El Salvador Country Report
Companies operating in El Salvador are likely to face operational challenges including lengthy bureaucratic processes to obtain permits, a lack of clarity on business processes, poor contract enforcement, and persistent political corruption. Due to ongoing government fiscal issues, firms with state service contracts also face occasional payment delays, especially at the municipal level. A lack of adequate transport infrastructure and a shortage of skilled labour further hinder the country’s competitiveness. However, the government’s attitude to foreign direct investment remains broadly positive, with successive governments committed to business-related regulatory changes and fiscal reform.
There are no known terrorist groups in El Salvador with the intention or ability to undertake terrorist attacks against commercial, military, or government-owned assets. However, street gangs (maras) are classified as terrorist organisations under law. Gangs are able to target security forces and private-sector businesses with firearms in violent hot spots like the capital, San Salvador. Violent gang-led campaigns against security forces in 2019 resulted in the murder of at least 17 soldiers and 25 police personnel. Some members of Congress have proposed constitutional changes to allow the death penalty for gang homicides.
Criminal violence between El Salvador's two main gangs, the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and Barrio 18 (M-18), is expected to continue on a downward trend in 2020 due in part to ongoing government operations. The threat remains elevated in the departments of Santa Ana, San Miguel, and San Salvador. Extortion remains the largest revenue stream for gangs, targeting businesses and individuals throughout the country. The primary risks in the capital, San Salvador, are extortion, petty crimes, robberies, and armed assaults, concentrated in the city centre and Colonia Centroamérica; Colonia Escalon and Santa Rosa have several recent reports of thieves targeting restaurants in order to steal all their customers’ valuables.
Ongoing disputes with Honduras and Nicaragua over border demarcations in the Gulf of Fonseca are unlikely to result in military escalation. Overall, El Salvador enjoys a positive relationship with neighbouring Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua, pushing for a customs union and greater collaboration to increase security for the region and promote trade investments. El Salvador has tasked its military with public security and prison deployments to combat high levels of violence perpetrated by gangs during the past decade. The use of military forces to counter gangs and trafficking organisations is highly likely to continue in the 12-month outlook.
Vaccines required to enter the country
Yellow fever: There is no risk of contracting yellow fever in El Salvador. However, the government requires proof of vaccination for travelers arriving from countries with a risk of yellow fever transmission. A single dose of YF vaccine is sufficient to confer sustained life-long immunity against the disease.
Vaccines recommended for all travelers
Routine vaccinations: Consult your doctor to ensure all routine vaccinations - such as for diphtheria, tetanus, polio, tuberculosis, influenza, measles, mumps, pertussis, rubella, varicella, etc. - are up to date (include booster shots if necessary).
Vaccines recommended for most travelers
Hepatitis A: The vaccine is given in two doses, six months apart, and is nearly 100 percent effective. The WHO recommends the vaccine be integrated into national routine immunization schedules for children aged one year or older.
Typhoid fever: The typhoid fever vaccine can be administered via injection (administered in one dose) or orally (four doses). The vaccine is only 50-80 percent effective, so travelers to areas with a risk of exposure to typhoid fever, a bacterial disease, should also take hygienic precautions (e.g. drink only bottled water, avoid undercooked foods, wash hands regularly, etc.). Children can be given the shot beginning at two years of age (six for the oral vaccine).
Vaccines recommended for some travelers
Hepatitis B: The WHO recommends that all infants receive their first dose of vaccine as soon as possible after birth, preferably within 24 hours. The birth dose should be followed by two or three doses to complete the primary series. Routine booster doses are not routinely recommended for any age group.
Malaria: There is currently no malaria vaccine. However, various antimalarial prophylactics are available by prescription and can reduce risk of infection by up to 90 percent. Different medications are prescribed depending on the risk level and the strains of the virus present in the destination. Antimalarial tablets need to be taken throughout the trip to be effective and may need to be taken for as long as four weeks following the trip.
Rabies: The rabies vaccination is typically only recommended for travel to remote areas and if the traveler will be at high risk of exposure (e.g. undertaking activities that will bring them into contact with dogs, cats, bats, or other mammals). The vaccination is administered in three doses over a three-to-four week period. Post exposure prophylaxis is also available and should be administered as soon as possible following contact with an animal suspected of being infected (e.g. bites and scratches).
Travelers should note that El Salvador is vulnerable to natural disasters, especially due to seismic activity.
Earthquakes occur frequently, sometimes causing sizeable material damage. Offshore earthquakes have the potential to trigger tsunamis that can threaten coastal areas. A powerful earthquake measuring 7.2 on the Richter scale struck off the coast of El Salvador in November 2016. However, no casualties or material damage were reported and no tsunami was generated. Two other earthquakes with magnitudes 7 or above also hit in 2001 and 1986, causing significant damage.
The country is also home to some 20 volcanoes, three of which (San Miguel/Chaparrastique, Santa Ana, and Izalco) occasionally show signs of activity. The last major eruption in the country occurred in 2014.
El Salvador's rainy season lasts from May/June to October/November; during this period, flooding can occur, along with landslides in hilly or mountainous areas. This coincides with the Atlantic and Pacific Hurricane seasons (June to November); while the country is relatively rarely hit directly by hurricanes and tropical storms, their remnants often bring potentially hazardous torrential rains. The US-based National Hurricane Center closely tracks all cyclonic activity in Central America.
Information, alerts, and recommendations regarding natural disasters are available (in Spanish) at the government's Civil Protection agency website.
Avoid traveling at night and exercise vigilance on the roads as driving habits and armed attacks (e.g. at stoplights and stop signs) are obstacles to safe travel. That said, most primary roads are in relatively good condition with sufficient signage. Transportation disruptions are possible during the rainy season in the event of floods or landslides (see NATURAL RISKS section). Due to the risk of traffic accidents (as well as armed attacks), it is advisable to avoid driving at night, except between San Salvador and Monseñor Óscar Arnulfo Romero International Airport (SAL, formerly known as Comalapa International Airport).
Avoid traveling alone and never use long-distance or city buses (see CRIME section).
In theory, land borders with Guatemala and Honduras are open 24/7, but border crossings have been known to close without warning, especially after nightfall. Whenever possible, plan to cross land borders during the day.
The climate is tropical along the coast, semi-tropical on the central plateau, and temperate in mountainous areas. During the dry season (November to April), the air is hot and dry. From May until October, it rains almost every day and there is the risk of hurricanes. Temperatures are relatively steady throughout the day along the Pacific coast all year long (from 25°C to 29°C). Temperatures are cooler at higher elevations: along the plateau, the average temperature is 23°C; in the mountains temperatures range between 12°C and 23°C, sometimes dropping down to 0°C.
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