a prepaid mobile phone cost about $0.18. 

Food Consumption

Food costs are relatively cheaper in El Salvador compared to other countries in the region.

  • Inexpensive restaurant in El Salvador - $3 to $5
  • Three-course meal for two people at a mid-range restaurant - $15 to $40
  • Combo meal at McDonald’s - $5
  • Regular cappuccino at a restaurant - $2
  • One litre of regular milk - $1.29
  • 1.5 litre of bottled water - $0.85
  • A loaf of fresh white bread - $1.33
  • 1 kilogram of rice - $1.14,
  • 1 dozen eggs - $1.96
  • 1 kilogram of local cheese - $5.43
  • Domestic beer - $1.18
  • Imported beer - $2.10
  • A bottle of mid-range wine - $8

Transportation

The price of gasoline in El Salvador is about 20% more than when filling up a tank in the United States.

  • One litre of gasoline - $1.25
  • One-way ticket in a local transport - $0.30
  • Regular monthly pass - $72
  • Taxi fares start - $5 (with an additional $3 for every kilometre ride)

Taxation

The income tax rate for employees in El Salvador is on a sliding scale, starting from 10% up to 30%. Estate or gift taxes are not imposed by the government, but properties may be subject to tax as ordinary taxpayers if they get income before assets are passed down to beneficiaries. Meanwhile, social security contributions are deducted monthly on employees’ income at a rate of 3%, residents or non-residents.

 

International Shipping and Removal to El Salvador

 

Though considered to be a small country, El Salvador is rapidly making its name as a destination for expats who want to relocate to Central America. Here, you will find yourself surrounded by pristine Pacific beaches, majestic landscapes and vast coffee farms. Aside from its undoubtedly beautiful geography, Salvadorans pride themselves in having just the perfect blend of Native American and European Spanish influences, one of the many things that will ignite your interest to their rich culture. So if you’re all decided to take a leap abroad in this tiny yet resilient country, here are some of the essential reminders that will help you on your new journey.

Preparations

There are several ways for you to search for a house/apartment in El Salvador. You can start browsing through online portals or check local newspapers listings. Another way, which is more convenient, is to contact professional Realtors in El Salvador to help you find the best housing options based on your budget and needs.

Unless the landlord tells you specifically, it's better to prepare a separate budget for utilities. The average monthly cost for necessities (water, gas, electricity) in the city is €60. Internet connection is around €40 per month while a minute of local prepaid call is €0.15.

House and Apartment Hunting

You will see two common types of material used to build houses in urban areas: bricks and cement. In most parts of the city, you will find huge numbers of “Casa de pasaje” or alleyways where houses or units usually have 1-2 bedrooms, a living room, bathroom and a small kitchen. As you move closer to the metropolitan, you will find apartments and several townhouses.

The first city that you can consider is San Salvador, the capital of the country. Living here offers great convenience since you are in the centre of El Salvador’s business hub, malls, major supermarkets and several international schools. The average cost of a one-bedroom apartment here starts at €200 per month while a three-bedroom unit starts at €400.

Another option for you is the city of Puerto De La Libertad, one of El Salvador’s leading tourist destinations. It has perfect coastlines, beaches and the best surfing spots in the country. Despite its constant visitors from all over the world, Puerto De La Libertad still maintains its clean environment and simple ways of life. The average rental cost for a one bedroom apartment starts at €100, and a three bedroom unit starts at €400.

International and Local Schools

The education is free and compulsory for up to 9th grade or 14 years old. El Salvador’s public schools are considered to be behind when it comes to their curriculum and educational system.However, there are several international schools like the International School of San Salvador and the Colegio La Floresta that have high standard in English education and top facilities.

You can also check some of the country’s well established local schools like the Universidad de El Salvador and the Universidad Centroamericana "José Simeón Cañas" (UCA) .

Moving Your Belongings

Once you have established where to live, next thing to do is to go through your belongings and carefully decide which ones to bring. Some prefer to do the moving process by themselves, but there are many shipping and removal companies that you can call to help you in bringing your stuff to El Salvador. The average shipping time by ocean typically takes 25 to 45 days which will still vary depending on your country of origin. The Acajutla Port is the principal seaport in El Salvador and where a majority of containers arrive for inspection by local customs officers.

Before bringing your pet to El Salvador, make sure that it has a rabies vaccination given between 30 days and 12 months before the travel. Cats should have a panleukopenia vaccination not less than one month and not more than six months before arrival. You also need to secure a Veterinarian Health Certificate issued by a licensed veterinary from your country of origin. No birds are allowed to for import to El Salvador.

Transportation in the country is quite acceptable. Most of the roads are paved and in good condition, though the traffic laws are not being strictly implemented. If you want to bring your vehicle to El Salvador, you need to take it to the pier at least 72 hours before shipping for initial customs inspection. The original car title is also required, and you have to be there personally to pick up your vehicle in the port once it arrives or else, customs will not allow your car for entry.

El Salvador is a hidden treasure in Central America waiting for you to explore. It’s cultural variety, and welcoming locals are sure to quickly make you feel a part of their colourful community.

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