A Step-by-Step Guide on Getting to Bhutan

DSCN3863Booking a trip to Bhutan is not straightforward. When I was looking to arrange my visit I could find very little information online about the process. I had everything explained to me by my chosen tour operator but it still sounded dodgy – my bank even said so! It was against my better judgement that I sent a large payment against their warnings. Thankfully everything turned out fine in the end, but it seemed a big risk at the time. I hope this guide helps put your mind at rest and limits the anguish you face when arranging what will surely be the trip of a lifetime – I know I could have used something like this to put my mind at ease when I was booking!

Most of the information I gathered about arranging a trip to Bhutan was from the TripAdvisor forums but my exhaustive searches actually turned up very few results. For each post I found that reassured me, there was one directly afterwards that set me right back where I had started. As such, sending my first payment was something of a leap of faith.

Let me start by saying all trips to Bhutan must go through a government approved tour operator. You can find a full list of government endorsed operators here. I decided to use Bhutan Travelers. There is a non-negotiable daily rate of $250 during peak season and $200 during the off season. This kind of travel is called high-quality, low-impact tourism and is a method put in place to protect Bhutan’s cultural and natural integrity. These prices might sound expensive but almost every facet of your visit will be covered by this payment. This includes hotels, meals and travel. You will, however, be required to change some money at the airport for additional payments such as gratuities and any gifts you wish to take home with you.

Making payment for your trip to Bhutan can be bothersome. Money cannot be sent by card payment as in most online purchases as most Bhutanese companies do not yet have the equipment needed to handle them. Payment must instead be made via money/wire transfer to a Bhutanese government account held by Standard Chartered Bank in New York. This might sound suspicious when your tour operator explains it to you and it definitely set alarm bells ringing in my head. I discussed it with my bank and even they tried to discourage me from paying large sums in this way. You need not worry yourself like I did, however, as my payment went through without a hitch. Turns out sending money into Bhutan this way is a totally legitimate, if inconvenient, method of payment. Unfortunately, this kind of transfer does not come cheap and will incur charges from your bank – I paid £20 for the privilege through Nationwide.

Depending on how far in advance you book your trip, you might be required to send two payments – an early one to confirm flights with Drukair, Bhutan’s main carrier, and an additional one for your tour and accommodation costs. Just like paying, getting in to the country is not easy, either. Flights arrive at the nation’s only airport in Paro and your departure choices are limited to a small pool based out of India, Thailand or Nepal.

If you want to avoid being hit with two money/wire transfer charges then request to pay your sum in full. Be aware that very large sums sent via this method can occasionally be held up as your bank might flag them as being suspicious – this is common, according to my bank, when funds are sent to third world countries or lesser known destinations. Be assured that once your payment has been investigated fully it should go through without further problems.

Once all your payments have been received you’re almost set for an experience that promises to be like no other! Your tour operator will arrange your flights for you and email the tickets directly to your inbox – be sure to print them out before you set off as you aren’t guaranteed entry to the plane without them. Your visa and itinerary will also be finalised and – viola – you are finally ready for Bhutan! The only thing you need to do now is countdown the days before you go!

If these words haven’t put you off (they shouldn’t!) and you decide to undertake this arduous journey, I hope this guide comes in handy. I wish you good luck and hope you enjoy your stay in Bhutan!

If you have any further questions, please pop them in the comments below.

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4 thoughts on “A Step-by-Step Guide on Getting to Bhutan

  1. A great writeup. I’m sure, many will be benefited by this. As you have written, it’s true that many people gets suspicious when they ask you to transfer money via Wire Transfer.

    But it’s just that, Bhutan doesn’t have such equipment’s, to charge you via card as you rightly pointed out. But believe me, if they had such equipment’s, it’d have been more risky. Allow me to explain.

    All Bhutanese Operators are registered under TCB (Tourism Council of Bhutan). So when you transfer money, this goes to TCB and kept safe with them, unless and until you leave the country with satisfied tour. It’s only after you leave, TCB will transfer the money to the respective Tour Operator.

    And Tourism in Bhutan is highly restricted as you are already aware, and strictly monitored by TCB. So your one complain can get the tour operator’s / hotel’s / driver’s / guide’s licence snatched and blacklisted forever to operate in tourism business in the country. So each and every tour operator and everyone involved in this tourism business, tries their best to satisfy their clients, so that they leaves with smiling face and thus they can get their hard earned money.

    So if someday, tour operators implements equipment’s to accept cards, then you are at risk. Because in that case, the money will directly go to the tour operator overriding the TCB. I know, even then, if something mess up, and you complain, TCB will take action. But it may then take time to get your money back, due to various situations.

    And in 3rd world countries like us, anyone can flee anywhere with such amount of money with no tractability too.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This is a useful write up that I would have really appreciated reading before my winter 2016 trip to Bhutan.

    The payment process seemed so sketchy, sending thousands of dollars across the world, to just a number. It does not help that all of the international wire transfer forms in the U.S. emphasize that there is zero recourse if your money goes missing.

    I was sufficiently concerned about sending such a huge amount of money that way that I emailed the Bhutan’s tourism board just to independently confirm that I had been given the correct number, and that it wasn’t some kind of brilliant scam. Classic kind & helpful Bhutan style, two of the tourism council’s officials replied to me within days, helpfully confirming that the number was correct, and that the process was working as intended.

    I did encounter some glitches requiring multiple trips to the bank, because Bhutan said they required some statements on the transfer that were not technically legal to have on U.S. wire transfers. My tour agency was very helpful in tpwarning me that might happen, and talking (well, emailing) me through it. I changed to a second, less bureaucratic bank that would bend the rules as much as possible, and we could not fulfill Bhutan’s instructions to the letter, but within days I had confirmation that it had worked. And relatively shortly thereafter, our visa’s were emailed to me,

    I do really think the tourism council should publish a clear, step-by-step “how to list” and the account numbers, so that tourists can easly confirm that they understand the process. The little bit they have online is not sufficient to provide full information, or reassurance.

    But, in the end, I did appreciate the tremendous protections that are ultimately provided to tourists with this system. And, of course, the amazing nature of our trip — and our phenomenal tour agency and guide — made any initial minor banking hassles more than worthwhile.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi: Thanks for all this great info. I am now in the process of planning a trip to Bhutan for Nov 2017. Can you say which tour operator you used. I have been in contact with a few and they all seem reliable and helpful. Also any suggestions on a hotel (standard tariff) in Paro.
    Thanks
    Kate (UK)

    Like

    • Hi Kate, I used Bhutan Travelers, there is a link to their site in one of my posts. Unless you want to go for a 5* hotel (which will cost you a fortune) your room will be covered by your daily payment so you shouldn’t have to worry.

      Like

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