El Salvador - Country Commercial Guide
Business Travel

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

Last published date: 2020-09-30

Business Customs

El Salvador and the United States share strong business ties which provide Salvadorans a high level of comfort in doing business with U.S. companies. Much like 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 is conservative. A lightweight suit is the most appropriate attire for business meetings. Expect to shake hands before and after your meeting, and do not 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).  These are followed by the person’s last name. Business cards are used, and it is important to exchange business cards during a first meeting. It is helpful to have a supply of business cards printed in Spanish. 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 COVID-19 and exercise caution because of the high crime rate.  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. 

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

For updated information about general commercial travel requirements country by country, please visit Sherpa for the latest updates.

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

For information about ACS services, please visit The U.S. Embassy in El Salvador website. For information that 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: death, arrest, missing persons, and child abduction.

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 extremely dangerous even for experienced swimmers. Since 2008, 16 U.S. citizens have drowned while swimming in Salvadoran waters. 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: Demonstrations, sit-ins, and protests may occur at any time or place, but are most frequent in and around the capital San Salvador. Avoid demonstrations. Even peaceful demonstrations may turn violent. Follow local news media reports or contact the U.S. Embassy for up-to-date information.

CRIME: El Salvador has one of the highest homicide levels in the world and crimes such as extortion, assault and robbery are common. Since January 2010, 50 U.S. citizens have been murdered in El Salvador. During the same time period, 562 U.S. citizens reported having their passports stolen, while others were victims of violent crimes.

Typical crimes in El Salvador include extortion, mugging, highway assault, home invasion, and car theft. 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 as police officers.

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

· Always travel in groups.

· Avoid remote or isolated locations.

· Avoid displaying or carrying valuables in public places.

· Never leave passports and other important documents in vehicles.

· U.S. Embassy personnel are advised not to walk, run, or cycle in the unguarded streets and parks of El Salvador, even in groups. Exercise only in gyms and fitness centers. Do not travel on public transportation, especially buses. Use only radio-dispatched taxis or those stationed in front of major hotels.

· 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 is 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.

· Avoid travel outside of major metropolitan areas after dark and on unpaved roads at all times because of criminal assaults and lack of police and road service facilities.

· 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. Engage 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 serious 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 properly investigate and prosecute cases and to 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 prior to entering the country. However, holders of tourist passports should expect to pay a USD $10.00 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 that country’s visa requirements.

U.S. Companies that require travel of foreign businesspersons 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 of arrival by the Salvadoran authorities. Arms 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 ammunitions while traveling to or while in El Salvador is prohibited.  Travelers in possession of any firearm or ammunition are subject to arrest/detainment by Salvadoran authorities and local law.

Approval to carry a firearm 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 travelling to the United States must first obtain a U.S. visa.  U.S. companies that require travel of foreign business partners to the United States should allow sufficient time for visa adjudication.  The Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy recommends applying two months in advance of the anticipated travel date. Visa applicants should go to the following links: 

State Department Visa Application Website  

U.S. Embassy in El Salvador - Consular Section Visa Unit Website 

In addition, some airlines may require travelers to have more than 6 months validity left on their passport; therefore the U.S. Embassy recommends that travelers with 6 months or less validity left on their passports renew their passports prior to travelling 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 for qualifying individuals renewing full validity B1/B2 visas within one year 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. 

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 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 currency in El Salvador is Uthe U.S. Dollar.

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

ATMs are in shopping centers, major hotels, and convenience store 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. If it is not included, it is customary to leave the tip in cash.

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, airport, popular restaurants, and business areas in main cities – San Salvador, San Miguel and Santa Ana.  The postal service system does not meet international standards; however, there are many private courier services, such as DHL, FedEx, and UPS, operating in the market.

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

Telecommunication companies that provide fixed phone line service:

· CTE, S.A. de C.V.

· Telefónica Móviles El Salvador, S.A. de C.V.

· GCA Telecom, S.A. de C.V. (GCA)

· El Salvador Network, S.A. (SALNET)

· Telemovil El Salvador, S.A. (TIGO)

· Telecomunicaciones de America (TELECAM)

· CTE Telecom Personal (CLARO)

· I.P. Holding’s S.A de C.V.

· RED 4G, S.A. de C.V.

· Digicel, S.A. de C.V.

Providers of Mobile service:

· CTE Telecom Personal (CLARO)

· Digicel, S.A. de C.V.

· Telemovil El Salvador, S.A. (TIGO)

· Telefónica Móviles El Salvador, S.A. de C.V.

· Intelfon, S.A. de C.V. (RED)

Providers of cable and satellite service:

· CTE Telecom Personal (CLARO)

· Telemovil El Salvador, S.A. (TIGO)

· SKY

Mobile phone providers offer roaming service. To avoid high roaming charges, consider purchasing a pre-paid SIM card from any of the major cell phone providers (Tigo, Movistar, Claro and Digicel). An ID card or passport is required to purchase 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, 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. The 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 transit 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

Business Service Providers

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 useful 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 and it is considered safe.  
  • Insect repellent should be used liberally when outdoors.  There has been a sharp rise in the occurrence of dengue fever, chikungunya and zika in Central America. 
  • Due to the COVID 19 situation; restaurants are closed and are only preparing food to be taken home or to be delivery through food delivery companies 
  • As around the world, social distance and wearing a mask is highly recommended while in El Salvador 
  • As per July 2020 around 17,000 cases diagnosed and total of 430 deaths due to COVID 19 
  • At this time COVID test is available through the Ministry of Health, and the private laboratory Analiza has been authorized to perform PCR 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 prior to 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 

Website 

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 important as there are no specific treatments for chikungunya or dengue and vaccines are still not available. 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, in 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 vivaxFor further information on yellow fever, dengue and chikungunya, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.  

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 prior to arrival. Refer to medical providers.  

For further information on vaccinations in El Salvador, please go to CDC 

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 2020

 

January 1

New Year’s Day

April 18 - 21

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

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 during the period 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 time periods.

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); dry season (November to April).

Temporary Entry of Materials or Personal Belongings

Customs may authorize temporary entry of foreign merchandise with temporary or partial suspension of duties for specific purposes under the condition that they are re-exported within the time authorized 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 after the investment has been registered. The residency permit covers the investor and family and is issued for one year, subject to extension on a yearly basis. There are few restrictions on the professional and technical jobs that can be held by foreigners.

American investors seeking permanent residence in El Salvador or interested in a multiple entry visa, should review requirements and fees at the Direction of Commerce and Investment (DCI) of the Ministry of Economy, website

Travel Related Web Resources

Ministry of Tourism in El Salvador (MITUR) and CORSATUR

Salvadoran Restaurants Association

Ministry of Economy

Travel