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Bhutan

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Summary

  • Exercise normal safety precautions in Bhutan. Use common sense. Look out for suspicious behaviour as you would in Australia. Monitor the media and other sources for information on local travel conditions.
  • Trekking can be dangerous. If you decide to trek in Bhutan, plan carefully and use reputable trekking companies with professional guides. Trekking alone is not permitted. Make sure your travel insurance covers all your activities. See Local travel.
  • The risk of landslides increases significantly during monsoon season (June-September), including around major roads and in all trekking areas. See Natural disasters.
  • Bhutan experiences earthquakes. Take precautions. Be prepared for a major emergency, including by maintaining a functional emergency kit. Familiarise yourself with earthquake safety procedures. See Natural disasters
  • Australia does not have an embassy or consulate in Bhutan. The Australian Embassy in New Delhi provides consular assistance to Australians in Bhutan. See Where to get help.
  • See Travel Smart for general advice for all travellers.

Entry and exit

Visas

You need a visa to travel to Bhutan.

Bhutan strictly controls international tourism. All tourist travel must be arranged through a government-licensed tour operator. The Tourism Council of Bhutan publishes a list of all licensed tour operators. The tour operator is responsible for arranging visas for travellers.

Independent travel is not possible unless you have a long term visa. If you plan a longer-term stay in Bhutan, you will need a work permit, volunteer visa or other long-term visa. You and your partner will only be eligible for a dependent spouse visa if you provide a marriage certificate. Bhutan does not recognise de-facto or same-sex relationships.

Visa and other entry and exit conditions (such as currency, customs and quarantine regulations) can change at short notice. Contact the Tourism Council of Bhutan (phone: +975 2 323 251/52 or email  info@tourism.gov.bt) for up-to-date information.

More information: Embassy of Bhutan

For travel to or from Bhutan via India, read our travel advice for India.

More information:

Passport

Ensure your passport is valid for at least six months from the date you intend to return to Australia. Carry copies of a recent passport photo with you in case you need a replacement passport while overseas.

Your passport is a valuable document and attractive to criminals who may try to use your identity to commit crimes. Always keep it in a safe place.

If your passport is lost or stolen, you must notify the Australian Government as soon as possible.

Money

The official currency of Bhutan is the Bhutanese Ngultrum (BTN). The Indian Rupee is also accepted as legal tender in Bhutan, but Indian currency in large denominations may not be accepted.

ATMs are common in towns. EFTPOS services are available nationwide, including at most hotels. Credit cards are not widely accepted, but can be used at reputable hotels.

Safety and security

Crime

The crime rate in Bhutan is low. Violent crime is uncommon, but there are occasional burglaries, thefts and petty crime, such as pick-pocketing and purse snatching. Arrests related to drugs and alcohol abuse have increased in recent years.

The Tourism Council of Bhutan warns against foreigners booking their travel with unregistered tour operators. The Tourism Council of Bhutan advises it will not be responsible for any complaints related to, or resulting from, a tour booked through unregistered tour operators.

Protect yourself.

  • Use common sense
  • Pay attention to your personal security, as you would in Australia
  • Only use licensed tour operators.

More information: Travel requirements, Tourism Council of Bhutan

Civil unrest and political tension

Bhutan has experienced insurgent activity, mainly in southern border areas near India.

The Bhutan-India border area may provide refuge for armed groups who continue to carry out politically motivated violence in Assam and other north-eastern Indian states. These groups could clash with Bhutan or Indian security forces at any time. There have been kidnappings from border communities. Foreigners could be targeted.

There are several areas of disputed territory between Bhutan and China. These are in remote areas not typically visited by organised tours.

There have been three small improvised explosive device (IED) attacks in Bhutan since 2011. Further attacks are possible.

  • Avoid travel to the Bhutan-India border area.
  • Avoid travel to disputed territory between Bhutan and China.
  • Look out for suspicious behaviour and report unattended or suspicious items.
  • Avoid protests, demonstrations and large crowds as they may turn violent.

Terrorism

Terrorism is a threat throughout the world.

