Presently, for citizens of India, Bangladesh & Maldives, which are collectively referred to as Regional Tourists, don’t need Visa to visit Bhutan, but various Permits are required to visit various regions. And with the current trend of visiting Bhutan amongst regional tourists increasing at an alarming rate, I notice that there are lots of confusions and various queries coming up with the Bhutan’s Permit System. I hope this article will answer all their queries in a simplified manner covering each and every minute details.
First of all, there are two kinds of Permits
- Entry Permit
- Inner Line Permit (ILP)
Entry Permit : You need to obtain Entry Permit while entering Bhutan and is only valid for travelling up to or within Thimphu and Paro. Entry Permit can be obtained at 3 designated places.
Bhutan Consulate, Kolkata : If you are from Kolkata, you may apply for Entry Permit at Kolkata Bhutan Consulate around 3 months in advance to get the permit in advance.Kolkata Immigration Office has stopped issuing permits. This option is no more valid.
- Border Immigration Office : This is the most common way of entering Bhutan and thus Border Immigration Offices faces huge rush during peak season and long holidays. Please note that Border Immigration Office is closed on Weekends and on Bhutan Govt. Holidays. On weekdays they work from 9 AM – 5 PM with a break of one hour (1PM – 2PM) for Lunch.
- Paro Airport : Immigration Office at Paro Airport all days irrespective of weekends and holidays. So if you are planning to enter Bhutan on weekends or govt. holidays and you can afford the flight to Paro, this is your best option.
- Online Permit : E-Permit is not accessible to the public as of now, and you must reach out to local Authorized Bhutanese Tour Operators to get it arranged for you in advance. But if you are opting for Online Permit, you must mandatorily book the whole package (Hotels, Vehicle and Tour Guide) through them as they need to furnish those details while filling up the form.
NOTE : Bhutan Govt. is now stricter about the permits. So please make sure your documentation is correct and in order before approaching the Immigration Office and wasting your time trying out luck.
I’ll brief about each of the processes below :
Border Immigration Office : Amongst all the border entry points, Jaigaon – Phuentsholing is most commonly used. Jaigaon is the Indian bordering town whereas Phuentsholing is the Bhutan bordering town. You are allowed to stay at Phuentsholing without permits. So if you are planning to reach on a Sunday, instead of chaotic and dirty Jaigaon, stay at Phuentsholing instead for a pleasant experience. Immigration Office is beside Druk hotel around 100 – 200 meters from Bhutan Gate. Immigration Offices are closed on Weekends and Bhutan Govt. Holidays. On weekdays they work from 9AM – 5PM with a break of one hour (1PM – 2PM) for Lunch.
Below are the items you need to submit (in exact same order) :
(i) Itinerary – Write your whole itinerary in a white paper. Example –
25th Feb 2020 : P/Soling – Thimphu
26th Feb 2020 : Thimphu Sightseeing
27th Feb 2020 : Thimphu – Paro
(ii) Hotel Booking Receipts : You must mandatorily submit hotel booking receipts of Thimphu and Paro in hotel’s official letterhead. They do accept booking receipts of a few selected online portals.
(iii) Entry Permit : Duly filled and signed
(iv) Photocopy of Voter ID Card / Passport (For Adults) OR Birth Certificate (For Childs)
(v) Passport Size Photo.
Staple (iii), (iv) & (v) together for each member and staple (i) and (ii) in front of the bunch.
The main gate opens at around 8:00 – 8:30 AM and they start accepting documents from 9:00 AM onwards. During peak season or a long weekend, keep enough time in hand, as after the introduction of biometrics the process takes much longer than before. Also, don’t underestimate the time required for the process. On my last trip during Christmas – New Year, around 500 tourists couldn’t procure permits. They had their hotel bookings accordingly, and I still get scared when I think what they might have gone through due to change in their plans. During peak season, it’d be impossible to manage a room at most hotels due to the change of your plan overnight. So if you are visiting during such period, make sure to go and stand in a queue as early as possible. And make sure your documents are absolutely correct.
