Packing list for El Salvador
This list has been compiled by Volunteers serving in El Salvador and is based on their experience. Use it as an informal guide in making your own list, bearing in mind that experience is individual. There is no perfect list! You can always have things sent to you later. You obviously cannot bring everything we mention, so consider those items that make the most sense to you personally and professionally. As you decide what to bring, keep in mind that you have an 80-pound weight restriction on baggage. And remember, you can get almost everything you need in El Salvador.
Individual tastes influence your decision of what will be useful and/or is not necessary. Site and work assignments vary as well as Salvadoran climate zones. This list should be used as a guide and gives only “suggested” things to bring. Salvadorans emphasize cleanliness and neatness and you may be judged by your appearance, whether you intend to or not. Salvadorans, especially those in rural areas, dress more conservatively than North Americans. It is not necessary to change your entire wardrobe. Most Volunteers wear clothes similar to what they were used to wearing stateside. If in doubt, minimize your clothes to the basics. Additional clothing and shoes are available in El Salvador and you may have well tailored clothes made for you at rock bottom prices. Also keep in mind that shoes sized over 8 for women and 11 for men are difficult to find.
Cotton and darker colored clothing are recommended as they hide dirt better. Since most clothes in the campo (countryside) are washed by hand on hard surfaces and hung to dry on rope or barbed wire; bring clothes that can withstand these rigors. Clothing with elastic, especially underwear, stretches rather quickly due to hand washing.
- Sneakers or sturdy walking shoes (1)
- Rubber sole flip flops (1)
- Dress shoes (1) (for swearing-in or other special occasion)
- Sandals (for women in office or work settings)
- Work/hiking boots (1) (practical waterproof and comfortable to walk-in are particularly helpful for agroforestry and water/sanitation projects)
Note: During rainy periods, leather goods accumulate mildew; so bring leather-protection cream or mink oil.
- Enough for two weeks
- Socks (appropriate types for all your shoes). Good socks can be difficult to find
- Underwear (cotton undergarnments are difficult to find in country)
- Bras (good “sturdy” bras are hard to find, plan on bringing a two year supply)
Note: Nylons and replacement undergarments are available in-country.
- Jeans, cotton pants, dark khakis (4-6)
- Dress pants (1-2)
- Long shorts (2-3)
- Skirts/dresses (casual, lightweight, knee length or longer)
- Outfit for swearing-in ceremony (this is a semi-formal event, but also a time to have some fun with dressing-up)
Note: Jeans can be very heavy and hot. Lightweight, quick-drying pants are more practical. Shorts are not generally worn in El Salvador and wearing short shorts is certain to attract unwanted attention.
- Polo style shirts
- Dress shirt (1-2)
- Tank tops
- Fleece jacket/ Lightweight jacket
- Lightweight poncho or rain jacket
Note: Female Volunteers do wear tank tops; however, select conservative tank tops.
The nature of the rains here makes raingear impractical for some. Volunteers suggest that you buy an umbrella in-country and stay inside until the storm passes.
- Swimsuit (1-2)
- Cap, hat and/or sunglasses
- Exercise/running gear
- Work gloves
- Flashlight or headlamp
- Sturdy backpack/day pack (with enough room for 3days light packing)
- Travel alarm clock
- Towel and washcloth (bring a start-up set; purchase more once you are settled)
- cheap watch (helpful if water resistant w/alarm and light)
- Small locks for backpacks and luggage
Note: A Spanish dictionary and study guides are supplied during training.
- Pocket knife, Leatherman, etc.
- Small English dictionary
- Portable radio/CD/MP3 player (electric/battery powered; you may also want to bring speakers)
- Rechargeable batteries
- Shortwave radio
- Flash Drive
- Start-up supply of stationary, pens, etc.
- Address book
- CDs/DVDs/writeable CDs
- Money belt (wearable under clothing)
- Cards, backgammon, other games
- Bed sheets (full-size)
- Sewing kit
- Water bottle (canteen or bike type; eg., Nalgene)
- 501 Spanish Verbs by Christopher Kendris
- Sleeping bag (lightweight, some Volunteers use them others do not)
- Good scissors
- World map or atlas
- Iron (small or purchase in country)
- Cooking spices (basic spices are available, but bring specialty spices if you enjoy cooking) Recreation
Most Volunteers are or become avid readers. English language books and magazines are available in the capital, but are expensive and of a limited selection. You may arrange to have books mailed to you. Packages labeled LIBROS usually get through customs. The Volunteer lounge has a book exchange with diverse reading material and always welcomes donations from current and departing Volunteers. The Peace Corps used to provide free international Newsweek magazines to all Volunteers but the magazine shut down in 2006. Subscriptions to other magazines may get through, but probably quite late.
Music is the sanity keeper of most Volunteers. Many Volunteers bring radio or MP3 players with them and greatly appreciate the sanctuary personal music provides. We suggest bringing your favorite music from home, either in CD or MP3 form. Batteries are not cheap and you may choose to use solar-powered or electrical rechargers.
Cameras are almost a must item. Film and film developing are available in El Salvador, but are more expensive than in the United States. Nevertheless, some Volunteers will probably choose to develop locally while others will have their photos developed via mailers, in the United States. Most Volunteers bring digital cameras. Digital photos can be developed in-country but also downloaded to the Internet to be shared with family and friends back home.
Note: The climate here may also ruin some of your belongings. For this reason, do not bring things you cannot risk losing either due to theft, loss, moisture, etc. Please do not bring high-priced items with you and most definitely do not have them mailed to you. El Salvador is a poor country. You will appear rich or at least affluent to many Salvadorans. The Peace Corps does not provide paid insurance coverage for your personal effects, although you may purchase insurance for your belongings (this will be discussed at your pre-departure orientation). Ultimately, each Volunteer is responsible for the safekeeping of their personal belongings. The Peace Corps cannot reimburse you for losses.
You may need a few basic reference books and supplies for your field of work. You may bring books with you, or preferably, wait until you see what resources Peace Corps/ El Salvador may provide. We can also order work-related materials through Peace Corps/Washington. Basic work and art supplies such as scissors, crayons, markers, calculators, etc. may be squeezed into your luggage.
Medicines & Related Items
You will receive a basic medical kit as soon as you arrive in-country. Medical treatment and supplies are available at the training center and Peace Corps office. The Peace Corps also provides contraceptives to Volunteers who request them. We supply a variety of over-the-counter medications as well as any medications prescribed by a Peace Corps physician. It is not necessary to bring a two-year supply. As mentioned, DO bring a three-month supply of any medications you need immediately upon arrival and your prescription. This will allow us time to order your medication. This three-month supply will ensure that you have a continuous supply.
- ALL luggage should be lockable, with airport-approved locks.
- PUT loose items in something that can be used later, such as boxes, zip-lock bags, Tupperware, etc.
- MARK all of your luggage and equipment inside and out
- KEEP most of your clothes in one bag and enough items for four days to be used upon arrival in El Salvador.
Last-Minute Advice from the Country Director
The general theme is: Do not think you are going to the jungle for two years. Most things can be purchased in-country. Also, lightweight cottons are the best for the warm to hot weather. Remember you are not going on a two-year camping trip.