Bhutan Travel Tips (FAQs)

Downtown Thimphu, the capitol of Bhutan

We are thrilled that you are interested in traveling to the Kingdom of Bhutan with Bhutan Himalayan Experience! Our mission is to provide you with an easy and comfortable journey from travel preparations through memorable adventures in Bhutan. You will receive a detailed travel packet once you book your trip with us.  Here are some answers to frequently asked questions to begin. Please do not hesitate to contact us with any other questions.

Visas, Immigration and Custom Requirements

Entry into Bhutan requires a passport and visa.  You must have a valid passport and it must be valid for at least six months beyond the date that you complete the trip. Obtaining a passport can be a lengthy process so start early.

All visitors (with the exception of Indian Bangladesh and Maldives Nationals) must apply for visa prior to arrival. It is important that you provide us with a CLEAR color photocopy of your passport well ahead of time for us to process the visa.

Information needed for visa processing:
1.   Full name as it appears in your passport
2.   Permanent address
3.   Occupation
4.   Nationality
5.   Date of issue and expiration of passport
6.   Date and place of birth

Visas are processed by The Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Thimphu. Bhutan Himalayan Experience makes full advance payment of land costs to the Government of Bhutan (TCB) including your visa fee. Your visa is processed ahead of time and a visa approval letter will be sent to you by email. They will send a visa confirmation to Drukair and only then will you be allowed to board the flight on the day of travel. It is very important to carry a printout copy of your visa letter during check-in at the Drukair counter. The actual visa will be stamped in your passport upon arrival at Paro Airport. The visa fee for Bhutan is US$40.

Travel requirements:
•    Your passport must be valid 6 months beyond intended stay
•    You must have air tickets and documents for return or onward travel
•    Visitors are required to fill out a Custom Declaration Form upon arrival

Exempt from duty:
•    Personal items for day to day use by the visitor
•    2 liters of alcohol
•    Photographic equipment, video cameras and other electronic goods for personal use

Import and export of the following goods are strictly prohibited:
•   Arms, ammunition, explosives and military stores
•   All narcotics and drugs, medically-prescribed drugs are allowed
•   Wildlife products, especially those of endangered species.

Tobacco import allowance:
Only 200 sticks of Cigarettes or 50 pieces of Cigar are subject to 100% customs duty and 100% sales tax (200% tax ) are allowed for personal consumption even though there is a ban on smoking in public.

Thailand:
If you are a US citizen, you do not need a visa to enter Thailand for visits up to 30 days.

Pricing

The Government of Bhutan obligates travelers to visit only through a licensed Bhutanese tour operator.  The daily visa rate is inclusive of accommodation in three-star hotels, buffet-style food, tea and coffee, sightseeing, transport within Bhutan, guides, trekking staff and equipment, horses and yaks, and entry fees to museums and other entertainment centers.

This does not include visa fees, tips, Drukair tickets, accommodation and meals in five-star hotels like Uma Resorts, Aman Resorts, Zhiwaling and Tashi Taj, alcohol, gifts and souvenirs, tips to drivers, guides and trekking staff, services outside of Bhutan, and travel insurance.

There is a government surcharge based on size of group and duration of stay.  We will work with the government policy to give you the best rate. There is a single supplement charge for all single travelers.

Travel Recommendations

What is the best time of year to visit Bhutan?
The best time to visit Bhutan is during spring (March, April and May) and autumn (September, October and November) and is considered the peak seasons. Spring time brings a variety of wildflowers like rhododendrons in full bloom and birds can be found in abundance.  This is an ideal time for botanists and nature lovers, though the once legendary blue poppy (meconopsis Grandis, mecanopsis sikkimenses) can only be seen in the months of June and July. The peak season also coincides with many colorful festivals in Bhutan.  Autumn has sunny days with clear blue skies affording spectacular views of the many surrounding Himalayan peaks.  Due to the spectacular weather, there is a rush of tourists during this time so bookings, especially with Druk Air, need to be made well in advance.

During the winter (December-February), the air can be chilly and most trekking routes are closed due to snow. In the summer months (June-August), the weather can be unpredictable with lots of rainfall though it can surprise us with a pleasant and mild climate.  The advantages of visiting Bhutan during the off-peak seasons are that you are ensured of a reservation on Druk Air and the hotels of your choice, lower tariffs and fewer tourists.

Flights
All flights into and out of Bhutan are handled solely by the government-run national carrier Drukair.  Flights will be booked and handled by Bhutan Himalayan Experience. To purchase Drukair tickets, please send us a scanned copy of the front page of your passport and remit your payment in full.

For connecting flights out of Bhutan, we advise that you reserve an extra day in the event of inclement weather conditions and flight delays from Bhutan.