Also, I noticed one issue, is that the queue outside Main Gate is not actually followed. Once the gate opens at 8:00 AM / 8:30 AM, people just rush towards the counter. And the queue that forms there at the counter is what is actually followed. So be prepared for the same and get there early and be the first one to be in front of the gate.
First, you need to submit the documents (as mentioned above) to the Immigration Officials. And after the first round of verification, they will accept the documents. Again, Immigration Officials are very strict about the documentation and you need to follow exactly what’s mentioned above. They bugged off a lot of tourists standing in front of me for not having the Itinerary written on white paper. So don’t underestimate any of the points mentioned above. You’ll be called serially based on the forms accepted for the biometrics. Once you are called you need to go upstairs and stand in a queue of Biometric Counters. There are few counters towards the Exit for issuing the permits. So please make sure not to stand on those queues.
Once you are done for the biometrics you need to wait till your Entry Permits are printed and handed over to you from the counters towards the Exit.
Throughout the process, only one member of the group needs to stand in the queue. During biometrics, everyone should be present in the room as everyone will be called serially as per the group lead standing in the queue. Now during peak season, this whole process can eat up your whole day depending on the number of persons standing in front of the queue. As most people standing in front of the queue will seldom be a Solo Traveller. Also not to forget the Bengal based tour operators who will be there to submit a bunch of 50 – 100 forms at once.
NOTE : TCB prefers family, thus Solo Travellers / Unrelated Group of friends / Single Groups are prone to more questions. But if your documentation is correct and in order, they won’t deny your permit.
Paro Airport : Immigration Counter at Paro Airport works on all days irrespective of weekends and holidays. So if you can afford a flight to Paro and planning to reach on a Weekend or Govt. Holiday, this is your best bet. Presently only two carriers i.e. Druk Air and Bhutan Airlines (Also known as Tashi Airlines) that flies to Bhutan. Both being Bhutanese carriers are not available at Online Flight Booking websites such as MakeMyTrip / Goibibo etc. These can only be booked from their official websites only. Documentation procedures are same as of Border Immigration Office but a bit less strict.
Online Permit : As mentioned above, Online Permit (E-Permit) is not accessible to the public. So you cannot apply for a permit in advance on your own. Instead, you need to reach out to Authorized Tour Operators of Bhutan for the same. You need to mandatorily book all the Hotels, Vehicle (for throughout your trip) and Tour Guide through them as they mandatorily need to furnish those details while filling up your form online. So in simple words, if you are a budget traveller and planning to travel on your own with a limited budget, Online Permit is not going to work out for you. Because due to restrictions from TCB, authorized tour operators of Bhutan are not allowed to deal with anything below 3* hotels. They must mandatorily offer you a private vehicle at your disposal and a full-time tour guide for the whole trip. So again, this option is not feasible for anyone on a budget trip.
Documents (For Entry Permit) : Only Voter ID Card OR Passport is accepted for adults. For kids below 18 Years, Birth Certificate in English is mandatory. Both adults and children require 2 passport size colour photographs.
Identification Slip : If you do not have either of Passport / Voter ID Card, then you must first visit Indian Consulate, P/Soling to get an Identification Slip with two of the whatever documents you have (Aadhaar Card / Pan Card / Driving License / Ration Card) along with Passport Size Photo to prove your nationality and obtain an Identification Slip and then visit Immigration Office to get Entry Permit with the Identification Slip provided by Indian Consulate.
ILP (Inner Line Permit) : Entry Permit is only valid for travel up to or within Thimphu and Paro District. If you want to travel anywhere beyond Thimphu and Paro Dzongkhag (district), such as Haa, Punakha, Phobjikha / Gangtey etc., you must apply for ILP at Thimphu Immigration Office (if entering from P/Soling). Thimphu Immigration Office works on Weekdays from 9AM – 5PM with a lunch break of 1 Hour (1PM – 2PM) and is closed on Weekends and Govt. Holidays. Here you just need to provide a photocopy of Entry Permits to obtain the ILP.
