Bhutan Travel Information

Government : Unitary Parliamentary Constitutional Monarchy

Land Area : 46,500 sq km (17,954 sq miles)

Population : 7,42,737 (Census 2012)

Capital : Thimphu  – Population : 1,04,214

Religion : Bhutan is a Buddhist country and people often refer to it as the last stronghold of Vajrayana Buddhism. Buddhism was first introduced by the Indian Tantric master Guru Padmasambhava in the 8th century. Until then the people practiced Bonism a religion that worshipped all forms of nature, remnants of which are still evident .

People  : Bhutanese people can be generally categorized into three main ethnic groups. The Tshanglas, Ngalops and the Lhotshampas.

Time: GMT + 6. (15 min. ahead of Nepal time)

Bhutan Tourism Policy

Tourism in Bhutan is controlled by the Tourism Authority of Bhutan (TAB), a department of the Ministry of Trade and Industry. Their rules are simple, yet are carefully thought out and strictly implemented.

Tourism Authority of Bhutan
Tel. No.: +975-2-23251, 23252
Fax No.: +975-2-23695
e-mail :
website: www.tourism.govt.bt

Travel Requirements :

Visa is required for all tourists travelling to Bhutan.  There is no restriction on the number of tourists permitted into the country each year. But in order to obtain visa one needs to buy full package tour through a Bhutanese tour operator or one of the international partners. After booking the holiday your tour operator will take care of Visa arrangements.

Visa:

All tourists must obtain a visa clearance prior to travel to Bhutan.  Visas are processed through an online system by your licensed Bhutanese tour operator, directly or through a foreign travel agent.   

You are required to send the photo-page of your passport to your tour operator who will then apply for your visa.  The visa will be processed by the Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB) once the full payment of your holiday (including a USD $40 visa fee) has been wire transferred and received in the TCB bank account.  Once received the visa clearance will be processed within one to two weeks.

At your point of entry you will be required to show your visa clearance letter, the visa will then be stamped into your passport. 

Passport:

One needs to have a passport which has a validity of atleast 6 months beyond your expected date of departure from Bhutan.

Minimum Daily Package Cost & Includes :

The Royal Government of Bhutan sets minimum selling prices for packages to Bhutan.

These rates are applicable per tourist per night halt in Bhutan and need to be paid in US dollars prior to arrival in Bhutan.

Minimum daily package tour cost for a group of 3 persons or more is as follows :

  • USD $200 per person per night for the months of January, February, June, July, August, and December.
  • USD $250 per person per night for the months of March, April, May, September, October, and November.

The above cost includes the following services.

  • A minimum of 3 Star accommodation (4 & 5 star may require an additional premium)
  • All meals i.e. Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner
  • A licensed Bhutanese tour guide for the extent of your stay
  • All internal transport (excluding internal flights)
  • Entrance fee during the sightseeing tour
  • Camping equipment and haulage for trekking tours

It also includes :

  • All internal taxes and charges
  • A sustainable tourism Royalty of US $ 65. This Royalty goes towards free education, free healthcare, poverty alleviation, along with the building of infrastructure.

On the day of departure, the ‘local agents’ host obligation shall be limited to providing breakfast only and any extra requirements shall be payable on usage basis.

Surcharges:

Tourists travelling in a group of two (2) persons or less shall be subject to a surcharge, in addition to the minimum daily package rates.

These are as follows:

Single individual – US$ 40 per night

Group of 2 persons only – US$ 30 per person per night

Accommodation:

There are many different kind of accommodation available in Bhutan.  It ranges from luxurious 5-star resorts to cozy little hotels and home-stays in traditional Bhutanese homes.

Additionally visitors embarking on long treks will be provided with tents and whatever other camping equipment is deemed necessary. Regardless of where they stay, visitors can be assured of their comfort and traditional Bhutanese hospitality.

Restricted Entrance To Temples :

The Bhutanese view their temples and monasteries as living institutions and since 1988 have not allowed tourists to enter them without special permission – which is generally reserved for bona fide practicing Buddhists.

