This is an
annual report produced in conjunction with the Regional Security Office at the
U.S. Embassy in San Salvador. OSAC encourages travelers to use
this report to gain baseline knowledge of security conditions in El
Salvador. For more in-depth information, review OSAC’s El Salvador country page
for original OSAC reporting, consular messages, and contact information, some
of which may be available only to private-sector representatives with an OSAC
current U.S. Department of State Travel
Advisory at the date of this report’s publication
assesses El Salvador at Level 2, indicating travelers should exercise
increased caution when traveling to El Salvador due to crime. Review OSAC’s report, Understanding the
Consular Travel Advisory System.
Overall Crime & Safety
Department of State has assessed San Salvador as being a CRITICAL-threat location for crime directed at or affecting
official U.S. government interests. El Salvador is the smallest and most
densely populated country in Central America, with more than six million people,
high unemployment and generally low wages, and comparatively high housing
costs. Some of these factors push families in lower economic status into
marginal housing zones. These zones, located throughout urban areas, including
in upscale neighborhoods, provide a point of origin and safe haven for
run the gamut from credit card skimming to homicide. It is characterized by
violence directed against known targeted victims and targets of opportunity. No
information suggests that criminals specifically target U.S. citizens. The
threat of violent crime in El Salvador often leads to the curtailment of
recreational opportunities. Crimes
of every type occur routinely.
Government of El Salvador tracks eleven specific categories of crime, and
logged 23,914 reports of crime in 2019 in the categories of theft, bobbery, injuries,
homicide, extortion, theft of vehicle, carjacking, rape, road deaths, truck jacking,
and kidnapping. Non-categorized crime reports totaled 40,522 incidents.
crimes (e.g. robbery, burglary, theft, and theft of vehicles) are the most
common crimes committed in El Salvador, accounting for 47% of all categorized crimes.
Of these, simple theft, including burglary, accounted for 63% of all reported
property crimes. Armed robberies accounted for 27% of all reported property
crimes. Burglaries during daylight hours occur in residential neighborhoods
throughout San Salvador. At times, individuals pose as delivery people or
police officers to gain access to a home. Cameras, concertina wire, and grilles
on all windows/doors appear to dissuade some would-be burglars; residences
without these features are targets of crime more frequently. The presence of
armed security and the use of security features in homes have proven successful
in combating home invasion. Review OSAC’s reports, Hotels: The Inns and
Outs and Considerations for
cases reported to the Embassy involve the loss of a U.S. passport during a
surreptitious theft of bags, backpacks, or purses. Review OSAC’s report, All That You Should
against the person (e.g. assault, homicide, rape, and sexual assault) accounted
for 35% of all categorized crime incidents in 2019. Of these, physical assaults
including domestic violence accounted for 16%. Rapes accounted for 26% of all
reported crimes against the person. There were 2,254 rape cases reported to the
police in 2019, up 2% from 2018. Although the homicide rate has consistently and
notably declined since 2015's high of 104 per 100,000 inhabitants, El Salvador
continues to have one of the highest homicide rates in the world. Since 2015,
the per-capita annual homicide rate has fallen from 81/100,000 in 2016, to 60 in
2017, 50 in 2018, and 36 in 2019; this new rate remains more than seven times the
murder rate in the United States. Homicides accounted for 10% of all categorized
crime incidents in El Salvador in 2019. Females accounted for 9% of all
homicide victims in 2019, down from 11% in 2018.
are not uniform across the country. In 2019, the municipalities of San Salvador
(12%), San Miguel (10%), Santa Ana (7%), Apopa (7%), and Mejicanos (5%) were
the five municipalities registering the most homicides.
well-armed street gangs — MS-13 (Mara Salvatrucha)
and 18th Street (Barrio 18) being the
largest — are dispersed throughout El Salvador. They concentrate on
street-level drug sales, extortion, arms trafficking, murder for hire,
carjacking, and aggravated street crime. Recognizing the threat posed by MS-13,
the U.S. Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) has designated
MS-13 a Transnational Criminal Organization in its list of Specially Designated
continues to be a common and lucrative criminal enterprise in El Salvador. In
2019, victims filed 2,115 complaints, up from the 1,628 complaints in 2018. In
2017, the National Police launched an anti-extortion call center for victims
and witnesses to anonymously report extortion, which may account for the increase
Areas of Concern
stretches of beaches all along the coast of El Salvador at all times. Monitored
beach areas at clubs and public access beaches are less vulnerable to crime.
