Everybody except citizens of India and Bangladesh must apply for a visa at least 30 days in advance of their proposed date of entry into Bhutan.
While the visa itself costs a reasonable US$20 for 14 days (extendable once), the visa will not be issued without pre-paid bookings for a tour, which cost US$200 per day. These fees include room, board, guide, and transportation within Bhutan.
Although the tours are organized by private companies, the cost is set by the government and so not negotiable. However, a rule of thumb is that tours are slightly cheaper during off-season and more expensive for groups of three or less.
There is also a surcharge for luxury hotels and certain treks. The only other options for visiting the country are to receive an invitation by "a citizen of some standing" or a volunteer organization.
Once the tour or invitation has received government approval, visas will be issued either by immigration at Paro airport or in Phuentsholing - basically all the work for a visa application is completed within Bhutan. There is no need to visit a Bhutanese embassy or consulate.
As travel to Bhutan almost invariably requires at least one flight change in India, Nepal, or Thailand, ensure that you can meet the visa requirements of those countries before departing on your journey. Nepal and Thailand offer visa on arrival or visa waiver for many nationalities. India generally requires visa procedures to be completed before arrival, and this can take up to two weeks.
Bhutan has a number of embassies and consulates (http://www.embassypages.com/bhutan.php).
- India: Royal Bhutanese Embassy - Chandragupta Marg, Chanakyapuri, New Delhi 110 021. Tel: 609217/ 609218, Fax:6876710
- U.S.: Consulate General of Bhutan - 2 UN Plaza, 27th Floor, New York NY 10017. Tel:(212) 826-1919, Fax:(212) 826-2998.
- Canada: Honorary Consul of Bhutan - 150 Isabella Street, Ottawa, Ontario K1S 1V7. Tel:(613) 232-1222 Fax:(613)569-4667
- Hong Kong: Honorary Consul of Bhutan - Unit B, 1/F, Kowloon Centre, 29-43 Ashley Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon. Tel:23762112.
- Thailand: The Royal Bhutanese Embassy in Bangkok - Jewelry Trade Center Building, Rm. 1907, 19th Floor, 919/1 Silom Road, Bangkok 10500. Tel:2671722, 630119 - Fax:6301193.
There are only two legal entry points into Bhutan: Paro's airport, and the land border with India at Phuentsholing. A third border crossing from Samdrup Jongkhar in southeastern Bhutan into India's Assam state is open, but for exit only.
Getting there by...
- Paro Airport (PBH) is the country's sole international airport. It is in the south west of the country and served only by the country's flag carrier Druk Air . Druk operates 2 planes (two airbuses) which fly routes to Bangkok, Kolkata, Delhi, Dhaka, Gaya, Kathmandu, Siliguri (Bagdora) and Yangon. Note that Druk Air will not issue tickets without a visa clearance number. E-tickets have been in use since April 1st 2008.
- Bagdogra Airport (IXB). Serving the city of Siliguri in the neighboring Indian state of West Bengal, Bagdogra is a four hour drive from the Bhutanese border town of Phuentsholing. Bagdogra receives frequent flights from major cities within India, and Druk Air operates flights from Bangkok on Sundays and Wednesdays (with out going flights on Tuesdays and Saturdays).
- From Kolkata: The Royal Bhutanese Government runs a service to Phuentsholing. These buses depart from Kolkata's Esplanade bus station at 7PM on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday and from the Phuentsholing Bhutan Post office at 3PM on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. The journey takes around 18 hours and costs 300Rps/Nu. The buses are comfortable, but because much of the highway to Kolkata is like the surface of the moon, don't bank on getting much sleep on the way.
- From Siliguri: There is frequent service between Siliguri and Phuentsholing/Jaigaon. It is roughly a four hour journey. Buses operated by Royal Bhutan Government depart from across the main highway from the bus station, near Heritage Hotel, at 7:30AM and 1:30PM daily. Tickets cost Rs 62 and are available on entering the bus.
- Hashimara on the main Kolkata/Siliguri line to Assam is the nearest railway station to Phuentsholing. A tempo between Hashimara and Jaigaon costs less that 50rs.
- New Jalpaiguri Station (NJP) in Siliguri is a popular choice for travellers heading to Bhutan by land. There are direct shared taxis from NJP to Jaigaon or there is the option of buses from Siliguri bus station. A taxi between the station and the bus station costs around 80rs max.
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