El Salvador Register Travel insurance Destinations
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El Salvador - Exercise a high degree of caution
Exercise a high degree of caution in El Salvador due to a high rate of violent crime.
Travel Health Notice - Zika virus
The Public Health Agency of Canada has issued advice for travellers on the Zika virus, recommending that Canadians practice special health precautions while travelling in affected countries. Pregnant women and those considering becoming pregnant should avoid travel to El Salvador. See Health for more information.
Safety and security
Safety and security
Violent crime is a serious problem throughout the country. It includes:
- assault, including rape
- armed robbery and carjacking
Criminal activity can occur in any area of the country. It is not restricted to gang activity.
Carjackings occur. Armed criminals follow travellers from the airport to private residences or secluded stretches of road, where they carry out assaults or robberies. Criminals can become violent and shoot if victims do not cooperate immediately.
Some neighbourhoods are safer than others. Avoid crossing a neighbourhood that is a known criminal stronghold, even if to reach a safer neighbourhood. Always maintain heightened vigilance and be on the alert. Hotels in the following San Salvador neighbourhoods are usually safe options:
- Escalón (Crowne Plaza)
- San Benito (Barceló and Sheraton)
- Santa Elena (Holiday Inn)
Avoid taking any form of public transportation.
If you are threatened by armed criminals, stay calm and cooperate with them. Do not resist, as gang members are quick to engage in violence. Avoid eye contact with the perpetrator.
If you are robbed, go to a police station. Do not expect assistance in your preferred language, as most Salvadorans do not speak English or French.
Homicides frequently occur on public buses, roads and private residences. This includes murder for hire or individuals specifically targeted by gang members.
The 10 municipalities most affected by violence are:
- San Salvador, Ciudad Delgado, Mejicanos, Panchimalco, San Martin, Apopa and Soyapango
- San Miguel
- Santa Ana and Ahuachapán
Armed robberies (involving the use of guns, knives and other dangerous weapons) often occur on public transportation and in tourist areas, including national parks and scenic spots. Armed robbery poses the greatest threat to foreigners.
Bus passengers are frequently robbed en route, at roadblocks and at bus stops. The bus stops located on Alameda Roosevelt Street and in the area surrounding Plaza Salvador del Mundo in San Salvador are considered dangerous, especially on weekdays between 4 p.m. and 11 p.m. Petty crime, including bag snatching and pickpocketing, is common.
- Avoid displaying signs of affluence in public, particularly when landing at El Salvador International Airport, where wealthy-looking tourists are more likely to be targeted by criminals
- Ensure that your personal belongings, including your passport and other travel documents, are secure at all times
- Carry only a copy of the identification page of your passport and sufficient funds for the day
- Avoid walking after dark, including in San Salvador
- Travel in groups if possible
- Remain extremely vigilant and exercise caution at all times
Thieves break into cars parked in public places. When leaving a vehicle parked, ensure you don’t leave your valuables unattended.
The majority of crimes are committed by organized street gangs (maras).
Gang culture has spread throughout much of the country and is gradually migrating to rural areas. The government’s counter measures have focussed on urban areas most visited by tourists, such as the metropolitan area of San Salvador. Typical crimes carried out by gangs include extortion, mugging, highway assault, home invasion and car theft.
While gang violence rarely targets foreigners, incidents of violent assault against tourists occur.
- Maintain a high level of vigilance and personal security awareness at all times
- Be discreet and avoid travelling alone, especially if you are female
Gangs often threaten individuals and businesses with extortion, and use deadly force if the extortion money is not paid. Attacks have occurred in open-air markets, restaurants, police stations, public buses and clinics. The attacks are unpredictable and often harm or kill innocent bystanders.
On the road
Criminals may assault travellers on rural roads. Avoid driving after dark.
- Travel in a convoy rather than alone on rural roads because there are fewer police in rural areas and roadside assistance is rarely available
- Keep your vehicle doors locked and windows closed at all times
- Safely store personal belongings, including handbags, out of sight
- Avoid stopping at scenic points
Incidents of sexual assault against foreigners at beach areas and border regions have occurred.
