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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—including homicide, armed robbery, carjacking, rape and kidnapping—is a serious problem throughout El Salvador and is escalating dramatically. A contributing factor to this increase in crime is the presence of organized criminal gangs. Gang culture has spread throughout much of the country; however, the problem is most critical in urban centres, especially in greater San Salvador. Typical crimes carried out by violent, organized street gangs (maras) include extortion, mugging, highway assault, home invasion and car theft.
While gang violence is rarely targeted at foreigners, incidents of violent assault against tourists have taken place. Maintain a high level of vigilance and personal security awareness at all times. Be discreet and avoid travelling alone, especially if you are a woman. Sexual assault is a serious concern. Assume many Salvadorans are armed. Public shootouts are common.
El Salvador has one of the highest murder rates in the world. Homicides frequently occur on public buses, on roads, in soccer fields and on farms and in private residences. The departments of La Libertad, La Paz, La Unión, Santa Ana, San Miguel, San Salvador, San Vicente, and Sonsonate have the highest homicide rates in El Salvador.
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, and pose the greatest threat to foreigners. Passengers on buses are frequently robbed en route, at roadblocks and at bus stops. The bus stops located on Alameda Roosevelt Street and in the area surrounding del Mundo Square in San Salvador are particularly dangerous, especially on weekdays between the hours of 4 p.m. and 11 p.m. Please note that the Embassy of Canada to El Salvador is located in this area.
The majority of victims are women. 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.
Petty crime, including bag snatching and pickpocketing, is common. Avoid displaying signs of affluence in public, particularly when landing at the El Salvador International airport, as wealthy-looking tourists are more likely to be targeted by criminals. Ensure that your personal belongings, passports and other travel documents are secure at all times in a hotel room safe or hotel safety deposit box. Carry only a copy of the identification page of your passport and sufficient funds for the day. Avoid walking after dark, including in the capital city of San Salvador. Travel in groups if possible. Remain extremely vigilant and exercise caution at all times.
Be particularly discreet when using automated banking machines (ABMs). Choose ABMs in controlled areas only, such as in banks or hotels, and stay alert to your surroundings when using them. Criminals have been known to observe, follow and then rob victims who have made withdrawals. Credit card skimming is on the rise.
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, follow their victims and stop them at gunpoint. In most cases, victims are taken to ABMs and forced to withdraw money.
Carjackings also occur. There are occasionally reports of armed criminals following 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.
Gangs are often behind extortion threats against individuals and businesses. Gang members do not hesitate to 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.
The historic downtown of San Salvador (especially from Parque Simón Bolivar to Plaza El Zurita, and from Alameda Juan Pablo II to Boulevard Venezuela) is dangerous as criminals often hide in crowds and attack without warning. Gangs and individuals who specialize in mugging, extortion and murder operate in these areas. Other neighbourhoods that pose the highest risk to travellers in San Salvador are Soyapango, Apopa, Nejapa, Ilopango Mejicanos and Tutunichapa. The number of assaults in Avenida Olímpica, which is located within the vicinity of the Embassy, has increased. Be very cautious, especially on paydays, as many victims have been assaulted when withdrawing money from banks in the surrounding area or while travelling home, with their pay, on public transportation.
There is a large discrepancy in the distribution of wealth across neighbourhoods in San Salvador, even within the same neighbourhood. Some neighbourhoods are considered safer than others. Avoid crossing a neighbourhood that is a known criminal stronghold to get to a safer neighbourhood. No matter where you are, maintain heightened vigilance and be on the alert. Hotels, especially international hotels, in the neighbourhoods of Escalón (Crowne Plaza), San Benito (Hilton and Sheraton) and Santa Elena are generally safe options.
Borders with Guatemala and Honduras
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 been reported 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 licencse plates issued by a country other than Guatemala. Armed robbers have been known to dress as Guatemalan police and to erect roadblocks to stop buses with Salvadoran licence plates heading into Guatemala. They then rob the driver and passengers. When crossing the border into Guatemala, drive with your car doors locked, do not stop for street or roadside vendors, and avoid travelling after dark. Instead, use one of the other three border crossings (La Hachadura, San Cristóbal or Anguiatú) if possible.
Gang activity is increasing in the areas along the northern and eastern borders with Honduras, with reports of 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, use the border crossing at El Amatillo during daylight hours and as early as possible.
Demonstrations, sit-ins and protest marches may occur at any time, especially on San Salvador’s main access roads and around the Salvador del Mundo monument (Plaza Las Americas), where most protests and marches begin and end. The Canadian embassy is located a few metres from Salvador del Mundo. Monitor local media reports to learn about planned demonstrations and avoid large gatherings as these may turn violent without warning. Criminality is a factor, and often a large number of protestors are inebriated. The El Salvador Constitution prohibits political activities by foreigners. Do not participate in demonstrations or you may be detained and/or deported.
