How to Get a Bhutan Tourist Visa for British Citizens
Were you one of those people who got curious about Bhutan, too? Ever wondered what lies beyond the perfect royal love story? Wanted to know more about Asia’s happiest country? Let me give you some tips on how you can visit the only carbon-negative country in the world with your UK Passport – get a Bhutan Tourist Visa on your UK Passport.
Do you believe in fairytales? You probably aren’t sold with the idea until recently when royals started making headlines by marrying commoners, which would’ve probably sounded impossible if I said this to you a century ago. As times get more modern, monarchs from around the globe also started widening their horizons when it comes to choosing the next addition to their respective royal families.
This was also the case for King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck from the peaceful little country of Bhutan. He married Queen Jetsun Pema, a commoner whom he first met (and got a marriage proposal from!) when he was 17 and she was 7. Their love story, which was nothing short of a perfect Disney princess movie, created a buzz all around the world and turned everyone’s attention towards their country.
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Quick Facts About The Bhutan Tourist Visa
Validity: short stay for up to 15 days
Number of Entries: Single
Processing Time: 2 Weeks
How and Where to Apply: Online via Licensed Bhutanese Tour Operator
Contact Number: +975-2-323251 (Tourism Council of Bhutan)
Email Address: [email protected]
Bhutan Tourist Visa Requirements
- Passport – valid for at least 6 months
- Licensed Bhutan Tour Operator – here’s a comprehensive list as per the Bhutan Website. For our tour, we chose Aiming Bhutan Tours.
- Visa Fee – USD 40
- Tour Package Payment
For a minimum of 3 persons, package costs:
- USD 200 per person per night – January, February, June, July, August, and December
- USD 250 per person per night – March, April, May, September, October, November
- USD 40 surcharge per night for a single person
- USD 30 surcharge per person per night if you are only 2.
- A 3-star accommodation (additional payment if ever you will go to a 4 or star hotel)
- All meals (Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner)
- Bhutanese tour guide
- Equipment and haulage for trekking tours
- Sustainable Development Fee – USD 65
How to Get a Bhutan Tourist Visa with Your UK Passport
For you to get to Bhutan with your UK passport, you’ll need to apply for a Visa. Only visitors from India, Bangladesh and Maldives are exempted from this rule.
Bhutan’s procedure when it comes to issuing a visa is slightly similar to North Korea’s in the sense that you’ll only be able to apply for it with the help of a tour operator recognized by the agency. The only difference is that Bhutan issues visitors visa upon arrival after verifying on their system that you’ve gone through and passed the whole process of applying for one.
STEP 1: To start with the application, this list from the official page of the Tourism Council of Bhutan names all of the registered operators which you have to contact if you want to apply for a visa and visit their country. Make sure that you’ll only be contacting tour operators who are registered with the government as there have been incidents in the past where people apply for visas through other online visa processing systems, causing problems not just on their side but on the government’s side as well. If they are not on the government’s list, do not apply for a visa with them!
STEP 2: Once you have your chosen tour operator, they will ask you to send the only requirement when applying for a visa. The tour operators already include the visa processing service as part of their offered tours, so you don’t have to worry about anything.
STEP 3: You will then have to wire transfer the complete payment for your trip and a visa fee of $40 to the official bank account of the Tourism Council of Bhutan at the Bhutan National Bank. They will then start processing your visa within 72 business hours.
To give you more insight into how your visa is being processed, let me break it down into a few steps:
1. Tour operator sends an online copy of your passport to the Tourism Council of Bhutan in Thimphu (the country’s capital)
2. Tourism Council of Bhutan checks that you’ve already paid for your trip (they have a $200/$250 per day minimum rate for tourists which I will explain further in a bit) and issues an approval letter to the tour operator
3. Tour operator makes a final application to the Ministry of foreign affairs (this takes up to three days)
4. Ministry of Foreign Affairs sends a visa confirmation number to your tour operator and Druk Air/Bhutan Airlines so you’ll be eligible to purchase a ticket
STEP 4: Receive a copy of your visa clearance letter from the Tour Operator. Print the copy for you to be cleared in the immigration to go to Bhutan as well as purchase a ticket.
STEP 5: At the point of entry, you will be required by the officers to show your visa clearance letter, so always have it handy. Once you’ve presented it, they will then stamp the visa to your passport.
Isn’t that very efficient and hassle-free? All you have to do is get a tour operator, send the requirement, pay, and voila! You’re now on your way to Bhutan.
