Everything you need to know about marriage in El Salvador

20 May 2023·20 min to read
Everything you need to know about marriage in El Salvador 01

Thousands of marriages are performed every year in El Salvador, a Central American country officially known as the Republic of El Salvador. Marriage is a very important event in the lives of Salvadorans, and there are a couple of ways through which spouses can become officially married in the country. The most popular types of marriages in El Salvador are civil and religious marriages. Other types of marriage celebrated include traditional, secular, and symbolic marriages. Informal marriages are also quite popular in the country, and it is the term given to spouses who do not legally register their marriage. 

In other words, informal marriages can be referred to as "cohabitation." This type of marriage is quite similar to the common-law marriage in the United States, where a man and a woman live together, start a family, and raise children even though they are not legally registered in the country. The official marriage age in El Salvador is 18 years, and minors are not allowed to perform marriages in the country. Child marriages used to be very rampant, and this led to the passing of new legislative bills to curb and reduce the number of child marriages in the country.

Now, both spouses are required to have reached the age of 18 before they are permitted to get married, and a foreign or El Salvadoran spouse below that age is prohibited from conducting a marriage even if there is parental or guardian consent. There are certain obligations that must be carried out by the husband and wife in a marriage toward each other as well as the entire family at large, and these will be touched on later in this article. Let’s go straight to the types of marriages in El Salvador.

Civil Marriages

A Salvadoran civil marriage is one that is performed by an authorized registrar between a man and a woman in the registry’s office. This type of marriage is conducted by Salvadoran nationals and other foreign spouses in the country. Even though a civil marriage is the decision or choice of a couple, there are several reasons why civil marriages are so popular in El Salvador. There are many Salvadorans who want to get married but are unable to afford the cost of performing a religious or traditional marriage. With civil marriages, the expenses are greatly reduced, and if both spouses getting married are Salvadorans, then they will be paying low fees during the marriage registration. 

Foreign spouses who may be requesting certain documents may end up paying more, but the total cost is still quite low when compared to that of other forms of marriage in the country. Minors are not allowed to conduct civil marriages or even any type of marriage at all in El Salvador. The minimum marriage age was set at 18 years, with no provisions or exceptions to reduce the number of child brides in the country. So far as a civil marriage is registered in El Salvador and the spouses have obtained a marriage certificate, they are recognized as a married couple in the country as well as abroad. Before the marriage application process begins, the spouses are required to publish a declaration of intention to marry. 

Depending on the registry performing the marriage, the declaration may be published in newspapers and other forms of mass media to ensure that the public is aware of the marriage and that it is not prohibited. Marriages are not allowed between people who are close relatives. This implies that siblings, parents, cousins, close relatives, and other adopted families are not allowed to marry each other. Also, civil marriages must be performed by authorized officials that have been appointed by the state. If a civil marriage is officiated by an unregistered registrar, such a marriage is rendered invalid according to the laws of the state. The documents to be submitted by spouses during the marriage registration are stated below:

Documents Required 

  • A valid means of identification from both spouses. A Salvadoran national may provide a national identity card, while a foreign spouse may provide a valid passport.
  • Birth certificates. This is required from both spouses, and it must carry their parents' names.
  • Proof of single status. Both spouses are required to submit evidence of their current civil or marital status to show they are eligible for marriage. This document must have been issued within 60 days prior to the marriage ceremony.
  • Divorce or death certificate. Spouses who were in previous marriages that ended as a result of separation or the death of a former spouse must submit either of these documents.
  • Both spouses are required to provide two witnesses who are of legal age in the country. These witnesses must not be close relatives of either of the spouses.

The official language in El Salvador is Spanish, and civil marriage ceremonies are conducted in this language. Therefore, foreign spouses who do not speak Spanish are required to make an interpreter available during the ceremony. Also, all the documents must be notarized and apostilled if they were obtained from a foreign country or the embassy.

