Bhutan, the Kingdom of Happiness, a beautiful country tucked away in the slopes of Himalayas, is a haven for travelers. If you’re into exploring and wanting to experience true seclusion and connect with nature, then you’re in luck. Especially for Indian travelers (among other countries), this little gem has been a favorite destination.
Thanks to its easy access, mesmerizing beauty combined with the stunning landscapes, it is stunning. Plus, there was not much in terms of entry barriers for Indian Nationals. However, with the recent advent of new regulations, let me update you on the latest requirements. Read on to understand how to go about getting all the necessary permits and what’d be required.
Let's quickly dive into the details:
The rules and regulations pretty much remain the same for you.
Bhutan has a US$ 200-250 (depending on the season) per tourist per day minimal expenses defined. While, currently, citizens of India, Bangladesh, or the Maldives have been traditionally exempted from this daily tariff, this has changed. More on that below. However, this isn’t simply a visa, but rather covers the cost of just about everything during your stay.
Also, it should be noted that, except for visitors from India, Bangladesh, and the Maldives, all other visitors traveling to Bhutan need a visa. Visas can be procured online through a licensed Bhutanese tour operator directly as well as through a foreign travel agent.
For this, you will need to send a photocopy of your passport to the operator/agent, who will then apply for your visa. With 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 72 working hours.
Minimum Daily Package Rate
Okay, so let’s discuss the Minimum Daily Package, unique and ingenious way of ensuring quality tourism actually directly benefits Bhutanese.
The minimum daily package per tourist per night halt in Bhutan for tourists traveling in a group of 3+people is as follows:
• USD 200 /person/ night for the months of January, February, June, July, August, and December. • USD 250 / person/ night for the months of March, April, May, September, October, and November.
You may be thinking that this is steep rates to pay and you will be correct. Most other countries will not be charging such an amount on your visit. But, this covers a lot of your expenses.
As per the Bhutan’s tourism website, it covers:
- A minimum of 3-star accommodation (4 & 5 stars may require an additional premium).
- All meals
- A licensed Bhutanese tour guide for the extent of your stay
- All internal transport
- Camping equipment and haulage for trekking tours
- All internal taxes and charges
- A sustainable tourism royalty of $65 (goes towards free education, free healthcare, poverty alleviation, along with building infrastructure)
Apart from the Minimum Daily Requirement that all foreign tourists (except India, Bangladesh, Maldives) have to pay, there may be a surcharge applicable as well. Tourists traveling in a group of two or less shall be subject to a surcharge as below
- Single individual – US$ 40 per night
- Group of 2 persons only – US$ 30 per person per night
Indian, Bangladesh, Maldives Nationals
Indian, Bangladeshis and Maldivian nationals can obtain a permit at the Port of Entry on producing a valid passport, which has a minimum validity of 6 months.
Indian nationals visiting Bhutan must carry any of the two valid ‘Travel Documents’ – a Valid Indian Passport having validity of minimum 6 months; and/or Voter Identity Card, issued by the Election Commission of India. No Visa is required to visit Bhutan.
Online Regional Permit System
To further streamline an already simple process, the Department of Immigration, Ministry of Home and Cultural Affairs, and the Tourism Council of Bhutan have launched the Online Permit System. This online system helps in easy processing of permits for regional tourists through registered Bhutanese tour operators and TCB certified hotels.
You should note that this service, however, is not mandatory (as is the case with other foreign nationals). Also, if you do use this optional service, do note that your port of entry can only be Paro and Phuentsholing. Visitors who use this facility will be able to obtain their permit clearances and route permits ahead of their arrival in Bhutan similar to international tourists.
At the point of entry
Indians coming to Bhutan by road are required to obtain an ‘Entry Permit’ based on valid Travel Document from the Immigration Office of Royal Government of Bhutan at Phuentsholing, located on the Indo-Bhutan border opposite Jaigaon, West Bengal. Alternatively, if you’re traveling by air, you’ll again be required the valid travel documents mentioned above, and you’ll attain your entry permit at Paro Airport.
With the entry permit, you may visit Thimphu and Paro. However, if you’re planning on heading out and exploring the landlocked nation (as you should!), you’ll need a ‘special area permit’ from the RGoB Immigration Office at Thimphu on any working days (Monday to Friday).
When you’re visiting Bhutan, keep in mind that you’d require two permits- Entry Permit & Route Permit. The max duration for Entry + Route permit is valid for 15 days. Do note that these permits are available free of cost.