By the way, the validity of your tourist visa to Bhutan is only for the whole duration of your stay. If for some reason, you will need to stay a bit longer than you intended to, you must reach out to the tour operator so they can process the visa extension.
More Information about Bhutan
Going to Bhutan
As for the tickets going to Bhutan, the Tourism Council also requires that you arrange this with your chosen tour operator. Only 2 airlines are going in and out of their only airport- Paro Airport- namely Druk Air and Bhutan Airlines. Unfortunately, these two do not have a direct flight from the UK, so your best bet is to fly to any of these cities so you can transfer on a flight to Paro:
- Bodh Gaya
Please note that you cannot reserve a ticket without having a tour operator. And why is that so, you may ask. If you remember reading earlier, the government forwards the visa confirmation number to both the tour operator and airline carriers. Without your visa records showing up on their end, both airlines won’t allow you to book a flight with them.
You can also access Bhutan by land border crossings, but you can only do this along the Indian border at Phuentsholing, Gelephu and Samdrup Jongkhar. Even so, you still need to coordinate with a local tour operator and have all your needed documents ready before going this route.
Currency and Money in Bhutan
Their local currency is called the Bhutan Ngultrum and its value is the same as the Indian Rupee. When going to Bhutan, you don’t have to worry about having your money exchanged as foreign currency is widely accepted there. If you have Indian Rupees with you, you can also use that.
Before leaving Bhutan, you’ll have to exchange whatever Ngultrum you have left as you’ll be unable to use it outside the country.
Credit cards can now be widely used at most hotels and handicraft stores since Point of Sale services are now available nationwide.
These three banks accept credit cards and can help you withdraw a traveler’s cheque:
- Bank of Bhutan Limited
- Bhutan National Bank
- Druk Punjab National Bank
- Tashi Bank
Travels in Bhutan
Since you’ll be going around the country with a tour vehicle and a driver provided by the tour operator, you won’t have much trouble going around town. Just always remember to wear your seatbelt! Due to the country’s landscape, road accidents are very common Bhutan. You should also avoid traveling at night as much as you can since the roads aren’t well lit.
For your safety, it’s best to get yourself travel insurance for your trip. The government has come up with an insurance plan solely for their visitors which you can get through your tour operator or an international partner. You may visit the Royal Insurance Corporation of Bhutan here to know more.
As for your overall safety in Bhutan, there’s not much to worry about. Bhutan is a pretty safe destination and you’ll rarely hear about scams, theft or any petty crime happening in the country. The things that you most probably should be concerned about are car sickness (when traveling along the winding roads of Bhutan) and bad weather.
Connection in Bhutan
You also don’t have to worry about connecting with the world as most hotels and cafes have Wi-Fi access and global roaming is also available through Bhutan’s mobile phone network.
When to Travel to Bhutan
Now that you know all the essentials, you might be wondering when the best time to visit Bhutan is. The answer is: anytime! Bhutan is a year-round destination so choosing your perfect timing depends on what you want to do.
Spring (March to May) and summer (June to August) is perfect for nature lovers who want to see flowers and plants in full bloom and covering the mountainous terrain and valleys of the country.
If you want to witness the harvest season and the landscapes turn to gold, you can visit in the fall from September to November).
Winter season from December to February will give you a clear view of the Himalayan mountain ranges, although it can get a bit cold.
What to Do
There are different travel package categories which you can choose from when booking with a tour operator: cultural, nature, festival, adventure and wellness.
Visit monasteries around the country, particularly the Tiger’s Nest Monastery near Paro. This is probably the most popular destination in the country and is probably the first image that you will see when you search “Bhutan” on the web.
You can also go on a nature trip and trek along the mountainous landscape of the country. The Druk Path Trek is one of the most popular treks you’ll encounter when visiting tour websites. This one will lead you to a yak herder’s camp where you can enjoy a cup of hot butter tea.
Of course, you wouldn’t want to miss Bhutan’s festival season as well. It’s believed by locals that to receive blessings and wash away their sins, one must attend a Tshechu and witness the mask dances at least once in their life. This festival happens on the birthday of Guru Padmasambhava (a Buddist master) and varies from place to place so if you want to attend, coordinate with your tour operator.
Lastly, you would never want to miss trying out the Bhutanese cuisine! If you’re a fan of anything spicy, Bhutanese cuisine will perfectly suit your palate. Chilies are already so ingrained into their cuisine that a meal just won’t be complete without it!
With everything that’s been mentioned above, aren’t you just excited to see Bhutan yet? Hopefully, this article’s got you prepared enough to get your Bhutan Tourist Visa and plan your trip soon!
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