Driving in El Salvador. What you need to know!

By Eddie Galdamez  |  Mar 5th, 2021
Driving in El Salvador
Driving in El SalvadorPhoto by @ObrasPublicasSV

Driving in El Salvador is done on the right side of the road, and overtaking occurs on the left. To drive in El Salvador, drivers need to be of legal Salvadoran driving age, 18 years old. Also, have a valid driver’s license from their country of residence or El Salvador. Having an international driver’s license is not required, but it is recommended.

Driving in El Salvador, especially in congested urban areas, is not as easy as driving in the US or other larger cities worldwide. Many Salvadoran drivers in these cities have a reputation for being crazy drivers.

Driving in El Salvador
Driving in El Salvador. Photo by @radio102nueve

Now, driving in the Salvadoran coastal areas or small town is more relaxed. Drivers will still have to deal with a few crazy drivers and traffic, but it is not as bad as driving in the larger congested cities.

The following are some things to know and answers to a few questions regarding driving in El Salvador.

  • How safe is it to drive in El Salvador?
  • How bad are the Salvadoran roads?
  • Do Salvadorans carry car insurance?
  • Driving in larger cities.
  • Driving in rural areas
  • Avoid driving at night.
  • Stay on the main roads.
  • Drivers don’t need to have an international driver’s license.

For some people, driving in El Salvador might be scary at the beginning. Nevertheless, once drivers do it a few times, they get used to being behind the wheel, even in the larger congested Salvadoran cities.

How safe is it to drive in El Salvador?

Driving in El Salvador is not entirely safe. For instance, in 2020, the country had around 15,000 accidents, about 41 accidents per day. That is a high number for such a small country.

These are only the reported accidents; the daily average could be higher if we add non-reported accidents and minor ones.

Some of the most common causes for these accidents are distracted drivers, invading lanes, excessive speeding, not respecting traffic signs, and drunk driving. Anyone who wants to get behind the wheel in El Salvador needs to be an alert and defensive driver.

It is essential to point out that the numbers of traffic accidents in 2020 were less than in 2019. The current administration is being proactive when it comes to reducing traffic accidents.

How bad are the Salvadoran roads?

The Salvadoran roads are not that bad; as a matter of fact, they are some of the best in the region. The streets in large cities are maintained regularly; nevertheless, potholes, trash, and dirt are common on these roads.

Roads in smaller towns or rural areas are maintained, but not regularly. Drivers on these roads have to be vigilant of potholes and trash. Also, roads in these smaller towns and rural areas are single lanes and are not adequately marked.

The current government is spending a lot of money on the country’s infrastructure, especially roads. Two main road projects that will benefit drivers in El Salvador are the road to Surf City bypass, which will help those traveling to the Surf City beaches. And the Gerardo Barrios road, which will help improve traffic in the eastern part of the country.

Do Salvadorans carry car insurance?

Car insurance is not a requirement in El Salvador; therefore, most automobiles on Salvadoran roads have no insurance. Obviously, any car rental will require drivers to have car insurance or buy it from them.

Drivers who get into smaller accidents will come to an agreement on damages on the spot. However, more severe accidents will require the police to create a report. Usually, both parties come to a deal or monetary settlement later on.

Driving in larger cities.

Drivers in larger cities such as San Salvador, San Miguel, and Santa Ana have to be more attentive and aggressive.

Drivers in these cities need to pay attention at all times. Commonly, other drivers will cut you off and will not respect traffic signals. Also, drivers have to be aggressive enough to keep moving and get to their final destination.

Night Traffic
Night Traffic in San Salvador. Phot by @AztecaNoticiaGT

Driving in rural areas.

Driving in rural Salvadoran areas is more relaxing, there is less traffic, and most drivers are not aggressive. However, drivers still need to be vigilant for farm animals and pedestrians.

It is customary to see cows, horses, and other farm animals in the middle of the streets unattended on rural roads. Furthermore, it is common to see people walk around and hang out on the side of these roads.

Avoid driving at night.

Unless you have been driving in El Salvador for a while and you know where you are going, most drivers should avoid night driving.

Driving in El Salvador at night is more dangerous. In larger cities, drivers will be dealing with poor visibility due to lousy lighting and have to deal with potential drunk drivers. On smaller roads, drivers will have to deal with no light; most small roads have no street lights.

Stay on the main roads.

Staying on the main roads is more about personal safety. Venturing into smaller streets or roads can lead you to unsafe areas. El Salvador has areas controlled by gangs and criminals organizations. If you venture into these areas, you can put yourself and any other passenger at risk.

Drivers don’t need to have an international driver’s license.

Any foreigner can drive in El Salvador as long as it has a driver’s license from their country of residence. Anyone planning to drive in El Salvador does not need to have an international license; however, it is recommended to have one.

Traffic in El Salvador
Traffic in El Salvador. Photo by @PriscilaTVX

Driving in El Salvador.

Driving is the best form of transportation in El Salvador; it is the fastest and safest way to get to any location in the country.

Anyone looking to drive in El Salvador needs to be aware that driving in El Salvador is not as easy as driving in other nations.

Living in El Salvador