- Be cautious with new acquaintances offering friendship, hospitality or assistance
- Do not accept drinks from strangers as incidents of sexual assault sometimes involve the use of sedative drugs
- Avoid leaving your drinks or food unattended in bars and nightclubs. Refrain from excessive drinking
If you are a victim of sexual assault, report it to police and contact the Embassy of Canada to El Salvador in San Salvador.
Express kidnappings by armed motorcyclists (moto ratas) can occur day or night. Victims, generally selected on the basis of perceived wealth (including driving late-model cars), are identified at such places as shopping centres, gas stations, restaurants, night clubs, banks and parking lots. One or two robbers, riding on motorcycles and wearing helmets, follow their victims and stop them at gunpoint. In most cases, victims are taken to ATMs and forced to withdraw funds.
Be particularly discreet when using ATMs. Criminals observe, follow and then rob victims who have made withdrawals. On and around paydays (the 15th and the 30th day of each month), many victims have been assaulted when withdrawing money from banks or while travelling home, with their pay, on public transportation.
Credit card skimming occurs. Ensure you monitor the way your credit card is handled when making a purchase. Most credit terminals are not set in a way that makes the payment process easy.
Be cautious when using debit or credit cards:
- pay careful attention when your cards are being handled by others
- use ATMs located in well-lit public areas or inside a bank or business
- avoid using card readers with an irregular or unusual feature
- cover the keypad with one hand when entering your PIN
- check for any unauthorized transactions on your account statements
Border with Guatemala
There are four El Salvador–Guatemala border crossings:
- two in the department of Ahuachapán, at La Hachadura and Las Chinamas
- San Cristobal in Cuscatlán
- Anguiatú in Santa Ana
The regions bordering Guatemala can be dangerous because of drug turf wars. While Canadians are not specifically targeted, you risk being in the wrong place at the wrong time if you travel in areas near the border.
Attacks and robberies have occurred at border crossings, particularly on the Guatemala side. The crossing at Las Chinamas is particularly hazardous, with many reports of highway robberies and carjackings, especially targeting vehicles with licence plates issued by a country other than Guatemala.
Armed robbers dress as Guatemalan police and erect roadblocks to stop vehicles with Salvadoran licence plates heading into Guatemala.
When crossing the border into Guatemala:
- drive with your car doors locked
- avoid travelling after dark
- drive in convoys, if possible
- do not stop for street or roadside vendors
The other three border crossings (La Hachadura, San Cristóbal and Anguiatú) are options to consider and have not been subject to similar crime. They are, however, on more secluded strips of road.
Avoid exchanging currency at the border, counting your money in public and/or displaying valuable jewelry and electronic equipment.
Border with Honduras
The El Salvador–Honduras border crossings are:
- El Poy in Chalatenango
- Perquín in Morazán
- El Amatillo in La Unión
Gang activity is increasing along El Salvador’s northern and eastern borders with Honduras, with gang members taking advantage of porous borders to move back and forth with ease to conduct illicit activities on both sides of the border.
To enter Honduras, you should use the border crossing at El Amatillo during daylight hours and as early as possible.
Areas near the embassy
The Canadian embassy is located near the Plaza Salvador del Mundo monument in San Salvador. The area to the east of this monument is high-risk and includes San Salvador’s historic downtown.
Local authorities have made efforts to secure the downtown area to attract more tourists, but there are areas that remain dangerous. The most-affected areas are:
- from Parque Simón Bolivar to Plaza El Zurita and
- from Alameda Juan Pablo II to Boulevard Venezuela.
Gangs and individuals who specialize in mugging, extortion and murder operate in these areas.
Demonstrations, sit-ins and protest marches may occur at any time, especially on San Salvador’s main access roads and around the Plaza Salvador del Mundo, where most protests and marches begin and end. The Canadian embassy is located very close to this plaza.
Criminality is involved in protests, and many protestors are often inebriated.
