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… as country readies to welcome tourists on September 23

Dechen Dolkar  

The land entry points at Gelephu, Samtse, and Samdrupjonkhar will only be open for tourists from India from September 23, until further notice, when the borders open for tourism. All tourists could apply for visa online or through a tour operator and tourists will be given a 90-day visa.

Tourism Council of Bhutan’s (TCB) Director General, Dorji Dhradhul clarified these yesterday when he answered questions from the public in a  zoom webinar session as the country readies for the formal opening of the border to tourists next week.




Immigration

E-visa or e-permit will be approved for 90 days and tourists can travel anytime within the 90 days.  Visa or permit applications will be directly submitted to the department of immigration’s online system.

An immigration official at the webinar said that tourists will not be required to stop at immigration checkpoint when travelling from dzongkhag to dzongkhag.  “A tourist with a visa or permit will be permitted to visit any areas except those which fall within restricted or prohibited areas.”   

However,  a tourist will be allowed to visit restricted areas identified as trekking routes by the TCB if accompanied by a trekking guide.




The prohibited areas are Chanju in Samtse, beyond Damthang in Haa, Chekha in Paro, Tshempa in Bumthang, Takpang and Singye dzong in Lhuentse, and Tobrang and Singphey in Tashiyantse.

Similarly, restricted areas are Soe and Lingzhi in Thimphu, Gunichawa in Paro, Khagtang in Bumthang and beyond Bumdeling in Trashiyangtse.

“Tour guides will be held fully accountable for any misuses or lapses, including prosecution in thecourt of law and/or any penalties under the Immigration Act of Bhutan and any other laws, rules and regulations as may be applicable,” an immigration official said.




Information for tourists

TCB officials said the RT-PCR test is not required as long as tourists are fully vaccinated. However, tourists are required to produce travel insurance valid for the whole duration of the trip.

“There is also an option to purchase domestic travel insurance from Bhutanese insurance providers at the port of entry during arrivals,” a TCB official said.

Tourists can bring cash equivalent upto USD 10,000.

Currency exchange facility, SIM card, and taxi counters will be placed at the airport. While international credit cards are widely used in urban Bhutan, tourists can also use the digital wallet app called goBoB which can be operated with a local SIM card.




DG Dorji Dhradhul said that guides are mandatory for tourists while trekking, hiking, and visiting monument sites. “If regulators encounter tourists at the spot without a guide, the tourists should be able to give the name of the guides though guides are not mandatory while tourists are at Thimphu and Paro town areas.

According to TCB, the SDF will be waived for day Indian visitors visiting towns bordering India, until the first designated point is identified by the government. However, SDF will be levied on visitors spending nights within border towns.

Tourism information officers will be stationed at all ports of entry who can assist travellers.

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