Most countries issue visas from their embassies or consulate office abroad and stamp it on your passport, but not Bhutan. Visas are issued only when you arrive in the country, either at Paro airport or (if entering by road) at Phuentsholing. You must apply in advance through a tour operator and receive approval letter before you travel to Bhutan.
All applications for tourist visas must be approved by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Thimphu. The operator submits the visa application to Department of Tourism (DOT) in Thimphu. It, in turn, checks that you have completely paid for your trip and then issues an approval letter to the tour operator. With this approval in hand, the tour operator then makes a final application to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which takes up to a week to process the visa.
It’s not necessary to fill in a special visa application form. Just provide scanned copy of your passport.
Visa approval letter sent by our Bhutan agent will be forwarded to you. This document will allow you to check-in the flight to Paro. After your arrival at Paro Airport, a visa stamp will be issued on your passport. In case, if you’re traveling overland, visa stamp will be issued at Phuntsholing.
A visa extension for a period not exceeding six months costs Nu 510 (US $ 10.00). Since tourist visas are issued for the full period you have arranged to stay in Bhutan, it’s unlikely that you would need a visa extension.
Upon arrival, Indian visitors are issued a 14-day permit, which may be extended in Thimphu. No passport or visa is required, but some form of identification such as a passport, driving license or voter’s registration card is necessary. Indians arriving by road at Phuentsholing need five photos: three for the Indian certificate and two for the Bhutanese permit. Those arriving by air need two photos for the arrival permit in Paro.
All of Bhutan outside of the Paro and Thimphu valleys is classified as a restricted area. Tour operators obtain a permit for the places on your itinerary, and this permit is checked and endorsed by the police at immigration checkpoints strategically located at important road junctions. The tour operator must return the permit to the government at the completion of the tour, and it is scrutinized for major deviations from the authorized program.
There are immigration checkpoints in Hongtsho (east of Thimphu), Chhukha (between Thimphu and Phuentsholing), Rinchending (above Phuentsholing), Wangdue Phodrang, Chazam (near Trashigang), Wamrong (between Trashigang and Samdrup Jongkhar), and in Samdrup Jongkhar. All are open from 5am to 9pm daily.
Tourists are allowed to visit the courtyards of Dzongs and, where feasible, the Tshokhang (assembly hall) and one designated Lhakhang in each Dzong, but only when accompanied by a licensed Bhutanese guide. This provision is subject to certain restrictions, including visiting hours, dress standards and other rules that vary by district. Permits are issued by the National Commission for Cultural Affairs and all the necessary paperwork will be negotiated by your tour company. If you wish to know which Dzongs and Goembas are included in your itinerary, or you wish to make specific requests, contact your tour company well in advance. If you are a Practicing Buddhist, you may apply for a permit to visit certain Dzongs and religious institutions usually off limits. The credibility of your application will be enhanced if you include a letter of reference from a recognized Buddhist organization in your home country.
Dzongs are open to all during the time of a Tsechu, when you may visit the courtyard, but not the Lhakhangs.