El Salvador: No visa required

Last week, on assignment in Guatemala and El Salvador, I took a luxury bus between Guatemala City and San Salvador. The bus company in question, Pullmantur, operates a fantastic service.

$35 got me transportation in a comfortable seat, along with breakfast (eggs, refried beans, and delicious, sweet fried plantains, as well as juice) and coffee later in the morning. There is a wi-fi connection on board as well, although during my trip this particular feature was not functioning. (Pullmantur also operates a more luxurious class of travel between Guatemala City and San Salvador for $52 per person, with a more extensive meal service.)

Yet one question remained unanswered as the bus lumbered toward the border. What precisely were the entrance requirements for US citizens entering El Salvador?

On the subject of entry and exit requirements, the US Department of State’s Travel.State.Gov site has the following to say:

To enter the country, U.S. citizens must present a current U.S. passport and either a Salvadoran visa or a one-entry tourist card. The tourist card may be obtained from immigration officials for a ten-dollar fee upon arrival in country.

Later in the description, we learn about the existence, since 2006, of the Central America Border Control Agreement, which covers El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua. This agreement allows citizens of these four countries to cross borders within the region without having to complete “entry and exit formalities at immigration checkpoints” and goes on to state:

In isolated cases, the lack of clarity in the implementing details of the CA-4 Border Control Agreement has caused temporary inconvenience to some travelers and has resulted in others being fined more than one hundred dollars or detained in custody for 72 hours or longer.

Reading through the State Department’s materials, it seemed like a foregone conclusion that I’d have to purchase a $10 tourist card to enter El Salvador. As the bus waited on the Guatemalan side of the Valle Nuevo border crossing, I asked a bus attendant where I should purchase my tarjeta de turista. Her perplexed response: There is no such thing as a tourist card. I at first wondered if my question confused the attendant because Americans were infrequent passengers on Pullmantur buses. This theory was dashed a few minutes later, when I saw a number of US passports among the stack being collected for exit processing from Guatemala.

A half-hour later our passports were returned to us with an exit stamp and we were on to the Salvadorean side. A young Salvadorean border guard boarded the bus, greeted each passenger individually, glanced at our passports, and logged each of us by citizenship on a clipboard-attached document. He didn’t demand that we purchase a tourist card, and the bus left in short order. It appeared that there were no tourist cards to be purchased at all.

The upshot: in El Salvador, no visa is required for American citizens, and, in fact, no tourist card is needed either–for land entry from a neighboring country, at least. Unless my experience was an isolated incident, the State Department’s information is misleading. Travel.State.Gov is an undeniably key resource for travelers offering all sorts of important information for tourists. In this instance, however, its information needs to be revised.

El Salvador has gotten a little attention in the travel media over the last few decades. Be on the lookout this spring for some new El Salvador coverage here at Gadling.

[Photo: Flickr | bryansblog]