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Travel Warning & Consular Information Sheet for El Salvador

El Salvador - Consular Information Sheet
June 1, 2001

COUNTRY DESCRIPTION: El Salvador has a developing economy, and tourism facilities are not fully developed. The capital is San Salvador. Both the dollar and colon are legal tender.

ENTRY AND EXIT REQUIREMENTS: A current U.S. passport and a one-entry tourist card are required to enter El Salvador. The tourist card may be obtained from immigration officials for a ten-dollar fee upon arrival in country. Travelers who plan to remain in El Salvador for more than thirty days can apply for a multiple-entry visa, issued free of charge, from the Embassy of El Salvador in Washington, D.C. or from a Salvadoran consulate in the United States. Travelers may be asked to present evidence of U.S. employment and adequate finances for their visit at the time of visa application or upon arrival in El Salvador. An exit tax must be paid, either in Salvadoran colones or U.S. dollars, when departing El Salvador from Comalapa International Airport in La Paz. Travelers should be aware that airlines operating out of Comalapa International Airport require U.S. citizens to present a valid U.S. passport when boarding flights bound for the United States. Airlines will not accept Certificates of Naturalization or birth certificates in lieu of a U.S. passport, and information to the contrary should be disregarded. U.S. citizens traveling to El Salvador for any reason without a valid passport should apply for a passport in person at the U.S. Embassy in San Salvador before attempting to return to the United States. Citizens applying for passports overseas are reminded that original proof of citizenship and identity is required before a passport can be issued. Photographic proof of identity is especially important for young children because of the high incidence of fraud involving children.

In an effort to prevent international child abduction, many governments have initiated procedures at entry and exit points. These often include requiring documentary evidence of relationship and permission for the child's travel from the parent(s) or legal guardian not present. Having such documentation on hand, even if not required, may facilitate entry or departure. Minors traveling on Salvadoran passports must have the written permission of both parents to depart El Salvador. This restriction does not apply to minors traveling on U.S. passports, but it may be prudent for minors doing so to include a notarized statement from a parent or guardian as a precaution.

For additional information on entry and exit requirements, travelers may contact the Embassy of El Salvador at 2308 California Street N.W., Washington, D.C. 20008, tel. (202) 387-6511, Internet address http://elsalvador.org; or a Salvadoran consulate in Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New Orleans, New York or San Francisco.

SAFETY AND SECURITY: The U.S. Embassy warns its personnel to drive with their doors locked and windows raised, to avoid travel outside of major metropolitan areas after dark, and to avoid travel on unpaved roads at all times because of random banditry, carjackings, kidnappings, criminal assaults and lack of police and road service facilities. Most fatal traffic accidents or robberies and assaults occur during the evening or early morning hours. Travelers with conspicuous amounts of luggage, late-model cars or foreign license plates are particularly vulnerable, even in the capital.

Demonstrations, sit-ins or other related protests may occur at any time and anywhere in the country, but most frequently in the capital or on the main access roads. U.S. citizens are cautioned to avoid areas where demonstrations are being held and to follow local news media reports or call the U.S. Embassy for up-to-date information.

Many Salvadorans are armed and shootouts are not uncommon. Foreigners, however, may not carry guns even for their own protection without first procuring a firearms license from Salvadoran officials. Failure to do so will result in detention and confiscation of the firearm, even if it is licensed in the United States.

Mine removal efforts ceased several years ago, but land mines and unexploded ordnance in backcountry regions still pose a threat to off-road tourists, backpackers and campers.

Visitors to the beach areas of El Salvador should use caution when swimming in the Pacific Ocean due to strong undertow currents along much of the coast.

CRIME: The U.S. Embassy considers El Salvador a critical crime threat country. Violent and petty crime are prevalent throughout El Salvador and U.S. citizens are often victims. Travelers should avoid carrying valuables in public places. Armed assaults and carjackings take place both in San Salvador and in the interior of the country, but are especially frequent on roads outside the capital where police patrols are scarce. Criminals have been known to follow travelers from the international airport to private residences or secluded stretches of road where they carry out assaults and robberies. Criminals often become violent quickly, especially when victims fail to cooperate immediately in surrendering valuables. Frequently, victims who argue with assailants or refuse to give up their valuables are shot.

