Are there any special requirements for driving or hiring a car in El Salvador?
El Salvador is heading out on the tourism trail after years on internal conflict.
With the help of international funding, the country's infrastructure has improved greatly and it's becoming a popular destination with Americans.
The cities have much colonial history and outside of them the countryside is spectacular and unspoilt but requires a 4 x 4 for safe access.
Seat Belt Laws
Everyone in the front seats of a moving vehicle in El Salvador must wear a seat belt by law. Where belts are fitted in the rear, we recommend that you should use them for your safety.
Drinking and Driving
In El Salvador, the maximum permitted blood alcohol level is 50mg per 100ml; less than that allowed in the UK. This means that even one drink can take you over the limit so our advice is not to get behind the wheel if you’ve had any alcohol.
Must Have Documents
You will need to have your driving licence plus an international driving licence, the car’s registration documents and proof of at least third party insurance. If UK or US travellers intend to stay more than 30 days they will need to obtain a Salvadoran driving licence.
The speed limits for El Salvador are as follows:
Open roads: 90 km/h
In Town: variable up to 50 km/h
Minimum Driving Age
You have to be at least 18 to be able to drive in El Salvador. You cannot drive in El Salvador if you are over 75. If you're renting a car the minimum age is 21 and if you’re under 25 years old, you may need to pay an excess for your age.
Safety Camera Warning Devices
Speed limits are low in El Salvador because of the poor conditions of the roads. Speed camera detectors are not illegal but you should consider whether it’s safer to stick below the limit rather than avoid detection for exceeding it.
On the Spot Fines
On the spot fines in El Salvador simply mean that you’ll be given notification of the offence you’ve committed along with the penalty you need to pay. Most simply mean you’ll have to visit a police station within 14 days to clear the fine. You may find as a foreign driver that your driving licence is withheld until you pay.
Child Safety Rules
In El Salvador, the law states that a child under 12 cannot sit in the front seat of a car but there are no recommendations for the kind of seat they must use in the rear. Additionally, few parents abide by the rule. It is important for the safety of your children that you make sure they are secure and, if hiring a car, you can ask us when booking to supply an appropriate system.
You must have a minimum of third party insurance in El Salvador and be able to prove it if challenged.
Rules of the Road
Standard international driving laws apply with one or two exceptions.
• In El Salvador, cars travel on the right hand side of the road
• You must keep both hands on the wheel when driving unless changing gear or indicating
• Don’t stop for hitch hikers
• Avoid driving at night as animals, pedestrians and cars without lights abound after dark
There are no specific laws for towing a vehicle in El Salvador just use your common sense to ensure the vehicles are securely attached and that other drivers are aware of what you are doing.
Fixed speed cameras haven’t made it to El Salvador yet but hand held cameras are used regularly in speed checks. Usually you’ll be flagged down shortly after passing the camera and be issued with a fine notice.
Using Mobile Phones when driving
You cannot use a mobile phone without a hands free kit in El Salvador as you must ensure both your hands stay on the wheel when driving.
Parking is very loosely regulated in El Salvador and most drivers simply park wherever they find a space.
Paid parking is most common in the big towns and cities and generally consists of covered parking, sometimes attended but often remotely. You’ll find some parking bays in San Salvador controlled by ticket machines but these are for short term parking only – often up to a maximum of two hours.
Enforcement of parking is relaxed as long as you park sensibly. The police patrol the towns and cities but have to be on a mission before they’ll clamp down on parking. We don’t recommend that you risk not paying though for the fine will seriously outweigh the saving.
Disabled parking is unheard of in El Salvador so don’t expect to find convenient spaces for your needs. To do so, you should find an attended lot or garage and ask for assistance; usually it will be forthcoming.
Motor Way Signs
The RN-21 is the only motorway in El Salvador and operates as a relief road for the city of Santa Tecla. The signage on it is green with white writing and currently it is toll free.
Adelantamiento prohibido - No overtaking
Calzada con prioridad - Main/priority road
Ceder el paso - Give way / Yield
Camino de grava - Gravel road
Cruce de peatones - Pedestrian crossing
Curva peligrosa - Dangerous curve
Curva a derecho - Curve to right
Curva a izquierdo - Curve to left
Curvas peligrosas hacia la izquierda - Double bend, first to left
Detención obligatoria - Stop and give way
De dos camino tráfico - Two way traffic
Echar la mano - You must pay cash
Entrada prohibida - No entry
Entrada prohibida a vehículos de motor - No motor vehicles
Estrechamiento de calzada - Road narrows
Estrechamiento de calzada por la derecha - Road narrows on right
Fin de prioridad - End of priority road
Gire a la derecha - Turn to right
Girar a la izquierda - Turn to left
Intersección con prioridad - Junction with a minor road
Licencia de conducir - Driver license
Límite de velocidad mínimo - Minimum speed limit
Límite de la velocidad máxima - Maximum speed limit
Media vuelta prohibida - No U-turn
Ninguna parada - No stopping
Obras - Road works
Otros peligros - Other danger
Párese y ceda el paso - Priority road
Patojo - Child
Pavimento deslizante - Slippery road
Permiso de conducir - Driving permit
Permiso de conducir internacional - International driver license
Prohibido el paso - No entry
Prohibido estacionarse - No parking
Rocas decrecientes - Falling rocks
Rotatoria - Roundabout
Semáforos - Traffic lights
Topes/ tumulos - Speed bumps
Vehículo - Vehicle
Velocidad máxima - Maximum speed
Viga alta - High-beam
Traffic lights in El Salvador follow the international sequencing system and so should be familiar to all. They are most prevalent in the big cities and rare in smaller towns.
There are no toll roads in El Salvador
The emergency number in El Salvador is 911 for all the emergency services.
What to do in an emergency
If unfortunate to have mechanical problems with your hire car, simply call the number given to you by the car hire agency. It’ll be on the documentation and usually inside the windscreen of the car.
In the event of an accident you must stop if there is major damage or if someone has been hurt. Otherwise you can simply sort out the problem between you. If the police are to attend you should avoid moving the vehicles until they arrive unless they are causing a danger to others. If you have to move them, take a photograph of the scene before you do. Collecting witness details is also a good idea whilst you wait.
As of December 2014, the average price of 95 octane unleaded petrol in El Salvador is 80p whilst diesel is 71p. Prices can vary between the cities, towns and the smaller villages.