Republic of El Salvador
Travel Warnings: Issued when Protracted situations make a country dangerous or unstable. Defer or reconsider travel.
Travel Alerts: Issued when short-term conditions pose imminent threats. Defer or reconsider travel.
Embassy Messages: Issued when local security issues arise.
Passport must be valid at time of entry
No, a visa is not required. But you must purchase a tourist card for 10 USD upon arrival. If your U.S. passport shows you were born in El Salvador, you do not need the tourist card.
Currency in excess of USD$10,000 must be declared
Currency in excess of USD$10,000 must be declared
You need a passport and either a Salvadoran visa or a one-entry tourist card to enter El Salvador.
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 longer, 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 180 days is considered a resident of El Salvador. To depart El Salvador, a minor resident needs written consent from any parent not traveling. 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, and medicine may experience difficulties with customs. To avoid potential problems, clear all donated material with the appropriate office before arriving in El Salvador.
The crime threat level in El Salvador is critical and the Travel Warning 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.
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. Even peaceful demonstrations may turn violent. Follow local news media reports or contact the U.S. Embassy for up-to-date information.
Swimming: Strong undertows and currents make swimming at El Salvador's Pacific Coast beaches extremely dangerous even for experienced swimmers. Since 2008, 16 U.S. citizens have drowned while swimming in Salvadoran waters. Lifeguards are not always 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.
Crime: El Salvador has one of the highest homicide levels in the world and crimes such as extortion, assault and robbery are common. Since January 2010, 41 U.S. citizens have been murdered in El Salvador. During the same time period, 525 U.S. citizens reported having their passports stolen, while others were victims of violent crimes.
Typical crimes in El Salvador include extortion, mugging, highway assault, home invasion, and car theft. Assaults against police officers are on the rise. 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.
Exercise caution at all times and practice good personal security procedures throughout your stay.
Armed holdups of vehicles traveling on El Salvador's roads are common.
Armed robberies of climbers and hikers in El Salvador’s national parks are common. We strongly recommends that you 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. 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 7 of the 41 murders of U.S. citizens since January 2010 have resulted in convictions. The Government of El Salvador lacks sufficient resources to properly investigate and prosecute cases and to deter violent crime.
El Salvador, a country of roughly six million people, 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 very serious and 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 illegal in the United States -- if you purchase them, you may also be breaking local law.
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.
Domestic Violence: U.S. citizen victims of domestic violence may contact the Embassy for assistance. If you are in immediate danger, call 911.
To stay connected:
Private and public hospitals do not meet U.S. commonly-accepted standards. 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). They do not bill U.S. insurance companies.
The Department of State does not pay medical bills. Be aware that 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.
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:
Criminal Penalties: While in El Salvador, you are subject to local law. 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, even unknowingly, 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 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 Embassy cannot intervene on your behalf.
Disaster Preparedness: Preparation for natural disasters is essential in El Salvador, which has six active volcanoes, 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 2015. 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. However, the government 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.
TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS:
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. Mini-buses, regular buses, and taxis are poorly maintained. Drivers are frequently unlicensed and generally do not adhere to traffic rules and regulations.
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 that the driver of a vehicle that injures or kills another person must be arrested and detained until a judge can determine responsibility.
You may drive with a U.S. driver’s license for up to 30 days. After that time, you must obtain a Salvadoran license.
Public Transportation: Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information. 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.