Health & Safety: Do I need immunizations?
Bhutan is an extremely safe country to travel to. Bhutan guarantees zero social unrest within its borders.  The Bhutanese people are friendly and warm Buddhists/Hindus that welcome all visitors. The government of Bhutan does not require you to have any particular vaccinations to enter the country however you may consult a travel clinic or your personal physician for the most up-to-date inoculation recommendations for tetanus, hepatitis, polio, measles, mumps, malaria, etc. You can also check the Center for Disease Control (www.cdc.gov/travel) for the recommended vaccinations and more information on altitude sickness and its prevention (if you are trekking in Bhutan).

Travel Insurance
We highly recommend that you have cancellation, medical and personal accident insurance covering repatriation costs, air ambulance and helicopter rescue services
. You should be aware that some policies restrict coverage for Bhutan and activities such as hiking. Please ensure that your policy provides a sufficient level of protection and covers you for your entire trip to Bhutan and activities involved.  You  must carry proof of insurance (e.g. your insurance ID card or certificate) with you to Bhutan.

SOS International or Travel Insurance is recommended for insurance and make sure it covers air escort out of country. There are no US Embassies or Consulates in Bhutan.

Clothing/Dress
Wash and wear long pants (zip off pants/shorts are ideal for visiting temples and Dzongs as shorts are not appropriate), long sleeves and short sleeves wash and wear shirts, casual shirts and pants for dinner attire (a different outfit for each evening is unnecessary as it will only weigh down your luggage), sweater or polar fleece jacket, waterproof rain gear including jackets and pants, hat or hood, sun hat with a broad brim or visor, and gloves if trekking or visiting in December and January.

Equipment
• Personal backpack large enough to carry water, camera, jacket and rain gear
• Waterproof cover for backpack
• Personal water bottle or canteen – 2 liters
• Flashlight or head lamp
• Sunscreen and SPF lip balm
• Sunglasses and extra prescription glasses
• Toilet-kit for when facilities are not available – include zip-lock bags, tissues and moist towelettes which can be disposed of upon return to camp or hotel

Essential First-aid Kit
Band-aids, blister band-aids, aspirin and prescription medicines, motion sickness pills, cold remedy pills, mild laxative, insect repellants, anti-diarrhea medicine. After consulting your physician, antibiotics for gastrointestinal infections or possibly anti-malarial medication.

Boots and Foot Care
• Lightweight hiking boots with proper ankle support and good tread
• Casual comfortable shoes for evening wear
• Synthetic moisture-wicking socks (cotton socks not recommended while walking as they will quickly cause blisters)
• Blister block or cushion blister treatment are recommended

Eating and Drinking
Staple foods for Bhutan are rice and corn. In the area of higher altitudes, wheat is a staple food. Sources of protein are beef, pork and chicken. Meat soups, rice or corn, and spicy chilies are all part of the daily diet. Beverages include buttered tea and beer distilled from cereal grains. As your trip will be an all-inclusive package, we strongly recommend eating most meals at your hotel. The dishes in buffet are a soup, rice, noodles, seasonal vegetables, potato, dal (lentils), and some chicken/pork/beef. This is followed by a sweet dish which is usually a fruit cocktail. Tea and coffee is served at every hotel. These foods are somewhat adapted to western taste and therefore are not as spicy as locals would prefer, but you are welcome to sample the local diet at every stop. Your guides can arrange dinner at almost any local restaurant but traditional Bhutanese food always includes hot chilies; the most popular dish is ema datse made with large, green hot chilies in a cheese sauce.

Although there is always white rice available, most Bhutanese prefer a local, slightly nutty, variety of red rice.  Several Tibetan dishes are common in Bhutan, including momos (dumplings), and thukpa (noodles). In the countryside and on long drives, we often have picnic lunches. In some cases, we will stop at roadside restaurants which can be an adventure in itself. Bottled water in ample supply will be provided throughout the trip, and you should never drink tap water. You may bring your own supplements such as protein bars; snacks such as trail mix, dried fruits and candy, especially on a trek.

Wines in Bhutan, with a few exceptions at the best hotels, are of marginal to poor quality. There are three good local beers, and whiskey, cognac, and rum of good quality are all available. We will discourage drinking alcohol the night before any of our hikes, as the altitude for most of our destinations will exacerbate a headache. Think: “Himalayas + Hangovers don’t mix!”

Electricity
Electricity supply is 220 volts, 50 cycles throughout Bhutan. If you want to bring electric appliances from home (razors, battery chargers) we recommend you bring an adapter, available at many stores in the US. Though sometimes hotels will have them available to borrow it is not guaranteed. And you will have little to no access to electricity while trekking.

Currency & Money Exchange
The currency in Bhutan is the Ngultrum (pron: nooltrum). The Ngultrum has an exchange rate at par with the Indian Rupee. The rupee is also an official currency in Bhutan. The Ngultrum is pegged to the value of the Indian Rupee. Currency exchange can be done at the Paro Airport upon arrival or at hotels. Bhutan has three banks with branches in the major towns. You can exchange cash easily and safely in Paro, Thimphu and Wangdi; our guides will assist with this. We recommend taking a combination of about $300 in traveler’s checks and at least $500 in cash. You will get the best exchange rate for $100 bills. Do not bring small bills or any coins! No one will exchange these.  Due to counterfeiting problems, almost no businesses will accept 500 or 1000 Rupee notes, and neither should you if it is offered to you as change for an expensive purchase.

