Presently, for citizens of India, Bangladesh & Maldives, there’s no need of any 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 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 upto 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 have 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 works 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 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 take 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 more stricter about the permits. So please make sure your documentation are correct and in order before approaching the Immigration Office and wasting your time trying out luck.
I’ll breif about each of the process below :
Border Immigration Office (Updated Jan 2018) : 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 as like…
Date : Source – Destination
Date : Source – Destination
(ii) Hotel Booking Reciepts : You must mandatorily submit hotel booking reciepts of Thimphu and Paro in hotel’s official letter head. They do accept booking reciepts of selected online portals.
(iii) Entry Permit : Duly filled and signed
(iv) Photocopy of Voter ID Card / Passport
(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 long weekend, keep enough time in hand, as after the introduction of biometrics the process takes much longer than before. Also don’t understimate the time required for the process as on my last trip during XMas – New Year, many people couldn’t procure permits because they had to get out of queue due to various documentation issues. They had their hotel bookings accordingly, and I still get scared when I think what they would 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 change of your plan overnight. So if you are visiting during such period, make sure to go and stand in queue as early as possible. 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 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 shoo’ed away 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 from 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 queue. Now during peak season this whole process can eat up your whole day depending on the number of persons standing in front of queue. As most people standing in front of queue will seldom be a Solo Traveller. Also not to forget the tour operators who will be there to submit a bunch of 30 – 50 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) flies to Bhutan. Documentation procedures are same as of Border Immigration Office but less stricter.
Online Permit : As mentioned above, Online Permit (E-Permit) is not accessible to public. So you cannot apply for 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 fursnish those details while filling up your form online. Well so anyone who’s planning to travel by shared vehicle or not interested in full time Tour Guide, Online Permit is not going to work out for them. Also due to restrictions from TCB, authorized tour operators of Bhutan are not allowed to deal with anything below 3* hotels. 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 and School ID Card (optionally, if applicable) would suffice.
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 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) : If you want to travel anywhere beyond Thimphu and Paro Dzongkhag (district), 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 photocopy of Entry Permits to obtain the ILP.
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 theoritically 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 upto Rs. 100/- as shops and hotels at remote regions doesn’t really keen on accepting Rs. 500/- and Rs. 2000/- with some exceptions.
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 extra required number of days) from Thimphu Immigration Office.
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 a 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 documentations mentioned above. It’s best to know that though there’s no such theoritical rules, but Solo Travelers are prone to more stricter verification based on his/her luck. Also you should know that, Immigration Officer might ask for 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.
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