El SalvadorOfficial Name: Republic of El Salvador
Alerts & Warnings
Passport must be valid at time of entry
BLANK PASSPORT PAGES:
TOURIST VISA REQUIRED:
No, however you must purchase a tourist card upon arrival. You should also have proof of sufficient funds to cover your stay. If your U.S. passport shows you were born in El Salvador, then neither the tourist card nor proof of funds is required.
CURRENCY RESTRICTIONS FOR ENTRY:
Currency in excess of USD$10,000 must be declared
CURRENCY RESTRICTIONS FOR EXIT:
Currency in excess of USD$10,000 must be declared
Embassies and Consulates
Final Boulevard Santa Elena Sur,
Urbanizacion Santa Elena,
Antiguo Cuscatlan, La Libertad
San Salvador, El Salvador
Telephone: +(503) 2501-2999
Emergency After-Hours Telephone: +(503) 2501-2316 or
Fax: +(503) 2278-5522
El Salvador, officially the Republic of El Salvador, is the smallest and the most densely populated country in Central America. It is a democratic country with a developing economy; the official language is Spanish. El Salvador borders the Pacific Ocean on the south, and the countries of Guatemala to the west and Honduras to the north and east. Its easternmost region lies on the coast of the Gulf of Fonseca, opposite Nicaragua. The country's capital and largest city is San Salvador, accessible by El Salvador’s International Airport at Comalapa. Tourism facilities are not fully developed. The U.S. dollar has been the primary currency in El Salvador since 2001. U.S. citizens traveling with U.S. dollars should not exchange them for colones. Read the Department of State’s Fact Sheet on El Salvador for additional information on U.S. - El Salvador Relations.
Entry, Exit & Visa Requirements
To enter El Salvador by air or sea, U.S. citizens must present a current U.S. passport and either a Salvadoran visa or a one-entry tourist card. There is neither a requirement for the U.S. passport to be valid for a specific period of time nor for it to have a specific number of blank pages. The tourist card may be obtained from Salvadoran immigration officials for a USD$10.00 fee upon arrival in El Salvador at an airport or seaport. U.S. travelers who plan to remain in El Salvador for more than 30 days can 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 15 Salvadoran consulates in the United States:
- Tucson, AZ
- Los Angeles, CA
- San Francisco, CA
- Coral Gables, FL
- Woodstock, GA
- Chicago, IL
- Boston, MA
- Elizabeth, NJ
- Las Vegas, NV
- Long Island, NY
- New York City, NY
- Dallas, TX
- Houston, TX
- Woodbridge, VA
- Seattle, WA
Travelers may contact the Embassy of El Salvador at 1400 16th Street NW, Suite 100, Washington, D.C. 20036, telephone 202-595-7500, fax 202-232-3763, or visit the Embassy of El Salvador website for current visa information (Spanish language only).
When applying for a visa, travelers may be asked to present evidence of U.S. employment and adequate finances for their visit at the time of visa application or upon arrival in El Salvador. For passengers departing by air or sea, El Salvador has an exit tax, which is usually included in the price of the airline ticket.
In June 2006, El Salvador entered into the “Central America-4 (CA-4) Border Control Agreement” with Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua. Under the terms of the agreement, citizens of the four countries may travel freely across land borders from one of the countries to any of the others without completing entry and exit formalities at immigration checkpoints. U.S. citizens and other eligible foreign nationals, who legally enter any of the four countries, may similarly travel among the four without obtaining additional visas or tourist entry permits for the other three countries. Immigration officials at the first port of entry determine the length of stay, up to a maximum period of 90 days.
Foreign tourists who wish to remain in the four-country CA-4 region beyond the period initially granted for their visit must request a one-time extension of stay from local immigration authorities in the country where the traveler is physically present, or they must leave the CA-4 countries and reapply for admission to the region. Foreigners “expelled” from any of the four countries are excluded from the entire CA-4 region. In isolated cases, the lack of clarity in the implementing details of the CA-4 Border Control Agreement has caused temporary inconvenience to some travelers and has resulted in others being fined more than USD$100.00 or being detained in custody for 72 hours or longer for immigration violations.
