El Salvador - Country Commercial Guide
Business Travel

Includes information on acceptable business etiquette, dress, business cards, gifts, etc.

Last published date: 2022-12-30

Business Customs

El Salvador and the United States share strong business ties, providing Salvadorans a high level of comfort in doing business with U.S. companies. Much like in the rest of Latin America, in El Salvador, business is conducted after a relationship has been established. Spending time forming a personal connection before jumping into business discussions is highly recommended. Spanish is the official language in El Salvador.

The business dress code in El Salvador depends on the setting and the sector. A lightweight suit is the most appropriate attire for business meetings with business organizations or events, and business casual is acceptable for business-to-business meetings. Expect to shake hands before and after your meeting, and it’s best to wait to use a person’s first name until a relationship has been solidified. Salvadorans commonly use titles such as Licenciado (meaning a college graduate), Ingeniero (engineering graduate), or Doctor (used both for physicians and lawyers). The person’s last name follows these. Business cards are used and exchanging them during a first meeting is important. Breakfast meetings are common and begin around 7:30 a.m. Lunches and dinners can be lengthy (2-3 hours). Dinners start late by U.S. standards, frequently at 7:00 p.m. Lunch is usually at 12:30 p.m.

Travel Advisory

The Department of State warns U.S. citizens to reconsider travel to El Salvador due to crime. For the most updated travel information, visit The Department of State Bureau of Consular Affairs website, which offers safety updates, travel advisories, and country-specific information.

Before traveling to El Salvador, you should consider enrolling in STEP (Smart Traveler Enrollment Program). STEP is a free service to allow U.S. citizens traveling abroad to register their trip with the nearest U.S. Embassy.

The American Citizen Services (ACS) Unit does not handle visas or immigration information requests.

Please visit The U.S. Embassy in El Salvador website.for information about ACS services. For information you cannot find on the website, please e-mail acssansal@state.gov. For after-hour emergencies, call (503) 2501-2999. This phone number is ONLY for emergency assistance directly affecting a U.S. Citizen in El Salvador. Examples of emergencies include child abduction, arrest, death, crime, and emergency financial assistance.

Safety and Security Information

For the most updated safety and security information, please visit the El Salvador Country Information page of the Department of State Bureau of Consular Affairs website

The crime threat level in El Salvador is critical, and the Travel Advisory warns U.S. citizens of the high rates of crime and violence. 

Swimming: Strong undertows and currents make swimming at El Salvador’s Pacific Coast beaches hazardous, even for experienced swimmers. Lifeguards are not always 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.

Protests: 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.

Crime: 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. As late as 2018, El Salvador’s homicide rate was the world’s worst, but it has since fallen below that of more than 20 other countries.

Typical crimes in El Salvador include armed robbery, homicide, and sexual assault. Assaults against police officers are on the rise. Shootouts between rival criminal gangs and between police and criminal gangs are common. Home invasions and/or burglaries of residences during broad daylight occur in affluent residential neighborhoods in San Salvador. Some of these home invasions are committed by individuals posing as deliverymen or police officers.

Exercise caution at all times and practice reasonable personal security procedures throughout your stay.

Be aware of your surroundings.

  • Always travel in groups.
  • Avoid remote or isolated locations.
  • Do not display signs of wealth, such as wearing expensive watches or jewelry.
  • Never leave passports and other essential documents in vehicles.
  • Be vigilant while visiting banks or using ATMs.
  • Remain vigilant even in well-known restaurants, hotels, and retailers within San Salvador.
  • Credit card cloning and similar fraud are common. Do not let your credit card out of your sight.
  • Armed holdups of vehicles traveling on El Salvador’s roads are common.
  • Drive with your doors locked and windows raised.
  • Do not walk outside after dark. Do not drive to unfamiliar and/or remote locations after dark. 
  • Be aware that criminals may follow travelers from the El Salvador International Airport to private residences or secluded stretches of road where they carry out assaults and robberies. Armed robbers are known to shoot if the vehicle does not come to a stop.
  • Travelers with conspicuous amounts of luggage, late-model cars, or foreign license plates are particularly vulnerable to crime.

Armed robberies of climbers and hikers in El Salvador’s national parks are common. Request the services of a local guide certified by the national or local tourist authority when hiking in back-country areas and within the national parks. The tourist police force (POLITUR) provides security and assistance to tourists. Officers are in 19 tourist destinations.

