Travel.State.Gov > Intercountry Adoption > Country Information > El Salvador Intercountry Adoption Information
Last Update: Reissued after periodic review with updates to the crime risk indicator.
Reconsider travel to El Salvador due to crime.
Country Summary: In March 2022, the Government of El Salvador (GOES) declared a “State of Exception” in response to an increase in homicides. The declaration remains in effect. The State of Exception grants authorities power to arrest anyone suspected of gang activity and suspends several constitutional rights, including the normal protections of criminal procedure such as the right to a speedy trial. Prison conditions are harsh. Several U.S. and other foreign citizens have been detained under the State of Exception, some in a reportedly arbitrary manner. Under its Territorial Control Plan, the GOES also may, without prior warning, restrict access via checkpoints to areas suspected of gang activity. U.S. citizens are advised that access to and freedom of movement within these areas may be limited.
Though there has been a significant reduction in gang-related activity, violent crime remains a concern throughout significant portions of the country. Crime rates vary among departamentos (states) and municipios (municipalities), and areas witnessing higher crime rates are often located in close proximity to lower crime areas or must be crossed in moving between lower risk areas. Local authorities may lack the resources to respond effectively to serious criminal incidents, although the concentration of resources in resort areas means these areas tend to be better policed than urban areas.
Read the country information page for additional information on travel to El Salvador.
If you decide to travel to El Salvador:
Please see our section on Adoptions from the United States for more information on the process for adopting a child from the United States. We urge prospective adoptive parents residing abroad who are considering adoption of a child from the United States to consult with the El Salvador’s Central Authority, Oficina Para Adopciones, for its determination as to whether it considers your adoption to be subject to the Convention.
El Salvador is a party to the Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption (Hague Adoption Convention or Convention). Intercountry adoption processing in Convention countries must be done in accordance with the requirements of the Hague Adoption Convention; the U.S. implementing legislation, the Intercountry Adoption Act of 2000 (IAA); and the IAA’s implementing regulations; as well as the implementing legislation and regulations of El Salvador.
To bring an adopted child to the United States from El Salvador you must meet certain suitability and eligibility requirements. USCIS determines who is suitable and eligible to adopt a child from another country and bring that child to live in the United States under U.S. immigration law.
Additionally, a child must meet the definition of a Convention adoptee under U.S. immigration law in order to be eligible to immigrate to the United States with an IH-3 or IH-4 immigrant visa.
In addition to being found suitable and eligible to adopt by USCIS, prospective adoptive parents seeking to adopt a child from El Salvador must meet the following requirements imposed by El Salvador:
Because El Salvador is party to the Hague Adoption Convention, children from El Salvador must meet the requirements of the Convention in order to be eligible for intercountry adoption. For example, the adoption may take place only if the competent authorities of El Salvador have determined that placement of the child within El Salvador has been given due consideration and that an intercountry adoption is in the child’s best interests.
In addition to qualifying as a Convention adoptee under U.S. immigration law, the child must also meet the following requirements imposed by El Salvador:
Caution: Prospective adoptive parents should be aware that not all children in orphanages or children’s homes are eligible for adoption. In many countries, birth parents place their child(ren) temporarily in an orphanage or children’s home due to financial or other hardship, intending that the child return home when possible. In such cases, the birth parent(s) have not relinquished their parental rights or consented to the adoption of their child(ren).
Warning: Do not adopt or obtain legal custody of a child in El Salvador before: 1) USCIS has approved your Form I-800A, Application for Determination of Suitability to Adopt a Child from a Convention Country, 2) the Central Authority of El Salvador has determined the child is available for intercountry adoption, 3) USCIS has provisionally approved your Form I-800, Petition to Classify Convention Adoptee as an Immediate Relative, and 4) a U.S. consular officer has issued an “Article 5/17 Letter” in the case. Read on for more information.
El Salvador’s Central Adoption Authority
El Salvador has officially designated the Procuraduria General de la Republica (PGR or National Public Defender’s Office) as its Central Adoption Authority. The Oficina Para Adopciones (Office of Adoptions, or OPA) is the office within the PGR that coordinates and oversees and local adoptions in El Salvador. Other Salvadoran governmental bodies are also involved in the adoption process. These include the Family Courts, the National Council for Children and Adolescents (CONNA) and the Salvadoran Institute for the Development of Children and Adolescents (ISNA).
