The landlocked Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan had been isolated from the rest of the world until 1974. After the government of Bhutan opened the country for tourism, 287 visitors visited the country in the first year.
The number of visitors has been growing since, but Bhutan still remains one of the least visited countries. In 2016, a record 2,09,570 visitors visited Bhutan – an increase of 35% over the previous high of 16% in 2015.
Although Bhutan has an international airport in Paro, it is still relatively difficult to reach. Druk Air – the flag carrier of Bhutan operates regular flights from different parts of the world but the connectivity still remains limited. Another reason travelers avoid Bhutan is its $250/per day fee that includes your travel costs like accommodation, transportation, and food.
The fact that Bhutan receives far fewer tourists than popular destinations was enough to convince me to travel to the kingdom. After finally visiting Bhutan, all I can say that it is a must-visit destination for everyone. Before you plan a trip to Bhutan, though, you might want to understand a few things about Bhutan’s visa policy.
In this article, I will explain Bhutan visa requirements. Read it, understand it, and get ready for a whole new experience that is waiting for you in Bhutan.
Bhutan Visa Requirements for Indians
India is the number one country most travelers visit Bhutan from. In 2016, 1,14,301 Indian leisure visitors visited Bhutan.
There are a couple of reason why Bhutan receives most of its visitors from India. The friendly relation between Bhutan and India goes a long way. Thanks to the 1949 treaty, people from both nations enjoy free movement in each other’s country.
Another reason for Indians preferring to visit Bhutan is the connectivity by road. Indian visitors can easily enter and exit Bhutan through any of the three borders that are open for tourists.
My fellow travelers from other countries tell me that the third reason makes them jealous. Indians don’t have to pay $250 per day in order to visit Bhutan. Indians are also not required to book their trip through registered tour operators. Which means, an Indian can travel freely through Bhutan without being accompanied by a guide.
Bhutan’s visa policy states that Indians do not require a visa to enter Bhutan. In fact, Indian visitors can enter Bhutan by road or by air without a passport.
In order to enter Bhutan, Indian visitors are required to present at least one of the following documents:
A valid Indian passport
A Voter ID card with photograph
An Identification Slip
If you are not carrying a passport or Voter ID card, you can receive an Identification Slip issued by the Indian Consulate Office in Phuentsholing by presenting a valid proof of Indian citizenship and two passport-size photos.
Bhutan Visa Requirements for Bangladeshis and Maldivians
After India and China, Bangladesh is the third country to send most visitors to Bhutan. 7,753 leisure visitors from Bangladesh visited Bhutan in 2016.
Bhutan became the first country to recognize Bangladesh’s independence in 1971 when then-king Jigme Dorji Wangchuck sent a telegram to the Acting President of the Provisional Government of Bangladesh. Since then, both countries have maintained a strong and strategic relationship.
Like with Indians, visitors from Bangladesh and Maldives do not require a visa to enter Bhutan. They also don’t have to pay $250 per day fee or book through a tour operator.
Bangladeshi and Maldivian visitors can enter Bhutan by presenting their valid passport at the port of entry where you will be issued an entry permit.
Bhutan Visa Requirements for Other Foreign Nationals
Apart from India and Bangladesh, Bhutan welcomes most visitors from China, USA, Japan, Thailand, and the UK among other countries.
According to Bhutan visa policy, all visitors from any country other than India, Bangladesh, and Maldives must obtain a visa before entering Bhutan. These visitors must also pay a $250 per day fee during high season or $200 per day during the low season.
This package includes a minimum of 3-star accommodations, food, a guide, and transportation (with driver). This fee also includes a $65 per day Sustainable Development Fee that goes towards free education, free healthcare, and poverty alleviation.
A visa fee of $40 (not included in the package) can be paid in advance directly to the tour operator.
Visitors need to book their holiday with a registered tour operator in Bhutan (or their international partners) who will apply for a visa on your behalf upon receiving the payment.
Once your application is approved, you will receive a visa clearance letter. You must carry this letter along when entering Bhutan. Upon showing this letter at the port of entry, the actual visa will be stamped on your passport.
In order to apply for a Bhutan visa, you must have a passport with at least 6 months validity and a blank page to stamp the visa.
Caution: Be very careful when organizing your Bhutan trip. Only registered tour operators in Bhutan are able to arrange your visa and plan your trip. You will be denied entry if you booked your trip though an unauthorized tour operator.
When you enter Bhutan, you will be issued an entry permit for a duration of 15 days (or less). You must exit the country before your permit expires or face huge fines.
This entry permit can be renewed by visiting Department of Immigration office in Thimphu and paying the designated fee. The Department of Immigration shall renew your permit for no more than 15 days.
Your Bhutan entry permit allows you to travel to Paro and Thimphu only. In order to visit ‘restricted areas’ of Bhutan like Bumthang or Punakha, one must obtain a special permit from Department of Immigration office.
Indians, Bangladeshis, and Maldivians do not have to pay a fee to renew their permit or to obtain a ‘special permit.’ All other nationals are required to pay a fee for the same.
According to Bhutan visa policy, Indians, Bangladeshis, and Maldivians do not require a visa to enter Bhutan. Visitors from these countries do not need to pay a $250 per day fee, either.
Visitors from all other countries must apply for a visa before their visit. A trip must be planned through an authorized tour operator in Bhutan by making the payment in advance. The tour organizer will apply for a Bhutan visa on your behalf.
Once your application is approved, you will receive a visa clearance letter. You must carry this letter when you enter Bhutan and present it at the port of entry. The immigration officer will stamp a visa on your passport.
Your Bhutan entry permit allows you to visit Paro and Thimphu only. All travelers must obtain a ‘special permit’ before they can visit other parts of Bhutan.
Bhutan strongly believes in ‘High Value, Low Impact’ tourism policy. The country makes sure its environment and culture does not get spoiled by a boom of visitors. For this reason, Bhutan imposes a $250 per day fee during high season or $200 per day fee during the low season.
That’s it, folks! This was Parvez and you were reading ‘Understanding Bhutan Visa Requirements‘ on Parvezish. I hope you found this article useful and I would like to thank you for reading. Have a great trip to Bhutan.
Have questions about Bhutan visa policy? Feel free to ask. Could this article be improved? Please share your suggestions.
Have you already visited Bhutan? Do share your experience with me!