Salvador has concerns regarding ATM/credit card crime, including at well-known
restaurants, hotels, gas stations, and retailers. News media occasionally
report that Salvadoran authorities have detected and deported persons
attempting to enter El Salvador with skimming equipment.
OSAC’s reports, The Overseas Traveler’s
Guide to ATM Skimmers & Fraud, Taking Credit,
Best Practices for Maximizing
Security on Public Wi-Fi, Traveling with Mobile
Devices: Trends & Best Practices, and Satellite Phones:
Critical or Contraband?
Safety and Road Conditions
significant percentage of vehicles are in disrepair, underpowered, beyond their
service life, or otherwise do not meet U.S. road safety standards. Passing on
blind corners and over hills is common. Driving while intoxicated is common and
is a major contributing factor to traffic accident fatalities. Due to lax
enforcement of traffic laws, drivers must drive defensively.
conditions in urban areas are generally fair; rural area conditions are poor.
Likewise, road lighting in urban areas is generally fair, but generally
non-existent on roads and highways outside urbanized areas. In urban and rural
areas alike, stray animals, unwary pedestrians and bicyclists, and numerous
large potholes (or missing manhole covers) make driving particularly dangerous
and hazardous at night.
outside of cities and to Guatemala or Honduras during daylight hours and, if
possible, with multiple-vehicle convoys for safety. Refrain from driving
outside the capital after dark, for personal security and traffic safety
reasons. In 2017, there were 1,244 deaths due to traffic accidents; 1,312 occurred
in 2018; and 1,404 were recorded in 2019. The police recorded 20,107 traffic
accidents in 2019, down slightly from 20,378 in 2018.
tour companies frequently employ national police officers from the tourist
police division to accompany their groups for personal security. Review OSAC’s
reports, Road Safety Abroad,
Driving Overseas: Best
Practices, and Evasive Driving
Techniques; and read the State Department’s webpage on driving
and road safety abroad.
public transportation, especially local buses. Public buses are often in poor
mechanical condition. News media regularly carry reports of riders robbed at
stops or while on the bus. Regional "first class" or
"executive" commercial bus travel is generally safe, although
robberies have occurred in neighboring countries. Minibus, bus, and taxi
drivers commonly disregard traffic rules. Review OSAC’s report, Security In Transit:
Airplanes, Public Transport, and Overnights.
owned cabs are unregulated. Use only taxis you can call via telephone or that
you find at major reputable hotels. Uber operates in San Salvador.
Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the government’s Civil
Aviation Authority as compliant with International Civil Aviation Organization
(ICAO) aviation safety standards for oversight of El Salvador’s air carrier
agreement between El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras allows for
inspection-free travel of citizens of these countries using only an
identification card and may contribute to the ease of regional criminal travel.
Department of State has assessed San Salvador as being a LOW-threat location for terrorism directed at or affecting official
U.S. government interests. No known international terrorist groups operate in
El Salvador. El Salvador does not appear to be a terrorist safe haven. There
were no legal cases involving instances of terrorism affecting U.S. citizens or
facilities brought before the judicial system in 2019, nor were there any
judicial developments that would appear to have a significant impact on U.S.
Political, Economic, Religious,
and Ethnic Violence
Department of State has assessed San Salvador as being a MEDIUM-threat location for political violence directed at or
affecting official U.S. government interests. Public protests and strikes
against the government, generally by government employees, are common. Most
demonstrations concentrate in/around city centers or public buildings and other
public areas. Although usually non-violent, these public displays sometimes
create security problems and impede traffic. Review OSAC’s report, Surviving a Protest.
Salvador is located in an active seismic zone, experiencing numerous
earthquakes. El Salvador suffers a major earthquake approximately every ten
years. Seismic tremors of a magnitude of approximately 5.0 occur on a regular
basis, usually causing little damage. There are close to 2,000 tremors in the
country per year. In 2014, a 7.4-magnitude earthquake struck off the coast,
causing moderate damage and killing one person. In May 2019, a 6.6-magnitude
earthquake struck off the coast, causing light damage and reportedly contributing
to the death of one person.