More information: Terrorist threat worldwide

Local travel

Trekking and tours

Trekking can be dangerous. If you decide to trek in Bhutan, plan carefully and use reputable trekking companies with professional guides. Trekking alone is not allowed. Make sure your travel insurance covers all your activities, including emergency evacuation by helicopter or other means if necessary.

Before starting a trek, seek an update from your trekking company on the security situation and likely climatic conditions in the area you are visiting. Register your contact and trip details with us and let family and/or friends know where you will be trekking.

The safety standards you might expect of transport and tour operators, including for adventure activities such as trekking and rafting, may not be of the same level as in Australia. Recommended safety precautions and maintenance standards may not be followed. Safety equipment such as lifejackets and seatbelts may not be provided.

If you plan to participate in adventure activities, first talk to your travel insurer to check if the activity is covered by your insurance policy. Check operators’ credentials and safety equipment before booking. Don’t be afraid to ask about or insist on minimal safety requirements. Always use available safety equipment, such as lifejackets or seatbelts, even if others don't. If appropriate safety equipment is not available, use another provider.

More information can be found in the Trekking Section on Tourism Council of Bhutan’s website.

Road travel

Driving can be hazardous due to poor road maintenance, mountainous conditions, poor driving standards and a lack of streetlights. According to the World Health Organization, you're three times more likely to be killed in a motor vehicle accident in Bhutan than in Australia. The condition of roads can quickly deteriorate after heavy rain.

Few visitors drive themselves in Bhutan. Most visitors to Bhutan travel as part of organised tour groups, with local drivers. To get your Australian driver’s licence endorsed locally, you need to have lived in Bhutan for at least one month.

  • Drive on the left-hand side of the road.
  • Avoid road travel after dark.
  • Drive defensively.
  • Allow for delays, especially in heavy rain.

More information: Road safety and driving

Air travel

The Australian Government doesn't provide information on the safety of individual commercial airlines or flight paths. See the Aviation Safety Network website for information on aviation safety in Bhutan.

More information: Air travel

Laws

Local laws

You're subject to all local laws and penalties, including those that appear harsh by Australian standards. Research local laws before travelling, especially for an extended stay.

If you're arrested or jailed, the Australian Government will do what it can to help you under our Consular Services Charter. But we can't get you out of trouble or out of jail.

More information: Arrested or in prison

Drug laws

Penalties for drug-related offences, including marijuana use, are severe and include long jail terms and heavy fines.

More information:

Other laws

Selling/buying tobacco products in Bhutan is illegal. You can import a limited number of tobacco products for personal use, subject to a sales tax and customs duty. Carry your import duty receipt or you could face heavy fines.

LGBTI travellers

Homosexuality is a criminal offence in Bhutan, although prosecutions are rare.

More information: LGBTI travellers

Australian laws 

Some Australian criminal offences apply overseas. You can be prosecuted for them in Australia. These offences include, but are not limited to:

  • child sex offences and child pornography
  • female genital mutilation
  • forced marriage
  • drug trafficking
  • people smuggling and human trafficking
  • bribery of foreign public officials
  • money laundering
  • terrorism and foreign incursions.

More information: Staying within the law

Dual nationals

Bhutan does not recognise dual citizenship.

More information: Dual nationals

Local customs

There are conservative standards of dress and behaviour in Bhutan. Take care not to offend.

If you visit temples or other religious institutions, dress modestly and respectfully. Long pants are more appropriate for men. Longer length skirts are more appropriate for women.

Health

Travel insurance 

Take out comprehensive travel insurance before you depart to cover overseas medical costs, including medical evacuation.

Remember, regardless of how healthy and fit you are, if you can't afford travel insurance, you can't afford to travel. The Australian Government won't pay for your medical expenses overseas or medical evacuation costs. This can be very expensive and cost you many thousands of dollars up front.

Confirm:

  • what circumstances and activities are, and aren't, covered under your policy
  • that you're covered for the whole time you will be away.

More information: Travel insurance

Physical and mental health

Consider your physical and mental health before travelling, especially if you have an existing medical condition.

  • At least eight weeks before you depart, see your doctor or travel clinic for a basic health check-up, and to discuss your travel plans and implications for your health.
  • Get vaccinated before you travel.

