Bhutan Basics

Print this Guide Print this Guide | Email this Guide Email this Guide

The Basics


Time: Local time is GMT +6 hours.

Electricity: Electrical current is 230 volts (50Hz). European round pin attachment plugs and three-pin rectangular plugs are in use.

Money: The local currency is the ngultrumbut, subdivided into 100 chhertum. The currency is pegged to the Indian rupee on scale of 1:1. The ngultrumbut was only introduced in 1974 before which the country had no currency, relying on a system of bartering to acquire goods. US Dollars and Travellers Cheques can be exchanged at banks and large hotels. Visa and Mastercard are not widely accepted.

Note: These rates are not updated daily and should be used as a guideline only.

Language: Dzongkha is the official language, and various Tibetan dialects are spoken. English has recently become the language of instruction in schools but is only spoken fluently by guides and tourist industry professionals.

Entry requirements for Americans: United States citizens must have a passport valid for six months beyond arrival. A visa is required and must be applied for in advance through a tour operator.

Entry requirements for UK nationals: British nationals must have a passport valid six months beyond arrival date. A visa is required and must be applied for in advance through a tour operator.

Entry requirements for Canadians: Canadians must hold a passport valid six months beyond arrival date. A visa is required and must be applied for in advance through a tour operator.

Entry requirements for Australians: Australians must have a passport valid six months beyond arrival date. A visa is required and must be applied for in advance through a tour operator.

Entry requirements for South Africans: South Africans must have a passport valid six months beyond arrival date. A visa is required and must be applied for in advance through a tour operator.

Entry requirements for New Zealanders: New Zealand nationals must have a passport valid six months beyond arrival date. A visa is required and must be applied for in advance through a tour operator.

Entry requirements for Irish nationals: Irish nationals must have a passport valid six months beyond arrival date. A visa is required and must be applied for in advance through a tour operator.

Passport/Visa Note: Bhutan has an unusual but fairly simple process for admitting visitors: Bhutanese embassies abroad cannot issue visas, instead you must apply for your visa in advance through a registered tour operator. The visa should be applied for at least 12 weeks before intended travel at which time your tour operator will confirm with you directly with a faxed or emailed copy of the successful application. The actual visa is then stamped into your passport on arrival. This must be accompanied by at least two passport photographs. A visa allows for a stay for a maximum of 15 days. Note that the Government of Bhutan refuses entry to people wishing to visit the country for mountaineering, publicity, and other research activities. All visitors are required to book with a registered tour operator in Bhutan, which can be done directly through a travel agent abroad. All visitors must hold confirmed return or onward tickets, all documents required for next destination, and USD 200 per day of stay.

Travel Health: Ensure you have adequate travel insurance that includes the facility for emergency repatriation. The most significant health risks for travellers are water-borne parasites from unclean drinking water and altitude sickness resulting from exposure to high altitudes. Health care standards are relatively high. For locals all health services are free, and both western and traditional medicine is practiced side by side. In 2004, Bhutan became the first country in the world to entirely ban the sale of cigarettes. Hospitals and clinics are located throughout the country, with excellent facilities available in the capital, Thimpu.

Tipping: Tipping is not expected in restaurants as your meal would have been prepaid by your tour agency. On treks, it is usual to tip the cook, his assistant, and any porters. Ask your guide for advice. If you hire a driver tip him at the end of your trip. Bhutanese tradition is that one typically refuses a tip the first time it is offered but accepts it the second time.

Safety Information: Bhutan is one of the safest destinations on the planet. There is virtually no crime or violence.

Local Customs: Bhutan is a traditional Buddhist society. Dress conservatively when visiting religious sites, avoid public displays of affection, and never climb or sit on a statue. Do not take photographs within temples unless permission has been granted to do so. Avoid pointing at people or religious icons with your finger; this is considered very rude. Smoking is banned in all public places, including restaurants and bars. Betel nut is chewed throughout the day by young and old alike and has become an integral part of Bhutanese society. The royal family is revered and deeply respected so avoid any disparaging remarks or gestures about them. Mountains are considered to be the abode of the gods and hence any recreational activities therein are disallowed.

Communications: The international dialling code for Bhutan is +975. The outgoing code is 00 followed by the relevant country code (e.g. 0044 for the United Kingdom). There is extensive mobile phone coverage, which is more reliable and widespread than the landline network. Internet access is available in all main towns and hotels.

Duty Free: Travellers to Bhutan may bring with them up to 200 cigarettes, one litre of liquor, and goods for personal use. It's illegal to sell tobacco in Bhutan, but import of tobacco is subject to 100% tax. Guns and ammunition, narcotics, antiques, and wildlife products are prohibited.