Most severe crimes in El Salvador are never solved; only 7 of the 50 murders of U.S. citizens since January 2010 have resulted in convictions. The Government of El Salvador lacks sufficient resources to adequately investigate and prosecute cases and deter violent crime. 

El Salvador has thousands of known gang members from several gangs, including Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and 18th Street (M18). Gang members engage in violence or use deadly force if resisted. These “maras” concentrate on extortion, violent street crime, carjacking, narcotics and arms trafficking, and murder for hire. Extortion is a common crime in El Salvador. U.S. citizens who visit El Salvador for extended periods are at higher risk for extortion demands.

Visa Requirements

Individuals entering El Salvador on U.S. diplomatic, official, or tourist passports are not required to obtain a Salvadoran visa before entering the country. However, holders of tourist passports should expect to pay a USD 12.00 fee at the port of entry. Official and diplomatic passport holders are exempt. 

Individuals possessing a passport from a country other than the United States should look up their country’s visa requirements.

U.S. Companies requiring foreign businesspersons to travel to the United States are advised that security evaluations are handled via an interagency process. Visa applicants should go to the following link(s): State Department Visa Website.

Immigration, Customs, and Quarantine

Imports of certain high-caliber firearms are prohibited. Any exception to this rule must be approved in advance by the Salvadoran authorities. Weapons for personal defense or hunting may be imported but are strictly controlled by the police and Ministry of Defense, based on a special law.

The importation or possession of other firearms or ammunition while traveling to or while in El Salvador is prohibited. Travelers possessing firearms or ammunition are subject to arrest/detainment by Salvadoran authorities and local law. Approval to carry a gun on a flight from airlines departing the U.S. to El Salvador does not constitute approval from the Government of El Salvador to bear a firearm while in El Salvador.

The airport departure fee is included in the airline ticket price. Bearers of diplomatic passports are exempt from this departure fee. Travelers leaving by land do not pay exit taxes.

Visas to the United States

All Salvadoran nationals traveling to the United States must first obtain a U.S. visa. U U.S. Companies requiring foreign businesspersons to travel to the United States are advised that security evaluations are handled via an interagency process. Visa applicants should go to the following link(s): State Department Visa Website.

In addition, some airlines may require travelers to have more than six months of validity left on their passport; therefore, the U.S. Embassy recommends that travelers with six months or less validity left on their passports renew their passports before traveling to the United States.

Interview Waiver for Non-Immigrant Applicants to the United States: The Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy in San Salvador, El Salvador, has instituted Interview Waiver procedures until further notice for qualifying individuals renewing full validity B1/B2 visas within four years of the expiration date. This policy is designed to reduce wait times and facilitate the visa application process for proven travelers. Qualifying applicants may submit their documents through the Cargo Expreso courier service without the need to physically come to the Embassy. Applicants must not have had a visa refused after the original visa was issued and are reminded to provide any necessary legal documents if legal charges of any kind have been made against them.

Qualified applicants can make arrangements to submit their documents through the courier service via the website or the call center (2113-3122 or 2113-3130). All applicants, including those qualifying for an interview waiver, must still complete the online application (DS-160) and pay the visa fee (USD 160). Applicants qualifying for Interview Waiver are reminded that the Consular Officer maintains the right to call any applicant for a personal interview.

Currency

The legal currencies in El Salvador are the U.S. Dollar and Bitcoin. Credit cards are accepted by most stores and restaurants in the main cities, especially those in shopping centers. Visa is the most widely accepted brand, followed by Master Card and American Express. In most stores, you will be asked to show an ID when paying with a credit card.

ATMs are in shopping centers, major hotels, and convenience stores at gas stations and inside or outside banks.

There is a 13% Value Added Tax (IVA) on all purchases, which is included in most prices. A 10% tip is usually included in the invoice of restaurants. It is customary to leave a tip in cash if it is not included.

Telecommunications/Electronics

There are no government restrictions on access to the internet, which is available in public places throughout the country; Wi-Fi is available at international hotels, airports, popular restaurants, and business areas in the main cities – San Salvador, San Miguel, and Santa Ana. The postal service system does not meet international standards; however, many private courier services, such as DHL, FedEx, and UPS, operate in the market.