- Avoid areas where demonstrations and large gatherings are taking place
- Follow the instructions of local authorities
- Monitor local media for information on ongoing demonstrations
Driving in El Salvador can be hazardous because local vehicles are often overloaded and poorly maintained. Local drivers often ignore traffic rules.
Streets tend to be narrow, with poor signage and inadequately lit. Minor roads are not lit at all. Urban streets are crowded with vendors. Rural roads are hazardous because of wandering livestock and pedestrians. Big potholes or missing manhole covers are frequent hazards and represent important risks while driving.
Always drive defensively, because other drivers may be impaired by drugs or alcohol.
Some rural areas are accessible only by four-wheel-drive vehicle.
Most land border crossings remain open 24 hours a day, but some have been known to close without warning. Plan to cross the border early enough so you arrive at your destination before dark.
Police traffic checkpoints (retenes) are common, especially on the streets outside of San Salvador.
Use only reputable tour operators. Do not use local or intercity public buses, which are often mechanically unreliable and their passengers are frequently robbed, often at knife or gunpoint.
Taxis are widely available. Use a reliable company, recommended by a major hotel chain, and negotiate fares in advance. Most hotels work with executive transport companies. These vehicles usually have no brand or distinguishing marks. At the El Salvador International Airport, Acacya taxi is a safe option. Do not board taxis at taxi stands, and do not flag taxis in the street.
Tourists have been robbed while climbing volcanoes and hiking in remote locations. Travel only with reputable tourist organizations or persons familiar with local conditions. Never walk alone on remote trails. Ensure personal belongings and travel documents are secure at all times.
Swimming in the Pacific Ocean is risky because of strong currents and undertows. Few, if any, lifeguards are on duty on the beaches, which increases the risk. Avoid isolated beaches.
Monitor weather reports, especially during the rainy season, as prolonged periods of rain can cause the height of waves to increase along beaches, as well as flooding and landslides.
We do not make assessments on the compliance of foreign domestic airlines with international safety standards.
Every country or territory decides who can enter or exit through its borders. The Government of Canada cannot intervene on your behalf if you do not meet your destination’s entry or exit requirements.
We have obtained the information on this page from the Salvadoran authorities. It can, however, change at any time.
Verify this information with foreign diplomatic missions and consulates in Canada.
Entry requirements vary depending on the type of passport you use for travel.
Before you travel, check with your transportation company about passport requirements. Its rules on passport validity may be more stringent than the country’s entry rules.
Regular Canadian passport
Your passport must be valid for at least 6 months beyond the date you expect to leave El Salvador.
Passport for official travel
Different entry rules may apply.
Other travel documents
Different entry rules may apply when travelling with a temporary passport or an emergency travel document. Before you leave, check with the closest diplomatic mission for your destination.
Tourist visa: Not required
Business visa: Not required
Student visa: Not required
To enter El Salvador, you must purchase a tourist card, which costs US$10 and is valid for 30 to 90 days. Local officials determine the validity period of the card.
The tourist card is not a visa, but it is a mandatory requirement when you enter through El Salvador International Airport.
If your Canadian passport shows you were born in El Salvador, you do not need a tourist card.
Keep the receipt you receive when you buy the tourist card with your passport. You will not be required to re-pay if you exit and re-enter El Salvador (for a brief side trip to Honduras, for example), as long as you show your receipt and your tourist card is still valid.
If you wish to extend your stay in El Salvador beyond 90 days, apply to the immigration authorities to have your tourist card extended.
It is your responsibility to obtain entry and exit stamps at border crossings.
Work or study
If you intend to work or study in El Salvador for longer than 90 days, you must apply for residence from inside the country.
The documentation required to obtain Salvadoran residence is extensive, so organize all the documents you will need before you leave Canada.
Central America-4 Border Control Agreement
Under the terms of the Central America-4 Border Control Agreement (CA-4), Canadian tourists may travel freely within any of the following CA-4 countries:
- El Salvador
You can travel between these countries for up to 90 days without having to undergo entry and exit formalities at border immigration checkpoints.
