Moving to El Salvador

El Salvador, a densely-populated country, is located in the heart of Central America. It has a population of a little over six million, largely consisting of European descent. The major industries are agriculture, trade and manufacturing. The Salvadorean economy heavily relies on trade income from exports to the US and the Caribbean. Remittances from Salvadoreans working abroad is also a main source of foreign income. Since more citizens opt to work abroad where they are paid more, many Hondurans and Nicaraguans are migrating to El Salvador to take up jobs the locals don’t want.

El Salvador is one of the fastest growing economies in Central America. Tourism is an important driver of growth. The sector accounts for 3.5% of the national economy. The top attractions in El Salvador are the parks and beaches as well as trekking around volcanoes.

Explore the wonders of El Salvador – its culture, traditions and sociable people.

Important things to know

1. Entering the country

Except for nationals extended with visa-free privileges, foreigners traveling to El Salvador are required to secure either a visa or a one-entry tourist card. A tourist card works similarly with a transit visa. It can be secured from Salvadorean immigration officials upon arrival in the port of entry. Tourist card holders may stay in the country for up to 90 days. Those who wish to extend their stay may do so by applying for a multiple-entry visa, issued free of charge.

Nationalities that don’t need visas to enter El Salvador:

  • Australia
  • Britain
  • Canada
  • EU
  • US

Under the Central America-4 (CA-4) Border Control Agreement, citizens El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua may travel freely across these four countries without needing any visa. This privilege is also extended to other nationalities including Americans. The length of stay, for a maximum of 90 days, is determined at the first port of entry.

Requirements for visa applications:

  1. Duly filled-out application forms
  2. A current passport with an expiration date of at least six months away
  3. A passport-sized photo
  4. Proof of financial sources to fund the entire visi
  5. For minors, a notarized travel consent from the parent/guardian
  6. Application fees

2. Prepare for natural disasters

Because of its geographical characteristics, El Salvador experiences a number of natural calamities each year. There are six active volcanoes, a coastline vulnerable to hurricanes and a long wet season that results to flooding and landslides. Each year, the country records about 2,000 seismic activities measuring an average of 5.0 on the Richter scale. In choosing a place to live, take note of the proximity to active volcanoes and fault lines. It’s also important to have emergency numbers handy. Signing up for an international health insurance plan with medical evacuation and repatriation would also be useful in cases of emergencies.

3. Look forward to local fiestas and national holidays

Salvadoreans love celebrations. Fiestas, local term for vibrant celebrations, are held as tribute to religious patrons. Most fiestas are commemorated in local levels. The national holidays are pretty much similar with those observed in other countries in the region.

Day Holiday
January 1 New Year’s Day
Thursday before Easter Sunday Holy Thursday
Friday before Easter Sunday Good Friday
Saturday before Easter Sunday Holy Saturday
Sunday between March 22 and April 25 Easter Sunday
May 1 Labour Day
May 10 Mother’s Day
June 17 Father’s Day
August 4 – 5 Fiestas Patronales Holiday
September 15 Independence Day
December 24 Christmas Eve
December 25 Christmas Day
December 31 New Year’s Eve

4. Be cautious about traveling alone

Generally, El Salvador is a safe destination for foreigners. However, it’s important to take caution when going to certain places in the countryside. The country is battling crimes mostly perpetrated by gangs or “maras”. There are thousands of gang members in El Salvador involve in drugs and weapons trafficking, extortion, carjacking and violent street crime. When travelling to remote locations, always do so in groups.

There are regular street protests in El Salvador in relation to political or economic issues. Foreigners who join these political rallies or demonstrations may lose their right to remain the in the country, regardless of their visa or residency status. The possession, use or trafficking of illegal drugs are severely punished in El Salvador. Possession of unlicensed firearms is punished with long jail terms. Educate yourself about local laws to avoid prosecution.

