FOLLOW US

World Travel Guide > Guides > Asia > Bhutan

Bhutan travel guide

About Bhutan

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.

Key facts

Area:

38,364 per sq km (14,812 sq miles).

Population:

784,103 (UN estimate 2016).

Population density:

19.3 per sq km.

Capital:

Thimphu.

Government:

Constitutional monarchy.

Head of state:

King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck since 2006.

Head of government:

Prime Minister Lotay Tshering since 2018.

Travel Advice

Coronavirus travel health

Check the latest information on risk from COVID-19 for Bhutan on the TravelHealthPro website.

See the TravelHealthPro website for further advice on travel abroad and reducing spread of respiratory viruses during the COVID-19 pandemic.

International Travel

Commercial flights to and from Bhutan remain very limited. Check with your travel company for the latest information.

Entry and borders

See Entry requirements to find out what you will need to do when you arrive in Bhutan.

Returning to the UK

When you return, you must follow the rules for entering the UK.

You are responsible for organising your own COVID-19 test, in line with UK government testing requirements.

Be prepared for your plans to change

No travel is risk-free during COVID. Countries may further restrict travel or bring in new rules at short notice, for example due to a new COVID-19 variant. Check with your travel company or airline for any transport changes which may delay your journey home.

If you test positive for COVID-19, you may need to stay where you are until you test negative. You may also need to seek treatment there.

Plan ahead and make sure you:

  • can access money
  • understand what your insurance will cover
  • can make arrangements to extend your stay and be away for longer than planned

Travel in Bhutan

Bhutan has put measures in place to limit the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19).

Keep up to date with information from your tour operator, transport or accommodation provider on the impact on any existing travel plans.

If you need further information about entry requirements, contact the local immigration authorities or the nearest Bhutanese Embassy. You should also check with your airline or travel company for the latest information.

You should comply with any additional screening measures put in place by the authorities.

Healthcare in Bhuatan

Your emotional and mental wellbeing is important. Read guidance on how to look after your mental wellbeing and mental health.

View Healthfor further details on healthcare in Bhutan.

See also the guidance on healthcare if you’re waiting to return to the UK.

COVID-19 vaccines if you live in Bhutan

Wherever possible British nationals should aim to be vaccinated in the country where they live. We will update this page when the Royal Government of Bhutan announces new information on the national vaccination programme. You can sign up to get email notifications when this page is updated.

Bhutan’s national vaccination programme started in March 2021 using the AstraZeneca vaccine. The Royal Government of Bhutan has stated that British nationals resident in Bhutan are eligible for vaccination. Further information on the vaccination programme is available on the Royal Government of Bhutan’s Ministry of Health website.

Find out more, including about vaccines that are authorised in the UK or approved by the World Health Organisation, on the COVID-19 vaccines if you live abroad.

If you’re a British national living in Bhutan, you should seek medical advice from your local healthcare provider. Information about COVID-19 vaccines used in the national programme where you live, including regulatory status, should be available from local authorities.

Finance

For information on financial support you can access whilst abroad, visit our financial assistance guidance.

Help and support

If you need urgent consular assistance, contact your nearest British embassy, high commission or consulate. All telephone numbers are available 24/7.

Air travel

Flights in and out of Bhutan are operating on a severely reduced schedule due to COVID-19 restrictions on tourism.

Druk Air (Royal Bhutan Airlines) is the National Flag carrier in and out of Bhutan. Normally, 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. A domestic flight operated by Druk Air flies between Paro, Bumthang, Yongphula and Gelegphug. Flights can be subject to disruption due to weather conditions.

Phuntsholing, Gelephu and Samdrup Jongkhar in eastern Bhutan are the only land border areas normally open for international tourists. You can get more information on the Tourism Council of Bhutan website.

Road travel

Accidents are common, particularly in monsoon season. Observe the speed limit and make sure you have adequate insurance. Special care should be taken on highways, where conditions are often dangerous.

If you’re visiting Bhutan as a tourist, you should request temporary authorisation to drive through your tour agency. For longer stays, visitors can request a Bhutanese driving licence from the Road Safety and Transport Authority of Bhutan upon presentation of a valid UK driving licence.

Although there’s no recent history of terrorism in Bhutan, attacks can not 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.

UK Counter Terrorism Policing has information and advice on staying safe abroad and what to do in the event of a terrorist attack. Find out more about the global threat from terrorism.

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.

This page reflects the UK government’s understanding of current rules for people travelling on a full ‘British Citizen’ passport, for the most common types of travel.

The authorities in Bhutan set and enforce entry rules. For further information 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 rules in response to coronavirus (COVID-19)

Bhutan’s borders are currently closed to foreign nationals, including British citizens. The Royal Government of Bhutan has not yet specified when the country will re-open to foreign visitors. You should monitor this page for updates.

Regular entry 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).  

Visa

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 nationals of Bangladesh, India and the Maldives) 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 Tourism Council of Bhutan 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. Cultural progams where and when available will be organised on payment basis.

If you’re travelling for business or other non-tourist reasons you must arrange your visa through your sponsoring organisation in Bhutan.

Passport validity

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.

Medication

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 do not transfer your visa, you’re likely to face difficulties leaving the country.

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 now legal in Bhutan. 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.

Monsoons

Monsoon rains cause landslides that can cut off some roads for days. Check access routes before setting off and take extra care.

Earthquakes

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.

Coronavirus (COVID-19)

Check the latest information on risk from COVID-19 for Bhutan on the TravelHealthPro website

See the healthcare information in the Coronavirus section for information on what to do if you think you have coronavirus while in Bhutan.

At least 8 weeks before your trip, check the latest country-specific health advice from the National Travel Health Network and Centre (NaTHNaC) on the TravelHealthPro website. Each country-specific page has information on vaccine recommendations, any current health risks or outbreaks, and factsheets with information on staying healthy abroad. Guidance is also available from NHS (Scotland) on the FitForTravel website.

General information on travel vaccinations and a travel health checklist is available on the NHS website. You may then wish to contact your health adviser or pharmacy for advice on other preventive measures and managing any pre-existing medical conditions while you’re abroad.

The legal status and regulation of some medicines prescribed or bought in the UK can be different in other countries. If you’re travelling with prescription or over-the-counter medicine, read this guidance from NaTHNaC on best practice when travelling with medicines.

While travel can be enjoyable, it can sometimes be challenging. There are clear links between mental and physical health, so looking after yourself during travel and when abroad is important. Information on travelling with mental health conditions is available in our guidance page. Further information is also available from the National Travel Health Network and Centre (NaTHNaC).

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’re 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 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’re referred to a medical facility for treatment.

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, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) in London on 020 7008 5000 (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.

Travel safety

The FCDO travel advice helps you make your own decisions about foreign travel. Your safety is our main concern, but we can not 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 FCDO 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 not 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 FCDO travel advice

If you’re looking for a previous version of the FCDO travel advice, visit the National Archives website. Versions prior to 2 September 2020 will be archived as FCO travel advice. If you can not find the page you’re looking for there, send the Travel Advice team a request.

Further help

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.

Book a Hotel