I am writing this from my hotel in Thimphu, Bhutan, where one of the myths of travel in Bhutan has already been debunked for me… that there’s very little wifi in the country. Another myth about travelling in Bhutan? That it’s difficult to get a visa to visit, or that the government limits the number of visas they grant per year to tourists. So is it difficult to get a visa for Bhutan?
NO. I have experienced much more hardship and/or complications with visas for Russia, Mongolia, China, Myanmar, Brazil, India, Vietnam… the list goes on (each of these countries required that I physically go to an embassy, provide extensive paperwork, pay a fee, etc.). Getting a visa to Bhutan is nowhere near as difficult as you may think, and it is a total myth that the government limits how many tourists can visit per year.
All tourists visiting Bhutan need a visa, unless you hold a passport from India, Bangladesh, or the Maldives (Indian visitors may also use their Visitors Identity Card). The only other exception to needing a visa is if you are officially invited by a Bhutanese citizen “of some standing” (pretty sure that means the royal family), a volunteer organisation, or if you are invited as a guest of the Bhutanese government. Keep in mind that all tourists, from any country, must have a passport that is valid for at least six months.
What isn’t a myth is that you have to pay a certain amount per day, and you must book through a licensed Bhutanese tour company*. Here’s a list of licensed operators in Bhutan; you must only book with one of them, or you risk not being allowed to enter the country. This is done in order to ensure the “High Value, Low Impact Tourism” policy that the country has adopted. Through this policy (i.e., paying the daily fee), tourists get the most out of their visits, and Bhutan is not overwhelmed by mass tourism.
Your tour company will arrange your visa for you; once you have paid them in full and emailed them a copy of your passport photo page (or even just a photo of it, which is what I did), they will send you an official letter which you print out and take with you on your travels. Essentially, the only difficult part about getting a visa to Bhutan is the email correspondence and the money transfer, but even those are of little inconvenience in the grand scheme of things. The $40 USD visa fee will be included in your total tour cost, so you should not have to pay anyone at any airport. You will need the print-out of the official letter before boarding a flight to Bhutan and at the immigration counter when you land.
When you land in Paro, you will go through immigration, where you’ll show your passport, landing card (provided on the plane or in the airport), and official letter (while I always recommend travelling with passport photos, I did not need to provide a photo to anyone). You’ll then get a stamp in your passport, and… that’s it! You’re officially in Bhutan, a beautiful, inspiration, and extremely peaceful country**.
So, to clarify:
-once you book your trip and pay your tour company, they will arrange your visa for you
-all you need to bring is your valid passport and the official letter your tour company will send you
Please don’t let a myth that it’s difficult to get a visa to Bhutan stop you from considering a visit to this incredible country. For more on obtaining a visa for Bhutan and other travel requirements, check out the official Tourism Council of Bhutan’s page.
I’m so excited to write more about my adventures here, and to write more about the myth that travel in Bhutan is outrageously expensive (it’s not, not when compared to a mid-budget trip to Europe… but more on that in a few days).
*And when I say tour company… don’t panic. This doesn’t mean you’ll be shuffled onto a giant bus with thirty other people. When you book with a tour company, you and your travel companions are the only people on the tour. So, for example… my mum and I booked with Bhutan Namdruk Adventure, which means that it’s just the two of us with our private guide, Thinley (whose company I highly recommend). While I will expand on the cost in more detail in another post, you pay $250 USD per person, unless (like my mum and I) you travel in low season, when you’ll pay $200 USD per person. Again, I’ll write more about this later, but keep in mind this includes your visa fees, a private guide, all accommodation, all transportation within Bhutan, and all meals. Part of this payment also goes toward maintaining Bhutan’s culture, providing free education and healthcare, and preventing poverty.
**I’d just like to state here and now that I am not a travel agent or government official – so please don’t hold me accountable if your experience is vastly different or if things change in the future. Everything stated here is simply from my own experience!
Did you think that it was difficult to get a visa to Bhutan, or that there were limited visas given per year? Would you consider booking a trip to Bhutan, or have you already been?
I am SO excited to read more about your travels there. But $200/day for basically what amounts to all-inclusive is pretty reasonable!
Thanks, Katie! And I totally agree. I really hope that if I break it down and show that it doesn’t cost more than, say, a typical resort stay in the Caribbean, or a budget safari trip in many countries of Africa, that more people will consider going!
Enjoy Bhutan Brenna! I can’t wait to read about your experience there. I also want to travel to Bhutan.
Thank you so much, Christine! I hope you get here soon. 😀
I’ve seen pictures of the monasteries in Bhutan before and thought about visiting there, but never very seriously. I didn’t know much about traveling there. After reading this, Bhutan just shot up on my to-visit list. Partly because it doesn’t sound hard to get into, but mostly because of the motives behind their tourism. I would love for my money to go toward a country with such responsible tourism. More countries need to behave in this manner.
I know, it’s quite amazing, really. It has been a really eye-opening experience… and I’ll definitely be writing more about it! Thanks so much for your comment, Alisa 🙂
Thanks so much for this Brenna. I had heard that it was about US$200 per day for the Guide but didn’t realise that this included accommodation, transport, food so it’s actually not too bad. I will definitely be visiting myself one day 🙂
I’ll write a whole post about it soon… but we honestly have not spent one cent since arriving (except on souvenirs)! I really think it works out in the end. Hope you get here soon!
ohhhhh, i can’t wait to read these posts! bhutan has been in the back of my mind for years and is one of the places i want to see while i’m back living in india. tell me more tell me more! xx
I will do my best!! 😀
I will be traveling to Bhutan from India in 2 weeks. I cant wait for your posts, which I am sure will help me when I am there. Bhutan is a gorgeous place. I hope you have great time. How long are you planning on staying there? And is it very cold there?
