Bhutan travel guide
Closed to the outside world until the seventies, Bhutan may have opened the door to tourism, but it remains something of an enigma to modern travellers.
Nestling high up in the Himalayas, Bhutan's mysterious reputation is thanks largely to the government, which requires all visitors to join pre-planned guided tours in a bid to limit the impact of tourism on the country's culture and environment.
On one level, this is restrictive; footloose, freewheeling, make-it-up-as-you-go trips are not an option here. The trade-off, however, is that these restrictions have preserved one of the most fascinating cultures on earth, in a pristine mountain environment that has changed little over the centuries.
To visit Bhutan every visitor, whether alone or in a group, must make all their travel arrangements through a Bhutanese tour operator, or associated organisation, and pay a fixed daily fee of US$200-250. However, before you baulk, this fee includes all meals, accommodation, transport and guides.
Having made this investment, travellers are then free to explore this mesmerising mountain kingdom, known to its people as Druk Yul, or "Land of the Thunder Dragon."
Some tour the ancient dzongs (fortress monasteries) in the valleys surrounding the capital, Thimphu. Others seek out snow leopards and yetis – known here as migyur – in remote national parks. Those with the stamina and budget take on the legendary Snowman Trek, a 24-day odyssey over high Himalayan passes.
Wherever they go, visitors will encounter exquisite scenery and the famously friendly Bhutanese people, who, though fascinated by foreigners, remain in touch with the value, and values, of their traditional way of life.
By subscribing to a "high value, low impact" brand of tourism, Bhutan has made concessions to the modern world, but on its own terms. And that seems to be working for this magical kingdom, which regularly polls as the happiest place in Asia.
38,364 per sq km (14,812 sq miles).
784,103 (UN estimate 2016).
19.3 per sq km.
King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck since 2006.
Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay since 2013.
Last updated: 16 April 2018
The travel advice summary below is provided by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the UK. 'We' refers to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. For their full travel advice, visit www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.
You must arrange any visit to Bhutan through an authorised travel agent well in advance.
Britain is represented in Bhutan by an Honorary Consul. The nearest consular office is British Deputy High Commission in Kolkata.
Although there’s no recent history of terrorism in Bhutan, attacks can’t be ruled out.
In Bhutan you should take local law and customs seriously. If in doubt, you should take advice from your tour guide.
If you’re abroad and you need emergency help from the UK government, contact the nearest British embassy, consulate or high commission.
Safety and security
Druk Air (Royal Bhutan Airlines) is the main air carrier in and out of Bhutan. Daily air services between Paro and Bangkok and Paro and Kolkata and weekly services between Paro and Kathmandu are also operated by Tashi Air (Bhutan Airlines), an independent Bhutanese airline. An internal flight operated by Druk Air flies between Paro and Bumthang. Flights can be subject to disruption due to weather conditions.
Phuntsholing, Gelephu and Samdrup Jongkhar in eastern Bhutan are the only land border areas open for international tourists. You can get more information on the Tourism Council of Bhutan website.
The nearest British consular office is the British Deputy High Commission in Kolkata, which should be your first point of contact for consular assistance.
Although there’s no recent history of terrorism in Bhutan, attacks can’t be ruled out. You should be aware of the global risk of indiscriminate terrorist attacks, which could be in public areas, including those frequented by expatriates and foreign travellers.
There’s a heightened threat of terrorist attack globally against UK interests and British nationals, from groups or individuals motivated by the conflict in Iraq and Syria. You should be vigilant at this time
Find out more about the global threat from terrorism, how to minimise your risk and what to do in the event of a terrorist attack.
The information on this page covers the most common types of travel and reflects the UK government’s understanding of the rules currently in place. Unless otherwise stated, this information is for travellers using a full ‘British Citizen’ passport.
The authorities in the country or territory you’re travelling to are responsible for setting and enforcing the rules for entry. If you’re unclear about any aspect of the entry requirements, or you need further reassurance, you’ll need to contact the embassy, high commission or consulate of the country or territory you’re travelling to.
You should also consider checking with your transport provider or travel company to make sure your passport and other travel documents meet their requirements.
Entry and exit points
Foreigners, with the exception of citizens from India, Bangladesh and the Maldives nationals, may only enter or depart the country through certain towns such as Phuntsoling, Samdrup Jongkhar and Gelephug (by road) or Paro (by air).
You will need a passport and visa to enter and exit Bhutan. Visas are only issued on arrival, but you must apply in advance through a tour operator and receive visa approval before you travel. Keep a photocopy of your passport visa pages and flight ticket separate from the originals when travelling.
All visas are approved from Thimphu and are only issued to tourists booked with a local licensed tour operator, either directly or through a foreign travel agent. Applications for tourist visas are submitted by the tour operator.
All visitors (except Indian nationals) must obtain visa clearance from Thimphu before coming to Bhutan. More information, including a list of authorised tour operators in Bhutan, may be obtained from the Tourism Council of Bhutan.
For further advice on tour companies you may contact the Honorary British Consul to Bhutan.
The Bhutanese Department of Tourism sets a non-negotiable minimum daily tariff for all visitors to Bhutan. The rate includes all accommodations, all meals, transportation, services of licensed guides and porters, and cultural programs where and when available.
If you are travelling for business or other non-tourist reasons you must arrange your visa through your sponsoring organisation in Bhutan.