Monks have considerable influence and resist and intrusion of tourists; they also quietly resist efforts to modernize monastic life. They express concern that a large number of visitors disturbs the sanctity of holy places and may cause the disappearance of temple treasures.

Getting There & Away :

Bhutan has open only two entry/exit points for traveler. One is by air to the Bhutan’s only International airport in Paro whereas the other way is by surface through India state of West Bengal to Phuentsholing on the southern border of Bhutan.

By Air : The easiest and the most popular way to Bhutan is by taking a Druk Air flight to Paro. Druk Air, Bhutan’s Airline, operates flights to Paro from Bangkok, Kolkata, Dhaka, Kathmandu and New Delhi. Druk Air is the only airlines flying to Bhutan so the ticket must be booked well in advance specially during festival time.

Baggage Allowance – Usually 20kg and one item of hand luggage but normally it will be mentioned in your ticket.

Reconfirmation : You need to reconfirm your air ticket at least 72 hours prior to your departure time. Please contact the airlines or ask your guide to do it for you. If you don’t then airline can always delete your name from the passenger list and you could lose your seat.

Customs:

The following articles are exempt from duty:

(a) Personal effects and articles for day to day use by the visitor

(b) 1 litre of alcohol (spirits or wine)

(c) 200 cigarettes, on payment of import duty of 200%

(d) Instruments, apparatus or appliances for professional use

(e) Photographic equipment, video cameras and other electronic goods for personal use

You have to complete the passenger declaration form at your port of entry.

Visitors are advised to be cautious in purchasing old and used items, especially of religious or cultural significance, as such items may not be exported without a clearance certificate.

If importing any items to Bhutan which are for sale or gift, they may be liable for customs duty. On departure, visitors are required to fill out a departure form, which will be asked for by Customs authorities.

Import/export of the following goods is strictly prohibited:

(a) Arms, ammunitions and explosives

(b) All narcotics and drugs except medically prescribed drugs

(c) Wildlife products, especially those of endangered species

(d) Antiques

Imports of plants, soils etc. are subject to quarantine regulations. These items must be cleared on arrival.

Arrival : You will receive a baggage declaration form to complete when you arrive in Bhutan. For tourists, the main purpose of this form is to ensure that you re-export anything you bring into the country. List any expensive equipment that you are carrying, such as cameras and portable computers. Customs officials usually want to see the items that you list, then they endorse the form and return it to you. Don’t lose it. You must return the form, and may be asked to show the items listed when you leave the country.

Departure : Departure formalities are straightforward, but you must produce the form that you completed on arrival and show the items listed on it. A lost form means complications and delays. If you lose the form, let your guide know as soon as possible so that special arrangements can be made to avoid inconvenience.

The export of antiques and wildlife products is prohibited. If you purchase a souvenir that looks old, have your guide clear it as a non-antique item with the Division of Cultural Properties in Thimphu. Customs authorities pay special attention to religious statues. It would be prudent to have any such statue cleared, old or not.

By Road : Phuntsholing on the southern border of Bhutan is an entry/exit point via surface. The best way to plan a trip via road is to start in Kathmandu and travel one direction by air and other by land, perhaps visiting Darjeeling and Sikkim enroute. Please be advised that while traveling by surface you will need to have an Indian visa.

Domestic Air : Now some parts of Bhutan is also connected with Domestic Air but most of the tour in Bhutan is normally done on a vehicle.

Travel Insurance

A travel insurance policy to cover theft, loss and medical problems is always a good idea. The cancellation rules for Bhutan are severe and quite inflexible. Trip cancellation insurance is almost essential.

When To Travel :

Bhutan can be visited throughout the year with the exception of monsoon season (July till August) but the best time is during October and November when there are some major festivals. Also this is the time when the weather is at its best, skies are generally clear and the high mountain peaks are visible early in the morning from passes and other vantage points.

Springtime, March to May, is considered as the second-best time to visit Bhutan. Though there are bit of clouds and rain during autumn but the flowers are in bloom and birdlife is in abundant. Also you can get occasional glimpses of the high peaks.

