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.

Living in El Salvador as an expat

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.

Unfortunately, many of the positives of life in El Salvador are overshadowed by a high crime rate. Before travelling to El Salvador, we suggest that expats contact their embassy for specialised advice and information.

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. 

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. 

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.

Cost of living in El Salvador

El Salvador's cost of living is lower than the global average, making it a relatively cheap place to live. In Mercer's 2023 Cost of Living Survey, San Salvador was ranked as the 176th most expensive city out of 227 cities worldwide. Rent is extremely affordable and general living costs are low, although some items come at similar prices to those in the US, such as certain foods and drinks. 

Expat families and children

Although schooling in El Salvador is free until the age of 14, the education system is underfunded. Although good public schools can be found in the larger cities, this is not the case everywhere and quality schools in rural areas are sorely lacking. The language of instruction at schools is also Spanish. For these reasons many expats in El Salvador send their children to one of the countries international schools.

Expat families will discover plenty of things to do with the kids in their free time, such as visiting the many parks and nature reserves or exploring the country's incredible outdoor landscapes. Indoor pursuits could include San Salvador's Tin Marin Children's Museum, or one of the art or history museums in the city. 

Climate in El Salvador

El Salvador has a tropical climate with a wet and dry season. The rainy months are characterised by warm weather and cloudy skies, while the dry season is hot and humid. Temperatures generally don't vary too much throughout the year, with the annual average temperature sitting around 73ºF (23ºC). 

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 6.5 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.