A breathtakingly beautiful land of volcanoes, mountains and lakes, with a population that has a reputation for being friendly and welcoming, expats thinking of a move to El Salvador are sure to have a terrific time in the little South American country.

Unfortunately, many of the positives are overshadowed by a high crime rate. El Salvador has one of the highest homicide rates in the world and still battles with the legacy of the civil war during the 1980s. Armed robbery, carjacking and kidnapping are an ongoing issue, and the primary concern for expats living in El Salvador will be their safety and security, especially if moving with children. Before travelling to El Salvador, Expat Arrivals suggests that expats contact their embassy for specialised advice and information.

Many expats who travel to and live in El Salvador don't deny the major inequality and safety issues, but argue that life here is much brighter than the media portrays it to be. New arrivals are likely to find accommodation in the capital, San Salvador, or other developed coastal towns. San Salvador is a lively city offering many shopping and entertainment options, and money exchanges are made easy as the local currency is the US dollar. Expats can visit colourful markets, try out the flavours of local street food and indulge in Salvadoran coffee, which has shaped and fuelled the economy.

El Salvador is one of the smallest and most densely populated countries in Central America. Being so small, it doesn't take long to adventure from one end to the other, or to explore the quaint, colourful colonial villages with striking street art along the Flower Route – the Ruta de Las Flores. Expats can marvel at stunning volcanic lakes, wander the densely verdant rainforest, or kick back at luxury resorts. 

For those wishing to escape their city for a weekend break, the country's culture, history, natural beauty and diverse landscapes provide opportunities for plenty of surfing and hiking adventures as well as exploring remarkable archaeological Mayan ruins such as El Tazumal in the ancient city of Chalchuapa.

Living in El Salvador long term may present vastly different issues compared to short tourist stays, and finding employment isn't easy. Economic growth has been hampered in recent years by natural disasters, government policies and corruption, and the job market is limited. Expats working in El Salvador generally find themselves teaching English, volunteering with a local NGO or working in the accounting or IT sectors.

Both the country’s healthcare and education sectors are severely lacking in resources. Expats seeking medical attention may be able to find basic care in the main cities as well as English-speaking doctors in private healthcare facilities, but for any serious emergencies, treatment should be sought outside the country.

All being said, El Salvador's natural beauty, warm beaches and exceptionally hospitable people make up for a lot of the perceived negatives. Living here presents many safety issues but also unique and exciting opportunities that expats can take advantage of.


Fast facts

Population: Around 6.4 million

Capital city: San Salvador

Neighbouring countries: El Salvador is bordered by Honduras to the northeast and Guatemala to the northwest, with a coastline on the Pacific Ocean.

Geography: El Salvador is one of the smallest countries in continental America. Its beautiful landmass is covered by mountains, volcanoes, rivers and lakes, with the highest point being Cerro El Pital on the border with Honduras.

Political system: Unitary presidential constitutional republic

Major religion: Roman Catholicism

Main languages: Spanish

Money: El Salvador uses the United States Dollar (USD), which is subdivided into 100 cents. ATMs and card facilities can be found in most urban centres.

Tipping: A tip of around 10 percent is expected in most service industries. 

Time: GMT -6

Electricity: 115V and 60Hz. Plugs with two or three flat blades (type A and B plugs) can be used throughout the country.

Internet domain: .sv

International dialing code: +503

Emergency numbers: 911

Transport and driving: Cars drive on the right-hand side of the road. The Pan American Highway travels through the country, making road transport convenient. Otherwise, taxis and buses are the main forms of public transport.