I am here until December 8th… the weather is quite nice in the day, but gets a bit chilly at night! Bring a warm sweater and jacket 🙂 Have fun!
Bhutan is definitely on my list of places to go as soon as possible. Can’t wait to read about your experiences there. Take care.
Thank you so much, Filipe! Hope you get here soon 🙂
Ooh, I’m looking forward to reading more about Bhutan! I have considered taking a trip there and would like to put it on my list for 2017 or 2018. The visa process sounds perfectly reasonable and like the Bhutanese government has really thought about how they want tourism to benefit their country and travelers alike.
Yes, I’ve learned some really amazing things about tourism in this country and how important it is to Bhutanese people to keep it manageable and responsible. I really hope you get to visit soon! Thanks for your comment, Erin. 🙂
Wow! Good to know that you had a good time in Bhutan! I invite you to visit Pakistan! It is a beautiful country too!
Thank you – I hope to visit Pakistan one day!
Thanks for these tips! I’ll remember this post when I’m starting to make more concrete plans to visit Bhutan! This country has been high on my list of countries to visit (together with Tibet); I’m starting to wonder why I continue putting it off, especially since judging by your post it’s not so difficult to organize!
No, it’s not difficult to organise at all! Really hope you get there soon, I’m sure you’d love it. 🙂 Thanks for your comment!
I definitly remember reading or hearing on the news in the past that only a select number of volunteers can get into Bhutan every year but I’m glad to find out that’s not true! I don’t know whether its changed or people were just reporting false information, but either way I’m pinning for future reference. I’d love to do a Nepal+Bhutan trip one day.
I’m pretty sure that was just false information, at least if it was reported recently. As stated, there is no limit to how many visas they give out per year, so long as everyone has been approved and is willing to pay the daily fee! Hope you get there soon 🙂
Entering as a volunteer is different from entering as a tourist. My understanding is that it is a bit more limited.
Thanks so much for your post about Bhutan – I’ve always wanted to go, and your tips and insights will surely help when I make it there someday!
I’ve heard the Paro airport is really frightening/dangerous to land at, due to the fact that it’s surrounded by steep mountains. Did you experience any problems with landing or feel scared at all?
No, but I don’t get scared when flying. It is surrounded by mountains but I knew I was in totally capable hands, and the landing was perfectly smooth. I hope the airport doesn’t put you off visiting Bhutan!
I actually had no idea how easy it really was! I wonder why there is such a myth about the difficulties getting into Bhutan?
I don’t know either, but it is indeed very easy!
[…] Accordingly, then, the high seasons are spring and autumn (March, April, May, September, October, and November) because they have the nicest weather. I visited in December, when the temperature was a bit chilly but the skies were beautiful and bright (and the daily tariff was also lower, which you can read more about, including the process of getting a Bhutanese visa, here). […]
[…] This coincided perfectly with my other plans, which included hanging out with Kate in Koh Lanta and going to Bhutan at the beginning of December (meaning this trip to Asia was really fulfilling a lot of my travel […]
[…] floating around that the government only offers a limited amount of visas to tourists each year. As I wrote about previously, that is indeed a myth; anyone can visit Bhutan as long as he or she is willing to pay a daily fee (more on that in a […]
Hi Brenna! I am travelling solo to Bhutan in November and you blog is really helpful. Is the official letter from the tour company the visa? Is the original letter required? Thanks!
Just come back from Bhutan….absolutely fell in love with it….hopefully going back next year for trekking…we went with an organised holiday company in the Uk, but have no qualms about organising our own guide etc for our next visit
I’m glad to hear you loved it so much! 🙂
Hi Brenna. You’re Godsend. Is there a limit of how many days one can stay in Bhutan?
Also, Do you know when the high aND low seasons are?
I write more about that in this post! https://www.thisbatteredsuitcase.com/how-much-does-it-really-cost-to-visit-bhutan/
Hi. Can you still remember how long the visa was valid for?
Thank you so much.. I started losing hope after reading those “myth” online. I am still upset tho that I cannot live longer there. I would like to stay for few months and relax.
Hi, We are travelling this October 20, 2019 thru 25th. We are all excited to see the land. Did you visit state of Sikkim while you were there? Are 5 days enough to see the country? Thank you, in advance. Have safe travels!
Such an Amazing Article. But as in a few comments, I can see people are asking about why 200$ per day is mandatory for all the tourists. So I would like to clarify this thing. Tourism in Bhutan is based on the principle of “High Value, Low Impact.” 70% of Bhutan is covered with forest and its the only carbon-negative country. If they remove this $250 a day you will see a mob of tourist travelling to this beautiful country and it will put a lot of pressure on its natural resources.
Also, a percentage of 200$ a day goes to the charity which goes into Education, Health Sector and other development of the country. So indirectly you’re doing a good thing for the country as well.
what’s the purpose of this post?
obviously the travel agency does everything for you and obviously getting visa is as easy as pie…
and YES, they do limit the inflow of tourists. no idea who told you differently lol
The purpose of this post? There’s a little thing called Google where people ask questions, and then click on articles such as this one to find their answers 😉 I mean… how did you find this post from six years ago?
And from the Tourism Council of Bhutan directly: “There is no limit on the number of tourists allowed to visit in a year. In order to protect our culture, traditions and natural environment, the government has adopted a unique policy of “High Value, Low Impact ”. This policy is aimed at attracting discerning tourists that will respect the unique culture and values of the Bhutanese people while also providing the visitors with an unforgettable one of a kind experience.”
Basically, if you have the $200/$250 a day, you can apply to visit Bhutan. There is no limit on how many tourists enter per year, but I imagine the cost will keep the numbers quite low anyway.
p.s. please use a real email address next time, I usually don’t allow spam/fake email accounts to comment on my site