El Salvador Expat Life: Nanelle Newbom, San Salvador
The Expat: Nanelle Newbom
Where are you currently living?
We are living in San Salvador, El Salvador for the past few months.
What’s Your Story?
My husband Andy and I have two adult sons, and a five year old daughter. We moved to El Salvador this year, with our daughter. Our sons preferred to stay in the US in college. We work in the fields of coffee and beer, and Self Employed is the best description.
I was born in San Diego California and my husband Andy is originally from Seattle Washington. This is our first adventure in living abroad, but we spent the last decade living in the San Francisco bay area.
Where did you get the idea of living in El Salvador?
We realized we wanted to live in Central America when my husband’s travels in his job of sourcing coffee gave him a glimpse that we didn’t have to keep doing things the same way we always had. We did not move away to retire, but to continue doing business in a better way, with a better cost of living.
We have no plans to leave, and we are calling El Salvador our new home country.
We are currently tourists, and must leave the country every three months to renew that status. We are working on our residency, which will technically be a retirement residency, because other forms of residency are difficult to get. A retirement visa just requires a provable income of $1,000 usd/mo, and we can still for a Salvadoran company.
We expect to have temporary resident cards this week, so the story is to be continued……
How’s your Spanish?
My husband speaks very very very limited Spanish. I speak basic conversational Spanish, but am nowhere near functional for real life. I feel it is extremely important to learn the language of the country you plan to inhabit, but you do not need to be fluent when you arrive.
There is plenty of fun to be had taking classes in your new home, or hiring a local tutor a few days a week. You can get by with almost no language skills, but its stressful, and compounds other things you will already find confusing. Do everything you can beforehand, and when you arrive, and when it’s not enough (it probably won’t be) relax, and do keep learning.
What do you do?
My husband and I sold our bay area coffee company (Barefoot Coffee Roasters). We were unable to grow the company further or make the numbers work, despite plenty of critical success. You gain a lot of debt starting with nothing! The only way to let it grow was to let it go, and we took our debt free and selves to place we could afford to live for a couple years while developing our next business.
Don’t get me wrong … we don’t have much left over after paying off our debts, but it turns out, a little bit is enough here, if you know what to do with it.
To put rice and beans on the table now, we are working with excellent roasters in us, basically facilitating direct trade relationships with farmers. We are also brewing good beer we will be sharing on a small scale here pretty soon.
We are blogging about it all along the way, and though that doesn’t buy any beans, it does help us make friends with other expats, and force us to go on more adventures, in order to have something to write about next week!
How do you find the cost of living in El Salvador?
The cost of living in El Salvador is deceptive. It can be quite low, but it is easy for an expat to get roped into a cost structure that is not much of an improvement. Rent or (home purchase), outside San Salvador can be very very low, but you have to pay attention to what you are buying or renting.
Food is lower than in the US, unless to require all the same grocery store brands from home. Gas and electricity are more expensive than in the US, and auto purchases are about the same.
On the whole, you can live here on a very low income if you speak Spanish (which gives you more freedom in where you are comfortable living), Shop for real food at at the markets rather than the grocery stores (a healthier choice anyway), and don’t require name brands for your basic needs.
That said, I have found I have to be careful in my choices to keep my dollars nicely stretched.
Learn more about traditional Salvadoran foods.
What do you love about expat life in El Salvador?
I love the variety of natural beauty, all packed into this tiny little country. I like that there are poor people living at the best beaches on the continent. I’m not glad they are poor, but I’m glad they have not yet been pushed out and the coastal communities are still centered around the basics, like small scale fishing.
I like the people of El Salvador. Before moving I heard way too much about gang violence, and the dangers of driving here. What I have found is that there is terrible poverty that breeds terrible violence, but that the situation is much more common sense than the media would lead you to believe.
Fear is profitable. El Salvador is NOT safe, and you need to keep your wits about you, but it is not as bad as portrayed and I’ve seen more kindness than anything else.
I advise anyone interesting in moving here to rent a regular house here for a good week, in order to get a sense of the real pace of living.
My favorite places to hang out are Viva Espresso for coffee, Republik, and La Ventana are great bars, and there are too many great restaurants to name…. citron, alo nuestro, rossler..those are all high end … for something more down to earth try the outdoor taqueria just off the redondel at avenida Masferrer and Ave. Col. Escalon.
I’ve found human beings to be the best resource! They are everywhere and love to give you a tip!
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Here's our favorite travel gear:
Here is the gear we love to travel with. To capture our adventure and to travel safe and comfortable.
- Action Camera: GoPro Hero10 Black
- Backpack camera mount: Peak Design Capture Clip
- Drone: DJI Mini 2 (Fly More Combo)
- Water Filtration: LifeStraw Go Water Filter Bottle
- Binoculars: Nikon 7576 Monarch Binoculars
See all our favorite stuff here: Recommended Gear