There are 21
active volcanoes in El Salvador.
undertows and currents make swimming at El Salvador’s Pacific Coast beaches
extremely dangerous, even for experienced swimmers. Lifeguards are not present
at beaches and lakes. In addition, El Salvador’s search and rescue capabilities
are limited, and access to medical resources in these areas is inadequate.
Carefully assess the potential risks of recreational water activities and
consider your physical capabilities and skills.
direct hits by hurricanes occur less frequently, they are a concern. Loss of
life and damage to infrastructure results mostly from flooding and mudslides
during the rainy season or following a tropical storm. During the rainy season
(May-October), heavy and persistent storms can cause landslides, topple
trees/power lines, and wash away roads and bridges. In October 2018, heavy
rains forced the government to close schools nationwide for several days.
OSAC’s report, Central
America Natural Disaster Emergency Planning: OSAC Guidance and Resources.
Salvador revised several of its laws to comply with CAFTA-DR's provisions on
intellectual property rights (IPR), but smuggling of counterfeit products,
music and video piracy, use of unlicensed software, and cable and satellite
signal piracy are still prevalent.
Attorney General's Office and the National Civilian Police enforce trademark
and IPR by conducting raids against distributors and manufacturers of pirated
goods. Salvadoran law authorizes the seizure, forfeiture, and destruction of
counterfeit and pirated goods and the equipment used to produce them. It also
allows authorities to initiate raids ex officio. Piracy is punishable by
a jail sentence of 2-6 years. As a practical matter, however, the Attorney
General’s Office lacks a trained team of IPR investigators and prosecutors,
and, in a country with limited resources and a high crime rate, IPR cases do
not receive a high priority. The judiciary, due to the lack of familiarity with
IPR issues and inconsistent enforcement, continues to be the weak link in IPR
protection; using the courts to seek redress for IPR violations is often a slow
and frustrating process.
Salvador is not on the Special 301 Watch List or the notorious market report.
Internet trolling and other disreputable practices occur, but there is little
evidence of organized economic espionage.
exist to protect privacy, enforcement of those laws remains difficult. The
release of personal and medical information over the phone, by email, or in
person is common. There are few incidents of identity theft. Consequently, it
is common for Salvadorans to include their photo, national ID number, date of
birth, address, and other personal information on resumes and other documents.
negative sentiment toward individuals who identify as LGBTI+. Members of the
LGBTI+ community engaged in sexual work or gang activity are at the highest
risk of victimization. In 2018, the Government of El Salvador commissioned the National
Division for the Protection of Women, Children, Adolescents, and Other
Vulnerable Populations; this agency employs prosecutors specially trained to
investigate crimes against the LGBTI community. The Office of the Human Rights
Ombudsman has proactively condemned attacks against the LGBTI+ community. LGBTI+
travelers should exercise caution, especially when expressing affection in
public. Review the State Department’s webpage on security for LGBTI+
law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical and mental
disabilities in employment, education, access to health care, or the provision
of other state services. The government, however, does not allocate sufficient
resources to enforce these prohibitions effectively. There are few access ramps
or provisions for the mobility of persons with sight and hearing disabilities. Review
the State Department’s webpage on security for travelers
Salvador is not considered a major transit point for illegal narcotics, though
maritime smuggling routes do exist in the eastern Pacific. El Salvador is party
to the 1988 United Nations Drug Convention. The relatively small volume of drugs
transiting the country in comparison with some regional neighbors, as well as
active efforts by Salvadoran authorities to combat transit routes, has kept El
Salvador from becoming a major transit location.
Salvador’s gangs are not major narcotics trafficking organizations. Rather,
they are primarily involved in retail street-level drug sales.
for possession, use, or trafficking illegal drugs are strict; convicted
offenders can expect lengthy jail sentences and fines.
receiving significant support from U.S. and other partners, the police often suffer
from inadequate funding and limited resources. Because of perceived and actual
corruption, they do not enjoy the full confidence and cooperation of much of El
Salvador’s citizenry. The police’s investigative units have shown great
promise; however, routine street-level patrol techniques, anti-gang work, and
crime suppression efforts remain a constant, difficult challenge. Equipment
shortages (particularly radios and vehicles) limit their ability to deter or
respond to crimes expeditiously. Other impediments to effective law enforcement
are unsupportive laws, general distrust, and the occasional lack of cooperation
between the police, prosecutors, and corrections.