Airlines operating out of El Salvador International Airport require all U.S. citizen passengers boarding flights for the United States (including U.S.-Salvadoran dual nationals) to have a current U.S. passport. Please be aware that you may not enter the United States using a Certificate of Naturalization or a Certificate of Citizenship. All U.S. citizens must possess a valid U.S. passport or other acceptable travel document to enter the United States. You may determine which documents are needed to enter the United States via land, sea, or air at the Department of Homeland Security web site.
We remind U.S. citizens applying for passports at the U.S. Embassy in San Salvador that proof of citizenship and identity are required before a passport can be issued. Photographic proof of identity is especially important for young children because of the high incidence of fraud involving children. Since non-emergency passports are printed in the United States, and not at the Embassy, citizens submitting applications in El Salvador should be prepared to wait approximately 10 business days for receipt of their new passports. The American Citizen Services Unit issues passports locally in emergency cases only. These passports have limited validity and cannot be extended. Please visit the Embassy’s website to schedule an appointment for passport services.
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 can be imported for personal use and for the duration of stay. HIV-infected people are not expelled, and being HIV-positive has no effect on residency status. However, even though Salvadoran immigration law does not specifically refer to HIV/AIDS, persons wishing to apply for residency must undergo a medical exam and be certified free of communicable diseases which may include testing for HIV/AIDS.
Customs: For information about customs regulations, please read our Customs Information page.
Volunteers, Mission Groups, and Non-Profits: Groups bringing donated supplies, equipment, and medicine may experience difficulties with customs. To avoid potential problems, all donated material should be cleared with the appropriate office well before traveling to El Salvador.
For medicines, please contact the Consejo Superior De Salud Publica (Superior Council for Public Health) via email at Superior Council for Public Health.
For all other donated goods, please contact the Secretaria de Inclusion Social (Secretariat of Social Inclusion) via email at Secretariat of Social Inclusion.
Safety and Security
While most travelers to El Salvador experience no safety or security problems, the criminal threat in El Salvador is critical and a Travel Warning for El Salvador is in place. See the section below on crime for additional information.
Political or economic issues in the country may give rise to demonstrations, sit-ins, or protests at any time or place, but these activities occur most frequently in the capital or on its main access roads. U.S. citizens are cautioned to avoid areas where demonstrations are being held and to follow local news media reports or contact the U.S. Embassy for up-to-date information. Under Salvadoran law, all foreigners who participate directly or indirectly in the internal political affairs of the country (e.g. political rallies, demonstrations, or protests) may lose the right to remain in El Salvador, regardless of their visa status or residency in El Salvador.
Strong undertows and currents can make swimming at El Salvador's Pacific Coast beaches extremely dangerous even for strong and experienced swimmers. Since 2008, 12 U.S. citizens have drowned while swimming in Salvadoran waters. Lifeguards are not present at beaches and lakes and access to medical resources in these areas is limited.
To stay connected:
- Enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) so we can keep you up to date with important safety and security announcements.
- Follow the Bureau of Consular Affairs on Twitter and Facebook.
- Bookmark the Bureau of Consular Affairs website, which contains the current Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts as well as the Worldwide Caution.
- Follow the U.S. Embassy in El Salvador on Twitter and Facebook and visit the Embassy’s website.
- In the event of an emergency, contact us at 888-407-4747 toll-free within the United States and Canada, or via a regular toll line, 202-501-4444, from other countries.
- Take some time before traveling to consider your personal security and check for some useful tips for traveling safely abroad.
CRIME: Tens of thousands of U.S. citizens safely visit El Salvador each year for study, tourism, business, and volunteer work. There is no information to suggest that U.S. citizens are specifically targeted by criminals; however, crime and violence are serious problems throughout the country. Although Salvadoran police statistics show a decrease in annual homicides for the last two years, the homicide rate has again been rising steadily since August 2013. From mid-February through April 2014, El Salvador has experienced an average of almost 10 people killed per day -- the highest homicide rate since 2011. Since January 2010, 31 U.S. citizens were murdered in El Salvador including a 9-year-old child in December 2013. During the same time period, 335 U.S. citizens reported having their passports stolen, while many others were victims of violent crimes.
