Bhutan is a country where Rice is Red and Red Chili is just another vegetable; where Carbon is ‘negative’ and progress of the country is measured in ‘Gross National Happiness’! The Kingdom of Bhutan is a slice from a fairytale world and travelling to this incredible destination promises some of the most rewarding moments for any traveller. The magnificent monasteries across the country, the spirit of hospitality among locals, houses with multi-coloured wooden facades and other quirky cultural nuances will delight you and will be etched in your memory forever. Further – the folklores, the Buddhist culture, the transcend of the lamas, the 8 auspicious symbols, a king and queen revered by the people – and many such factors make the place truly amazing. Thanks to the tourism relaxation for Indian travellers, the otherwise exorbitant fee of $250 per head per day (applicable for all foreign tourists except India, Bangladesh and Maldives) is not mandatory. Actually, Bhutan entry permit for Indian citizens is FREE of cost!!! Hence, an Indian enthusiastic traveller simply shouldn’t miss an opportunity to explore Bhutan.
As of February 2020, Bhutan entry permit for Indians is FREE, but it will soon become paid – just like travel visa to most other countries! Details are given below.
I am pretty sure that this video is inspiring enough to get you to start planning for a Bhutan trip right away. Getting into Bhutan is as simple as – just walk through a gate!! One can easily appreciate the difference right at the borders during transit from Jaigaon to Phuentsholing. On one side there’s tranquility, on the other, there’s visible chaos; on one side there is peace, on the other, there’s like an explosion of population – the change is drastic, and a good one.
Bhutan, by far, remains the most elusive, yet incredible destination I have been to. One has to go there, be a part of the culture, catch a breath while hiking the legendary Tiger’s Nest Monastery, take a dip in the waters of Paro river, sense the peaceful walks in the many dzongs (monasteries), taste the culinary differences…to truly appreciate the beauty that is deeply imbibed.
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Bhutan Entry Permit
Bhutan entry permit (aka travel visa) has been categorized in two – (1) for citizens of India, Bangladesh and Maldives; and (2) for citizens of any other country.
If you fall into category 2, traveling to Bhutan will turn out to be a mildly expensive affair. Unlike other countries, you just can’t buy tickets, get your visa done, pack your bags and land up there. There are a few more steps involved to get into Bhutan. The tourism sector is controlled by the Tourism Council of Bhutan which has set a minimum daily package. It’s $200 per person per night for the off-season (January, February, June, July, August & December) and $250 per person per night for high season (March, April, May, September, October & November). Yup, I know what you are thinking – “That’s insanely huge!!”, right? But, don’t get disheartened, for the price that you pay i.e. $200 / $250 includes the following:
- A minimum of 3-star accommodation (4 & 5 star will require an additional premium)
- All meals
- A licensed Bhutanese tour guide for the extent of your stay
- All internal transport (excluding internal flights)
- Camping equipment and haulage for trekking tours
- All internal taxes and charges
- A sustainable tourism Royalty of $65. This Royalty goes towards free education, free healthcare, poverty alleviation, along with the building of infrastructure.
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Visitors from India, Bangladesh and Maldives (category 1) are exempted from this whole set of rules mentioned above. Yes, that means, you can pack your bags and land up there without any visa, without any bookings, without the involvement of any travel agent and peacefully visit the country (just as we did) !!
There you go…being an Indian helps (at times in travelling too) !! Keeping in mind the political relation between India and Bhutan, we Indians are relieved from paying this minimum daily tariff. Though Indians do not need Visa to visit Bhutan, we need an entry permit. When you’ll cross the border, you’ll be issued an Entry Permit at Phuentsholing, which is valid for 7 days and for Thimphu and Paro only. That means with that permit you can go to Thimphu and Paro and stay up to 7 days. If you want to visit any other destinations other than Thimphu and Paro (Like Punakha, Haa Valley, etc.), you’ll have to get Restricted Area Permit from Thimphu Immigration Office for those destinations. And if your plan is to stay more than 7 days then you’ll have to apply and get an extension-permit for the same. All the permits are free of cost.
? Top places to visit and Things to do in Thimphu
Bhutan Entry Permit for Indians
As of April 2018, there are 3 ways of getting your entry permit:
- At the Phuentsholing immigration office (we took this option)
- At Paro Airport
- With the help of a registered Bhutanese tour operator (Contact us for the details)
s mentioned above, the easiest way to enter Bhutan is simply walking through the gate at the Phuentsholing-Jaigaon border, and then one can walk up to the immigration office and get the permit done. Only a simple permit application form needs to be filled up, along with 2 passport size photos and
any ID proof (original and a photocopy) given by Government of India an ID proof like Passport or Voter ID card. (Passport must be valid for minimum 6 months from the date of travel). The only ‘unhappy’ side of this way to get the permit is that one needs to be at the Phuentsholing immigration office on a weekday between 9am-5pm.
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IMPORTANT Update [August 2019]
As mentioned above, since the Phuentsholing immigration office is only opened on weekdays, you will need another way out if you are reaching there on a weekend or outside office hours. You will need to apply for an entry permit in advance a.k.a online entry permit. But here is the catch – apparently it can only be done by a registered Bhutanese tour operator.
Additionally, a new set of rules has been introduced by Tourism Council of Bhutan for travellers who want to get their entry permit in advance –
- Passport is mandatory
- Government certified 3-star (or above) hotel booking is mandatory
- A registered tour guide is mandatory
Nikita (a friend of mine who shot the stunning time-lapse video inserted above) and her friends faced this issue. They had planned to start their trip from the Phuentsholing-Jaigaon border on a Saturday. Hence they had to reach out to a registered tour operator who was able to get the permit done on their behalf. This method of obtaining the permit is chargeable (Contact us for the details).
Please note that the Royal Bhutan Consulate in Kolkata has stopped issuing the entry permit.
If one is landing at the Paro Airport, then entry-permit can be done right at the airport, at all times. All you need is your passport along with 2 passport size photos.
Another important update – February 2020
Bhutan ends free entry for Indian tourists – Ending decades of free entry to Indian tourists visiting Bhutan, the government in Thimphu has decided to levy a daily fee of ₹1,200 ($17) for travellers from India, the Maldives and Bangladesh. Although it was announced on 5th Feb, it will be implemented only from beginning July 2020. The fee, called a Sustainable Development Fee (SDF), is meant to help the government deal with burgeoning numbers in tourist traffic, which it is seeking to regulate through a new tourism policy.
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This brings us to the end of this introductory post on Bhutan and entry permits. We have many related articles to help you carve out a great trip and also to make your planning easier.
- ULTIMATE Bhutan travel guide – a detailed travel guide for Bhutan
- Travel itineraries and inspiration – our Bhutan travel itinerary, other itinerary options and loads of inspiration
- Places to visit in Thimphu & our Travelogue – best places to visit in Thimphu in the form of a travelogue
- Hike to Tiger’s Nest Monastery – information-packed guide for the not-so-easy stairway to heaven!
- Why Bhutan is the Ideal Choice for an Indian traveler’s First Foreign Trip – Visa is FREE! Country is safe! People are friendly! + 7 more reasons !!
- A day trip to Chelela Pass and Haa Valley (coming soon… )
- A day trip to Dochula Pass and Punakha (coming soon… )