El Salvador

Latest update

This Advice was last issued on Tuesday, 26 November 2013.   It contains new information under Where to get help (Australia has opened a Consulate in El Salvador, headed by an Honorary Consul). We continue to advise you to exercise a high degree of caution in El Salvador because of high levels of violent crime.

El Salvador overall

Summary

  • We advise you to exercise a high degree of caution in El Salvador because of high levels of violent crime.
  • Pay close attention to your personal security at all times and monitor the media for information about possible new safety or security risks.
  • The hurricane and rainy season is from June to November when landslides, mudslides and flooding may occur. In the case of a hurricane, monitor local media reports and follow the instructions of local emergency officials. See the Natural Disasters section for detailed advice.
  • Australia has opened a consulate in El Salvador, headed by an Honorary Consul. The consulate provides limited consular assistance, but cannot issue Australian passports. The Australian Embassy in Mexico provides full consular assistance to Australians in El Salvador.
  • Be a smart traveller. Before heading overseas:
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Entry and exit

Under the Central American Border Control Agreement (CA-4), foreigners may travel for up to 90 days between El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua and Guatemala without completing exit and entry formalities. This period begins at the first point of entry of any of those countries. Visitors can request an extension of their CA-4 visa prior to its expiry. Visitors who stay more than 90 days without permission could be fined and expelled from any of the four countries. Visitors expelled from one country will be refused entry to the others.

Visa and other entry and exit conditions (such as currency, customs and quarantine regulations) change regularly. Contact the nearest Embassy or Consulate of El Salvador for the most up to date information.

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

If you are travelling to El Salvador through the United States of America, or if you are transiting in Honolulu or other US points of entry, you are required to meet US entry/transit requirements. Make sure you check with your nearest US Embassy or Consulate your visa requirements well in advance of your travel. You should also read our travel advice for the United States of America.

Central American airlines will not accept passengers for destinations in the US without proof of an onward or a return ticket, even if the traveller is eligible to enter the US under the visa waiver program.

Make sure your passport has at least six months' validity from your planned date of return to Australia. You should carry copies of a recent passport photo with you in case you need a replacement passport while overseas.

Safety and security

Terrorism

Terrorism is a threat throughout the world. You can find more information about this threat in our General advice to Australian travellers.

Civil unrest/political tension

You should avoid demonstrations and protests as they may turn violent.

Foreigners participating in local political activities, demonstrations and protests may be detained and/or deported.

Crime

We advise you to exercise a high degree of caution in El Salvador because of high levels of violent crime. Pay close attention to your personal security at all times and monitor the media for information about possible new safety or security risks.

Violent crime, including murder, armed robbery, banditry, assault, extortion, kidnapping, sexual assault and carjacking, is common and widespread in El Salvador, including in the capital San Salvador. Violent crime in El Salvador often involves firearms and is frequently related to the violent street gangs that operate in the country. El Salvador has an especially high murder rate.

Extortion is becoming more common throughout El Salvador. Intimidation related to extortion has included grenade attacks in markets, restaurants, businesses, police stations, and on buses. Such attacks have resulted in the death of innocent bystanders.

There is a high risk of robberies and express kidnappings, including by criminals on motorcycles. Victims are selected on the basis of perceived wealth. In the case of express kidnappings, victims are taken to an ATM and forced to withdraw large amounts of money.

Incidents of violent crime have occurred in downtown San Salvador. The risks increase at night.

Travelling on roads outside of San Salvador, particularly at night, is dangerous. Criminals have stopped and robbed people travelling on roads and highways. You should drive with the windows up and the doors locked at all times. In particular, criminals are known to target the road between San Salvador and the international airport. Criminals have also been known to 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 have targeted hikers and climbers in remote areas of El Salvador, including around volcanoes.

Using ATMs on the streets puts you at high risk of robbery. You should only use ATMs in controlled areas such as banks, hotels or shopping malls.

To reduce the risk of becoming a victim of violent crime you should avoid travelling alone and not travel after dark when the risk of violent crime is higher. You should avoid wearing jewellery or using expensive cameras, video cameras or portable music players. If you are the victim of a violent attack, you should not resist as resisting perpetrators can lead to serious injury. Due to the high prevalence of HIV/AIDS, victims of violent crime, especially rape, are strongly encouraged to seek immediate medical assistance.