Because El Salvador is party to the Hague Adoption Convention, adoptions from El Salvador must follow a specific process designed to meet the Convention’s requirements. A brief summary of the Convention adoption process is provided below. You must complete these steps in the following order to meet all necessary legal requirements. Adoptions completed out of order may cause significant delays or result in the child not being eligible for an immigrant visa to the United States.
1. Choose a U.S. Accredited or Approved Adoption Service Provider to Act as Your Primary Provider that has been authorized by El Salvador’s Central Authority to operate in El Salvador.
The first step in adopting a child from El Salvador is to select an adoption service provider in the United States that has been accredited or approved to provide intercountry adoption services to U.S. citizens and that has been authorized by El Salvador’s Central Authority to operate in El Salvador. A primary provider must be identified in each Convention case and only accredited or approved adoption service providers may act as the primary provider in your case. Unless a public domestic authority is providing all adoption services in your case, a primary provider is required in every intercountry adoption case. Your primary provider is responsible for:
For more information on primary providers and the UAA, please see Universal Accreditation Act of 2012. Learn more about Agency Accreditation.
2. Apply to USCIS to be Found Suitable and Eligible to Adopt
In order to adopt a child from El Salvador, you will need to meet the requirements of the Government of El Salvador and U.S. immigration law.
After you choose an accredited or approved adoption service provider, you must be found suitable and eligible to adopt by USCIS by submitting Form I-800A, Application for Determination of Suitability to Adopt a Child from a Convention Country. You will need to submit a home study, provide biometrics, and cooperate in a background check as part of this application. Read more about Suitability and Eligibility Requirements. Unless an exception applies, the home study must be prepared by a person who is authorized under 22 CFR 96 to prepare home studies and must comply with the requirements in 8 CFR 204.311.
3. Apply to El Salvador’s Authorities to Adopt, and be Matched with a Child
Submit Your Dossier to the Central Authority
After USCIS determines that you are suitable and eligible to adopt and approves the Form I-800A application, your adoption service provider will provide your approval notice, home study, and any other required information to the adoption authority in El Salvador as part of your adoption application. El Salvador’s adoption authority will review your application to determine whether you are also suitable and eligible to adopt under El Salvador’s law.
Receive a Referral for a Child from the Central Authority
If both the United States and El Salvador determine that you are suitable and eligible to adopt, and El Salvador’s Central Authority for Convention adoptions has determined that a child is eligible for adoption and that intercountry adoption is in that child’s best interests, the Central Authority for Convention adoptions in El Salvador may provide you with a referral. The referral is a proposed match between you and a specific child based on a review of your dossier and the needs of the child. The adoption authority in El Salvador will provide a background study and other information, if available, about the child to help you decide whether to accept the referral. We encourage families to consider consulting with a medical professional and their adoption service provider to understand the needs of the specific child but you must decide for yourself whether you will be able to meet the needs of, and provide a permanent home for a specific child. You must also adhere to the recommendations in the home study submitted to USCIS with respect to the number of children and capacity to deal with any special needs of an adoptive child. Learn more about Health Considerations. If you accept the referral, the adoption service provider communicates that to the Central Authority in El Salvador. Learn more about this critical decision.
The adoption of children with special needs is a top priority for the Salvadoran Central Authority. Prospective adoptive parents must pass a suitability review to ensure they are able to care for a child with special needs.
Also, the Salvadoran Central Authority makes an effort to keep biological siblings together whenever possible. If the children are abandoned in different municipalities, however, biological siblings may be adopted by different families without the Central Authority’s knowledge.
4. Apply to USCIS for the Child to be Found Provisionally Eligible for Immigration to the United States as a Convention Adoptee and Receive U.S. Agreement to Proceed with the Adoption
Submit a Petition for a Determination on the Child’s Immigration Eligibility
After you accept being matched with a particular child, you will apply to USCIS for provisional approval for the child to immigrate to the United States by filing the Form I-800, Petition to Classify Convention Adoptee as an Immediate Relative. USCIS will make a provisional determination as to whether the child appears to meet the definition of a Convention adoptee and will likely be eligible to be admitted to the United States.
