One of the most frequent questions I get is about how one can visit
Bhutan without paying the usual tourist tarrif, or about volunteering
in Bhutan. So here is some information which I hope will be helpful
in answering this question.
Visitors come to Bhutan in one of the following ways:
If you fall in categories ii, iv or v, your counterparts in Bhutan
will advise you and process your travel formalities.
- As a tourist
- You are an official guest of the government
- You work for an international aid/development
agency operating in Bhutan (UN organisations and the like,
and also international volunteers through organisations
like VSO, VSA and JOCV).
- You are on a short term consultancy for the government
- In a few special cases, (eg host families of Bhutanese students
abroad, "friends of Bhutan") visit without paying the tourist
tarriff. These special cases are considered on an individual
- And finally, you are illegally in the country
VISITING BHUTAN AS A TOURIST
Contrary to what a lot of people believe,
there is no limit to the number of visitors allowed to enter Bhutan.
The tourism policy of Bhutan uses pricing to control
the number of visitors to Bhutan. The official rate for visting
Bhutan is about US$200 per person per day. The policy also requires
that all foreign tourists to Bhutan organise their visit through
a licensed Bhutanese tour operator. The objective of this policy
is maximization of foreign revenue from tourism with minimal impacts
on the culture and environment. Since Bhutan is such a small place,
geographically and demographically, uncontrolled tourism would have
Is it expensive?
The US$200 also entitles you to accomodation, meals, transportation
(not public transport but either a bus, 4WD or a car), entry fees
for museums etc., and a licensed guide during your visit. The tour
operator also pays a fraction of this fee as royalty to the Royal
Government. What you get in return is the privelege of visiting
a place where there are no "throngs of tourists", where the environment
still in very good shape and the culture vibrant. Dont just take
my word for it though - Conde Nast travel magazine thought that
Bhutan was the 4th best country to visit in the world in 2000.
Your visa fee is a one time payment of US$20 that is paid on arrival.
There is no separate application fee. Please note that the visa
has to be processed prior to your arrival. ( I found it
funny that the US embassy in Bangkok charged me a $20 'entry fee'
in addition to the $40 application fee. Some sort of reciprocity
thingy because we charge the $20 fee on arrival). I think most
average tourists in North America and Europe (including Bhutanese
visitors/business people) will end up paying more that $200 a day
for room, food, sight seeing, transport.
Note: Because of bilateral agreements, Indian nationals
carrying Indian passports do not need to pay the US$200 fee. I would
still recommend that you to contact a tour operator and work out
some amount because it will be easier for you when arranging accomodations
GETTING TO BHUTAN
So now that you know how much it costs and decided that you still
want to visit Bhutan, the next step is to contact a licensed travel/tour
agent in Bhutan. Prior to the establishment of Druknet,
(Bhutan's only Internet Service Provider) in 1999, it was probably
much easier to contact operators in North America, Europe and Japan
who arranged everything with their counterparts in Bhutan. Now with
the easy internet access, you can directly communicate with operators
You should have also decided by now about the type of a visit
you want - trekking, cultural sites, cultural events, a nature tour,
rafting, kayaking,. What about DXing (HAM radio!) or even a fertility
tour? See what the agent can offer!
Once you contact a Bhutanese tour operator, they will make all
the necessary arrangements for you from scheduling your visit and
itinerary to processing your visa and your flight into Bhutan from
the nearest airports. (Only one airline, Royal
Bhutan Airlines also known as "Druk Air", provides flight
services into Bhutan).
Most travel/tour agents in Bhutan should be able to provide you
with either cultural tours, trekking or a combination of both or
some other specialised tours like, bird watching, rafting and kayaking.
Either way, they will ensure that you receive your minimum tarriff
entitlements as per the Tourism Authority of Bhutan's guidelines.
Here are some select Bhutanese tour companies
that I can recommend:
... and here are some select tour companies
operating from abroad
heritage tours: in addition to the regular fare also
specialises in nature and birding.
scenic: Discover-Explore-Experience-Enjoy Bhutan with BhutanScenicTours
specialized in tours, treks, bird watching and environmental tours
- atlas tours:
tour and travel agency in Bhutan. located in bhutan
- etho metho:
one of the oldest and larget tour operators in Bhutan.
- Yu druk
: adventure, cultural and trekking
- bootan.com an
interesting site with lots of information about culture, news
and travelto Bhutan.
If you're into photography here's some information
about photographing in Bhutan.
- Golden Hill
Travel a UK based tour operator offering small group and individual
travel to Bhutan.
If you want to volunteer, you will most likely need some technical
or specialised skill (IT, medicine, engineering, law etc.) that
is not available or is lacking in the country. Most volunteers come
through the various international organisations that operate in
Bhutan. The way I understand the process is that any government
agency which requires/desires some technical expertise for
some development program will place a request with one of these
organisations, who then try to find a suitable candidate. Regarding
how these organisations go about selecting candidates and the areas
they focus on - I have no clue.
As far as I know, these international volunteer organisations
currently have operations in Bhutan:
Overseas Cooperation Vounteers (Japan)
- United Nations Volunteers international website
in Bhutan Bhutan program website
- Volunteer Services Abroad (New Zealand)
- Volunteer Services Overseas (UK)
Bhutan profile (I think VSO has stopped its operations in