Major highways in El Salvador are among the best in Central America, but road conditions throughout El Salvador are not up to U.S. standards. Even within the city of San Salvador, it is common to see missing manhole covers and large objects in the roadway marking the danger.
Avoid driving during nighttime hours or periods of low visibility as slow-moving vehicles are common, and vehicles without taillights are often on the road. Mini-buses, regular buses, and taxis are poorly maintained. Drivers are frequently unlicensed and generally do not adhere to traffic rules and regulations. You can expect to find pedestrians walking on the roadways and, in rural areas, it is common to encounter livestock on the road.
Traffic Laws: Drive defensively as traffic laws are not enforced. Passing on blind corners or cutting across several lanes of traffic is commonplace. Two lane traffic circles are common and are especially dangerous to navigate.
If you are in an accident, call the police, and do not leave the scene. The law requires all parties involved in a vehicle accident to stay at the scene until the police respond. Hit and run accidents are common. Salvadoran law requires the detention and arrest of a driver involved in an accident that injures or kills another person if the driver is under the influence of alcohol or does not possess a proper driver?s license.
You may drive with a U.S. driver?s license for up to 30 days. After that time, you must obtain a Salvadoran license.
If you want to apply for a Salvadoran driver?s license, you must present an authenticated copy of your U.S. driver?s license to Salvadoran authorities. Requests for an apostille or authentication certificate are generally submitted in writing to your state?s Notary commissioning authority (usually the Secretary of State?s office.)
Public Transportation: Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information. Visit the website of El Salvador?s national tourist office and the national authority responsible for road safety. Further information on traffic and road conditions is available in Spanish from Automovil Club de El Salvador (ACES).
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT: The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the government of El Salvador?s Civil Aviation Authority as being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for oversight of El Salvador?s air carrier operations. Further information may be found on the FAA?s safety assessment page.
Private and public hospitals do not meet U.S. standards. The U.S. Embassy recommends that private hospitals be used only for emergency care to stabilize a condition prior to returning to the United States for definitive evaluation and treatment. Private hospitals and physicians expect up-front payment (cash or credit card). They do not bill U.S. insurance companies.
The Department of State does not pay medical bills. U.S. Medicare does not apply overseas.
Medical Insurance: Make sure your health insurance plan provides coverage overseas. Most care providers overseas only accept cash payments. See our webpage for more information on insurance providers for overseas coverage.
We strongly recommend supplemental insurance to cover medical evacuation.
If traveling with prescription medication, check with the Government of El Salvador to ensure the medication is legal in El Salvador. Always carry your prescription medication in original packaging with your doctor?s prescription.
The following diseases are prevalent:
Vaccinations: All routinely recommended immunizations for the U.S. should be up-to-date.
- Measles, mumps, rubella, tetanus, pertussis and chickenpox are much more common than in the U.S., especially among children.
- Hepatitis A and typhoid immunization is recommended for all travelers.
- Hepatitis B vaccine is recommended for all those who may have sexual contact, tattoos or require medical treatment while in El Salvador.
- Yellow Fever: Travelers coming from countries where yellow fever is endemic must have had a yellow fever vaccination in order to enter the country. For more information, visit El Salvador?s Immigration website.
Tuberculosis is an increasingly serious health concern in El Salvador. For further information, please consult the CDC?s information on Tuberculosis.
You can find detailed information on vaccinations and other health precautions on the following websites:
Local laws and Special Circumstances
CRIMINAL PENALTIES: While in El Salvador, you are subject to local laws. Your U.S. passport won?t help you avoid arrest. Remember your activities are limited by the type of visa you have. If you violate Salvadoran laws you may be expelled, arrested, or imprisoned. Penalties for possessing, using, or trafficking in illegal drugs in El Salvador are severe. Convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines.
Some offenses committed overseas can be prosecuted in the United States, regardless of local law. For examples, see the U.S. Department of State website and the Department of Justice website on crimes against minors abroad.
Arrest Notification: If you are arrested or detained, ask police or prison officials to notify the U.S. Embassy immediately.
Prison and detention center conditions in El Salvador are harsh and dangerous. Overcrowding constitutes a serious threat to prisoners? health and lives. In many facilities, provisions for sanitation, potable water, ventilation, temperature control, and lighting are inadequate or nonexistent.
