El Salvador Country Report
President Salvador Sánchez Cerén took office in June 2014 with the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (Partido Frente Farabundo Martí para la Liberación Nacional: FMLN) on a foreign investment and social equality platform. Deep political polarisation in Congress has frustrated the government's efforts to address its fiscal weaknesses which are likely to persist into the upcoming general election cycle for 2019. Violent crime remains high with an average of 9.4 murders per day, for a total 2,657 victims between January and October 2018. With few victims formally identified as gang members, death and collateral injury remains elevated for locals.
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 persistent 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, government attitudes to foreign direct investment remain broadly positive with successive governments committed to business-related regulatory changes and fiscal reforms.
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. Shootouts between security forces and gang members in recent months have resulted in about 40 police and 21 soldier deaths. Some members of Congress have proposed constitutional changes to allow the death penalty for gang homicides.
El Salvador enjoys a positive relationship with neighbouring Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua, pushing for a customs union and greater security operation collaborations to increase security for the region and promote trade investments. Security collaborations in traditionally contested territories like the Golfo de Fonseca have reduced conflict risks. El Salvador has tasked its military with public security and prison deployments to combat high levels of violence perpetrated by gangs over the last decade. The use of military forces to counter gangs and trafficking organisations is likely to continue to the end of the current presidential term in 2019.
Periodic protests and marches over government utility and fiscal policies, salary disputes, and security concerns block traffic along Alameda Juan Pablo II to the Legislative Assembly and the Government Centre of San Salvador. Transport work stoppages to protest insecurity working conditions are also frequent on targeted routes between the capital and surrounding municipalities like Ciudad Arce and Mejicanos, slowing traffic on connecting highways for several hours. Protest group profiles include trade unions, local community groups, public-sector workers, and transport sector employees. Demonstrations are typically under a day and largely peaceful with low damage risks to property and installations.
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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