You must still check in at immigration counters when you enter or exit these checkpoints.
The 90-day period begins at the first point of entry to any of the CA-4 countries. You will be fined if you exceed the 90-day limit.
You may request an extension of up to 90 days once a year. You must request this extension and pay the required fee at El Salvador’s immigration headquarters in San Salvador before your first 90-day limit expires. Immigration authorities will determine the length of the extension.
Children and travel
Learn about travel with children.
Learn about potential entry requirements related to yellow fever (vaccines section).
- Zika virus: Advice for travellers - February 12, 2018
Be sure that your routine vaccines, as per your province or territory, are up-to-date regardless of your travel destination.
Some of these vaccines include: measles-mumps-rubella (MMR), diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, polio, varicella (chickenpox), influenza and others.
Vaccines to Consider
You may be at risk for these vaccine-preventable diseases while travelling in this country. Talk to your travel health professional about which ones are right for you.
Hepatitis A is a disease of the liver spread through contaminated food and water or contact with an infected person. All those travelling to regions with a risk of hepatitis A infection should get vaccinated.
Hepatitis B is a disease of the liver spread through blood or other bodily fluids. Travellers who may be exposed (e.g., through sexual contact, medical treatment, sharing needles, tattooing, acupuncture or occupational exposure) should get vaccinated.
Seasonal influenza occurs worldwide. The flu season usually runs from November to April in the northern hemisphere, between April and October in the southern hemisphere and year round in the tropics. Influenza (flu) is caused by a virus spread from person to person when they cough or sneeze or by touching objects and surfaces that have been contaminated with the virus. Get the flu shot.
Measles is a highly contagious viral disease and is common in most parts of the world.
Be sure your measles vaccination is up-to-date regardless of your travel destination.
Rabies is a deadly illness spread to humans through a bite, scratch or lick from an infected animal. Vaccination should be considered for travellers going to areas where rabies exists and who have a high risk of exposure (e.g., are children, have an occupational risk, or in close contact with animals, including free roaming dogs in communities).
Yellow Fever - Country Entry Requirements
Yellow fever is a disease caused by a flavivirus from the bite of an infected mosquito.
Travellers get vaccinated either because it is required to enter a country or because it is recommended for their protection.
- There is no risk of yellow fever in this country.
Country Entry Requirement*
- Proof of vaccination is required if you are coming from or have transited through an airport of a country where yellow fever occurs.
- Vaccination is not recommended.
- Discuss travel plans, activities, and destinations with a health care professional.
- There is currently a shortage of the yellow fever vaccine in Canada. It is important for travellers to contact a designated Yellow Fever Vaccination Centre well in advance of their trip to ensure that the vaccine is available.
About Yellow Fever
Yellow Fever Vaccination Centres in Canada
* It is important to note that country entry requirements may not reflect your risk of yellow fever at your destination. It is recommended that you contact the nearest diplomatic or consular office of the destination(s) you will be visiting to verify any additional entry requirements.
Food and Water-borne Diseases
Travellers to any destination in the world can develop travellers' diarrhea from consuming contaminated water or food.
In some areas in Central America and Mexico, food and water can also carry diseases like cholera, hepatitis A and typhoid. Practise safe food and water precautions while travelling in Central America and Mexico. Remember: Boil it, cook it, peel it, or leave it!
- Travellers' diarrhea is the most common illness affecting travellers. It is spread from eating or drinking contaminated food or water.
- Risk of developing travellers' diarrhea increases when travelling in regions with poor standards of hygiene and sanitation. Practise safe food and water precautions.
- The most important treatment for travellers' diarrhea is rehydration (drinking lots of fluids). Carry oral rehydration salts when travelling.
Typhoid is a bacterial infection spread by contaminated food or water. Risk is higher among children, travellers going to rural areas, travellers visiting friends and relatives or those travelling for a long period of time.
Travellers visiting regions with a risk typhoid, especially those exposed to places with poor sanitation should speak to a health care professional about vaccination.
