For a trip to Bhutan, you will most likely need a Bhutan visa.
The Bhutan government is trying to keep the country’s cultural heritage preserved, so it maintains a “High Value, Low Impact Tourism” policy. So most people, except those from a few neighbouring countries, will need a visa to visit Bhutan.
A visa which you can get only by booking a tour, that’s at least US$200 per day. Yes, I know, that may seem like a hefty price, but most argue that it is well worth it because you will get a glimpse into a truly pristine and beautiful country. Moreover, accommodation, all your meals and fees, transport, and tour guides are included into the price, so really, you won’t have to reach for your wallet while again you’re there at all.
This article will detail the Bhutan visa policy, how to apply for one, and how much you can expect it to cost.
Who Needs a Bhutan Visa?
Everyone, except citizens of India, Bangladesh, and the Maldives need a visa to enter Bhutan. Visas can be obtained on arrival, after applying for visa clearance through a tour operator.
Nationals of India, Bangladesh, and the Maldives can enter Bhutan with just their passport, as long as it is valid for another six months. They still need to pay a “sustainable development fee” of about US$17 dollars per day during their time in Bhutan.
Everyone who is not from the three aforementioned countries pays a US$65 sustainable development fee. This is calculated into the Minimum Daily Package offered by tour operators. Read more on that further down the article under Bhutan Visa Cost.
Official Bhutan Visa Clearance
If you are travelling to Bhutan with an invitation from a government body or organization, you are eligible for Official visa clearance. You have to apply for visa clearance from the Bhutan Ministry of Foreign Affairs by submitting an application form and an Invitation Letter from the organization/agency. If you get visa clearance means you won’t have to pay the US$200 daily tour cost like tourists do.
What Are the Bhutan Visa Requirements?
The requirements for getting a Bhutan visa are:
- You have to book a tour with a registered tour operator
- You have to be willing to pay the minimum nightly rate set by the Tourism Council (US$200 – US$250)
- Your passport must be valid for at least another six months starting from the day you enter Bhutan
- You must submit proof of your occupation
- You have to provide your contact information and address
How to Apply for a Bhutan Visa?
You have to apply for a Bhutan visa through a registered tour operator, who will submit the visa application on your behalf at the Tourism Council of Bhutan. The Bhutan visa application process is as follows:
- Approach a registered tour operator to book your trip. The Bhutan Tourism Council has a list of the registered tour operators on their website (here). There are many of them, so do your scouting and find one that appears most adequate to you. There can also be a tour agency in your country which has tied to a Bhutanese company, and will help you with the application process.
- Pay the tour and send the tour operators the required documents and information.
- Colored scan of your passport. Make sure the passport will be valid for at least another six months starting from the day you enter Bhutan.
- Document proving your occupation. If you are a student, you should submit your student ID as well, because you will get a discount. Children can also get discounts.
- Your contact information and address.
- The tour operators will submit the visa application on your behalf to the Bhutan Tourism Council.
- The Bhutan Tourism Council reviews your application and issues a Visa Clearance Letter. You have to print this letter and bring it with you to the airport.
- Get travel health insurance. This is not included on the tour operator packages.
- Travel to Bhutan and show the visa clearance letter to the immigration officers at the airport. After reviewing it, they will stamp the actual visa on your passport.
Bhutan Visa Cost
The cost of the Bhutan visa itself is US$40 per person. This is a non-refundable fee. However, in addition to the visa fee, you also have to pay for the tour . The Bhutan Tourism Council has a fixed Minimum Daily Package for all tours to Bhutan:
- US$ 250 a day per person during peak season (March to May; September to November)
- US$ 200 a day per person at other times of the year
This price includes the following:
- Accommodation in a three-star hotel
- Three meals per day (breakfast, lunch and dinner)
- Internal transport in Bhutan
- An English speaking tour guide
- Entry fees to tourist attractions
- Camping equipment and haulage for trekking tours
- Government fees, aka the “sustainable development fee”, which is about US$65
Because this is a fixed price, tour operators can offer additional services to make themselves more attractive to clients. Moreover, if you come across a tour which offers a lower rate than above, it is likely a scam so be wary of it.
How Long Will It Take to Get a Bhutan Visa?
The time it takes to get your Bhutan visa depends on when you apply. Usually, the Tourism Council of Bhutan will issue your visa clearance 1-2 weeks before you are set to depart, but they can sometimes take longer than that and issue it at the last moment.
So, it is recommended that you apply for a Bhutan visa at least one week in advance, but it is probably a better idea to apply a couple of months before your intended departure date.
What Is the Validity of a Bhutan Visa?
A Bhutan visa is issued for six months starting from the date of entry. It is a single-entry visa.
Can I Extend a Bhutan Visa?
You can extend your Bhutan visa through your tour operator, who will submit a request to the Tourism Council on your behalf.
Can I Apply For a Bhutan Visa Independently?
No, you cannot apply for a Bhutan visa without a tour operator. Bhutan Embassies do not offer visa services – all visas are processed solely through tour operators and the Bhutan Tourism Council. The only time you can enter the country without a tour is if you are a guest of the Bhutan government or if you are travelling as a part of a volunteer or tour organization.
The reason behind this is that Bhutan wishes to maintain the country’s natural environment and cultural heritage pristine and to prevent them from getting overwhelmed by tourists. As such, the Bhutanese government limits the number of tourists present in the country at the same time.
If My Bhutan Visa is Rejected, Will I Get a Refund of the Tour?
Whether you will receive a refund on your tour to Bhutan depends on the tour operator policy. This is why it is a good idea to purchase a travel insurance policy with trip disruption coverage.
Can I Work in Bhutan?
If you want to work or live in Bhutan for an extended period of time, you need to find a job where your employer will have to apply for a valid work permit from the Bhutanese Chief Labour Officer, Department of Labour. However, you should note that work visas and other long-term visas for Bhutan are not widely issued. The most common reason for staying in Bhutan long-term is if you work as a volunteer.
Otherwise, if you enter as a tourist, you should keep in mind that there is a UD$200 – US$250 minimum daily fee, so an extended trip is not really sustainable.