Guns: You must have a locally obtained license to possess or carry a firearm in El Salvador. Convictions for possessing an unlicensed firearm can carry a prison sentence of three to five years. The U.S. Embassy cannot intervene on your behalf.
Disaster Preparedness: Preparation for natural disasters is essential in El Salvador, which has 21 active volcanoes, constant seismic activities, and a rainy season that produces severe flooding and mudslides.
Find information about natural disaster preparedness on the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) website. Find information in Spanish about earthquakes (sismos) and other natural disasters in El Salvador on the Government of El Salvador?s web page. Learn more on our Natural Disasters webpage.
WOMEN TRAVELER INFORMATION: If you are a woman traveling abroad, please review our travel tips for Women Travelers.
LGBTI RIGHTS: There are no legal restrictions on same-sex sexual relations or the organization of LGBTI events in El Salvador. There is, however, widespread discrimination based on sexual orientation in employment, access to health care, and identity documents. Public officials, including the police, have reportedly engaged in violence and discrimination against LGBTI persons. For more detailed information about LGBTI rights in El Salvador, you may review the State Department?s Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2018. For further information on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex (LGBTI) travel, please read our LGBTI Travel Information page.
ACCESSIBILITY: Salvadoran law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical and mental disabilities in employment, education, access to health care, or the provision of other state services. The government, however, does not allocate sufficient resources to enforce these prohibitions effectively. There are few access ramps or provisions for the mobility of persons with sight and hearing disabilities.
Safety and Security
The crime threat level in El Salvador is critical and our Travel Advisory warns U.S. citizens of the high rates of crime and violence. See below for additional information on crime.
Dial 911 for emergency assistance in El Salvador.
Watersports: Strong undertows and currents make swimming at El Salvador’s Pacific Coast beaches extremely dangerous even for experienced swimmers. Lifeguards are not present at beaches and lakes. In addition, El Salvador?s search and rescue capabilities are limited, and access to medical resources in these areas is inadequate. Carefully assess the potential risks of recreational water activities and consider your physical capabilities and skills.
Protests: Demonstrations, sit-ins, and protests may occur at any time or place, but are most frequent in and around the capital San Salvador. Avoid demonstrations, because even apparently peaceful ones may turn violent. Follow local news media reports or contact the U.S. Embassy for up-to-date information.
CRIME: El Salvador has one of the highest homicide levels in the world and crimes such as extortion, assault, and robbery are common.
Typical crimes in El Salvador include extortion, mugging, highway assault, home invasion, and car theft. Shootouts between rival criminal gangs and between police and criminal gangs are common. Home invasions and/or burglaries of residences during broad daylight occur in affluent residential neighborhoods in San Salvador. Some of these home invasions are committed by individuals posing as deliverymen or as police officers.
U.S. Embassy personnel are advised not to walk, run, or cycle in the unguarded streets and parks of El Salvador, even in groups.
Exercise caution at all times and practice good personal security procedures throughout your stay.
- Always travel in groups.
- Avoid remote or isolated locations.
- Avoid displaying or carrying valuables in public places.
- Never leave passports and other important documents in vehicles.
- Exercise only in gyms and fitness centers. Do not travel on public transportation, especially buses. Use only radio-dispatched taxis, taxis stationed in front of major hotels, or internet-based rideshare services..
- Be vigilant while visiting banks or using ATMs.
- Remain vigilant even in well-known restaurants, hotels, and retailers within San Salvador.
- Do not let your credit card out of your sight. Credit card cloning and similar fraud is common.
- Be aware of your surroundings when traveling by car. Armed holdups of vehicles traveling on El Salvador’s roads are common.
- Drive with your doors locked and windows raised.
- Avoid travel outside of major metropolitan areas after dark and on unpaved roads at all times because of criminal assaults and lack of police and road service facilities.
- Be aware that criminals may follow travelers from the El Salvador International Airport to private residences or secluded stretches of road where they carry out assaults and robberies. Armed robbers are known to shoot if the vehicle does not come to a stop.
- Travelers with conspicuous amounts of luggage, late-model cars, or foreign license plates are particularly vulnerable to crime.
