How to pay international contractors in El Salvador

Published

Sep 5, 2023

Nestled in the heart of Central America, El Salvador has become an attractive destination for international businesses looking to expand their reach. Recent data suggests a rising trend of skilled professionals in San Salvador and beyond, making it an opportune location for foreign entities to scout independent contractors. 

However, while diving into El Salvador's burgeoning talent pool, how can global companies ensure they’re compliant with Salvadoran employment laws? Delve into our comprehensive guide below, which outlines the steps to effectively and legally paying contractors in this Spanish-speaking nation.

Step #1: Classify your workers in El Salvador

Misclassification in El Salvador can lead to substantial legal repercussions, including the back payments of benefits, along with additional penalties.

Be sure to distinguish between full-time employees and independent contractors. Here are some of the differences to keep in mind:

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High level of autonomy. Salvadoran contractors are generally given more freedom over the completion of their work.

More direction from the company. Salvadoran employees usually receive more guidance. Employers will even set specific working hours.

Equipment and tools are owned by the worker.

Equipment and tools are typically provided by the company.

Less involved. Salvadoran contractors are independent, often working remotely and using their own tools and equipment.

Highly integrated. Salvadoran employees are usually more integrated into the company. They often work on-site.

Not entitled to benefits. Salvadoran contractors are not entitled to benefits the way employees are. They also manage and file their own taxes.

Entitled to benefits. Salvadoran employees receive benefits and protections by law, such as minimum wage and vacation pay. In some cases, they may get health insurance and paid sick leave too.

Time-bound engagement. Contractors are usually hired for a certain time period or project.

Indefinite engagement. Employees are generally hired indefinitely—unless otherwise stated in their contract.

Risk of loss. Contractors assume more risk and work-related liability.

Protected from loss. Employees are typically covered from liability for work-related issues by their employer.

Subcontracting permitted. Contractors can delegate tasks or projects to another person or contractor.

No subcontracting. Employees are expected to do their own work. They can only delegate responsibilities with company approval.

Step #2: Determine the best way to pay your contractors in El Salvador

In El Salvador, where Spanish is the official language, onboarding contractors involves a blend of cultural and financial considerations. While the official currency is the United States dollar (USD), businesses must navigate a range of payment options:

  • Wire transfers: This method is preferred due to its reliability, especially for international transactions. Remember, transfer fees may vary depending on your bank and the amount being transferred.
  • Local bank transfers: Ideal for contractors with Salvadoran bank accounts, local transfers allow for faster access to funds. When doing business, it's essential to understand the local banking protocols and any associated fees.
  • Global payroll providers: Since Salvadoran contractors aren’t typically added to payroll, providers like Rippling can simplify the payment process, ensure compliance with local laws, and help manage fluctuating exchange rates.
  • Payment platforms: While popular in many countries, services like PayPal might not be the first choice for Salvadoran contractors. Additionally, varying exchange rates can make it difficult to predict your spending when using international payment platforms. Be sure to find out which platform your independent contractors prefer to be paid in. 

Step #3: Use global payroll software to process payments for Salvadoran contractors 

The dynamics of global employment can get intricate. Platforms like Rippling offer features tailored to specific country regulations, ensuring businesses remain compliant while streamlining the payment process. You can automate payments and adhere to local currency standards (like the USD in El Salvador). With Rippling, you can pay employees and contractors, across the world, in a single pay run. Here’s a preview of how Rippling’s global payroll system works:

Step #4: Ensure your Salvadoran contractor has the right tax information 

Salvadoran contractors are responsible for managing their own taxes. With El Salvador’s unique tax systems, it’s important for contractors to understand the specifics. Here's a more detailed look:

  • Tax registration: Before beginning any work, Salvadoran contractors need to be registered with the local tax authorities. In El Salvador, the primary tax authority is the "Dirección General de Impuestos Internos" (DGII), which is responsible for collecting and overseeing income taxes. By registering with the DGII, contractors obtain their unique taxpayer identification number, which they'll need for all their official tax dealings.
  • Income tax declarations: In El Salvador, the frequency of tax filing often depends on the contractor's total income. For instance, if a contractor earns less than $100,000 annually, they're typically required to file an annual tax return. But, if they earn more, they might need to file quarterly. Properly classifying the nature of their work can make this process smoother. 
  • Specific documentation and deadlines: San Salvador is well-regarded as the hub for tax seminars and workshops. Contractors should be well-informed about specific documentation requirements, filing deadlines, and potential penalties for late submissions.
  • Value-added tax: VAT, or value-added tax, is a consumption tax placed on a product or service whenever value is added at each stage of the supply chain. In essence, it's the end consumer who typically pays the VAT. However, businesses collect and account for the tax. In El Salvador, contractors offering certain services or selling products may need to charge VAT, remitting these collections to the local tax authority. 