What to Bring & Wear

The wide range of temperatures does not make dressing easy. The best solution is to wear several layers, such as a cotton shirt, pullover, wool cardigan jacket, which can be taken off or added as needed. Conservative sport wears is the appropriate style for a traveler in Bhutan. Even in Summer you will need a sweater or a light jacket in the evening.

We expect visitors to dress modestly and respectfully especially if you are planning a visit to the monasteries, Dzongs and other religious institutions. Long pants and long sleeved tops should be worn when visiting such places. As a mark of respect, be kind enough to remove your hats, caps etc. as you enter religious and administrative premises, institutions and in any other place that you come across with the national flag being raised.

Currency : US $ 01 = BTN 62.37 APPROX. (November 2013)

Local currency used in Bhutan is Ngultrum.  It is at par with the Indian rupee and accepted as legal tender in the country.

You may change your unused Ngultrums (local currency) back to foreign currency (though usually only into US dollars) on departure if you can produce your original exchange receipts.

Note: INR (Indian Rupees) denominations of 500 and 1000 are not accepted in Bhutan.

Traveller’s cheque can be easily withdrawn and exchanged for local currency from different banks. Many of these banks provide internet banking facilities.

ATMs are located within all main towns throughout Bhutan, where money can be withdrawn using a Visa or MasterCard..

In addition, POS (Point of Sale) services are available nationwide, meaning visitors can pay by credit card at most hotels and handicrafts stores.

Electricity

All major towns are well connected with electricity that runs on 220/240 volts with round hole two-pin and three-pin power outlets.

It is recommended that you bring flat-to-round pin converters for your electronics if necessary, however, most hotels offer multi plug sockets. Bhutan is a carbon neutral destination. Our energy is clean and green generated by hydro power.

Photography:

Bhutan offers immense opportunities for photography especially during outdoor sightseeing trips.

However you should check with your guide before taking pictures or filming inside Dzongs, temples, monasteries and religious institutions as in some area photograph/filming is not permitted.

You are free to capture images of the landscape, the panoramic views of the mountain ranges, rural life, flora and fauna, distinctive Bhutanese architecture and the exterior of Dzongs and Chortens in particular.

Shopping:

There are great variety of handicraft items, hand woven textiles bamboo products, handmade paper or finely crafted gods of silver. Also you can get exquisite Buddhist thangkha paintings or Bhutan’s wide array of colorful and creative postage stamps. Please be informed that buying and selling of antiques is strictly forbidden in Bhutan.

Gratuities

Tipping is a purely personal matter. We leave it up to you as to whether you want to give a gratuity to your guides and drivers. However, if doing so, we recommend that you place the gratuity in an envelop

Communications:

The country has a good network of telecommunication facilities. Most hotels and cafe’s offer Wi-Fi internet access. Bhutan has a comprehensive mobile (cell) phone network with global roaming also assessable.

Language:

Bhutanese speak a variety of languages with Dzongkha being the national language and one of the most widely spoken. English is also spoken by the majority of Bhutanese making communication very easy.

Health: Inoculations

You need to take advice from your doctor regarding vaccinations and appropriate medication prior traveling to Bhutan. As a minimum you should have tetanus, typhoid and hepatitis A inoculations.

Precautions:

We can consider Bhutan till today to be one of the safest countries in the world but however one still needs to be careful.  It is important that one keeps your belongings properly secured.

Cancellations:

Tour programs booked and subsequently cancelled shall be subject to cancellation charges as follows :

  • Within 30 days of start of program –     No Charges
  • Within 21 days of start of program   –     10% of the rate
  • Within 14 days of start of program –     15% of the rate
  • Within 07 days of start of program –     30% of the rate
  • Less than 07 days of start of program –     50% of the rate
  • After arrival in Bhutan                    –    100% of the rate

 This cancellation charge applies for Govt. approved hotels but in case if you have booked your trip in higher categories of hotel.  The cancellation charge will be according to their policy.