Submit an Immigrant Visa Application
After provisional approval of Form I-800 petition, you or your adoption service provider will submit a visa application to the consular section of the U.S. Embassy in San Salvador responsible for issuing immigrant visas to children from El Salvador.
You should receive a letter from the National Visa Center (NVC) confirming receipt of the provisionally approved Form I-800 petition and assigning a case number and an invoice ID number. Use this information to log into the Consular Electronic Application Center (CEAC) to file the Electronic Immigrant Visa Application (DS-260) for your child. An adoptive parent should fill out these forms in your child's name. Answer every item on the form. If information is not applicable, please write “N/A” in the block. Please review the DS-260 FAQs, our Online Immigrant Visa Forms page, or contact the NVC at NVCAdoptions@state.gov or +1-603-334-0700 if you have questions about completing the online DS-260 form. A consular officer will review the provisionally approved Form I-800 petition and the visa application and, if applicable, advises you of options for the waiver of any ineligibilities related to the visa application.
The consular officer will send a letter (referred to as an “Article 5 Letter”) to El Salvador’s Central Authority in any intercountry adoption involving U.S. citizen parents and a child from El Salvador if all Convention requirements are met and the child appears eligible to immigrate to the United States. This letter will inform El Salvador’s Central Authority that the parents are suitable and eligible to adopt, that the child appears eligible to enter and reside permanently in the United States, and that the U.S. Central Authority agrees that the adoption may proceed.
Warning: Do not attempt to adopt of a child in El Salvador before you receive provisional approval of your Form I-800 petition AND a U.S. consular officer issues the “Article 5 Letter” for your adoption case.
Remember: The consular officer will make a final decision about a child’s eligibility for an immigrant visa later in the adoption process.
5. Adopt the Child in El Salvador
Remember: Before you adopt a child in El Salvador, you must have completed the above four steps. Only after completing these steps can you proceed to finalize the adoption
The process for finalizing the adoption in El Salvador generally includes the following:
Unless a public domestic authority is providing all adoption services in your case, there must be a U.S. accredited or approved adoption service provider acting as the primary provider in every case. Also, any agency or person providing an adoption service on behalf of prospective adoptive parents in any Convention or non-Convention intercountry adoption case must be accredited or approved, or be a supervised or exempted provider. Adoption service means any one of the following six services:
It should be noted that once the adoption has been completed, the parents must pay for the new birth certificate, varying between $3.50 and $5.00. Also, they must pay the value of the new Salvadoran passport ($25.00). Finally, parents must pay the costs of the U.S. immigrant visa ($325.00) and visa medical exams ($500.00)
We encourage prospective adoptive parents to obtain detailed receipts for all fees and donations paid, either by them directly or through your U.S. adoption service provider, and to raise any concerns regarding any payment that you believe may be contrary to the Convention, U.S. law, or the law of El Salvador, with your adoption service provider, and, when appropriate, through the Complaint Registry. Improper payments violate applicable law or create the appearance of buying a child, and could put all future adoptions in El Salvador at risk. The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, for instance, makes it unlawful to make payments to foreign government officials to assist in obtaining or retaining business. Further, the IAA makes certain actions relating to intercountry adoptions unlawful, and subject to civil and criminal penalties. These include offering, giving, soliciting, or accepting inducement by way of compensation intended to influence or affect the relinquishment of parental rights, parental consent relating to adoption of a child, or a decision by an entity performing functions as a competent central authority, or to engage another person as an agent to take any such action.
In the adoption services contract that you sign at the beginning of the adoption process, your adoption service provider will itemize the fees and estimated expenses related to your adoption process.
Some of the fees specifically associated with adopting from El Salvador include:
The designated Salvadoran lawyer must present two files of all the documentation (one with originals, and the other with certified copies). Each of the U.S. documents listed here must be either authenticated at a Salvadoran Embassy, or a Salvadoran Consulate, or apostilled by the competent authority of the adopting parents’ country (see below). U.S. documents listed below must also be translated into Spanish by an individual appointed for that purpose by a Salvadoran notary public.
Additional documents required if the adoption is for a predetermined child.
Note: Additional documents may be requested.