Typical crimes in El Salvador include extortion, mugging, highway assault, home invasion, and car theft. Some victims unwittingly wander into gang-controlled territory and are killed, normally at night. Assaults against police officers have risen, and public shootouts are not uncommon. Home invasions and/or burglaries of residences during broad daylight have continued to be prevalent in affluent residential neighborhoods in San Salvador. Some of these home invasions occur when individuals posing as deliverymen or as police officers gain access to a home. Armed robberies of climbers and hikers in El Salvador’s national parks are regular occurrences, and the Embassy strongly recommends engaging the services of a local guide certified by the national or local tourist authority when hiking in back-country areas -- even within the national parks. In 2000, the National Civilian Police (PNC) established a special tourist police force (POLITUR) to provide security and assistance to tourists. It has officers located in 19 tourist destinations.
A majority of serious crimes in El Salvador are never solved; only 6 of the 31 murders of U.S. citizens since January 2010 have resulted in convictions. El Salvador’s current conviction rate for all crimes is five percent. The Government of El Salvador lacks sufficient resources to properly investigate and prosecute cases and to deter violent crime. While several of the PNC’s investigative units have shown great promise, routine street level patrol techniques, anti-gang, and crime suppression efforts are limited. Equipment shortages (particularly radios, vehicles, and fuel) further limit their ability to deter or respond to crimes effectively.
El Salvador, a country of roughly 6 million people, has, according to Government of El Salvador statistics, thousands of known gang members from several gangs including Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and Eighteenth Street (M18), and gang members are quick to engage in violence or use deadly force if resisted. These “maras” concentrate on narcotics and arms trafficking, murder for hire, car-jacking, extortion, and violent street crime. In 2013, the number of people reported as missing in El Salvador increased by 93 percent. A significant number of disappearances are believed by authorities to be related to gang activity, since many of the missing are in gangs or are friends or family members of gang members. Police sources claim that the families of gang members often face the same risks of being killed or disappearing as the gang members themselves.
Extortion is a particularly serious and very common crime in El Salvador. Some extortion attempts are no more than random cold calls that originate from imprisoned gang members using cellular telephones, and the subsequent threats against the victim are made through social engineering and/or through information obtained about the victim’s family. U.S. citizens who are visiting El Salvador for extended periods are at higher risk for extortion demands. Hitting its peak a few years ago, extortion rates have dropped in the last two years. However, recent reports show that there is an increase in the level of violence associated with extortion cases. Many extortions are not reported by victims for fear of reprisal and lack of faith in the ability of the government to protect the victims.
Travelers should remain in groups and avoid remote or isolated locations in order to minimize their vulnerability. Travelers should also avoid displaying or carrying valuables in public places. Passports and other important documents should not be left in private vehicles. U.S. Embassy security officials advise all U.S. Government personnel not to walk, run, or cycle in the unguarded streets and parks of El Salvador, even in groups, and recommend exercising only in gyms and fitness centers. Criminals often become violent quickly, especially when victims fail to cooperate immediately in surrendering valuables. Frequently, victims who argue with assailants or refuse to give up their valuables are shot. U.S. citizens in El Salvador should exercise caution at all times and practice good personal security procedures throughout their stay.
Armed holdups of vehicles traveling on El Salvador's roads are common, and we encourage U.S. citizens to remain aware of their surroundings. The U.S. Embassy warns its personnel to drive with their 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. Armed assaults and carjackings take place both in San Salvador and in the interior of the country, but are especially frequent on roads outside the capital where police patrols are scarce. Criminals have been known to 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, even in the capital.
Travel on public transportation, especially buses, both within and outside the capital, is risky and not recommended. The Embassy advises official visitors and personnel to avoid using mini-buses and regular buses and to use only radio-dispatched taxis or those stationed in front of major hotels.
U.S.citizens using banking services should be vigilant while conducting their financial exchanges either inside local banks or at automated teller machines (ATMs). Recently, there have been more cases reported in which criminals observe and follow customers making withdrawals at ATMs and banks, and then rob them on the road or at a residence. U.S. citizens have also been victimized at well-known restaurants, hotels, and retailers within San Salvador. The Embassy has also noticed a recent trend in credit card cloning and similar fraud. Credit card fraud can be difficult to recover from and can adversely affect your credit score and financial health. Using a credit card is safer than using an ATM card or Debit card to pay. With ATM or Debit cards, the money is transferred out of the account at the very moment of the transaction, and it is usually not recoverable or contestable.
