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El Salvador

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Summary

  • Exercise a high degree of caution in El Salvador because of very high levels of violent crime. Pay close attention to your personal security at all times. Monitor the media for information about possible new safety or security risks.
  • Gang violence and other violent crime is common, including in the capital San Salvador. Firearms are often used. See Safety and security

  • The mosquito-borne disease Chikungunya is endemic. Dengue fever and other insect-borne illnesses are also a risk. See Health

  • Road travel is dangerous. Avoid driving at night. Avoid public transport. See Local travel

Entry and exit

Every country or territory decides who can enter or exit through its borders. The Australian Government cannot intervene on your behalf if you do not meet your destination's entry or exit requirements.

Visas

You need a visa to enter El Salvador.

Under the Central American Border Control Agreement (CA-4), you can travel freely between El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua and Guatemala for tourism for up to 90 days once per year by buying a tourist card when you first enter one of these countries. The 'tourist card' includes a CA-4 visa.

You can request an extension of your CA-4 visa prior to its expiry by contacting the local immigration authorities (Centro de Gobierno, San Salvador, Tel: (503)2221 2111).

If you stay more than 90 days without permission, you may face fines and have to leave. Visitors expelled from one country may be refused entry to the others.

If your visit isn't for tourism or you plan to stay longer than permitted under the CA-4 visa conditions, you'll need to get a visa before you go. Visa and other entry and exit conditions (such as currency, customs and quarantine regulations) can change at short notice. Contact an Embassy or Consulate of El Salvador for up-to-date information.

If you're travelling through the United States (US), or transiting Honolulu or another US point of entry, you must meet US entry/transit requirements. Check your visa requirements with a US Embassy or Consulate well in advance of travel. More information: United States of America.

If you fly via Canada, you'll need an eTA (electronic Travel Authorisation) for Canada.

More information:

Other formalities

You'll need a valid Yellow Fever Vaccination Certificate if you're arriving from a country or area where yellow fever is widespread. More information: Yellow fever risk and certification requirements (by country, WHO)

All medication must be transported in their original container and have a clear label. Prescription and controlled medications must be accompanied by a prescription from your doctor, stating the medication's generic name. More information: Embassy or Consulate of El Salvador

If you are travelling with children you may need to show evidence of parental, custodial or access rights. Children travelling on Salvadoran passports and who are travelling alone, with one parent or a third party must have the written permission of the absent parent(s) or legal guardian to depart. A Salvadoran notary must notarise these documents.

There's an airport tax on exit. It's sometimes included in the cost of the airline ticket.

Borders

Some land border crossing points between El Salvador and neighbouring countries close at 6pm.

Passport

Check the expiry date of your passport before you travel. Some countries won’t let you enter unless your passport is valid for six months from when you plan to leave that country.

Your passport is a valuable document and attractive to criminals who may try to use your identity to commit crimes. Always keep it in a safe place.

Be aware of attempts to obtain access to your passport by deception. If you're forced to hand over your passport, contact the nearest Australian Embassy, High Commission or Consulate for advice.

If your passport is lost or stolen, you must notify the Australian Government as soon as possible.

Make sure your passport is stamped on entry to El Salvador.

Money and valuables

The US dollar is the official currency. Other major currencies can't be exchanged.

Credit cards aren't widely accepted outside major centres. ATMs aren't reliable. For security reasons, only change money and use ATMs in controlled areas such as banks, hotels or shopping malls. See Safety and security

Safety and security

Crime

Violent crime, including murder, armed robbery, banditry, assault, extortion, kidnapping, sexual assault and carjacking, is common and widespread, including in the capital San Salvador. Crime often involves firearms and violent street gangs. El Salvador has one of the highest murder rates in the world. Incidents of violent crime increase at night.

You could be affected by gang-related crime throughout El Salvador. In recent years, gangs have:

  • killed many police officers
  • killed several public transport workers
  • attacked bus drivers and passengers
  • placed car bombs in vehicles
  • attacked public transport with fire bombs
  • launched grenades in markets, restaurants, businesses, police stations, on buses and near hotels
  • killed and injured innocent bystanders to their attacks.