and detention facilities supply only the bare minimum of basic necessities. In
some cases, prisoners may have to purchase their own food, clothing, and
bedding. Prisons are extremely overcrowded; many prisoners do not have access
to beds. Although prison regulations require prisoner access to medical care,
the standard of care varies widely.
allows the police to detain individuals for up to 72 hours for administrative
processing. This is a common practice for most automobile accidents resulting
in personal injury, apprehensions for DUI, and for criminal acts, including
treat arrested or otherwise detained foreigners well. U.S. citizen
residents/travelers should insist on speaking to U.S. Embassy representatives
upon arrest or detention. Except in some very rural locations, police are generally
aware of a U.S. citizen detainee's right to contact the Embassy. Embassy
assistance is limited to ensuring U.S. citizens are not mistreated, contacting
family/friends, protesting breaches of due process, and providing a list of
procedures are not always clear or easily understood. Significant delays during
the investigation and legal process are common.
of crime should contact the police and the U.S. Embassy. For public safety
emergencies, dial 911. Operators
generally only speak Spanish. Download the State Department’s Crime Victims
only one national police service: The Policia
Nacional Civil (PNC). Each major city, municipality, or town has a PNC
delegation. The PNC also has a number of specialized units that investigate
specific crimes and traffic enforcement, anti-gang, civil disturbance, VIP
protection, and other special operations units.
services are more readily available in the capital city than in outlying areas,
but city facilities would be overwhelmed quickly in the event of a
mass-casualty incident. Public hospitals are very crowded. Their resources are
typically very limited, and they do not see patients quickly that are not
assessed to have an obvious life-threatening emergency.
few private hospitals. The Embassy uses Hospital Diagnostico and Hospital de la
Mujer for most routine medical and surgical needs. Embassy health professionals
assess the standards of these hospitals to be less than those of the United
States. Find contact information for available medical services and available
air ambulance services on the U.S. Embassy website.
are plentiful, but not all medicines found in the U.S. are available. Medicines
often have a different brand name and are frequently more expensive than in the
U.S. Recent regulatory changes that established price limits for
pharmaceuticals may affect quality and availability of certain medicines. Carry
an adequate supply of any required medication in its original, clearly labeled
container. A copy of the prescription from the prescribing doctor will be
helpful if immigration or customs authorities question you about your
only one private ambulance service with a fleet of vehicles in San Salvador
that has trained personnel and medical equipment to manage emergencies. (Priority
Ambulance: Tel: +503-2264-7911) The response time is often less than ideal
because of heavy traffic in San Salvador. It is often quicker for people to
transport themselves by private vehicle.
and physicians expect up-front payment (by cash or, for hospitals, credit card)
for all bills. No hospitals or medical offices will bill U.S. insurance
companies. Check with insurance providers to ensure you have adequate medical
insurance valid for El Salvador, including coverage for medical evacuation
(medevac). The U.S. Department of State strongly recommends purchasing
international health insurance before traveling internationally. Review the
State Department’s webpage on insurance
Vaccination and Health Guidance
routinely recommended immunizations for the U.S. should be up to date. Measles,
mumps, rubella, tetanus, pertussis, and chickenpox are much more common than in
the U.S., especially among children. Additionally, all travelers should have hepatitis
A and typhoid immunizations. Those who may have sexual contact, receive
tattoos, or require medical treatment in El Salvador should receive the hepatitis
OSAC’s reports, The Healthy Way,
Medication, I’m Drinking What in My
Water?, Shaken: The Don’ts of
Alcohol Abroad, Health 101: How to Prepare for Travel, and Fire Safety Abroad. The CDC offers additional
information on vaccines and health guidance for El
OSAC Country Council Information
no Country Council in San Salvador. Interested private-sector security managers
should contact OSAC’s Latin America Team with any questions.
U.S. Embassy Contact Information
Final Boulevard Santa Elena, La Libertad
operation: 0800-1700, Monday-Friday. (Closed on U.S. and Salvadoran holidays.)
24-Hour Contact Number: +503-2501-2999
travel, consider the following resources:
OSAC Risk Matrix
Department Traveler’s Checklist
Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP)
Salvador Country Information Sheet