Banks also have ATM machines and will be able to dispense ONLY Ngultrums equivalent to about $250 USD per day, if and when it does work.

Air/Airport/Baggage Allowance
Druk Air (the national carrier) and Bhutan Airlines offer flights in and out of Bhutan’s only airport at Paro.  As Paro Airport is “daylight restricted” and totally dependent on weather, flights can sometimes be delayed. Under certain weather circumstances, flights may not leave the airport of disembarkation. To be prepared for such an event, it is advised to carry essential personal items like medicines, toiletries, etc. in your hand baggage.

Hand Baggage Allowance
The airlines request that passengers limit their hand baggage to one piece, the size not exceeding 45+35+20 cm (17 ½ +13 ½ +8 inches) and the weight not exceeding 5 kg (11lbs).

Checked Baggage Allowance
Economy Class: 30 kg (66 lbs)/Business Class: 40 kg (88 lbs). Bulky items should be booked ahead as unaccompanied baggage/cargo. Airport tax is included with the cost of your  tickets.

Trekking
Trekking is walking on a clearly marked trail and distances vary based on the trip that you choose. If camping is involved, you will carry a day pack and the rest of your gear is carried by horse or yak. Weight limit for your personal gear is 33 pounds.  If camping, please provide your own personal sleeping bag. We recommend bags from 0-10 degrees Fahrenheit.

 

Payment and Cancellation Policies

Invoices & Payments
Payment is due when reservation is made. If you prefer payment options, it is a possibility with additional bank transfer charges. All trips must be paid in full 60 days prior to departure. Prices are quoted in US Dollars and all payments must be made in US Dollars. We accept personal checks, Visa or MasterCard.

Transfers & Cancellations
You may transfer to another trip without penalty up to 90 days prior to departure. If you transfer from one trip to another within 89 days of departure, you are subject to the following Cancellation Fees (appropriate to the date you notify us of your wish to transfer):

  • If we receive written notice of your cancellation 90 days or more before departure, the cancellation fee is $250.
    • If we receive notice 89 to 60 days before departure, the cancellation fee is $400.
    • If we receive notice 59 to 30 days before departure, the cancellation fee is 50% of base Land Cost.
    • If we receive notice of cancellation 29 days or less before departure, the cancellation fee is 100% of the total Land Cost.

What are Bhutan Himalayan Experience’s  limitations of liability?

“Bhutan Himalayan Experience” is defined to include its owners, agents, directors, officers, employees, representatives and affiliates (collectively “Bhutan Himalayan”). Bhutan Himalayan does not own or operate any entity that provides goods or services for your trip including, for example, ownership or control over hotels or other lodging facilities, airline, vessel, bus, van or other transportation companies, local ground operators, providers or organizers of optional excursions, food service or entertainment providers, etc. All such persons and entities are independent contractors. As a result, Bhutan Himalayan is not liable for any negligent or willful act or failure to act of any such person or entity, or of any other third party. Without limitation, Bhutan Himalayan is not responsible for any injury, loss, or damage to person or property, death, delay or inconvenience in connection with the provision of any goods or services occasioned by or resulting from, but not limited to, acts of God, force majeure, acts of war or civil unrest, insurrection or revolt, strikes or other labor activities, criminal or terrorist activities of any kind, overbooking or downgrading of accommodations, structural or other defective conditions in hotels or other lodging facilities, mechanical or other failure of airplanes or other means of transportation or for any failure of any transportation mechanism to arrive or depart timely, dangers associated with animals, marine life or vegetation of any sort, dangers incident to recreational activities such as scuba diving, snorkeling, swimming, kayaking, sailing, canoeing, rafting, hiking, bicycling, rock climbing, etc., sanitation problems, food poisoning, lack of, access to or quality of medical care, difficulty in evacuation in case of a medical or other emergency, or for any other cause beyond the direct control of Bhutan Himalayan. In addition, participants release Bhutan Himalayan from its own negligence and assume all risk thereof. On advancement of deposit to Bhutan Himalayan, the depositor therefore agrees to be bound by the above recited terms and conditions. These are partial conditions. Your participation is contingent on your signature on the full list of terms specified in Participant Information Form.

  • Arbitration Any dispute concerning, relating or referring to these Terms and Conditions, to any literature concerning this trip, or the trip itself, shall be resolved exclusively by binding arbitration in Jackson Hole, WY, according to the then existing rules of the American Arbitration Association. Such proceedings will be governed by substantive Wyoming law without regard to the Wyoming Arbitration Act.
  • Conditions of Participation Your participation on a Bhutan Himalayan trip is subject to the conditions stated in the Participant Information Form which includes the Agreement and Release from Liability and the Booking Conditions.