Your passport should be valid for a minimum period of 6 months after the date you intend to leave Bhutan.
If you plan to stay in Bhutan for an extended period of time you may also wish to make contact with the British Honorary Consul to Bhutan.
There are restrictions on the import of medicines into Bhutan. You can bring your prescription and other medicines in quantities clearly for your own personal use. You should carry copies of the prescription with you if possible. For larger quantities, or if you’re carrying medicines not for your own personal use, check with the Honorary Consul to Bhutan.
Yellow fever certificate requirements
Check whether you need a yellow fever certificate by visiting the National Travel Health Network and Centre’s TravelHealthPro website.
UK Emergency Travel Documents
UK Emergency Travel Documents (ETDs) are accepted for entry into Bhutan, but you will still need an e-visa.
ETDs are accepted for exit from Bhutan. If you need to get an ETD while in Bhutan, you should apply online and then submit a police report to the Department of Immigration in order to transfer your visa to the ETD. If you don’t transfer your visa, you’re likely to face difficulties leaving the country.
Local laws and customs
Local customs and traditions are taken very seriously. You should respect them at all times to avoid giving offence. You should dress respectfully in temples and dzongs (fortified buildings).
Homosexual acts are illegal in Bhutan. Although prosecutions are very rare; conviction for a homosexual act could lead to a prison sentence. See our information and advice page for the LGBT community before you travel.
There are strict penalties for possession, use, or trafficking of illegal drugs. Convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines.
It is illegal to sell or buy tobacco products in Bhutan. Up to 200 cigarettes may be imported on payment of tax and import duty of 200%. You must be able to produce your customs receipt if asked by the police or you will be charged with smuggling and could face a prison sentence of up to 3 years. Smoking is forbidden inside public spaces such as hotels, restaurants and bars.
You will need prior authority to visit some parts of the country. This is usually arranged by your travel company or sponsoring agency.
The export of all antiques is strictly prohibited and monitored.
The Tourism Council of Bhutan Website has useful tips for travellers.
Monsoon rains cause landslides that can cut off some roads for days. Check access routes before setting off and take extra care.
Several parts of Bhutan lie on highly active fault zones. Limited emergency response vehicles, equipment, and medical facilities could increase the impact that an earthquake could have in these areas. The US Federal Emergency Management Agency has advice about what to do before, during and after an earthquake.
Visit your health professional at least 4 to 6 weeks before your trip to check whether you need any vaccinations or other preventive measures. Country specific information and advice is published by the National Travel Health Network and Centre on the TravelHealthPro website and by NHS (Scotland) on the fitfortravel website. Useful information and advice about healthcare abroad is also available on the NHS Choices website.
There is a reasonably well equipped hospital in the capital, Thimphu, with modern diagnostic facilities such as ultrasound, MRI and CT Scan. Outside Thimphu, Bhutanese hospitals provide only basic health care.
You may find the high mountain altitudes demanding. Familiarise yourself with the dangers of altitude sickness especially if you are trekking in remote areas.
Make sure you have adequate travel health insurance and accessible funds to cover the cost of any medical treatment abroad, emergency helicopter evacuation to India and repatriation.
If you need emergency medical assistance during your trip, dial 112 and ask for an ambulance. You should contact your insurance/medical assistance company promptly if you are referred to a medical facility for treatment.
Travel advice help and support
If you’re abroad and you need emergency help from the UK government, contact the nearest British embassy, consulate or high commission. If you need urgent help because something has happened to a friend or relative abroad, contact the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) in London on 020 7008 1500 (24 hours).
Foreign travel checklist
Read our foreign travel checklist to help you plan for your trip abroad and stay safe while you’re there.
The FCO travel advice helps you make your own decisions about foreign travel. Your safety is our main concern, but we can’t provide tailored advice for individual trips. If you’re concerned about whether or not it’s safe for you to travel, you should read the travel advice for the country or territory you’re travelling to, together with information from other sources you’ve identified, before making your own decision on whether to travel. Only you can decide whether it’s safe for you to travel.
When we judge the level of risk to British nationals in a particular place has become unacceptably high, we’ll state on the travel advice page for that country or territory that we advise against all or all but essential travel. Read more about how the FCO assesses and categorises risk in foreign travel advice.
Our crisis overseas page suggests additional things you can do before and during foreign travel to help you stay safe.
Refunds and cancellations
If you wish to cancel or change a holiday that you’ve booked, you should contact your travel company. The question of refunds and cancellations is a matter for you and your travel company. Travel companies make their own decisions about whether or not to offer customers a refund. Many of them use our travel advice to help them reach these decisions, but we do not instruct travel companies on when they can or can’t offer a refund to their customers.
For more information about your rights if you wish to cancel a holiday, visit the Citizen’s Advice Bureau website. For help resolving problems with a flight booking, visit the website of the Civil Aviation Authority. For questions about travel insurance, contact your insurance provider and if you’re not happy with their response, you can complain to the Financial Ombudsman Service.
Registering your travel details with us
We’re no longer asking people to register with us before travel. Our foreign travel checklist and crisis overseas page suggest things you can do before and during foreign travel to plan your trip and stay safe.
Previous versions of FCO travel advice
If you’re a British national and you have a question about travelling abroad that isn’t covered in our foreign travel advice or elsewhere on GOV.UK, you can submit an enquiry. We’re not able to provide tailored advice for specific trips.