Extension Permit : If the number of days allowed by Immigration Officer, initially, while issuing Entry Permit is not sufficient, you need to get an Extension Permit (for the extra required number of days) from Thimphu Immigration Office.
Timing : All the Immigration Offices works on weekdays from 9AM – 5PM BST with a lunch break of 1 Hour (1PM – 2PM). All the Immigration Offices are closed on Weekends and Bhutan Govt. Holidays. Immigration Counter at Paro Airport is the only exception to the above which works on all days. Please note that BST is +6:00 from GMT and 30 minutes ahead of Indian Standard Time (IST).
Currency : Ngultrum or Nu. (in short) is the official currency of Bhutan and in par with INR. However, INR is accepted throughout Bhutan. So in case you are an Indian and visiting Bhutan with INR, there’s no need to convert, however, you’ll get returns in Nu. mostly. However, if anyone wants to exchange, there are lots of options available at P/Soling, Thimphu and Paro. Although theoretically denominations of Rs. 500/- and Rs. 2000/- are not accepted, however practically they are broadly accepted within P/Soling, Thimphu and Paro. But if you are planning to go beyond these regions, better save the returns you get in Nu. in these towns or use denominations of up to Rs. 100/- as shops and hotels at remote regions are not really keen on accepting Rs. 500/- and Rs. 2000/- with some exceptions.
NOTE : If you are not a citizen of India / Bangladesh / Maldives then you cannot visit Bhutan on your own and you must plan your whole trip through an authorized Bhutanese Tour Operator. Please note that, even if you are an NRI and do not hold Indian Passport OR Voter ID Card, then also this rule is applicable for you and you cannot visit Bhutan on your own. Please check Minimum Daily Package for details.
Solo Travellers : Although Bhutan is safe for both Solo Male and Female travellers, however, Bhutan really discourages Solo Travel. However, you won’t be denied entry, if you have proper documentation mentioned above. It’s best to know that though there are no such theoretical rules, but Solo Travelers are prone to more stricter verification based on his/her luck. Also, you should know that the Immigration Officer might ask for an authorization letter in writing stating that, in case something happens, Bhutan Govt. won’t be responsible.
Vehicle Permit : If you are planning to drive your own vehicle then you need to apply for Vehicle Permit at P/Soling RSTA in additional to Entry Permit. There you’d need to submit Entry Permit, Driving License and Vehicle Documents. If you are planning to hire and drive rental vehicles or from someone else (nor your own vehicle) then you have to submit authorization letter too. They would charge Rs. 200/- for the permit.
Vehicle papers that you need to submit are: Registration Certificate, Insurance Paper, Pollution Control Certificate, Driving License and Entry Permit. Also, an Authorisation Letter if the vehicle is not owned by you.
NOTE : Please get accustomed with hilly driving rules which are very different at plains. Additionally, Bhutan has few different policies like No Honking, so make sure to get accustomed with the same else you might get heavily fined (although there’s not much traffic police except Thimphu).
UPDATE (Jan 2020) : Entry Fees to various monuments and Dzongs have been revised.
You might like to go through the detailed post if you are Planning A Trip To Bhutan.
In case you’d like to go through every minute details and get an idea of various costs associated with a Trip To Bhutan, you may please go through my Trip Reports.
Trip Reports :
Entering Bhutan – The Land of Thunder Dragon
Capital of Bhutan – Thimphu In & Around
Journey To Phobjika via Dochula
The Most Historic Dzongkhag – Bumthang
The Old Capital – Punakha
Exploring Paro, Haa and Chele La Pass
Hike to Tiger’s Nest – Paro Taktsang
Tashi Delek Bhutan – The Himalayan Kingdom