The crime threat level in El Salvador is critical and our Travel Advisory warns U.S. citizens of the high rates of crime and violence. See below for additional information on crime.
Dial 911 for emergency assistance in El Salvador.
Watersports: Strong undertows and currents make swimming at El Salvador’s Pacific Coast beaches extremely dangerous even for experienced swimmers. Lifeguards are not always present at beaches. 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. Be aware that drinking alcohol and swimming can be a deadly combination.
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, because even apparently peaceful ones 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.
Typical crimes in El Salvador include extortion, mugging, highway assault, home invasion, and car theft. 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.
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 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.
- Exercise only in gyms and fitness centers.
- Do not travel on public transportation, especially buses.
- Use only radio-dispatched taxis, taxis stationed in front of major hotels, or internet-based rideshare services.
- Be vigilant while visiting banks or using ATMs.
- Remain vigilant even in well-known restaurants, hotels, and retailers within San Salvador.
- Do not let your credit card out of your sight. Credit card cloning and similar fraud is common.
- Be aware of your surroundings when traveling by car. 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 can occur. 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 located in 19 tourist destinations.
A majority of serious crimes in El Salvador are never solved. 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, car-jacking, 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.
Do not purchase counterfeit and pirated goods, even if they are widely available. Not only are counterfeit goods subject to seizure upon entry in the United States, but if you purchase them, you may also be exposed to legal liability in El Salvador.
Victims of Crime: If you or someone you know becomes a victim of crime, report it to the local police by calling 911 and to the U.S. Embassy. Local authorities are responsible for investigating and prosecuting the crime.
The U.S. Embassy can:
- Replace a stolen or lost passport
- Help you find appropriate medical care
- Guide you on how to report a crime to police
- Contact relatives or friends with your written consent
- Explain the local criminal justice process in general terms
- Provide a list of local attorneys
- Provide information on victim’s compensation programs in the U.S.
- Provide an emergency loan for repatriation to the United States and/or limited medical support in cases of destitution
- Help you find accommodation and arrange flights home
Domestic Violence: U.S. citizen victims of domestic violence may contact the U.S. Embassy for assistance. If you are in immediate danger, call 911.
Tourism: The tourism industry is unevenly regulated, and safety inspections for equipment and facilities do not commonly occur. Hazardous areas/activities are not always identified with appropriate signage, and staff may not be trained or certified either by the host government or by recognized authorities in the field. In the event of an injury, appropriate medical treatment is typically available only in/near major cities. First responders are generally unable to access areas outside of major cities and to provide urgent medical treatment. U.S. citizens are encouraged to purchase medical evacuation insurance. See our webpage for more information on insurance providers for overseas coverage.