Dechen Dolkar 

The government has approved the exemption of USD 200 daily sustainable development fee (SDF) for foreigners visiting Bhutan under 22 categories other than tourists.

It was learnt that the SDF waiver comes into effect after it was discussed and endorsed in the Cabinet. Some aspects of the waiver would be subject to further review. 

SDF will be waived for pilgrims to Gomkora, Hindu pilgrims to Jayanti Mahakal temple, near Phuntsholing, only if the pilgrims stay within Trashi Yangtse and the pilgrimage site for the duration of the festival.

According to the list of waivers, nationals of Thailand and Switzerland with diplomatic and official passports will be exempted from the SDF only if the purpose of the visit is for official business. If the purpose of the visit is tourism, then SDF would be imposed and collected at the port of entry.

SDF is to be waived only if the purpose of the visit is for nationals of member states of SAARC entitled to SAARC visa exemption scheme. If the purpose of the visit is tourism, then SDF would be imposed and collected at the port of entry. 

Foreign workers approved by labour and immigration, foreigners married to Bhutanese and their legitimate children, and foreign students including monks and nuns undertaking a regular study program need not pay the SDF. 

Similarly, direct dependents of promoters, investors of established FDI in the country, diplomats, officials of resident missions, embassies or consulates and their dependents and officials of international organisations based in Bhutan and their direct dependents can also avail of the exemption.  

The list also includes uniformed personnel of IMTRAT and DANTAK posted to Bhutan and their direct dependents, expatriate traders holding a valid business license and trader card and their direct dependents and day workers and process workers in the factories and industries in the border towns.

Promoters and investors of FDI will be waived from SDF for established FDI companies in the country, however, no waiver will be given during feasibility visits to curtail misuse.

Casual visitors in the border towns SDF to be waived for visitors (nationals of India) to border towns provided they do not halt the night or travel beyond the first designated point.

The personal guest facility will be discontinued for diplomats and professionals working in Bhutan. However, SDF will be waived for parents and adult children of diplomats and professionals working in Bhutan.

The cost of SDF for participants of meetings, incentives, conferences, exhibitions (MICE) will have to be borne by the host agency or government. Meeting or conference must be recommended or endorsed by the foreign secretary. 

SDF will be waived to journalists and media personnel only if invited by the government to cover events of national significance or importance, accompanying the head of State or government of a country on an official visit to Bhutan and must be endorsed by the foreign secretary.  

Official guests of the government, civil society, religious organisations (including devotees and pilgrims coming for religious events), and corporations the cost of SDF should be borne by the host agency. 

Individual volunteers and interns are not permitted entry as per immigration rules and regulations. However, volunteers of international organisations such as TICA, JICA, Australian Volunteers (AVID), HVO based in Bhutan are permitted entry either as foreign workers or as officials of international organisations based in Bhutan. 

SDF will be waived for sports professionals taking part in sporting events, on contract with licensed clubs and trainers. However, it should be recommended by Bhutan Olympic Committee, and fulfil other requirements. 

Those in other categories not listed have to submit their applications to the Department of Immigration and seek further approval from the Cabinet. 

Meanwhile, SDF waiver is not recommended for spouses or dependents of foreigners visiting Bhutan on official business. However, exceptions may be made for important dignitaries on the recommendation of the foreign secretary.