Insects and Illness
In some areas in Central America and Mexico, certain insects carry and spread diseases like American trypanosomiasis (Chagas disease), chikungunya, dengue fever, leishmaniasis, malaria, onchocerciasis (river blindness), West Nile virus, and Zika virus.
Travellers are advised to take precautions against bites.
There is currently a risk of chikungunya in this country. Chikungunya is a virus spread through the bite of an infected mosquito. Chikungunya can cause a viral disease that typically causes fever and pain in the joints. In some cases, the joint pain can be severe and last for months or years.
Protect yourself from mosquito bites at all times. There is no vaccine available for chikungunya.
- Dengue fever occurs in this country. Dengue fever is a viral disease that can cause severe flu-like symptoms. In some cases it leads to dengue haemorrhagic fever, which can be fatal.
- Mosquitoes carrying dengue typically bite during the daytime, particularly around sunrise and sunset.
- Protect yourself from mosquito bites. There is no vaccine or medication that protects against dengue fever.
Zika virus infection
Zika virus infection is a risk in this country. Recent or ongoing cases of Zika virus have been reported in this country.
All travellers should protect themselves from mosquito bites day and night.
Zika virus infection during pregnancy can cause serious birth defects such as abnormally small heads (microcephaly). Zika virus can also be sexually transmitted.
Travellers who are pregnant or planning a pregnancy:
- Should avoid travel to this country
- If travel cannot be avoided follow strict mosquito bite prevention measures.
- Talk to your health care professional about the risk of Zika infection in pregnancy.
- Use condoms or avoid having sex for the duration of the pregnancy, if you are pregnant and your partner has travelled to this country.
- Female travellers: wait at least 2 months after returning from this country before trying to conceive (get pregnant) to ensure that any possible Zika virus infection has cleared your body.
- Male travellers: wait 6 months after returning from this country before trying to conceive. Use condoms or avoid having sex during that time.
See travel health notice: Zika virus: Advice for travellers
- There is a risk of malaria in certain areas and/or during a certain time of year in this country.
- Malaria is a serious and occasionally fatal disease that is spread by the bite of an infected mosquito. There is no vaccine against malaria.
- Protect yourself from mosquito bites. This includes covering up, using insect repellent and staying in enclosed air-conditioned accommodations. You may also consider pre-treating clothing and travel gear with insecticides and sleeping under an insecticide-treated bednet.
- Antimalarial medication may be recommended depending on your itinerary and the time of year you are travelling. See a health care professional or visit a travel health clinic, preferably six weeks before you travel to discuss your options.
Animals and Illness
Travellers are cautioned to avoid contact with animals, including dogs, monkeys, snakes, rodents, birds, and bats. Some infections found in Central America and Mexico, like rabies, can be shared between humans and animals.
Medical services and facilities
A few state-funded, public hospitals are located in large cities, mostly in San Salvador. The medical services they provide and their facilities tend to be substandard. Public clinics (unidades de salud) are located throughout the country, but their resources, hours of operation and services are limited.
Use private clinics and hospitals whenever possible. Hospital de Diagnóstico and the Hospital de la Mujer in the Colonia Escalon district of San Salvador offer good emergency and advanced care services. Doctors and other staff in clinics and hospitals may expect you to pay cash for the health services they provide. Private hospitals in San Salvador and other major cities, such as Santa Ana and San Miguel, accept credit card payments and may request a deposit if you must be hospitalized. In rural areas, you may be asked to purchase all consumables prior to your care. Most health-care providers only speak Spanish.
Make sure you can easily access enough funds to cover the cost of medical treatment and medical evacuation by air ambulance, should you need it.
Make sure you get travel insurance that includes coverage for medical evacuation and hospital stays.
Keep in Mind...
The decision to travel is the sole responsibility of the traveller. The traveller is also responsible for his or her own personal safety.
Be prepared. Do not expect medical services to be the same as in Canada. Pack a travel health kit, especially if you will be travelling away from major city centres.
Laws and culture
Laws & culture
You must abide by local laws.
Learn about what you should do and how we can help if you are arrested or detained abroad.
