Travel.State.Gov > International Travel > Learn About Your Destination > El Salvador International Travel Information
You need a U.S. 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 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’s 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 after being present in El Salvador for more than one year.
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 Dirección Nacional de Medicamentos (National Directorate of Medications) via email at email@example.com
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.
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 a high level of homicides 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. Gangs have traditionally controlled a majority of the space in El Salvador, even if their presence is not visible to outsiders, and exist by extorting money from businesses, travelers, residents and others living in or passing through their territory. Non-compliance or resistance to gang demands often results in violence. This activity can occur even in wealthy and relatively peaceful areas. Home invasions and/or burglaries of residences during broad daylight occur in areas of San Salvador; in some cases, gangs simply expel residents from their homes and take over the property for criminal use. U.S. citizens who visit El Salvador for extended periods may be at higher risk for extortion demands.
El Salvador has tens of thousands of known gang members from several gangs including Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and 18th Street (M18). Gang members have been known to frequently engage in violence or use deadly force if resisted. The gangs, or “maras,” customarily have concentrated on extortion, violent street crime, carjacking, narcotics and arms trafficking, and murder for hire. Extortion is a common crime in El Salvador.
Many suspected gang members have been detained since March 27, 2022 under a State of Exception. Reported crimes have reduced since that time, but crime in El Salvador remains at critical levels.
U.S. Embassy personnel are advised to walk only in known, lit, well-secured locations. Criminals may be active even in popular parks with a security presence.
Exercise caution at all times and practice good personal security procedures throughout your stay.
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. Beware of hikes and guides in locations without an official guide service or police presence, regardless of advice found on the Internet.
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.
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:
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.
Watersports: Strong undertows and currents make swimming at El Salvador's Pacific Coast beaches extremely dangerous even for experienced swimmers. Government lifeguards are generally present at most public beaches but are not always present at private beaches. Follow all instructions of any lifeguard, and do not enter the water at any location at which red warning flags are displayed to signify dangerous conditions. In addition, El Salvador’s search and rescue capabilities are limited, and access to medical resources in beach areas is inadequate. Carefully assess the potential risks of recreational water activities and consider your physical capabilities and skills. Be aware that drinking alcohol and swimming can be a deadly combination.
State of Exception: In March 2022, the Government of El Salvador declared a 30-day “State of Exception” in response to an increase in homicides; the State of Exception has been extended several times since, and it continues today. The State of Exception suspended several constitutional rights, including the normal protections of criminal procedure such as the right to a speedy trial, among others. Several U.S. and other foreign citizens have been detained under the State of Exception, some in a reportedly arbitrary manner. The number of all detainees has increased significantly, and prison conditions are harsh.
Criminal Penalties: While in El Salvador, you are subject to local laws. Your U.S. passport will not 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. (Please note that any items containing THC, even certain CBD products that are legal and widely available in the United States, are illegal in El Salvador). 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 Travelers: See our travel tips for Women Travelers.
LGBTQI+ Travelers: There are no legal restrictions on same-sex sexual relations or the organization of LGBTQI+ 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 LGBTQI+ persons. For more detailed information about LGBTQI+ 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 (LGBTQI+) travel, please read our LGBTQI+ Travel Information page.
Travelers with Disabilities: 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.
For emergency services in El Salvador, dial 911.
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.
Ambulance services are:
not widely available and training and availability of emergency responders may be below U.S. standards
The Department of State does not pay medical bills. U.S. Medicare does not apply overseas. Most hospitals and doctors overseas do not accept U.S. health insurance.
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. Visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for more information on type of insurance you should consider before you travel overseas.
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.
You can find detailed information on vaccinations and other health precautions on the following websites:
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. The law requires all parties involved in a vehicle accident to stay at the scene and not move the vehicles involved until the police respond, and you should do so unless you reasonably suspect that remaining at the scene presents a danger. Leaving the scene could lead to future legal complications, but always maintain your personal safety. When police arrive, be prepared to share your name, address in the country, vehicle registration and insurance, and driver’s license information. Be aware there are legal consequences to admitting fault.
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.
Maritime Travel: Mariners planning travel to El Salvador should also check for U.S. maritime advisories and alerts. Information may also be posted to the U.S. Coast Guard homeport website, and the NGA broadcast warnings.