Bhutan reopens for tourists from September 23

Surinder Singh Oberoi
23 Sep 2022
Bhutan reopens for tourists from September 23

New Delhi: From Friday, September 23, Bhutan reopens its borders to tourists and visitors, nearly two and a half years since the pandemic erupted in 2020.

Many arrangements, cultural programmes and school children are arranged to welcome the tourists who will land in the Himalayan Kingdom after two and a half years.

Hotels, restaurants and several government buildings are repainted, and taxi drivers are ready with their serviced vehicles and happy to take tourists to different destinations. The airport at Paro and the capital Thimpu town have several banners welcoming tourists back to the valley.

For Indian living on the borders of Bengal and Assam, the movement of people via these borders will also begin. The Jaigaon-Phuentsholing border gate being the most popular route, had stopped since March 2020. On the Assam border, Samdrup Jhongkhar and Gelephu border gates are also opening up starting today on Friday, September 23.

The authorities at the immigration office that falls under the home ministry of Bhutan issued a notification that said that anybody entering or exiting Bhutan via the pedestrian terminal in the neighbouring city has to fill up an online form and register him/herself.

The information on the form will monitor the movement of people — both Bhutanese and residents of other nations along the country's land borders.

Before, Indians could cross the gate and enter Phuentsholing, roam around and stay in the city without registration. Bhutan authorities say that the new rule will facilitate faster immigration clearance.

Business people feel that the new arrangement would be inconvenient for Indians in the border areas like Jaigaon, who had been moving in and out on the borders, which were earlier free to travel and do business.

People in business will have a new experience as more accountability and entrance fees will be a levy on any traveller. Bhutan citizens who live on the border will also have to follow the same procedure as and when they enter the Indian side. Earlier, they, too, would roam for business on the Indian border and return.

Every Indian and Bangladeshi has to pay the Sustainable Development Fee (SDF), which costs Rs 1200 per day per person. They also have to pre-register at the border.

Bhutan authorities also had several meetings with the Indian border authorities to organise the passengers' smooth travel.

A meeting of Bhutan officials was held with Indian authorities in Assam and Bengal, respectively. More facilities and gates have been opened to have less waiting time for the tourists.

In its notification issued on September 13 by the department of revenue and customs under the finance ministry, the Bhutan government announced a duty and tax-free baggage allowance of 3,000 Ngultrum (Bhutanese currency) for anybody travelling via the land borders. Earlier, there was no such fixed allowance for people entering Bhutan through the land borders.

The new tourism policy of Bhutan came into effect on June 20, 2022. SDF for international tourists is USD 200/person/night. SDF for Indians & Bangladeshi tourists is INR 1200/person/night. 50% off on SDF for children between 6 years to 12 years. No SDF for children five years & below. There will also be USD 40 one-time visa fees per person for international tourists, however no visa fees for Indians & Bangladeshi.

The Bhutan government has also issued a standard operating procedure (SOP) to facilitate the seamless movement of tourists.

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