Frequently asked questions about running payroll for contractors in El Salvador

Do you need to withhold taxes when paying contractors in El Salvador?

No, contractors in El Salvador are responsible for managing and paying their own taxes. Companies do not withhold taxes for independent contractors.

Does the Salvadoran minimum wage apply to independent contractors in El Salvador?

No, the minimum wage regulations in El Salvador specifically target full-time employees. However, ensuring fair compensation is still crucial for maintaining good relations with contractors.

Do Salvadoran contractors get benefits?

Independent contractors typically don't receive the same benefits as full-time employees. It’s essential to be clear about any benefits provided in the employment contract to avoid misclassification.

Can you pay contractors in El Salvador in your home currency?

El Salvador uses the United States dollar (USD) as its official currency, so there's no need for currency conversion if you're a US-based company. However, you should always discuss and agree upon the payment currency in advance.

Can you manually pay contractors in El Salvador?

Yes, manual payments are possible, but it's essential to keep meticulous records and ensure that all transactions adhere to local laws and regulations. As your company grows and you work with multiple contractors (in El Salvador and beyond), this method can become time-consuming. 

It’s important to note that manual payment processing also comes with security and compliance risks. Automate your payroll with Rippling. Rippling syncs all your business's HR data with payroll and eliminates the need for manual data entry. Employees and contractors get paid quickly and compliantly in a single pay run—no matter where they are.

How do you turn a contractor into an employee in El Salvador?

Transitioning a contractor to a full-time employee requires adherence to Salvadoran labor laws, which includes drafting a new employment contract, enrolling them in social security, and offering mandatory benefits like health insurance.

For a smooth transition, use Rippling. With Rippling, you can effortlessly manage contractors, transition contractors to full-time employees, administer legally compliant benefits, and more.

How do exchange rates affect payments, considering El Salvador uses the USD?

Given that El Salvador uses the USD, American businesses don't face exchange rate challenges. However, businesses from other countries must be aware of exchange rate fluctuations to ensure the correct payment amount.

What are the public holidays in El Salvador, and do they affect payment schedules?

El Salvador has several public holidays, like Independence Day and Christmas. It's crucial to be aware of these dates as bank operations might be limited, affecting payment processing times.

How frequent is the typical payroll frequency for contractors in El Salvador?

While full-time employees often receive monthly payments, contractors might have different arrangements, such as bi-weekly or upon project completion. It's crucial to outline this in the contractor's agreement.

What is the probationary period for contractors transitioning to full-time roles?

Typically, a probationary period can last up to three months, but this can vary. During this time, either party can terminate the agreement without the need for a notice period or severance pay. However, once regularized, standard notice periods and severance pay regulations apply.

Is health insurance mandatory for contractors in El Salvador?

No, independent contractors are responsible for their health insurance. However, when transitioning to a full-time role, health benefits become part of the compensation package.

How important is the employment contract when hiring contractors in El Salvador?

An employment contract is crucial to preventing misunderstandings. It not only defines the nature of the relationship but ensures both parties are clear on payment terms, project deliverables, and other specifics.

Rippling and its affiliates do not provide tax, legal, or accounting advice. This material has been prepared for informational purposes only, and is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for, tax, legal, or accounting advice. You should consult your own tax, legal, and accounting advisors before engaging in any related activities or transactions.

last edited: September 5, 2023

The Author

Carissa Tham

A British Columbia-based tech content strategist and writer, Carissa has lived and worked in Singapore, Taiwan, and Canada. Carissa lends her unique global perspectives to growing Rippling’s brand in the Asia-Pacific region and beyond.