Kidnappings for ransom are an ongoing problem. U.S. citizens residing in or visiting El Salvador should exercise caution at all times and take appropriate personal security measures throughout their stay.

U.S. citizens using banking services should be vigilant and cautious while conducting their financial exchanges either inside local banks or at automated teller machines. There have been several reports of armed robberies of people who appear to have been followed from the bank after completing their transactions.

Visitors to El Salvador should use caution when climbing volcanoes or hiking in other remote locations. Armed robberies of climbers and hikers are common.

The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. U.S. citizens can refer to the Department of State's pamphlet, A Safe Trip Abroad, for ways to promote a more trouble-free journey. This publication and others, such as Tips for Travelers to Central and South America, are available by mail from the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C. 20402, via the Internet at http://www.access.gpo/su_docs, or via the Bureau of Consular Affairs home page at http://travel.state.gov.


MEDICAL FACILITIES: Medical care is limited. Emergency facilities, even in San Salvador, are very basic. Ambulance services are not staffed by trained personnel and lack life-saving necessities such as oxygen. Physicians at major hospitals, who are often trained in U.S. hospitals, are generally competent, but nursing and support staff are not up to U.S. standards. State-of-the-art technology for dealing with life-threatening emergencies is rarely available. Doctors and hospitals often expect immediate cash payment for health services. Most hospitals accept credit cards for hospital charges but not for doctors' fees.

MEDICAL INSURANCE: The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and whether it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation. U.S. medical insurance plans seldom cover health costs incurred outside the United States unless supplemental coverage is purchased. Further, U.S. Medicare and Medicaid programs do not provide payment for medical services outside the United States. However, many travel agents and private companies offer insurance plans that will cover health care expenses incurred overseas, including emergency services such as medical evacuations.

When making a decision regarding health insurance, Americans should consider that many foreign doctors and hospitals require payment in cash prior to providing service and that a medical evacuation to the U.S. may cost well in excess of $50,000. Uninsured travelers who require medical care overseas often face extreme difficulties, whereas travelers who have purchased overseas medical insurance have, when a medical emergency occurs, found it life-saving. When consulting with your insurer prior to your trip, ascertain whether payment will be made to the overseas healthcare provider or whether you will be reimbursed later for expenses you incur. Some insurance policies also include coverage for psychiatric treatment and for disposition of remains in the event of death.

Useful information on medical emergencies abroad, including overseas insurance programs, is provided in the Department of State's Bureau of Consular Affairs brochure, Medical Information for Americans Traveling Abroad, available via the Bureau of Consular Affairs home page or by autofax: (202) 647-3000.

OTHER HEALTH INFORMATION: Tap water in El Salvador is often not potable and should be boiled or chemically treated to help prevent cholera and other gastrointestinal disorders. Incidents of these disorders occur throughout the year but are more prevalent during March and April, the hottest months of the year. There are occasional health alerts concerning these and other diseases. Such alerts are usually mentioned prominently in the local media. Travelers should exercise care by drinking only bottled water and avoiding uncooked food and food from street vendors. Bottled water and water served with meals in higher-class hotels and restaurants is generally considered potable.

The dengue virus is a significant public health concern in El Salvador, as the rate of infection increased from 1.6 per 100,000 in 1999 to 33 per 100,000 in 2000. Dengue in its hemorrhagic form is potentially fatal, particularly for young children. The highest rates of infection occur in urban areas where the mosquito that transmits dengue breeds in small pools of water. As a result, incidence of the disease is higher in the rainy season (May - October) than in the dry season (November - April). In September 2000, the Government of El Salvador announced a national dengue emergency that is still in effect. Travelers to El Salvador should take all appropriate precautions to avoid exposure. They include, but are not limited to, wearing appropriate clothing to cover one's body and using mosquito repellant containing "deet" to diminish the risk of contracting the disease.

Further information on dengue fever, as well as other information on vaccinations and other health precautions, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747); fax 1-888-CDC-FAXX (1-888-232-3299), or via the CDC's Internet site at http://www.cdc.gov.

TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS: While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning El Salvador is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstances.

Safety of public transportation: Poor
Urban road conditions/maintenance: Fair
Rural road conditions/maintenance: Poor
Availability of roadside assistance: Poor

Road conditions throughout the country are not up to U.S. standards. Mini-buses, buses and taxis are often poorly maintained. Drivers are often not trained and generally do not adhere to traffic rules and regulations. The U.S. Embassy recommends that its personnel avoid using mini-buses and buses and use only taxis that are radio-dispatched. Robberies and assaults on buses are commonplace.

Because of a near complete lack of enforcement of traffic laws in El Salvador, drivers must make an extraordinary effort to drive defensively. Traffic signals are often ignored, and passing on blind corners is common. Nevertheless, local authorities uniformly enforce a Salvadoran law that requires the arrest or detention of a driver who injures or kills another person until a judge determines responsibility for the accident.

Visitors to El Salvador may drive on their U.S. license for up to thirty days. After that time they are required to obtain a Salvadoran license. Further information on traffic and road conditions is available in Spanish from Automovil Club de El Salvador, telephone 011-503-221-0557.

For additional general information about road safety, including links to foreign government sites, see the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs home page at http://travel.state.gov/road_safety.html.

AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT: The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of El Salvador's Civil Aviation Authority as Category 2 -- not in compliance with international aviation safety standards for the oversight of El Salvador's air carrier operations. While consultations to correct the deficiencies are ongoing, El Salvador's air carriers currently flying to the U.S. will be subject to heightened FAA surveillance. No additional flights or new service to the United States by El Salvador's air carriers will be permitted unless they arrange to have the flights conducted by an air carrier from a country meeting international safety standards. For further information, travelers may contact the Department of Transportation within the U.S. at 1-800-322-7873, or visit the FAA's Internet web site at http://www.faa.gov/avr/iasa/.

The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) separately assesses some foreign carriers for suitability as official providers of air services. In addition, DOD does not permit its personnel to use air carriers from Category 2 countries for official business except for flights originating from or terminating in the U.S. For information regarding the DOD policy on specific carriers, travelers may contact DOD at tel. (618) 229-4801.

CRIMINAL PENALTIES: While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses. Persons violating El Salvador's laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in El Salvador are strict, and convicted offenders can expect lengthy jail sentences and fines. The Salvadoran constitution prohibits foreigners from participating in domestic partisan political activities, including public demonstrations. To do so is a violation of visa status, punishable by detention, fines and/or deportation.

DISASTER PREPAREDNESS: El Salvador is an earthquake-prone country. There is also the risk of flooding and landslides. An earthquake measuring 7.6 on the Richter scale devastated much of El Salvador in January 2001. A second earthquake in February 2001 measured 6.6 on the Richter scale and caused significant additional damage and loss of life. The damage was most severe in the southern half of El Salvador between the cities of San Salvador and San Miguel. While reconstruction efforts are underway and the country is returning to normal, experts indicate that it is common for aftershocks to occur for months or longer following a major earthquake. There also is continuing danger from landslides, particularly during the rainy season that runs from May through October. The most recent data on flood and landslide risk can be found on the Government of El Salvador's web page at http://www.rree.gob.sv.

General information about natural disaster preparedness is available via the Internet from the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) at http://www.fema.gov/.

CHILDREN'S ISSUES: For information on international adoption of children and international parental child abduction, please refer to our Internet site at http://travel.state.gov/children's_issues.html, or telephone (202) 736-7000.

REGISTRATION/EMBASSY LOCATION: Americans living in or visiting El Salvador are encouraged to register at the Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy in the capital city, San Salvador, and obtain updated information on travel and security in El Salvador and neighboring countries. The U.S. Embassy is located at Final Boulevard Santa Elena, Urbanizacion Santa Elena, Antiguo Cuscatlan, San Salvador; telephone 011-503-278-4444. The Embassy's web site can be accessed at http://www.usinfo.org.sv. The Consular Section provides services for U.S. citizens from 8:15 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. on normal Embassy work days.

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