Authentication of Documents:
The United States and El Salvador are parties to the Hague Apostille Convention. U.S. public documents may be authenticated with apostilles by the appropriate U.S. Competent Authority
6. Apply for a U.S. Immigrant Visa for Your Child and Bring Your Child Home
Once your adoption is complete, there are a few more steps to take before your child can head home. Specifically, you need to apply for three documents before your child can travel to the United States:
You will need to obtain a birth certificate for your child.
If you have finalized the adoption in El Salvador, you will first need to apply for a new birth certificate for your child.
Once the court issues a final adoption decree, municipal authorities will cancel the original birth certificate and issue a new birth certificate naming the adoptive parents as the child’s parents and showing the change to the child’s name. The new birth certificate becomes part of the record kept at city hall/the mayor’s office.
Birth certificates are issued by the Public Registry (Registro Civil) of the city or village where the adoptee lives. Requests should be addressed to "Alcaldia Municipal de Registro Civil (name of city or village)”. The average cost of obtaining a birth certificate is $3.50.
A new birth certificate of the child must be presented to OPA in order to carry out the post-adoptive follow-up.
El Salvador Passport
Your child is not yet a U.S. citizen, so he/she will need a travel document or passport from El Salvador.
Passports are issued by the Direccion General de Migracion y Extranjeria (DGME). Adoptive parents can apply for their child’s passport by submitting the final adoption decree and newly issued birth certificate at the most convenient DGME office. The cost for this service is $25. For office locations, please visit http://www.migracion.gob.sv/sucursales/
U.S. Immigrant Visa
After you obtain the new birth certificate and passport for your child you need to apply for a U.S. immigrant visa for your child from the U.S. Embassy in San Salvador. After the adoption is granted, visit the U.S Embassy for a final review of the case, and if applicable, the issuance of a U.S. Hague Adoption Certificate or Hague Custody Certificate, the final approval of the Form I-800 petition, and to obtain your child’s immigrant visa. This immigrant visa allows your child to travel home with you and be admitted to the United States as your child. Please contact the U.S. Embassy in San Salvador by email at email@example.com to receive instructions on how to proceed for your child’s immigrant visa appointment. As part of this process, you must provide the consular officer with the Panel Physician’s medical report on the child if you did not provide it during the Form I-800 provisional approval stage. Read more about the Medical Examination.
Before coming for your child’s immigrant visa interview, please complete an Electronic Immigrant Visa Application (DS-260) online at the Consular Electronic Application Center (CEAC). You should receive a letter from the National Visa Center (NVC) confirming receipt of the provisionally approved Form I-800 petition and assignment of a case number and an invoice ID number. You will need this information to log into CEAC to file the DS-260 for your child. You should fill out these forms in your child's name. Answer every item on the form. If information is not applicable, please write “N/A” in the block. Print and bring the DS-260 confirmation page to the visa interview. Review the DS-260 FAQs, our Online Immigrant Visa Forms page, or contact NVC at NVCAdoptions@state.gov or +1-603-334-0700 if you have questions about completing the online DS-260 form.
Upon receipt of the case at post, the Consular Section generally notifies the petitioner. Visa issuance after the final interview generally takes 24 hours. It is not usually possible to provide the visa to adoptive parents on the same day as the immigrant visa interview. You should verify current processing times with the U.S. Embassy in San Salvador before making final travel arrangements. Additional information on immigrant visa processing can be found on our website.
For adoptions finalized abroad prior to the child’s admission into the United States: An adopted child residing in the United States in the legal and physical custody of the U.S. citizen parent pursuant to a lawful admission for permanent residence generally will acquire U.S. citizenship automatically if the child otherwise meets the requirements of the Child Citizenship Act of 2000, including that the child is under the age of eighteen.
For adoptions finalized after the child’s admission into the United States: You will need to complete an adoption following your child’s admission into the United States and before the child turns eighteen for the child (if he or she otherwise meets the requirements of the Child Citizenship Act of 2000) to automatically acquire U.S. citizenship.
Read more about the Child Citizenship Act of 2000.
Applying for Your U.S. Passport
U.S. citizens are required to enter and depart the United States on a valid U.S. passport. Once your child acquires U.S. citizenship, s/he will need a U.S. passport for international travel. Only the U.S. Department of State has the authority to grant, issue, or verify U.S. passports.
Getting or renewing a passport is easy. The Department of State’s Passport Application Wizard will help you determine which passport form you need, help you to complete the form online, estimate your payment, and generate the form for you to print—all in one place.