Criminals on motorcycles commit robberies and 'express kidnappings', in which victims are taken to an ATM and forced to withdraw large amounts of money. Victims are generally selected on the basis of perceived wealth. If you use an ATM on the street, you're at high risk of robbery. 

Pickpocketing, bag snatching and other petty crime is common, especially at bus stations, airports, tourist areas and on public transport.

Travelling on roads outside of San Salvador is dangerous, particularly at night. Criminals stop and rob people travelling on roads and highways, including the road between San Salvador and the international airport. Criminals also follow travellers from the international airport to private residences or secluded stretches of road where they carry out assaults or robberies.

There have been reports of violent attacks on motorists and passengers on buses travelling between El Salvador and Guatemala, particularly on the Guatemalan side of the border.

Bandits and other criminals sometimes target hikers and climbers in remote areas, including around volcanoes and in national parks.

Law enforcement authorities have limited capacity to respond to the high levels of crime.

  • Exercise a high degree of caution throughout El Salvador.
  • Stay alert to your surroundings at all times.
  • Make sure there is a high level of security at your accommodation.
  • Carry only what you need. Leave other valuables, including your passport, in a secure location.
  • Take particular care of your belongings at bus stations, airports, tourist areas and on public transport.
  • Keep vehicle windows closed, doors locked and valuables out of sight at all times, including when moving.
  • Avoid openly changing large amounts of money at border crossings.
  • Avoid travelling alone.
  • Don't travel after dark.
  • If you're attacked or robbed, don't resist. Criminals are often armed and you could be seriously injured or killed.
  • Seek immediate medical assistance if you become a victim of violent crime, especially rape, given the risk of HIV/AIDS.

Civil unrest and political tension

Demonstrations and other public gatherings can turn violent.

  • Avoid protests, demonstrations and other public gatherings.
  • Don't participate in political activities of any kind. You could be detained and/or deported.
  • Monitor the media for reports of planned or possible unrest. Avoid affected areas.
  • Follow instructions from local authorities.

Terrorism

Terrorism is a threat throughout the world. More information: Terrorist threat worldwide 

Local travel

Landmines and unexploded ordnances

Unmarked landmines and unexploded ordnance is a danger throughout rural El Salvador, especially in the Chalatenango and Morazán districts. Stick to paved roads and well-travelled paths.

Tours and adventure activities

Transport and tour operators don't always follow recommended safety precautions and maintenance standards, especially for adventure activities such as diving. Safety equipment such as lifejackets and seatbelts may not be provided.

If you plan to participate in adventure activities:

  • first talk to your travel insurer to check if the activity is covered by your insurance policy
  • check operators' credentials and safety equipment before booking
  • use only reputable, registered tour operators
  • insist on minimal safety requirements
  • always use available safety equipment, even if others don't
  • if appropriate safety equipment is not available, use another provider.

Beaches

Beaches, including on the Pacific coast, can be dangerous due to strong undertows and currents. The number of lifeguards is limited and swimming conditions can become dangerous without warning.

Road travel

You're four times more likely to be killed in a motor vehicle accident in El Salvador than in Australia. Driving standards vary - expect the unexpected. Car insurance is essential.

If you're in an accident, contact the national police or the fire brigade by dialling 911 and wait for the police to arrive.

Roads between the main tourist locations in El Salvador are of a good or acceptable standard. Sometimes manhole covers are stolen, leaving large holes in the road. In more isolated locations, roads are unsurfaced and four-wheel drive vehicles are advisable.

  • Check you have adequate insurance cover before driving.
  • Familiarise yourself with local traffic laws and practices before driving.
  • Avoid driving at night.
  • Lock doors and keep windows closed.
  • Take appropriate security precautions. See Safety and security

More information: Road travel

Driver's licence

You can drive in El Salvador with a valid Australian driver's licence and an International Driving Permit (IDP). You must obtain your IDP before departing Australia.

Motorcycles

Check with your travel insurer whether your policy covers you when using a motorcycle, quad bike or similar vehicle. Your policy may not cover you for accidents that occur while using these vehicles. Always wear a helmet.

Taxis

Use only registered taxis and limousines, preferably those arranged through your hotel. Book in advance if travelling at night.