SIGET (Electricity and Communications Regulator) publishes a report with statistical information grouped by its main areas (landlines, mobile, internet, and costs).

Telecommunication companies that provide fixed phone line service:

  • CTE, S.A. de C.V.
  • El Salvador Network, S.A.
  • GCA Telecom, S.A. de C.V. (GCA)
  • Telecomunicaciones de America (TELECAM)
  • Telemovil El Salvador, S.A. (TIGO)
  • Digicel, S.A. de C.V.
  • General International Telecom de El Salvador
  • CTE Telecom Personal (CLARO)

Providers of Mobile service:

  • CTE Telecom Personal (CLARO)
  • Digicel, S.A. de C.V.
  • Telemovil El Salvador, S.A. (TIGO)
  • General International Telecom de El Salvador
  • Intelfon, S.A. de C.V. (RED)

Providers of cable and satellite service:

  • CTE Telecom Personal (CLARO)
  • Telemovil El Salvador, S.A. (TIGO)
  • SKY
  • Cable Color El Salvador, S.A. de C.V.

Mobile phone providers offer roaming services. To avoid high roaming charges, consider purchasing a pre-paid SIM card from major cell phone providers (Tigo, Movistar, Claro, and Digicel). An ID card or passport is required to buy a SIM card. There is GSM coverage in most of the country and 3G in the main cities.

Electrical plug/outlet and voltage (110-120 volts) are the same as in the U.S. The primary socket type is North American non-grounded.

Transportation

U.S. airlines with international flights to El Salvador include American Airlines, United Airlines, Delta, Frontier, and Spirit. The Colombian airline Avianca has direct flights to and from main cities in the United States, and El Salvador serves as its regional hub. Low-cost airline, Volaris also provides direct flights to/from the United States.

Most hotels offer airport shuttle services for their guests at rates ranging from USD 25 - USD 45 for a one-way trip. Taxi services, normally provided within the perimeter of deluxe hotels, are mostly reliable. Public transportation is not recommended. Renting a car in El Salvador is an option, however, car accidents are amongst the most common causes of serious injury. Avoid driving at night, plan alternative routes, and use seat belts.

Language

Spanish is the official language. English is spoken in some business circles. Business travelers should hire an interpreter for meetings.

Health

Travelers can check the latest health information with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. It provides the most recent health advisories, immunization recommendations or requirements, and advice on food and drinking water safety for regions and countries. A booklet entitled Health Information for International Travel (HHS publication number CDC-95-8280) is available from the U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC 20402, and Telephone: (202) 512-1800. You may also reach the CDC’s hotline at 1-800-CDC-INFO.

Following are some helpful health tips while you are in El Salvador:

  • Most well-known restaurants in El Salvador serve safe food and beverages, but lettuce, cabbage, and other uncooked ground vegetables pose a risk of bacterial dysentery and parasitic infection.
  • As in any part of the world, one must use common sense. Hot food should be eaten hot and cold food should be eaten cold.
  • Meat, pork, and chicken should be cooked thoroughly.
  • Bottled drinks are considered safe. Tap water is not potable. Commercially available water bottled in El Salvador from the Agua Cristal, Alpina, and Las Perlitas plants is considered safe for consumption; however, be sure the heat-molded seal on the bottleneck has not been broken. 
  • All the reputable restaurants in El Salvador use ice made from bottled water, which is considered safe.
  • Insect repellent should be used liberally when outdoors. There has been a sharp rise in dengue fever, chikungunya, and zika in Central America. 
  • At this time, the Covid-19 test is available through the Ministry of Health, and private laboratories have been authorized to perform PCR and Antigen testing 

Yellow Fever Immigration Requirement for El Salvador Entry/Exit: All travelers going to or coming from: Panama, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, French Guiana, Paraguay, Peru, Venezuela, and the continent of Africa, must show proof of vaccination against yellow fever. The vaccination must have occurred at least ten days before the exit/entry to El Salvador. The requirement does not affect travelers who are transiting through El Salvador. The U.S. Embassy encourages all travelers to ensure they meet all immigration requirements before traveling. For further information on the requirements, please contact the Salvadoran Immigration Office (DGME):

Dirección General de Migración y Extranjería (DGME) 

