Saturday, March 14, 2009

A New Life in El Salvador

A view of the city

After being a fan of numerous blogs, I've finally decided that I wasn't wasting enough time reading other people's writings and have decided to throw in my two cents. I am also interested in discussing what life is like in El Salvador for people interested in a chance to begin again in a golden land of opportunity and adventure.
I think Mexico is pretty full up (especially for anyone interested in an ocean front property), Guatemala doesn't have the nicest beaches, Costa Rica is seeing the beginnings of a backlash against foreigners, Panama is very hot and humid, so I think El Salvador may be next in line. Very affordable property, great standard of living (especially after spending 13 years living in Cuba), all the comforts of home, very localized crime (unlike Guatemala City, for example), and great people.
The view from our apartment
So a bit about myself ... I am a Japanese born Korean, moved to Toronto when I was 3, went to school there and then moved to Havana in '95 for work, met a wonderful Salvadoran woman, started visiting El Salvador in '97, and decided to move here in September of 2007.
When I first came to SAL, things were smaller and quieter. Less rampant American commercialism and only Metrocentro and Gallerias (two big malls) were open and only one ATM in the entire country. Now we have BK's, McD's, Pizza Hut, and KFC everywhere ... along with Tony Roma's, Wendy's, Papa John's ... list goes on. Can't say it is the Yanks' fault since I think all of these franchises have been brought in by wealthy Salvadoran families/companies that want an easy way to make money (more on this later). Roads were good then (and even better now), prices quite a bit lower, crime was much better with fewer mara/gang deportees from the US living here (although still a lot of guns and matériel from the civil war being used inappropriately - like a grenade being thrown into a bank), and people had less money and were less familiar with the comsumer lifestyle of North America.
My son at Punta Roca
Visiting over the years, I have noticed more and more franchises, more big malls, and now thousands of ATMs everywhere. The middle class is growing - which bodes very well for this country - although poverty is still huge at 35%. The upper class is still making a lot of money and are more conspicuous in the Porsche Cayennes, Ferraris, and their helicopters. There are a lot more maquiladoras or maquilas (factories using cheap labour to manufacture or assemble for export) with many being in textiles.
How are things trending? A lot will depend on the election tomorrow. I am not for either party and can see the pros and cons of both. Regardless, this isn't my decision but one the Salvadoran people will make. I just hope it is fair with little violence.
So back to what I want to talk about in this blog. Can foreigners come here to find a new life? I read and occasionally contribute to the Lonely Planet's Thorn Tree Travel Forum and there seem to be various people who find themselves in this country - be it a long stay traveling through the region, or for work, with NGO's, church groups, or to retire. In my case, along with most of the expats I know living here, it came about due to a relationship with a Salvadoran, a few visits to this amazing country, and then the decision to move here full time. We have escaped the cold and the rat race of North America (and remember what Lily Tomlin used to say, even if you win the race, you're still a rat) and live in a country where many people leave from, risking danger to go illegally to the country which we easily left to make money for their family's survival. But we are fortunate to have savings or jobs that grant us a very good standard of living in a country with a low cost of living.
More on all these subjects later!


  1. An auspicious beginning. I can't wait to read more!

  2. Thanks Jen. Very kind of you to say that considering I have absolutely nothing about knitting in my blog.

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  4. Hello I would like ask you about crimes in El Salvador. D you ever feel afraid going out on the streets late at night? Do you ever feel that it is more dangerous to be in El Salvador for a foreigner?

  5. Hi Antonio, thanks for your questions. We generally don't walk very much in San Salvador, especially at night. There are certain areas that are safer than others like our neighbourhood, Zona Rosa and Paseo del Carmen. I think it is more safe being a foreigner as we don't generally go into more dangerous areas or take the local buses where the majority of crime occurs. There is also the perception that going after a foreigner will bring more police attention. So basically we drive to places at night, keep the doors locked and windows up in bad areas, and show situational awareness by always watching what happens around the car.