Public transport

Public transport (including inter-city buses) is often overcrowded and poorly maintained. Security around bus stops is inadequate. Robberies often occur. Avoid using public transport.

Air travel

The Australian Government does not provide information on the safety of individual commercial airlines or flight paths. See the Aviation Safety Network website for information on aviation safety. More information: Air travel

Laws

You're subject to local laws and penalties, including those that appear harsh by Australian standards. Research local laws before travelling, especially for an extended stay.

If you're arrested or jailed, the Australian Government will do what it can to help you under our Consular Services Charter. But we can't get you out of trouble or out of jail.

Drug laws

Penalties for drug offences are severe and include lengthy imprisonment in local jails. More information: Drugs

Other laws

If you're a driver in a road accident that results in death or injury, you'll likely be arrested or detained until the courts have established responsibility.

It's illegal to take photographs of official buildings. If in doubt, check with local authorities beforehand.

Australian laws

Some Australian criminal laws apply overseas. If you commit these offences, you may be prosecuted in Australia. Laws include those relating to:

  • bribery of foreign public officials
  • child pornography
  • child sex tourism
  • female genital mutilation
  • forced marriage
  • money laundering
  • terrorism.

More information: Staying within the law

Dual nationals

If you're an Australian-Salvadoran dual national, you may be required to complete national service obligations if you visit. Contact the Embassy or Consulate of El Salvador for advice on your obligations before you travel. More information: Dual nationals

Health

Travel insurance

Take out comprehensive travel insurance before you depart to cover overseas medical costs, including medical evacuation. Make sure your policy includes adequate coverage for any pre-existing conditions.

Remember, regardless of how healthy and fit you are, if you can't afford travel insurance, you can't afford to travel. The Australian Government will not pay for your medical expenses overseas or medical evacuation costs. This can be very expensive and cost you many thousands of dollars upfront.

Confirm:

  • what circumstances and activities are and are not covered under your policy
  • you are covered for the whole time you will be away.

More information: Travel insurance

Physical and mental health

Consider your physical and mental health before travelling, especially if you have an existing medical condition.

  • At least eight weeks before you depart, see your doctor or travel clinic for a basic health check-up, and to discuss your travel plans and implications for your health.
  • Get vaccinated before you travel.

More information:

Medication

Not all medications available over the counter or by prescription in Australia are available in other countries. Some may be considered illegal or a controlled substance, even if prescribed by an Australian doctor.

Before you leave Australia, check if your medication is legal in each country you're visiting. Find out if any quantity restrictions or certification requirements apply. Consult your doctor about alternatives well in advance of travel

Take legal prescription medicine with you so you remain in good health. Carry copies of your prescription and a dated letter from your doctor stating what the medicine is, how much you'll take and that it's for personal use only.

More information: Prescription medicines

Health risks

Insect-borne diseases

Chikungunya is widespread. Dengue fever and other insect-borne diseases (including Chagas' disease and leishmaniasis) are also a risk, particularly during the wet season (April to November). Malaria is a low risk in rural areas, particularly in the northern Santa Ana region.

There is widespread transmission of Zika virus. The Australian Department of Health advises pregnant women to discuss any travel plans with their doctor and defer non-essential travel to affected areas.

Protect yourself against insect-borne diseases:

  • ensure your accommodation is insect proof, including with treated mosquito nets
  • take measures to avoid insect bites, including using insect repellent and wearing long, loose fitting, light coloured clothing
  • consider taking malaria prevention medication
  • seek medical advice if you have a fever, muscle pain, rash or severe headache.

More information,

HIV/AIDS

HIV/AIDS is prevalent. Exercise appropriate precautions if engaging in activities that expose you to risk of infection.

Other infectious diseases

Water-borne, food-borne and other infectious diseases (including tuberculosis, hepatitis, typhoid and rabies) are prevalent. More serious outbreaks occur from time-to-time.

Red tide, which affects shellfish and seafood, appears seasonally and is highly toxic.