Petty crime, such as pickpocketing and bag snatching, is also common throughout El Salvador. You should take particular care of your belongings at bus stations, airports, tourist areas and on public transport.

You should be aware that law enforcement authorities often have limited capacity to respond to increasing levels of crime in El Salvador and assistance to victims of crime can be limited.

Tourist police (POLITUR) can provide assistance to tourists and regularly patrol main tourist areas.

Money and valuables

Before you go, organise a variety of ways to access your money overseas, such as credit cards, travellers' cheques, cash, debit cards or cash cards. Check with your bank whether your ATM debit card and credit cards will work overseas. ATMs are not reliable in El Salvador. For security reasons you should only change money and use ATMs in controlled areas such as banks, hotels or shopping malls. You should avoid openly changing large amounts of money at border crossings due to the high risk of robbery.

The US dollar is the official currency in El Salvador. Other major currencies are not exchangeable.

Make two photocopies of valuable documents such as your passport, tickets, visas and travellers' cheques. Keep one copy with you in a separate place to the original and leave another copy with someone at home.

While travelling, don't carry too much cash and remember that expensive watches, jewellery and cameras may be tempting targets for thieves.

As a sensible precaution against luggage tampering, including theft, lock your luggage. Information on luggage safety is available from Australia's Civil Aviation Safety Authority.

Your passport is a valuable document that is attractive to criminals who may try to use your identity to commit crimes. It should always be kept in a safe place. You are required by Australian law to report a lost or stolen passport. If your passport is lost or stolen overseas, report it online or contact the nearest Australian Embassy, High Commission or Consulate as soon as possible.

You are required to pay an additional fee to have a lost or stolen passport replaced. In some cases, the Government may also restrict the length of validity or type of replacement passports.

Local travel

Public transport (including inter-city buses) is often overcrowded and poorly maintained with inadequate security around bus stops. Robberies often occur. The use of radio dispatched taxis or taxis stationed in front of major hotels may reduce risks associated with travel on public transport. Use only reputable tour companies when booking trips within El Salvador.

Driving in El Salvador is hazardous due to poorly maintained roads and vehicles, inadequate lighting and the presence of pedestrians and vendors on roads. Drive with doors locked and windows closed and avoid driving after dark particularly on rural roads due to the high risk of carjacking. Travel in convoy where possible. For further advice, see our Road travel page.

Unmarked landmines and unexploded ordnance remain a danger throughout rural El Salvador, especially in the Chalatenango and Morazan districts.

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

Beaches in El Salvador, 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.

Airline safety

Please refer to our Air travel page for information on aviation safety and security.

Laws

When you are in El Salvador, be aware that local laws and penalties, including ones that appear harsh by Australian standards, do apply to you. If you are arrested or jailed, the Australian Government will do what it can to help you but we can't get you out of trouble or out of jail.

Information on what Australian consular officers can and cannot do to help Australians in trouble overseas is available from the Consular Services Charter.

Penalties for drug offences are severe and include lengthy imprisonment in local jails.

Drivers involved in road accidents resulting in death or injury are subject to arrest or detention until the courts have established responsibility.

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

Some Australian criminal laws, such as those relating to money laundering, bribery of foreign public officials, terrorism, forced marriage, female genital mutilation, child pornography, and child sex tourism, apply to Australian overseas. Australians who commit these offences while overseas may be prosecuted in Australia.

Australian authorities are committed to combating sexual exploitation of children by Australians overseas. Australians may be prosecuted at home under Australian child sex tourism and child pornography laws. These laws provide severe penalties of up to 25 years’ imprisonment for Australians who engage in child sexual exploitation while outside of Australia.

Information for dual nationals

Australian/Salvadoran dual nationals may be required to complete national service obligations if they visit El Salvador. For further information, contact the Embassy or Consulate of El Salvador before you travel.

Our Dual nationals page provides further information for dual nationals.

Health

We strongly recommend that you take out comprehensive travel insurance that will cover any overseas medical costs, including medical evacuation, before you depart. Confirm that your insurance covers you for the whole time you'll be away and check what circumstances and activities are not included in your policy. 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 a traveller's medical expenses overseas or medical evacuation costs.

It is important to consider your physical and mental health before travelling overseas. We encourage you to consider having vaccinations before you travel. At least eight weeks before you depart, make an appointment with your doctor or travel clinic for a basic health check-up, and to discuss your travel plans and any implications for your health, particularly if you have an existing medical condition. The World Health Organization (WHO) provides information for travellers and our Health page also provides useful information for travellers on staying healthy.