For your security, we recommend the following to avoid becoming a victim of credit card fraud: notify the card issuer of your travel plans, check your statements frequently, limit the number of credit cards you have and/or carry with you, limit the locations that you regularly use your card(s), maintain direct visual contact with their credit cards at all times, and shred all receipts. If you become a victim of credit card fraud, contact your bank’s fraud hotline and cancel your card immediately. They will ask you for information and will usually then send you an affidavit to sign, affirming you did not make the charges.
U.S. citizens are advised not to purchase counterfeit and pirated goods, even if they are widely available. Not only are counterfeit goods illegal in the United States, if you purchase them, you may also be breaking the local law.
VICTIMS OF CRIME: If you, or someone you know, become the victim of a crime abroad, you should contact the local police and the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. We can:
- Replace a stolen passport.
- Help you find appropriate medical care if you are the victim of violent crimes such as assault or rape.
- Put you in contact with the appropriate police authorities, and if you want us to, we can contact family members or friends.
- Help you understand the local criminal justice process and direct you to local attorneys; although, it is important to remember that local authorities are responsible for investigating and prosecuting the crime.
Victims of crime should bear in mind that law enforcement resources are limited and judicial processes are uneven in El Salvador. Most crimes in the country (including murder) go unsolved, and the likelihood for redress through the judicial system is limited. As a result, only a small percentage of cases result in conviction.
The local equivalent to the “911” emergency line in El Salvador is also 911.
Please see our information on victims of crime, including possible victim compensation programs in the United States.
Local Laws & Special Circumstances
CRIMINAL PENALTIES: While you are traveling in El Salvador, you are subject to its laws, and your activities are governed by Salvadoran law and the type of visa you are issued. Foreign laws and legal systems can be vastly different from our own. Persons violating Salvadoran laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested, or imprisoned. Penalties for possessing, using, or trafficking in illegal drugs in El Salvador are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines. If you break local laws in El Salvador, your U.S. passport won’t help you avoid arrest or prosecution.
There are also some things that might be legal in the country you visit, but are still illegal in the United States, and you can be prosecuted under U.S. law. For example, buying pirated goods, engaging in sexual conduct with children, or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime prosecutable in the United States.
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.
While some countries automatically notify the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate if a U.S. citizen is detained or arrested in that country, others may not. To ensure that the United States is aware of your circumstances, request that police and prison officials notify the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate as soon as you are arrested or detained overseas.
Guns: El Salvador has strict laws requiring a locally obtained license to possess or carry a firearm in the country. The Embassy strongly advises persons without a Salvadoran firearms license not to bring guns into the country or use a firearm while in El Salvador. The Embassy cannot intervene in the judicial process when a U.S. citizen is charged with a firearms or any other type of violation. Convictions for possessing an unlicensed firearm can carry a prison sentence of three to five years.
SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES: We are not aware of any special currency or customs circumstances for this country.
If you are a woman traveling abroad, please review our travel tips for Women Travelers.
Disaster Preparedness: Preparation for natural disasters is essential in El Salvador, which has significant seismic activity, seven active volcanoes, a coastline vulnerable to hurricanes and tsunamis, and a rainy season that can produce severe flooding and mudslides.
Over the years, heavy rain has caused severe flooding and triggered landslides that critically damaged roads, bridges, and houses, killing scores of people, leaving thousands more homeless, and destroying crops and towns.
Close to 2,000 tremors affect El Salvador every year. Seismic tremors measuring over 5.0 on the Richter scale occur on a regular basis. These tremors usually cause little damage, but major earthquakes have killed thousands of people and destroyed hundreds of thousands of homes in recent years.
In December 2013, the Chaparrastique volcano in eastern El Salvador erupted spewing ash and smoke into the sky. More than 2,000 people, who were within 3 kilometers of the crater of the volcano, were evacuated to emergency shelters.
General information about natural disaster preparedness is available from the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Additional information in Spanish about earthquakes (sismos) and other natural disasters in El Salvador can be found on the Government of El Salvador’s web page.
LGBT RIGHTS: There are no legal restrictions on same-sex sexual relations or the organization of LGBT events in El Salvador. However, there is widespread official and societal 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 sexual minorities. For more detailed information about LGBT rights in El Salvador, you may review the State Department’s Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2013. For further information on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) travel, please read our LGBT Travel Information page.