  • Practise good hygiene including frequent handwashing.
  • Boil drinking water or drink bottled water with intact seals.
  • Avoid ice cubes.
  • Avoid raw and undercooked food.
  • Seek medical advice if you have a fever or are suffering from diarrhoea.

Medical facilities

Medical facilities are basic.

Many doctors and hospitals require cash payment prior to providing services, including emergency care.

If you become seriously ill or injured, you'll need to be evacuated to the United States or another destination with appropriate facilities. Medical evacuation can be very expensive. The cost of medical treatment in the United States can be extremely high.   

Natural disasters 

El Salvador can experience hurricanes, severe storms, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and tsunamis

If a natural disaster occurs:

If you're travelling during hurricane season or following a natural disaster, monitor weather reports and contact your tour operator to check whether tourist services at your planned destination have been affected. Contact your airline for the latest flight information. 

Hurricanes

The hurricane and rainy season is from June to November when landslides, mudslides, flooding and disruptions to essential services may occur. The direction and strength of hurricanes can change with little warning.

If there is a hurricane or severe storm, you may not be able to leave the area. Flights could be delayed or suspended and may fill quickly. Access to seaports could also be affected. Roads may be blocked. Power, communication systems and other essential services could be affected. In some areas, adequate shelter from a hurricane may not be available for all those who stay.

If a hurricane is approaching, follow the advice for all natural disasters above and:

More information: Severe weather

Volcanoes

There are active volcanoes in El Salvador. Seek local advice before trekking or climbing in any volcanic area.

The ash, dust and toxic fumes emitted following an eruption are a significant health risk, especially to those with existing respiratory problems.

If there is a volcanic eruption:

  • stay inside with the windows and doors shut and place damp towels at door thresholds and other draft sources, if ash is falling in your area
  • when ash has ceased to fall or you need to go outside, wear a disposable face-mask if available and change it frequently
  • wear long-sleeved clothing and long pants to protect your skin, and goggles to protect your eyes
  • avoid unnecessary contact with ash
  • follow the advice for all natural disasters above.

Earthquakes

El Salvador experiences earthquakes. Familiarise yourself with earthquake security measures for each place you stay and visit. More information: Earthquakes

Tsunamis

All oceanic regions of the world can experience tsunamis, including the Caribbean.

To receive tsunami alerts, register with the Global Disaster Alert and Co-ordination System.

Move immediately to high ground if advised by local or regional authorities or if you experience any of the following:

  • feel a strong earthquake that makes it hard to stand up, or a weak rolling earthquake that lasts a minute or more
  • see a sudden rise or fall in sea level
  • hear loud and unusual noises from the sea

Do not wait for official warnings. Once on high ground, monitor local media.

Where to get help

Depending on what you need, your best option may be to contact your family, friends, airline, travel agent, tour operator, employer or travel insurance provider in the first instance.

Tourist police (POLITUR) can assist you and regularly patrol main tourist areas.

Emergency phone numbers

  • Police: 911
  • Fire services: 911
  • Ambulance: 911

Always get a police report when reporting a crime.

Tourism products and services

To complain about tourism services, contact the service provider directly.

Australian Government

Read the Consular Services Charter for what the Australian Government can and can't do to assist Australians overseas.  

Australia has a Consulate in El Salvador, headed by an Honorary Consul. The Consulate provides limited consular assistance (not including the issue of Australian passports). You can get full consular assistance from the Australian Embassy in Mexico City.

Australian Consulate, San Salvador

12 Calle Poniente 2028
Colonia Flor Blanca
San Salvador, El Salvador
Phone: +503 2298 9447
Email: consuladohonorarioelsalvador@gmail.com

Australian Embassy, Mexico City

Ruben Dario 55, (Polanco)
Colonia Bosque de Chapultepec
11580 Mexico D.F. MEXICO
Telephone: +52 55 1101 2200
Facsimile: +52 55 1101 2201
Website: mexico.embassy.gov.au
E-mail: consularpassports.mexico@dfat.gov.au

Check the Embassy website for information about opening hours and temporary closures that may affect service provision.

If you can't contact the Consulate or Embassy in a consular emergency, contact the 24-hour Consular Emergency Centre on +61 2 6261 3305, or 1300 555 135 within Australia.

Additional information