Informal Marriages 

Informal marriages in El Salvador refer to common-law relationships. This type of marriage does not involve the expenses or registration processes of other types of marriage in the country. Two spouses can simply live together and be regarded as a couple under the law. In El Salvador, both parties must be at least eighteen years old before entering an informal marriage. 

In the case where the couple gives birth to children and then separates, the parents are still required by law to provide support for their children until they reach legal age. An important distinction between informal and other types of marriage is that informal marriages can usually be dissolved without much due process or legality.

Religious Marriages 

Religious marriages are recognized in El Salvador and very popular. Christianity is the predominant religion in the country, and the majority of marriages are conducted under the principles of this religion. The largest church denomination in El Salvador is the Roman Catholic Church, followed by the Protestant Church. A church marriage usually involves a mass that is performed by a priest in the church, but before a marriage takes place, the church publishes a notice of marriage in the bulletin to make the members aware of the incoming marriage.

Sometimes, couples may announce during the service that they are getting married and invite their fellow church members. Church marriages usually last about an hour or two, and the spouses exchange wedding rings and vows during the service. Upon the completion of this, the spouses are pronounced husband and wife by the priest.

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Marriage traditions in Salvador


This is a marriage ceremony that is common in El Salvador. It is a unique Roman Christian church ceremony that involves the use of 13 gold coins. During the service, the priest says a prayer, blesses the 13 gold coins, and presents them to the groom. The groom then gives them to his bride. This tradition is meant to signify the love both spouses have for each other and how they both trust each other with their material possessions.


This is a marriage ritual where a decorated ribbon is placed around the necks of the bride and groom. This ribbon is referred to as the lasso, and it is sometimes placed on the hands or shoulders of both spouses and tied together. This is meant to symbolize the permanent, undying love both species have for each other.

Wedding Reception 

In El Salvadoran wedding ceremonies, the reception is usually looked forward to by the newlyweds as well as other people in attendance during the wedding. After the church service is concluded, the married couple, along with their friends, families, and other guests, head to a new venue where further marriage celebrations are held. The reception can last all day and run until midnight, with lots of feasting and dancing.

Same-sex and polygamy in El Salvador

Two people of the same sex are not allowed to perform a marriage in El Salvador. According to the laws of the country, same-sex marriages, partnerships, and unions are not legally binding or recognized by the laws of the country. Performing these types of marriages and unions can result in legal consequences.
Polygamy is prohibited in El Salvador. Marriages are only allowed between two people at any particular time. A man and a woman are not permitted to have more than one spouse. If a new marriage is to be entered, the previous one must be terminated, and during the marriage registration, evidence of a previous divorce may be required by the registry.

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Marriage Laws and Rights, Costs and Duties


El Salvador has some of the easiest laws and rules guiding marriage. Couples are only required to understand and abide by these laws before marriage can be contracted. El Salvador's legal marriage age is 18 years for men and women, with no exceptions for any reason, unlike some countries that make exceptions to the legal marriage age for minors in special circumstances. Consent must be obtained expressly from both parties; the husband and wife must be able to consent to marriage of their own free will and without the use of force. Forced marriages are considered a criminal offense, and offenders are liable to face imprisonment ranging from 10 to 14 years. 

Within the country, couples can get married either civilly or religiously; however, only the civil marriage certificate is recognized by the governments of other countries. Those who wish to be recognized as husband and wife but do not want to contract marriage are allowed to do so, and they also enjoy all the rights available to married couples provided they have lived together for at least 3 years. In other words, the law recognizes informal and de facto relationships; however, no recognition is given to same-sex couples, and there are no civil partnerships that couples of the same sex can enter into. Christianity is the most practiced religion in the country; therefore, monogamy is the only recognized form of marriage; polygamy is against the law in the country.