If you need counselling services, contact the Australian Consular Emergency Centre on +61 2 6261 3305 and ask to speak to a Lifeline telephone counsellor.

Medication

Not all medications available over the counter or by prescription in Australia are available in other countries. Some may be considered illegal or a controlled substance, even if prescribed by an Australian doctor.

Take prescription medicine with you so you remain in good health. Always carry a copy of your prescription or a letter from your doctor stating what the medicine is, how much you take and that it's for personal use only.

Before you leave Australia:

  • check if your medication is legal in each country you're travelling to and find out if any quantity restrictions or certification requirements apply.
  • get medical documents authenticated by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (if required).

More information: Prescription medicines

Health risks

Altitude Sickness

If you go to altitudes greater than 2,500m, you’re at risk of developing altitude sickness, particularly if you ascend rapidly. Altitude sickness can be life threatening and can affect anyone, even the physically fit. Those more at risk include people who have had altitude sickness before, who exercise or drink alcohol before adjusting to the altitude, or who have health problems that affect breathing.

If you plan to travel to high altitude areas, see your doctor prior to travel to get advice specific to you and your situation. Ensure your travel insurance covers you for altitude sickness and medical evacuation.

Mosquito-borne illnesses

Outbreaks of dengue fever and malaria can occur in Bhutan.

Monitor local media for health announcements. Protect yourself against mosquito-borne illnesses by:

  • ensure your accommodation is mosquito proof
  • take measures to avoid insect bites, including using insect repellent and wearing long, loose-fitting, light-coloured clothing.
  • consider taking prophylaxis against malaria.

More information:

Medical facilities

Hospital and medical facilities are adequate for routine medical services but basic supplies and medicines can be limited.

You may need to pay in advance for medical services, including at hospitals.

In the event of a medical emergency, medical evacuation to a destination with appropriate facilities may be necessary. Medical evacuation can be very expensive.

Natural disasters

Flooding and landslides can occur with little warning throughout the country, particularly during the monsoon season (June to September). Services and transport are often affected. Contact your tour operator to check whether tourist services at your planned destination have been affected if travelling during monsoon season.

Bhutan experiences earthquakes. Seismic activity can occur at any time.

In the event of a major natural disaster, there is likely to be severe disruptions to transport and damage to essential infrastructure. Avoid unnecessary travel to any affected regions.

If a natural disaster occurs:

  • secure your passport in a safe, waterproof location or carry it on you at all times (in a waterproof bag)
  • closely monitor local media and weather reports, Bhutan’s Department of Disaster Managementand other sources such as the Global Disaster Alert and Coordination System
  • follow the advice of local authorities
  • contact friends and family in Australia with regular updates about your welfare and whereabouts.

More information: Severe weather

Where to get help

Depending on what you need, your best option may be to first contact your family, friends, travel agent, travel insurance provider, employer or airline.

Emergency phone numbers

  • Fire and rescue services: 110
  • Ambulance: 112
  • Traffic police (for road accidents): 111
  • Police (for criminal issues): 113

Always get a police report when reporting a crime.

To contact local police in a non-emergency, call +975 2 322347.

Tourism services and products

For complaints relating to tourism services or products, contact your service provider directly.

Australian Government

Read the Consular Services Charter for what the Australian Government can and can't do to help you overseas.

Australia doesn’t have an embassy or consulate in Bhutan. For consular assistance, contact the Australian High Commission in New Delhi, India.

Australian High Commission

No. 1/50 G Shantipath (Gate 1)
Chanakyapuri
New Delhi INDIA 110021   
Phone: +91 11 4139 9900
Fax: +91 11 2687 2228
Website: india.highcommission.gov.au
Email: ahc.newdelhi@dfat.gov.au

Facebook: www.facebook.com/australianhighcommissionindia

Check the Australian High Commission website for information about opening hours and temporary closures that may affect service provision.

If you’re unable to contact the High Commission in a consular emergency, contact the 24-hour Consular Emergency Centre in Canberra on +61 2 6261 3305 from oversease or 1300 555 135 within Australia.

Additional information

Additional resources