The Bhutanese visa process may appear complicated, but is actually quite straight forward. Since Bhutan has very few embassies abroad, the visa is issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs within Bhutan. You must apply in advance through a tour operator such as Bhutan Visit and receive confirmation that your application has been approved before you travel to Bhutan. You can download the form here and, once completed, fax or e-mail it to Bhutan Visit. There is no need to send photos or sign the visa application at this time but you must send a scan or photocopy of your passport personal details page. The present rate is US$40 and you will be invoiced along with the tour package.
The process takes a little more time than a normal visa application so it is advisable to apply early. Once you have completed the form Bhutan Visit submits your application first to the Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB) and then to the Department of Immigration, both based in Thimphu. The visa is not issued until the TCB has checked that the full tour payment has been received into its bank account. The confirmation and reference number is then sent to Bhutan Visit and a copy will be sent to you. This is then shown by you at the check-in desk for Druk Air. Without this document you cannot board the Druk Air flight so it is very important to keep it with your passport.
The actual visa is stamped on the passport upon arrival in the country, either at Paro airport or (if entering by road) at Phuentsholing.. Please note that the visa is issued for the exact number of days and the exact dates for which you have booked. A visa extension can be arranged once in Bhutan, if circumstances arise requiring an extension. Members of groups are expected to arrive and depart together but there is a provision for departing separately. Bhutan Visit does not charge any fees for Visa processing.
Restricted Area Permits All of Bhutan outside of the Paro and Thimphu valleys is classified as a restricted area. Bhutan Visit obtains a permit for the places stated on your itinerary, and this permit is checked and endorsed by the police at immigration checkpoints strategically located at important road junctions.
Permits to Enter Temples: These are arranged by us in advance. You must be accompanied by a licensed Bhutanese guide and there are certain restrictions, including visiting hours, dress standards and other rules that vary by district. Because dzongs are open to all during the time of a tsechu, you may visit the courtyard, but not the lhakhangs, if your trip coincides with a festival.
If you are a practising Buddhist, you may apply for a permit to visit specific dzongs and religious institutions. This is issued by the National Commission for Cultural Affairs, and an application should be made in advance through Bhutan Visit. The credibility of your application will be enhanced if you include a letter of reference from a recognised Buddhist organisation in your home country.
We have selected the best 3* and 4* tourist-standard hotels, lodges and guesthouses available. They are comfortable and built and decorated in the traditional Bhutanese style. The best hotels are found in western Bhutan while in the central and eastern parts of the country, accommodation is more simple.Luxury 5* hotels can be booked for a supplementary charge. Please see the separate information on trekking in Bhutan for information on the facitities and services provided by Bhutan Visit.
Our guides are certified by the Tourism Council of Bhutan and are well trained in the history of Bhutan’s cultural sites. The main language is English, but we can provide speakers of other languages on request.
The national language is Dzongkha, literally “the language of the Dzong”, which is the administrative building. Since Bhutan is a mountainous country which had no roads until the 1960s there are more than 14 different languages and dialects. Dzongkha is the language which originated in western Bhutan, around Thimphu, Paro and Punakha. Other languages and dialects take the name of the region where they are spoken so that Bumthang-pa is spoken around Bumthang, Kortoe-pa comes from Kortoe and so on. English has been the medium of education in schools since the late 1950s and is also the second official language of government. English is therefore spoken fluently by a large number of people.
The unit of currency is the ngultrum (Nu), which is equivalent to one Indian Rupee. The Indian rupee is also legal tender. Major convertible currencies and Travelers’ Cheques can be exchanged at banks in all major towns. Certain credit cards (MasterCard, Visa, & American Express) are accepted at a few large hotels and some shops.
Most Bhutanese dishes are based on chillies, used as a vegetable rather than a seasoning. “Ema Datshi’ , which might be considered the national dish, is made with chillies and cheese and served with Bhutanese red rice. If you do not have a taste for chillies, don’t worry, tourist hotels and lodges offer buffet style meals with choice of continental, Bhutanese and Indian Cuisine. Our cooks who accompany the treks and camping tours, are Austrian-trained and well-equipped and conjure up delicious feasts every day.
It is safer to drink bottled or boiled and filtered water. Bhutan Visit offers one complimentary bottle of water per person per day. A variety of soft drinks are available in hotels, restaurants and shops in most towns. Bhutanese whisky and rum are produced commercially to a very high standard. The locally distilled alcoholic drink is known either as “ara” or “chang” and is made from wheat, millet, corn or rice. Since the degree of alcohol varies, please take care not to drink too much!
All towns in the urban areas of Bhutan have a mains power supply. The supply of electricity to villages some distance from the road is an ongoing project so many outlying towns are not connected yet. Trekking will take you far from electric supplies. The voltage supply is 220/240 and a two-pinned round plug is used, as in India. Plese bring your own travel adaptor since they are not readily available in the shops,
Following the basic travel precautions of drinking only bottled or boiled and filtered water should keep you healthy in Bhutan. If you are travelling to the low-altitude southern region you should consult your doctor about protection from malaria but there is no malaria in the higher-altitude northern area, which is the destination of most of the tours and treks. When trekking, there are also risks associated with altitude sickness and accident. We strongly recommend that you take out an adequate travel and health insurance to cover you for all eventualities. In the event of health problems there are basic hospital facilities in each district headquarters. We recommend that you pack a travel emergency first aid kit. No vaccinations are formally required by Bhutan. However, if you are arriving from an area infected with yellow fever, you are required to have a yellow fever vaccination and should be administered at least 10 days before your arrival in Bhutan. If you are trekking you may wish to bring along medicines for altitude sickness.
Before you leave home
Because Bhutan is a high-altitude country, we strongly recommend that you purchase comprehensive insurance and have a complete medical check up before you leave home. Please inform us of any pre-existing medical condition.
Also, as a precaution, please consult a specialised medical centre for vaccination against Typhoid, Hepatitis,Tetanus and Meningococcal Meningitis. Ensure that you have sufficient supplies of any prescription medicine you are taking. Some drugs might have side-effects at high altitude, so consult your doctor.
If you have special dietary requirements, give us a comprehensive list of what you can and cant eat, so that we can provide for you.
The crime rate is extremely low, making Bhutan one of the safer places in the world. Avoid dogs since a bite would require an anti-rabies series of injections.
All major towns have basic communication facilities, including post, telephone, fax and internet. There are satellite and national television broadcasts in the major towns. The Internet was introduced in 1999, and there are some internet cafes throughout the country and in many hotels.
The most popular tourist purchases are traditional Bhutanese arts and handicrafts. Produced by skilled artisans, these are generally of a high quality, and include Buddhist paintings and statues, textiles, jewellery, handmade paper, thangka paintings and wooden bowls and carvings. Bhutan is also well-known amongst stamp collectors for its postage stamps. Buying and selling of antiques is strictly forbidden. The variety of everyday goods available is limited so please bring the essentials for your journey, with you.
The Bhutanese are usually quite happy to be photographed, all it takes is a simple gesture to get their agreement. However, there are some restrictions on taking photographs in the Dzongs, monasteries and temples. 35mm colour print film can be bought in Bhutan. Slide film and lithium batteries are more difficult to find.
Tipping is not compulsory and is left entirely to the discretion of the individual. It is not normal to tip in restaurants or taxis. There is a custom of tipping your guide and driver at the end of the tour but this is at your discretion.
Bhutan time is 6 hours ahead of GMT.