You’ll be able to obtain the same at Paro Airport or from the Immigration Office of Phuntsholing. These are the only two ways to enter Bhutan. The Entry permit is valid to visit places such as Thimphu (the capital) and Paro only and has a validity of 7 to 10 days.
Important Note: The Immigration office is closed on Saturday, Sunday and Public Holidays. The permits are checked at every check post in Bhutan. Working hours are strictly from 9 am to 5 pm, and lunch break is from 1 to 2 pm.
Documents required for Bhutan Entry Permit for Indians
(Fill in the entry form given at the Immigration Office and attach it in the below sequence)
- Correctly filled Entry Permit Form
- Passport size photo to be fixed to the Entry Permit Form x1 (keep more just in case)
- Short Itinerary Print Out x1
- Photocopy of Hotel Booking for first night x1
- Xerox of Passport/Voters Id Card x1 of all travelers
- Undertaking (for solo travelers only)
Process for Entry Permit if coming via Phuntsholing
- Collect a form from the Immigration Office.
- Attached all the documents in the above sequence.
- Stand in the queue to submit the form.
- Then wait in a separate queue where you will be called for the bio matrix and verification.
- If you have submitted your Voters Id, then after the biometric, you have to go to a separate window for verification.
This whole procedure can take anywhere between 3 to 8 hours depending on the number of people in the queue.
Pro Tip: Avoid traveling on a Monday or on days where the Immigration office has been shut for 2 or more days at the stretch. Always better to be first in the queue, even if it means standing 2 hours before the office opens.
Important Note: If you’re on a package tour to Bhutan and your tour includes a Bhutanese Guide then the entry permit procedure can be done online by your travel agent. Only a clear scan copy of your passport has to be submitted to your agent.
Process for Entry Permit if coming via Air to Paro
If traveling via air to Paro, you just simply fill the Entry Form at the airport and move out. The process is smooth and quick.
Once you’ve arrived in Thimphu, you will need to attain a route permit. This permit will allow you to visit all other places you might fancy, such as – Chele La, Ha Valley, Douch La, Punakha, Gangtey, Phobjikha Valley, Trongsa, Bumthang Region, etc.
Process for Route Permit
Stand in a queue to submit the required documents, the same as the entry permits, then come back after an hour to collect it. This whole process can take up to 2 hours.
Of course, if you’re planning on staying longer than 7-10 days (and you should!), then you’ll need an extension for your permit. For this, you’ll need to visit the Immigration Office at Thimphu and avail the extension.
Documents required for Bhutan Route Permit for Indians (to be filled at the Immigration Office at Thimphu)
- Correctly filled Route Permit Form
- Photocopy of Short Itinerary x1
- Photocopy of the entry stamp x1
- Original & Photocopy of Passport/Voters Id Card x1
In addition to the above documents for the Route Permit, you have to attach the extension form with a photocopy of the taxi driver’s license x1 or photocopy of the bus ticket if traveling by bus. Max duration is 15 days from the day of arrival.
Process for Extension Form
You need to first submit the extension form with the correct documents to a separate office at the Immigration Office in Thimphu and come back after an hour or so to collect it. Once the extension is granted, you go stand in the queue to submit your documents for the route permit.
Ending the provision of free entry for Indian tourists into the country, Bhutan recently announced that it would levy a daily fee of Rs 1,200 per person from July 2020 as per the Tourism Levy and Exemption Bill of Bhutan, 2020. Other countries included in the scheme are Maldives and Bangladesh.
While this cost is substantially less as compared to other foreign nationals, and also, this doesn’t restrict Indian nationals from traveling freely. As for children between the age of 6 and 12 years, a fee of Rs 600 needs to be paid. The fee has the same name as that for other foreign nationals – Sustainable Development Fee (SDF) – and provides help to regulate the heavy tourist traffic in the country.
While, yes, the new charge might seem like an excess charge. You must remember that it is for a great cause and helps in maintaining the culture and the sanctity of the country.
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It also protects the things we are heading to Bhutan for – its nature, seclusion, and isolation. And, Bhutan is still a pretty friendly nation for Indian Nationals.
For comparison- the SDF for other countries is those who have to pay USD 65 (Rs 4,631) along with a compulsory flat cover charge of USD 250 (Rs 17,811) per day. Overall, without any fees, restrictions, or constraints for Indians, this is a small price to pay along with knowing that you’ll be doing some good for the country!