Centro de Gobierno. 9ª Calle Poniente y final 15 Avenida Norte 

Edificio Ministerio de Gobernación, Centro de Gobierno, San Salvador, El Salvador 

Tel.: (503) 2526-3000 or (503) 2213-7800 

E mail: atencion.usuarios@seguridad.gob.sv

Chikungunya, Dengue and Zika: Chikungunya, dengue and zika are present in El Salvador. Most common symptoms include fever, rash, severe headache, joint pain, and muscle or bone pain. Prevention is essential as there are no specific treatments for chikungunya or dengue, and vaccines are still unavailable. It is recommended to use repellents, cover exposed skin, and sleep in screened or air-conditioned rooms. The Aedes mosquitos that carry these illnesses are primarily day biting and often live in homes and hotel rooms, especially under beds, bathrooms, and closets. Malaria is now uncommon in El Salvador, but travelers to rural areas in the departments of Ahuachapán, Santa Ana, and La Unión should be aware of the potential for infection by Plasmodium vivax. For further information on yellow fever, dengue and chikungunya, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.

COVID-19: Effective June 12, 2022, at 12:01 a.m., a negative COVID-19 test is no longer required for any travelers to the United States. Vaccine requirements for non-U.S. citizens and nonimmigrant travelers remain in effect. For complete information, please refer to the CDC website.

Essential services such as medical assistance, grocery stores, pharmacies, public transportation, and gas stations are operating and available to the public. 

The Government of El Salvador reopened the International Airport on September 19, 2020, with enhanced health protocols, which may include but not be limited to requiring the wearing of a mask at all times, maintaining social distancing, and temperature checks. There are no exit restrictions.

On November 17, 2021, the Government of El Salvador removed the COVID-19 test and/or vaccination requirements for entry. Travelers are advised to confirm with their airlines that the airline understands and has implemented this change to avoid complications at their departure airport. For more detailed information, please refer to the Covid-19 Section.

Medical Services

Although many physicians in El Salvador are highly trained, hospital emergency rooms and clinics are generally not equipped and maintained to U.S. standards. Private hospitals are recommended and accept credit cards. Travelers should arrange for medical insurance and evacuation before arrival.

For further information on vaccinations in El Salvador, please visit the CDC website. 

Local time, business hours, and holidays

Standard time zone: UTC/CMT –6 hours. El Salvador does not follow daylight savings time. Working hours in the private sector usually are from 8:00 am to 5:30 pm and in the government sector from 7:30 am to 3:30 pm.

Holidays observed in El Salvador 2022

January 1

New Year’s Day

April 10-17

Holy Week (Semana Santa)

May 1

Labor Day

May 10                

Mother’s Day

June 17 

Father’s Day

August 3-6*

Feast of San Salvador (Agostinos)

September 15

Independence Day

September 16**

Additional day for Independence Day in 2022 only

November 2

All Soul’s Day

December 25*     

Christmas Day

* Salvadoran government offices remain closed for an entire week during Holy Week, Feast of San Salvador Holidays (early August), and between Christmas and New Year’s Eve. Many offices are closed from December 15 to the end of the first week in January. U.S. firms should not visit the country for business purposes during these periods. 

**El Salvador decreed September 16 as a national holiday in 2022 only. This was announced late on September 14.

Climate

The climate in San Salvador is suitable for summer clothing year-round, with an occasional need for a sweater in the evening in December and January. Climate is tropical, rainy season (May to October) and a dry season (November to April).

Temporary Entry of Materials or Personal Belongings

Customs may authorize temporary entry of foreign merchandise with a temporary or partial suspension of duties for specific purposes under the condition that they are re-exported within the time allowed and without any modification.

Those who plan to live and work in El Salvador for an extended period will need to obtain temporary residency, renewed periodically depending on the amount of time granted in the residency permit. Under Article 11 of the Investment Law, foreign investors with investments equal to or more than 4,000 minimum monthly wages have the right to receive “Investor’s Residence,” permitting them to work and stay in the country. Such residency can be requested within 30 days of registering the investment. The residency permit covers the investor and family and is issued for one year, subject to an extension every year. There are few restrictions on the professional and technical jobs that foreigners can hold.

American investors seeking permanent residence in El Salvador or interested in a multiple entry visa should review the requirements and fees at the DGME.