Armed robberies of climbers and hikers in El Salvador?s national parks can occur. Engage the services of a local guide certified by the national or local tourist authority when hiking in back-country areas and within the national parks. The tourist police force (POLITUR) provides security and assistance to tourists. Officers are located in 19 tourist destinations.
A majority of serious crimes in El Salvador are never solved. The Government of El Salvador lacks sufficient resources to properly investigate and prosecute cases and to deter violent crime.
El Salvador has thousands of known gang members from several gangs including Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and 18th Street (M18). Gang members engage in violence or use deadly force if resisted. These ?maras? concentrate on extortion, violent street crime, car-jacking, narcotics and arms trafficking, and murder for hire. Extortion is a common crime in El Salvador. U.S. citizens who visit El Salvador for extended periods are at higher risk for extortion demands.
Do not purchase counterfeit and pirated goods, even if they are widely available. Not only are counterfeit goods subject to seizure upon entry in the United States, but if you purchase them, you may also be exposed to legal liability in El Salvador.
VICTIMS OF CRIME: If you or someone you know becomes a victim of crime, report it to the local police by calling 911 and to the U.S. Embassy. Local authorities are responsible for investigating and prosecuting the crime.
The U.S. Embassy can:
- Replace a stolen or lost passport
- Help you find appropriate medical care
- Guide you on how to report a crime to police
- Contact relatives or friends with your written consent
- Explain the local criminal justice process in general terms
- Provide a list of local attorneys
- Provide information on victim?s compensation programs in the U.S.
- Provide an emergency loan for repatriation to the United States and/or limited medical support in cases of destitution
- Help you find accommodation and arrange flights home
Domestic Violence: U.S. citizen victims of domestic violence may contact the U.S. Embassy for assistance. If you are in immediate danger, call 911.
Tourism: The tourism industry is unevenly regulated, and safety inspections for equipment and facilities do not commonly occur. Hazardous areas/activities are not always identified with appropriate signage, and staff may not be trained or certified either by the host government or by recognized authorities in the field. In the event of an injury, appropriate medical treatment is typically available only in/near major cities. First responders are generally unable to access areas outside of major cities and to provide urgent medical treatment. U.S. citizens are encouraged to purchase medical evacuation insurance. See our webpage for more information on insurance providers for overseas coverage.
Entry exit Requirementsh
You need a passport and either a Salvadoran visa or a one-entry tourist card to enter El Salvador.
- You may obtain a tourist card when you arrive at the airport or seaport from immigration officials for a $12 fee. The card is valid for 90 days.
- If you plan to remain in El Salvador for more than 90 days, you must apply in advance for a multiple-entry visa, issued free of charge, from the Embassy of El Salvador in Washington, D.C. or from one of the 18 Salvadoran consulates in the United States.
In June 2006, El Salvador entered into the ?Central America-4 (CA-4) Border Control Agreement? with Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua. Under that agreement, U.S. citizens who legally enter any of those four countries may travel freely among the other three countries for up to 90 days.
If you wish to remain in the CA-4 region for more than 90 days, you must request a one-time extension from local immigration authorities in the country where you are present. If you are, ?expelled? from one of the four countries, you are expelled from the entire CA-4 region.
Minors: A U.S. citizen minor present in El Salvador for more than one year is considered a resident of El Salvador. To depart El Salvador, a minor resident needs written consent from any parent listed on the child birth certificate that is not traveling with the minor. The consent form must be notarized by a Salvadoran notary. The process to obtain parental travel consent that is accepted by Salvadoran immigration can be lengthy. Plan ahead if you intend to have your minor child travel without both parents.
HIV/AIDS Restrictions: The U.S. Department of State is unaware of any specific HIV/AIDS entry restrictions or regulations for visitors or for foreign residents of El Salvador. Antiretroviral medication with a prescription can be imported for personal use and for the duration of stay.
Customs: For information about customs regulations, please read our Customs Information page.
Volunteers, Mission Groups, and Non-Profits: Groups bringing donated supplies, equipment, or medicine may experience difficulties with customs. To avoid potential problems, clear all donated material with the appropriate Salvadoran government office before arriving in El Salvador. To import donated medicines: Contact the Direccion Nacional de Medicamentos (National Directorate of Medications) via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
See the Department of State?s Fact Sheet on El Salvador for information on U.S. – El Salvador Relations.