Things you should do

1. Play football

Football is huge in the Latin American world. Salvadoreans adore their national team, locally known as La Selecta, which was the first team in Central America to qualify for a FIFA World Cup in 1970. The team qualified again in 1982. The first known football game in the country was in 1899 between Santa Ana and San Salvador. The official colour of the national team is blue, so expect a sea of blue during the next FIFA season.

2. Go on outdoor adventures

El Salvador is blessed with breath-taking natural tourist destinations. Plan an ultimate nature journey at El Impossible, the most important ecological reserve in the country, which is home to more than 500 bird species. Explore the volcanoes at the Cerro Verde national park. Cerro Verde is also known as the cloud forest for its steamy jungle and crater lakes. El Salvador has amazing coastlines and beaches such as:

  • Barra de Santiago
  • El Puerto de la Libertad
  • Playa El Sunzal
  • Costa del Sol

You can also have a historical trip to the ruins of the Maya settlements in:

  • San Andres
  • Tazumal
  • Joya de Ceren

Check out El Salvador’s Environment Ministry website for more information.

3. Go shopping

El Salvador has one of the lowest cost of living in Central America. No foreigner should fly home without buying a hand-made souvenir in El Salvador. Local products are relatively cheap, yet beautifully crafted. Ceramics from Ilobasco are perfect gifts for family and friends. The ceramic orbs called ‘sorpresa’ have meticulously made miniature dioramas that show Salvadorean lifestyle such as bakers at work or dancing children. It’s advisable to bring a local with you to haggle in your behalf.

The best places to shop are:

After shopping, you can unwind at nearby cinemas, restaurants or nightclubs. If you’re going out for a night out in Zona Rosa district, be sure to dress well to blend in with the stylish crowd.

4. Come out of your shell

Salvadoreans know how to have good time. They are sociable people who love conversations. When invited to a home, arrive 30-45 minutes late as it is uncustomary to arrive on time. Dress well and don’t leave right after eating. You’re expected to socialise for at least an hour after dinner. Unless prompted to, avoid business talks at social gatherings. Pack jokes and short anecdotes to entertain others. Salvadoreans can be quite sensitive, so be careful when making statements. If you need to criticise someone, do it privately.

Before eating, wait for the host/hostess to say “buen provecho” (“enjoy your meal”) and always eat with utensils. This also applies to toasts. Wait for the host/hostess to signal the toast before sipping your drink.

Living like a local

1. Time to brush up your Spanish

Spanish is the official language in El Salvador and the local Spanish vernacular is called caliche. The native languages Nawat and Maya are still spoken by some indigenous groups, who compose about 1% of the population. English is also spoken in the country, but foreigners are encouraged to learn basic Spanish to get by.

2. Lay down your hair! Casual wear is acceptable in El Salvador

El Salvador has as tropical climate and two seasons: the wet and dry seasons. You can pack lightweight clothing such as shirts and summer dresses. It’s advisable to have waterproof clothes, raincoats and umbrella all year ‘round as rain showers occur even in summer. If you’re spending time outdoors such as in beaches and the countryside, be sure to cover up against dangerous insect bites. Always have insect repellent lotion with you.

3. Don’t forget to bring gifts to special events

Salvardoreans observe gift-giving traditions in special events such as birthdays, weddings, baptisms, religious occasions and holidays. When you receive a gift, open it right away and thank the giver. Some of the acceptable gifts in any type of event are pastries, sweets, wines and roses. Avoid giving scissors as these suggest severing ties, and lilies and marigolds unless you’re going to a funeral.

 4. Be careful when driving in El Salvador

Foreigners can use their US driver’s license for up to 30 days. If you need to drive longer than this period, you’d need to secure a local driver’s license. Driving at night can be dangerous because of few street lights and reflectors, and missing manhole covers. It is better to hire a skilled local driver if you need to go around the country.

If you get involved in a road accident, you’re required under the law to stay at the scene until authorities arrives. Drivers of vehicles that injure or kill another person are detained until a judge decides on the criminal liability.


Moving Services in El Salvador