Penalties for possession, use or trafficking of illegal drugs are severe. Convicted offenders can expect jail sentences.
Conferences held in El Salvador
You must obtain approval from the El Salvador Ministry of Foreign Affairs to attend international conferences. With permission, you may participate as an observer only, not as an activist or political lobbyist.
You need a permit to own or carry a firearm. You could be jailed if you are caught carrying an unregistered firearm.
El Salvador’s constitution prohibits political activities by foreigners. Do not participate in demonstrations or you may be detained and/or deported.
You must present Salvadoran authorities with your valid Canadian driver’s licence along with your valid Canadian passport before you may drive a vehicle in El Salvador. If you plan to travel between countries, get an international driving permit.
Dual citizenship is legally recognized in El Salvador.
If you are a Canadian citizen, but also a citizen of El Salvador, our ability to offer you consular services may be limited while you're there. You may also be subject to different entry/exit requirements.
The official currency is the U.S. dollar (USD).
Canadian dollars cannot be exchanged in El Salvador. When exchanging money before your trip, ask for small denominations ($1, $5, $10, $20), since $50 and $100 bills are not widely accepted and can expose you to a greater risk of robbery.
Natural disasters and climate
Natural disasters & climate
El Salvador is located in a highly active seismic zone. Tremors occur regularly. Major earthquakes occur intermittently. Familiarize yourself with the proper safety measures to take in the event of an earthquake.
Since 2017, the country has undergone a repetitive series of tremors in specific areas over a relatively short period of time. Major earthquakes can occur measuring above 6 on the Richter scale and they cause a risk for tsunami for coastal regions. If you face such a situation, follow the instructions of local authorities, monitor local media and official sources.
For official local advice, in Spanish, follow on Twitter:
- @MARN_SV - Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources
- @PROCIVILSV - Civil Protection
Volcanoes pose a significant risk to the population, due to their seismic and eruptive history.
Gas and ash release from San Miguel Volcano remain constant. Volcanic activity alerts have been issued.
Pay close attention to all warnings, avoid restricted areas and follow the advice of local authorities if a volcano erupts.
Seismic activity alert and information - Ecuadorian Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources (in Spanish only)
The rainy season extends from May to November. This period is marked by the occasional tropical storm, as well as frequent flash floods and landslides, especially in the lower Lempa River area. Keep informed of regional weather forecasts and plan accordingly.
Hurricanes usually occur from mid-May to the end of November. During this period, even small tropical storms can quickly develop into major hurricanes.
These severe storms can put you at risk and hamper the provision of essential services.
If you decide to travel to a coastal area during the hurricane season:
- know that you expose yourself to serious safety risks
- be prepared to change your travel plans on short notice, including cutting short or cancelling your trip
- stay informed of the latest regional weather forecasts
- carry emergency contact information for your airline or tour operator
- follow the advice and instructions of local authorities
- Hurricanes, typhoons, cyclones and monsoons
- Large-scale emergencies abroad
- Active storm tracking and hurricane watches and warnings - United States’ National Hurricane Center
Dial 911 for emergency assistance.
The tourist police (POLITUR), a special division of the National Civilian Police, provide a security presence in tourist areas and urgent first response assistance to tourists.
San Salvador - Embassy of Canada
For emergency consular assistance, call the embassy of Canada to El Salvador in San Salvador and follow the instructions. At any time, you may also contact the Emergency Watch and Response Centre in Ottawa.
The decision to travel is your choice and you are responsible for your personal safety abroad. We take the safety and security of Canadians abroad very seriously and provide credible and timely information in our Travel Advice to enable you to make well-informed decisions regarding your travel abroad.
The content on this page is provided for information only. While we make every effort to give you correct information, it is provided on an "as is" basis without warranty of any kind, express or implied. The Government of Canada does not assume responsibility and will not be liable for any damages in connection to the information provided.
If you need consular assistance while abroad, we will make every effort to help you. However, there may be constraints that will limit the ability of the Government of Canada to provide services.
Learn more about consular services.
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