Obtaining a Visa to Travel to El Salvador
In addition to a U.S. passport, you may also need to obtain a visa. Where required, visas are affixed to your passport and allow you to enter a foreign nation. To find information about obtaining a visa for El Salvador, see the Department of State’s Country Specific Information.
Staying Safe on Your Trip
Before you travel, it is always a good practice to investigate the local conditions, laws, political landscape, and culture of the country. The Department of State provides Country-Specific Information for every country in the world about various issues, including health conditions, crime, currency or entry requirements, and any areas of instability.
Staying in Touch on Your Trip
When traveling abroad during the adoption process, we encourage you to enroll with the Department of State through our Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to receive important information from the Embassy about safety conditions in your destination country. Enrollment makes it possible for the U.S. Embassy or Consulate in El Salvador, to contact you in an emergency, whether natural disaster, civil unrest, or family emergency. Whether there is a family emergency in the United States or a crisis in El Salvador, enrollment assists the U.S. Embassy or Consulate in reaching you.
Enrollment is free and can be done online via the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP).
El Salvador requires post-adoption reports. The Oficina Para Adopciones is required by law to follow up on the adoptee’s situation through the Central Authority or accredited body every four months for a period of three years after the adoption is finalized. We urge you to comply with El Salvador’s post-adoption/post-placement requirements in a timely manner. Your adoption service provider may be able to help you with this process. Your cooperation will contribute to El Salvador’s positive experiences with U.S. citizen adoptive parents.
Many adoptive parents find it important to find support after the adoption. There are many public and private nonprofit post-adoption services available for children and their families. There are also numerous adoptive family support groups and adoptee organizations active in the United States that provide a network of options for adoptees who seek out other adoptees from the same country of origin. You may wish to take advantage of all the resources available to your family, whether it is another adoptive family, a support group, an advocacy organization, or your religious or community services. Your primary provider can provide or point you to post- placement/post-adoption services to help your adopted child and your family transition smoothly and deal effectively with the many adjustments required in an intercountry adoption.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services maintains a website, the Child Welfare Information Gateway, which can be a useful resource to get you started on your support group search.
If you have concerns about your intercountry adoption process, we ask that you share this information with the Embassy in San Salvador, particularly if it involves possible fraud or misconduct specific to your child’s case. The Department of State takes all allegations of fraud or misconduct seriously. Our Adoption Comment Page provides several points of contact for adoptive families to comment on their adoption service provider, their experience applying for their child’s visa, or about the Form I-800/A petition process.
The Complaint Registry is an internet based registry for filing complaints about the compliance of U.S. accredited or approved adoption service providers with U.S. accreditation standards. If you think your provider's conduct may not have been in compliance with accreditation standards, first submit your complaint in writing directly to your provider. If the complaint is not resolved through the provider's complaint process, you may file the complaint through the Complaint Registry.
U.S. Embassy in El Salvador
Final Boulevard y Urb. Santa Elena
Antiguo Cuscatlán, La Libertad
Tel. (503) 2501-2999
Fax: (503) 2278-6020
El Salvador’s Adoption Authority
Procuraduría General de la República
9ª. Calle Poniente y 13 Ave. Norte, Torre PGR,
Centro de Gobierno
San Salvador, El Salvador
Tel: (503) 2231-9418 / (503)2231-9424
Embassy of El Salvador
1400 16th Street, Suite 100, N.W.
Washington, D.C, 20036
Tel: (202) 595-7500
Fax: (202) 232 3763
*El Salvador also has consulates in: Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Elizabeth (NJ), Houston, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Santa Ana (CA), Woodbridge (VA), Duluth (GA), Miami, New York, Long Island (NY), Nogales (AZ), San Francisco, and Washington, DC. Contact information for these consulates can be found at the web site listed above.
Office of Children’s Issues
U.S. Department of State
SA-17, 9th Floor
Washington, DC 20522-1709
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)
For questions about filing a Form I-800A application or a Form I-800 petition:
USCIS National Benefits Center (NBC):
Tel: 1-877-424-8374 (toll free); 1-913-275-5480 (local); Fax: 1- 913-214-5808
For general questions about immigration procedures:
USCIS Contact Center
Tel: 1-800-375-5283 (TTY 1-800-767-1833)
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