Medical facilities in El Salvador are basic. Many doctors and hospitals require cash payment prior to providing services, including emergency care. Serious medical emergencies may require evacuation, at considerable cost, to the United States where the cost of medical treatment is very high.

Dengue fever and other insect-borne diseases (including Chagas' disease and leishmaniasis) are a risk to travellers, particularly during the wet season (April to November). Malaria is a low risk in rural areas throughout El Salvador, particularly in the northern Santa Ana region. We recommend you take prophylaxis against malaria where appropriate and take measures to avoid insect bites, including using insect repellent at all times.

Water-borne, food-borne and other infectious diseases (including HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, hepatitis, typhoid and rabies) are prevalent with more serious outbreaks occurring from time to time. Red tide, which affects shellfish and seafood, appears seasonally and is highly toxic. We advise you to boil all drinking water or drink bottled water, and avoid ice cubes and raw and undercooked food. Seek medical advice if you have a fever or are suffering from diarrhoea.

Where to get help

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). Contact details for the Consulate are:

Australian Consulate, San Salvador

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

You can obtain full consular assistance from the nearest Australian Embassy which is in Mexico:

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
E-mail: consularpassports.mexico@dfat.gov.au

In a consular emergency if you are unable to contact the Consulate or Embassy you can contact the 24-hour Consular Emergency Centre on +61 2 6261 3305 or 1300 555 135 within Australia.

In Australia, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in Canberra may be contacted on (02) 6261 3305.

If you are travelling to El Salvador, whatever the reason and however long you'll be there, we encourage you to register with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. You can register online or in person at any Australian Embassy, High Commission or Consulate. The information you provide will help us to contact you in an emergency – whether it is a natural disaster, civil disturbance or a family issue.

Additional information

Natural disasters, severe weather and climate

Hurricanes: The hurricane (and rainy) season is from June to November when landslides, mudslides, flooding and disruptions to essential services may occur. In the case of a hurricane, monitor local media reports and follow the instructions of local emergency officials.

If you are travelling during hurricane season, you should contact your tour operator to check whether tourist services at your planned destination have been affected.

The direction and strength of hurricanes can change with little warning. You can check the latest hurricane information at the National Hurricane Center website.

In the event of an approaching hurricane, you should follow the instructions of local authorities. Flights in and out of affected areas could be delayed or suspended. Available flights may fill quickly. You should contact your airline for the latest flight information. The hurricane could also affect access to sea ports in the region. In some areas, adequate shelter from a severe hurricane may not be available to all who may choose to stay. You should familiarise yourself with your hotel or cruise ship evacuation plans. You should carry your travel documents at all times (i.e. passport, photo identification, etc.) or secure them in a safe, waterproof location. We also suggest that you contact friends and family in Australia with updates about your welfare and whereabouts. For further information, see our Severe Weather page.

Information on hurricanes or other severe weather conditions can be obtained from the U.S. National Hurricane and Tropical Prediction Center, the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Response Agency and the Humanitarian Early Warning Service.

There are active volcanoes in El Salvador and the level of activity continues to increase. Hikers and climbers should seek local advice before trekking in any volcanic area. The Humanitarian Early Warning Service provides updates on volcanic activity.

El Salvador is located in an active seismic zone. Travellers should familiarise themselves with earthquake security measures of hotels, public and private buildings and follow the advice of local authorities in the event of an earthquake.

All oceanic regions of the world can experience tsunamis, but in the Indian and Pacific Oceans there is a more frequent occurrence of large, destructive tsunamis because of the many large earthquakes along major tectonic plate boundaries and ocean trenches. See the Tsunami Awareness brochure.

If a natural disaster occurs, follow the advice of local authorities.

Travellers should keep informed of regional weather forecasts and plan accordingly.

For parents

For general information and tips on travelling with children see our Travelling with children page.

See also information under Entry and exit.



While every care has been taken in preparing this information, neither the Australian Government nor its agents or employees, including any member of Australia's diplomatic and consular staff abroad, can accept liability for any injury, loss or damage arising in respect of any statement contained herein.

Maps are presented for information only. The department accepts no responsibility for errors or omission of any geographic feature. Nomenclature and territorial boundaries may not necessarily reflect Australian Government policy.