Both the husband and wife must not be in any subsisting relationship at the time of marriage; if any of the couple were in any legally binding marriage in the past, they are both required to submit evidence that the marriage has been dissolved in the form of a death certificate or a divorce certificate. Persons who share any familial bonds must not contract marriage; couples must not marry their siblings, step-siblings, cousins, nephews, nieces, uncles, aunts, or grandparents. Persons who are prohibited from marrying in their home country cannot contract marriage in El Salvador. Foreigners and nationals who wish to enter into marriage must be eligible and prove that there is no legal impediment to marriage. All citizens and foreigners who wish to contract marriage must be able to submit every piece of documentation for verification. Documents in other languages must be translated by an authorized translator and apostilled.


The law sees all humans as equal before the law; therefore, married couples as well as unmarried citizens have equal rights in the eyes of the law. The law guarantees and protects the rights of the couple and provides exclusive access to some rights that are not available to the public. Married couples and de facto union couples have the right to adopt children. They have to prove to the necessary authorities that they have the ability to cater to the needs of the children. Married couples have the right to file joint taxes, which often offers great tax refunds for couples, unlike unmarried couples who have to file jointly. 

Married and cohabiting couples have the right to property and inheritance, and they both get to decide under whose marital property the marriage was conducted. In the event of death, the estate of the deceased spouse goes to the surviving spouse. They both have the right to work and receive meaningful pay. Pregnant or nursing mothers have the right to require and accept paid maternal leave at their respective workplaces. They both have the right to report any form of harassment or violence toward themselves or the family. 

All couples, except same-sex couples, have the right to procreate and decide the number of children they wish to have. They both have the right to participate in any socioeconomic or political activity. They both have the right to file for divorce if it is concluded that the marriage cannot be salvaged. The husband and wife have equal rights to receive custody of the children from whoever has their best interests at heart. They both have the right to access all rights and benefits made available by the government to all married couples.


The average cost of getting married in El Salvador is based on the desire of the couple as well as how much they are willing to put into the wedding budget. An average wedding accommodation at a hotel in El Salvador costs around $49 to $139 per night. Photography and videography range in price from $799 to over $5000, depending on the location and length of time the photographer spends at the ceremony. The couple's attire is provided by the husband, and the cost varies depending on the brand from which it is gotten. 

The food and drinks for guests are also dependent on the list of invited guests and how much the couple has to spend on food. The average cost of getting married in El Salvador is estimated to be around $10,000 more lavish than this. El Salvador has become one of the most popular wedding destinations, and this has contributed to the cost of marriage in general. Putting together a wedding budget might seem like a nightmare; therefore, couples try to hire the services of a wedding planner, which comes at a cost but reduces the stress of having to create an efficient budget.


In El Salvador, married couples have equal rights in the household. The law does not specifically state that the woman must obey her husband; she may do whatever she wants as long as it is in the best interests of the family. The husband and wife both have a duty to take on the role of legal guardians for the children. They both have a duty to provide a conducive environment for the development of the children. They also have to provide for the educational needs of the children as well as the provision of basic amenities for the family. They both have a duty to love and protect one another and to provide mutual support and assistance for each other. 

They are obligated to provide a sound moral and ethical background for the family. Since polygamy is illegal, couples are obligated to be committed to one another and are expected to remain faithful throughout the course of the marriage. Even at the dissolution of marriage, the husband and wife have a duty to be responsible for the welfare of the children. There are various responsibilities that must be performed by members of the family in terms of finances, maintenance, payment of bills, etc. These responsibilities and roles need to be mutually decided by the couple. All decisions should be the result of mutual agreement between both spouses.


El Salvador is a very diverse country, and the ways and methods by which marriage ceremonies are performed are largely based on socio-economic factors. Most people who perform informal and civil marriages are those who cannot afford religious marriages. Informal marriages even involve no cost at all because two people just declare themselves to be husband and wife after living together for a certain amount of time.

Traditional and religious marriages are way more expensive than civil marriages in El Salvador. It all depends on the preferences of the couples in terms of the kind of wedding venue or hall used. Couples who want to hold celebrations abroad usually end up spending a lot more, too. This article includes everything you need to know about marriage in El Salvador.