Driving in El Salvador can be hazardous because local vehicles are often overloaded and poorly maintained and 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, whereas rural roads are hazardous because of wandering livestock and pedestrians. Always drive defensively because other drivers may be impaired by drugs or alcohol.
Bandits, carjackers, kidnappers and other 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. Rural areas may be 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.
Use only reputable tour operators. Do not use local or intercity public buses as vehicles are often mechanically unreliable and 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. Do not board taxis at taxi stands, and do not flag taxis in the street.
We do not make assessments on the compliance of foreign domestic airlines with international safety standards.
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.
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. Consult the POLITUR website (in Spanish) for more information.
General safety information
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.
Cellular telephone service is generally reliable. Cell phones are available locally for a modest sum at any retail kiosk for a major telephone company. These phones provide the added advantage of having a local number for emergencies.
If you are robbed, go to the police station. Do not expect assistance in your preferred language, as most Salvadorans do not speak English or French.
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
Tourist card and entry/exit stamps
To enter El Salvador, you must purchase a tourist card, which costs US$10 and is valid for 30 to 90 days. The precise period is determined by local officials. The tourist card is not a visa but it is a mandatory requirement when you enter through El Salvador International Airport or one of the four land border points. 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 remains valid.
It is your responsibility to obtain entry and exit stamps at border crossings.
If you wish to extend your stay in El Salvador beyond 90 days, you may apply to the immigration authorities to have your tourist card extended.
If you intend to work or study in El Salvador for longer than 90 days, you must apply for residence from inside the country. Salvadoran residence-documentation requirements are extensive, so organize all the documents you will need before you leave Canada.
A mandatory exit tax of US$32 is included in the price of the airplane ticket.
Central America-4 Border Control Agreement
Under the terms of the Central America-4 Border Control Agreement (CA-4), Canadian tourists may travel within any of the CA-4 countries – Honduras, Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala – for up to 90 days, without having to undergo full 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 (i.e., close contact with animals, occupational risk, and children).
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 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.
* 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 pediatric travellers, travellers going to rural areas, visiting friends and relatives or travelling for a long period of time. Travellers visiting regions with typhoid risk, 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.
- The risk of dengue is higher during the daytime, particularly at 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
State-funded, public hospitals are located in large cities, mostly in San Salvador. There are few public hospitals, however, and 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 y Emergencias 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 requested to purchase all consumables prior to your care. Most health care providers only speak Spanish.
Keep your travel health insurance up to date and sufficiently comprehensive to cover the costs of emergency care. Make sure you can easily access enough funds to cover the cost of medical treatment and medical evacuation by air ambulance if you need it.
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 strict. Convicted offenders can expect jail sentences.
You must obtain approval from the El Salvador Department of Foreign Affairs to attend international conferences. If permission is granted, you may participate only as an observer, not as an activist or political lobbyist.
You need a permit to own or carry a firearm. Permits are issued in El Salvador. You could be jailed if you are caught carrying an unregistered firearm.
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. Obtain an International Driving Permit if you plan to travel between countries. It is illegal for two men to ride together on a motorcycle.
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), not the colón (SVC), which is no longer in circulation. You must present your passport at major hotels and banks before you can exchange traveller’s cheques for USD currency. Ask for small denominations ($1, $5, $10), since $50 and $100 bills are not widely accepted and can expose you to a greater risk of robbery.
Canadian dollars (cash or traveller's cheques) cannot be exchanged in El Salvador.
Natural disasters and climate
Natural disasters & climate
Seismic activity and volcanoes
El Salvador is located in a highly active seismic zone. Tremors occur regularly, while major earthquakes occur intermittently. FAmiliarize yourself with the proper safety measures to take in the event of an earthquake.
On November 24, 2016, a 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck off the Pacific coast of El Salvador. Follow the instructions of local authorities and monitor local media.
The Sistema Nacional de Estudios Territoriales (in Spanish only) provides regular reports on the levels of activity of El Salvador’s active volcanoes. Pay close attention to all warnings, avoid restricted areas and follow the advice of local authorities if a volcano erupts.
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
Emergency services exist but may be subject to certain limitations. Dial 911 for emergency assistance.
San Salvador - Embassy of Canada
For emergency consular assistance, call the embassy of Canada in San Salvador and follow the instructions. At any time, you may also contact the Emergency Watch and Response Centre in Ottawa.
You may make a collect call to the Emergency Watch and Response Centre in Ottawa at 613-996-8885. To call collect, you must first dial the international carrier number of the phone company you are using, followed by 001, the area code and phone number you wish to call.
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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