ACCESSIBILITY: While in El Salvador, individuals with disabilities may find accessibility and accommodation very different from what you find in the United States. The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical and mental disabilities in employment, education, access to health care, or the provision of other state services. According to the National Council for Comprehensive Attention to Persons with Disability (CONAIPD), the government does not allocate sufficient resources to enforce these prohibitions effectively, particularly in education, employment, and transportation, and does not effectively enforce legal requirements for access to buildings, information, and communications for persons with disabilities. There are almost no access ramps or provisions for the mobility of persons with sight and hearing disabilities.
There are few private and no public hospitals that meet commonly-accepted standards in the U.S. The 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, for hospitals, credit card) for all bills as there are no hospitals or medical offices who will bill U.S. insurance companies.
Priority Ambulance (503-2264-7911) is the only private ambulance service with a fleet of vehicles in San Salvador that has trained personnel and medical equipment to manage emergencies. The response time is often less than ideal because of the heavy traffic in San Salvador. Therefore, whenever possible, people should transport themselves directly to the hospital by private vehicle.
Pharmacies are plentiful, but not all medicines found in the United States are available in El Salvador. Medicines often have a different brand name and are frequently more expensive than in the United States. Recent regulatory changes that established price limits for all pharmaceuticals sold in El Salvador may affect quality and availability of certain medicines. We recommend that U.S. citizens traveling to El Salvador carry an adequate supply of any medication they require in its original container, which should be clearly labeled. A copy of the prescription from your doctor will be helpful in the event that immigration or customs authorities question you about your medications.
No specific vaccinations are required for entry into El Salvador from the United States. 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 web site.
You can find detailed information on vaccinations and other health precautions on the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) website. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad, consult the World Health Organization (WHO) website, which contains additional health information for travelers, including detailed country-specific health information.
There has been an increase in cases of Dengue fever, a mosquito-borne viral disease. After several weeks of monitoring the suspected and confirmed Dengue cases, the Ministries of Health and Civil Protection have recognized that the country may be suffering an epidemic outbreak. In March 2014, the Salvadoran Ministry of Health stated that there were 88% more cases this year than at the same date in 2013 (1,617 positive tests - 759 more than in 2013). For further information, please consult the CDC’s information on Dengue.
Tuberculosis is an increasingly serious health concern in El Salvador. For further information, please consult the CDC’s information on Tuberculosis.
Tap water is not safe to drink in El Salvador, and the Embassy advises official visitors and personnel to use either bottled water or to disinfect tap water using the guidelines suggested at the CDC website.
Travel & Transportation
TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS: While in El Salvador, you may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning El Salvador is provided for general reference only, and may not be very accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
Major highways and thoroughfares 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. Road travel at night is particularly dangerous outside the capital as there are few road lights and many vehicles lack adequate safety lighting or reflectors. The Embassy advises against driving outside the capital during nighttime or periods of low visibility. Mini-buses, regular buses, and taxis are often poorly maintained. Drivers are frequently untrained and unlicensed, and generally do not adhere to traffic rules and regulations.
Because of inconsistent enforcement of traffic laws in El Salvador, drivers must make an extraordinary effort to drive defensively. Passing on blind corners or across several lanes of traffic is commonplace. Two lane traffic circles are common in El Salvador and can be especially dangerous to navigate as it is generally understood that the traffic in the inside lane has right of way.
The law in El Salvador requires all parties involved in a vehicle accident to stay at the scene until the police respond; however, it is not unusual in minor traffic accidents for both parties to simply drive away especially if one or both drivers are uninsured. Hit and run accidents are common. Salvadoran law requires that the driver of a vehicle that injures or kills another person must be arrested and detained until a judge can determine responsibility for the accident. This law is uniformly enforced.
Visitors to El Salvador may drive with a U.S. driver’s license for up to 30 days. After that time, a visitor is required to obtain a Salvadoran license.
Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information. Also, we suggest that you visit the web site 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.
Assistance for U.S. Citizens
U.S. Embassy San Salvador
Final Blvd Santa Elena Sur,
Urbanizacion Santa Elena, Antiguo Cuscatlan,
San Salvador, El Salvador