Country Reports

El Salvador Country Report

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Risk Level

Very High


Executive Summary

President Nayib Bukele took office on 1 June after being elected with 53% of the vote. This is the first time that the Grand Alliance for National Unity (Gran Alianza por la Unidad Nacional: GANA) party has held the presidency. Implementation of Bukele’s economic agenda, including raising some taxes to pay for infrastructure expansion, will require support from an opposition Congress led by the National Republican Alliance (Alianza Republicana Nacionalista: ARENA), meaning that legislative delays are likely through 2019, increasing non-payment risks. Bukele has launched joint police-military security operations that target gang territorial controls, operations, and financing in a bid to tackle El Salvador's violent crime environment. Congress has approved and redirection of USD30.9 million in the existing general budget to increase salaries and food supplies for police and soldiers as part of the strategy. August 2019 was El Salvador's least violent month since 1998, at 4.2 recorded deaths per day but has since rebounded slightly to 4.6; the country's homicide rate fell to 50.3 per 100,000 last year.A USD200-million budget boost was passed successfully in July to complete financing of the 2019 budget. The new administration faces its first significant test on its ability to negotiate legislative alliances, where it is in the minority, with its introduction of the 2020 budget on 30 September focusing on reduced spending in Environment, Tourism, and Agriculture.The persistent lack of political consensus over fiscal policy changes had eroded the savings achieved in 2018 from a tax amnesty and pension reforms. As such, the government expects the fiscal deficit to increase from 2.7% of GDP in 2018 to 3.7% in 2019. IHS Markit forecasts that GDP growth will remain steady at 2.4% through 2019, supported by persistently robust inflows of remittances and strong economic growth in the US.
Last update: October 2, 2019

Operational Outlook

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 remain broadly positive, with successive governments committed to business-related regulatory changes and fiscal reform.

Last update: October 18, 2019



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 have resulted in the murder of at least 17 soldiers and 19 police personnel. Some members of Congress have proposed constitutional changes to allow the death penalty for gang homicides.

Last update: October 3, 2019


An ongoing conflict between gangs Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and Barrio 18 (M-18) increases crime risks throughout El Salvador, although the threat is particularly pronounced in the departments of La Paz, San Miguel, and San Salvador. Extortion remains the largest revenue stream for gangs, targeting small and medium businesses as well as 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.

Last update: October 3, 2019

War Risks

Ongoing border disputes with Honduras and Nicaragua include disagreements over border demarcations in the Gulf of Fonseca, but military retaliations are unlikely. 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.

Last update: October 18, 2019

Social Stability


Protest frequency is likely to fall into 2020 during the first 12 months of the new administration as pressure groups wait for a new policy agenda to be outlined. Government utility and fiscal policies, salary disputes, and security concerns are traditional protest issues that probably will continue in the next year with participants including public-sector workers, local community groups, and transport sector employees. Demonstrations are typically under a day and largely peaceful with low damage risks to property and installations following a route along Juan Pablo II to the Legislative Assembly and the Government Centre in San Salvador.

Last update: October 3, 2019

Health Risk


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).

Last update: April 5, 2019

Natural Risks


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.  

Last update: April 5, 2019



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.

Last update: April 5, 2019

Practical Information


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.

Useful Numbers

Country Code: +503
Police: 911


Voltage: 115V ~ 60 Hz


Last update: April 5, 2019