Bhutan visa process may appear complicated, but is actually quite straight forward once you understand it. Most countries issue their visas from their embassies abroad and stamp it in your passport, but not for Bhutan. Bhutanese Embassies abroad cannot issue Visa for travel to Bhutan. Tourist must apply in advance through your tour operator such as Wind Horse Tours and receive Visa before you travel to Bhutan. Tourist Visas are approved by Tourism Department and then by the Department of Immigration in Thimphu. Without this visa approval, you will not be allowed to board the flight into Bhutan or enter by overland. The actual visa is stamped on the passport upon arrival in the country, either at Paro airport or (if entering by road) at Phuentsholing, Gelephu or Samdrup Jongkhar. You need to provide your passport copy (physical passport is not required) to your tour operator. Your passport must be valid 6 months beyond the travel dates.
Except Indian, Bangladesh and Maldives passport holders, all visitor require visa to enter Bhutan. Thai Diplomats and Official Passport holders can get visa upon arrival.
If you are coming as a Guest, on invitation of Government, NGO, Institutes etc, your host agency in Bhutan will apply for Visa through the Immigration Department, after passing through respective channels such as Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Thimphu.
Bhutan Visa fee is US$40 per person. For tourists, visa fee is paid along with your tour payment in advance through your tour operator. Guests on invitation in most cases pay visa fee upon arrival at the airport or point of entry.
Validity: Visa is granted for the exact dates of your visit as applied in advance. However extension of visa is possible after arrival in Bhutan.
All applications for tourist visas must be initialized by a Bhutanese tour operator such as Wind Horse Tours. The operator submits the visa application to Department of Tourism (Tourism Council of Bhutan) in Thimphu. It, in turn, checks that you have paid for the 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 Department of Immigration, which then takes about a week (with exception to urgent cases) to process the Visa Clearance Letter.
After issuing Visa Clearance Letter, Department of Immigration also sends the copy electronically to the port of entries such as Paro airport, Phuentsholing and Gelephu. Along with Visa clearance letter, Immigration Department will also issue route permit, that allows you to travel beyond Thimphu and Paro as per your pre-planned itinerary. There is no form for you to fill, no need to send photos, simply send your passport copy, and rest will be taken care by your tour operator.
Without this clearance letter, you will not be able to board the flight in Bhutan. Wind Horse will send you copy of this Visa clearance letter in advance, so you can show it to the airline at the time of check-in or at the entry points if you are arriving overland. The actual visa is stamped on your passport when you arrive in Paro airport or at Immigration desk in Phuentsholing, Samdrup Jonhgkhar or Gelephu if you are arriving overland
It’s an amazingly efficient system considering all the time, distance and various levels of bureaucracy involved. Your Bhutan Tour operator will also obtain permits to enter Dzongs, monasteries and temples covered by your itinerary.