Unlike other countries in the world, Bhutan has a unique visa policy. For most international travelers, a Bhutan visa can only be applied for through a travel agency that arranges the trip to Bhutan on your behalf.
Only citizens of India, Bangladesh, and the Maldives do not require a visa to visit Bhutan. However, some travel documents are also required to enjoy the Bhutan visa-free policy. The information below will tell you what status allows you to travel to Bhutan without a visa.
Freedom of movement between India and Bhutan has existed since the signing of the Treaty of Friendship between India and Bhutan on 8th August 1949, allowing Indian nationals to travel to Bhutan without a visa and vice versa. This reciprocal visa-free travel regime means that Indian nationals do not need a visa to travel to Bhutan, as long as they have the correct identification.
Indian tourists can visit the famous Punakha Dzong and all the attractions of Bhutan without a visa.
Indian citizens can travel to Bhutan by air or land across the Phuntsholing border as long as they hold one of the required and acceptable documents listed in the treaty.
These documents include:
1. Valid and current Indian passport with at least six months to go.
2. Indian identity card with current photo.
3. Identification documents that can be processed and printed at the Phuntsholing border checkpoint provided that sufficient proof of Indian citizenship has been provided.
While Overseas Citizens of India (OCIs) are valid Indian nationals, many of them no longer hold an Indian passport, usually the passport of their new country of residence. These Indian nationals also have the so-called OCI, which grants them retained Indian citizenship.
However, OCI card holders, without an Indian passport, are not eligible for visa-free entry to Bhutan and need to apply for a Bhutan visa by booking a tour through a registered Bhutanese travel agency, like any other non-Indian passport holder.
Similar to Indian citizens, Bangladeshi nationals do not require a visa to travel to Bhutan as long as they hold a valid passport. Unlike Indian nationals, however, those from Bangladesh do not have the option to enter Bhutan using any other form of ID. A Bangladeshi passport is the only acceptable form of identification and must be valid for at least 90 days when leaving Bhutan.
Bangladeshi citizens can visit Bhutan by air without a visa as long as they hold a valid passport. What Bangladeshi citizens need to apply for is the Bhutan Regional Tourist Permit, which allows travel in unrestricted areas of Bhutan. Permits are usually applied for when entering Bhutan at Paro International Airport or Phuntsholing border crossing. However, this process has recently changed and permits can now be obtained in advance through a new online application system.
Travelers from Bangladesh need an Indian visa to travel to Bhutan by land via India. However, it is not a required tourist visa. Instead, Bangladeshi citizens must hold a transit visa to travel to Bhutan by land. An Indian tourist visa does not allow travel to Bhutan by land, even if you have visited India before. You still need to obtain a transit visa before traveling. Indian immigration authorities will require you to present a transit visa at the Jaigaon transit checkpoint opposite Phuentsholing, without which you will not be allowed to leave India and enter Bhutan. It is illegal to enter Bhutan by land using a tourist visa and there are severe penalties.
The easiest way to get from Bangladesh to Bhutan is by air, there are daily flights to the Himalayas kingdom from Dhaka International Airport in Bangladesh. The flight to Paro International Airport takes about an hour.
If you plan to travel by land, you need to plan carefully as there is no direct route from Bangladesh to Bhutan. The easiest route is to take the train from Dhaka to Kolkata and book a ticket to Hasimara, West Bengal. From there, you will need to take a local bus to Phuntsholing and once you cross the border, you will need a private car or taxi to take you to Thimphu.
There is only one other country in the world that allows visa-free entry to Bhutan and that is the Maldives. The Maldives is a small island nation located in the Lakadev Sea, part of the Indian Ocean, about 1,000 kilometers southwest of the Indian subcontinent.
Citizens of Maldives enter Bhutan in a similar way to Bangladesh, allowing only passports as proof of identity. Passports must be valid for at least six months when entering Bhutan, and the usual permit must be applied for upon entry or through the new online convenience system.
International visitors from the rest of the world will need to obtain a visa for Bhutan as well as India or Bangladesh, depending on the country you travel to.
International travelers can apply for a Bhutan visa online at a licensed local travel agency only after booking a Bhutan tour with them and making full payment. Once done, the travel agency will use your passport scan copy to apply for a visa on your behalf. International friends can only obtain a Bhutan visa online through a locally licensed travel agency.
The Bhutan visa application process usually takes around 3-5 working days, and a Letter of Invitation (LOI) is issued to the tour operator, Bhutan Tourism Board, Paro International Airport, and Phuntsholing Border Crossing national airline. The Letter of Intent will be forwarded to you by the travel agency and will require you to book a flight to Bhutan, which can only be done with one of the two Bhutanese airlines, as other airlines are not allowed to fly to Bhutan.
For Indian passport holders, it is convenient to travel to Bhutan without a visa. Bangladeshi citizens and Maldivian citizens can enjoy Bhutan's visa-free policy and can visit Bhutan only with a valid passport.
Tourists from other countries need to apply for a Bhutan visa in advance, as well as an Indian visa or Bangladesh visa to enter Bhutan from these neighboring countries.
Applying for a transit visa or standard visa in India and Bangladesh depends on how many days you plan to stay before your trip to Bhutan.
Apart from Indian citizens and those traveling to Bhutan with Bangladeshi and Maldivian passports, here is the one who can enjoy Bhutan's visa-free policy.
Visas are issued free of charge to holders of diplomatic passports, United Nations passports, and official passports.
People who have received an official invitation to Bhutan from a "citizen of status" or volunteer organization.
Guests of the Bhutanese government.
Thai and Swiss nationals holding diplomatic or official/service passports.
Non-pre-application visas for stays in Bhutan for up to 90 days will be stamped in the passport upon entry.
Asia Odyssey Tours & Travel Company Limited (bhutantrip.com) is a leading online travel service focused on Bhutan trips for about 10 years. Headquartered in Hong Kong, we have branch offices in Tibet, Nepal, India, Malaysia, Taiwan, Chengdu, Guilin, Xian, Beijing, and Guangzhou. Since 2013, we have been arranging both private & customized Bhutan tours for our clients from all over the world. We can help you with your Bhutanese visa and we can also do Nepal tours, Nepal & Bhutan travel, Tibet & Nepal tours, Tibet-Nepal-Bhutan trips, India Tours, Nepal-Bhutan-India trips, and so on if you want to add more charming destinations to your Bhutan tour.
For the above Bhutan visa issues, if you have any questions, please feel free to contact BhutanTrip, and tell us your travel plans, and our professional travel consultants will help you find out all the documents you need.