Traveling to Bhutan is acknowledged for being really expensive. Though the mandatory US $250 per person/per night is an all-inclusive package, still it holds the repute of being one of the world’s most exclusive and pricey travel destinations. Many travelers are unaware of the fact that the daily tariff of US $250 is an inclusive package which comprises of all expenses like 3 meals a day, minimum 3 star rated accommodation, a proficient English speaking guide, all ground transfers, government SDF tax which is US $65/day and entry fees to all major sightseeing attractions. And what most do not understand is that the government sustainable development fund (SDF) tax is used to pay for the country’s infrastructure development and in-line with the Gross national happiness philosophy to provide free education and free health care for its population. The remaining money is used for the guest’s accommodation and other expenses for their travel.
There, it does not seem so expensive now. Or does it? Any tourist who wishes to travel to Bhutan is required to come in through a local travel agent/tour operator thus making it a mandate to book a tour package and making all payment in advance. So how can someone beat the system and travel to Bhutan for free? Well, the thing is you can only travel to Bhutan for free under certain circumstances.
The circumstances were as follows;
1.Guest to the Royal Government of Bhutan
If the visitors are special guests of the Royal Government of Bhutan, the guests are not entitled to pay the minimum daily package rate of USD $250 and can travel to Bhutan for free.
2.Personal guest to a Bhutanese National
Bhutanese nationals can invite up to two foreign guests in a year. The Personal guest does not have to pay the daily tariff of US $250. The host must put up an application to the Department of Immigration and confirm proofs of their acquaintanceship abroad of not less than six months and the host must be of at least 18 years to be able to invite a personal guest. A one-time visa fee of US $40 for the guest is applicable.
3.Nationals of India, Bangladesh, and the Maldives
Indian, Bangladeshi and Maldivian citizens do not need Bhutan visa to travel to Bhutan however they need to present their Passports at entry points into the country with a validity of six months. Citizens of these countries do not need to book a pre-organized tour with local travel agents which mean they are exempted from the mandatory daily tariff of US $250. They can even solo travel through Bhutan. However, the arrangements of accommodations and transports completely remain the responsibility of the respective visitors.
4.Volunteer in Bhutan
Foreigners who have the right set of skills and aspire to contribute their knowledge can volunteer in Bhutan. The official procedures remain ambiguous but Non-Government Organizations and Civil Society Organizations entertain numerous volunteers every year. If the visitor is an approved volunteer, this means all the tariffs and taxes are exempted. This is a good way to travel to Bhutan for free and also give back to the world.
5.Thai and Swiss official/diplomatic passport holders
Thai and Swiss nationals holding official and diplomatic passports while coming to Bhutan do not require Bhutan visa meaning they do not have to pay the daily tariff of US $250. The visa will be stamped upon arrival at the Paro International airport or any other port of entry by Immigration authorities. However, their stay in Bhutan should not exceed 90 days. Other citizens of these countries carrying ordinary passports need to process Bhutanese visa in advance.
6.International employees to the government of Bhutan
If the Government or any private party wants to employ a foreign expert for a job, consent must be sought from Chief Labor Officer, Department of Labor with authorized employment permit and the employees can hereafter travel through Bhutan for free without having to pay a daily tariff.
Gratis Visa is only issued to officials possessing diplomatic, UN and official passports. If there is a MoU signed indicating some points about the free charges, then the visiting guests will be issued gratis visas where the recipient shall not be entitled to the daily tariff.
Traveling to Bhutan may seem like an expensive endeavor but these circumstances depict otherwise. These are some ways to travel to the land of happiness for free.
For information on how to apply for above visas to Bhutan, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has provided detailed instructions and list of documents to be submitted.
For anyone who wants to know, I met my Bhutanese friend three years ago, we were taking the same class. For my visa I had to send my passport copy and he apparently had to submit evidences of our acquaintanceship. Got my visa approved within 2 weeks and I was on my flight to Bhutan.
For those who do not have Bhutanese friends, I still think the 250$ per day is worth it. It apparently includes everything on your tour from tour guides to food to hotel rooms.
Very glad to have made that trip. Hopefully I can visit it a second time and do a trekking tour.
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