Bhutan Pre-departure Guide

Bhutan Pre-departure Guide

This Bhutan Pre-departure Guide is intended to offer guidance in good faith, covering the typical conditions encountered during general touring trips in Bhutan. It does not pertain to trekking or remote destinations

General Facts

Full Country Name: Kingdom of Bhutan (Locally known as Druk or Drukyul, and its people are called Drukpa). Bhutan or Bhutanese is a Western term adopted more recently.
Area: 47,000 sq. km (18,200 sq. mi.)
Population: As of September 2021, estimated at 779,898.
Capital City: Thimphu (population estimated around 115,000). Altitude – 2200m.
Airports: Paro (PBH) is the main international airport located in Paro,which is 55kms/50 min drive away from Thimphu. Bumthang in central Bhutan and Yongphula in the east near Trashigang and Gelephu in the south are all domestic airports. Plans are underway to make Gelephu an international airport.
Languages: Dzongkha is the official language, with many dialects spoken across the country. English is widely spoken and is the medium of instruction in schools. Sharchopkha, an Indo–Mongoloid language, is dominant in eastern Bhutan. Nepali is spoken in the south.
Religion: Predominately Himalayan Buddhists with 20% Hindus and few Christians.
Government: Constitutional Monarchy.
King: Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck – He ascended the throne in December 09, 2006.
Time: Only one time zone. Local time is 6 hours ahead of GMT (London UK time).
Telephone: Country code is 975. To dial out of Bhutan: 00 + country code + number.
Electricity: Bhutan operates on a 230V supply voltage and 50Hz frequency, using C, D, and M plug types, just like its neighboring countries, India and Nepal. Depending on your devices, you may need a travel adapter with a step-up or step-down voltage converter. We also recommend using surge protection due to power surges or fluctuations.
Business Hours: Saturday and Sunday are the weekly off days for all Government Offices including Banks. Private sector offices close on Sundays and Saturdays are usually half day. Business hours are usually from 9 am till 5 pm.

Money, Currency & Budget

The currency in Bhutan is the Ngultrum, which is pegged to the value of the Indian Rupee, resulting in a similar exchange rate. While the rupee is also legal tender, larger denominations such as Indian Rs. 500 and Rs. 1000 are not legally accepted due to some counterfeiting issues, although shops seem to have no problem accepting them. Smaller denominations such as Rs. 100, Rs. 50, Rs. 20, and Rs. 10 are legal tender. Foreign currency notes such as US dollars and Euro 100 or 50 have a slightly higher exchange rate than smaller denominations.
Credit Cards & ATMS: Credit cards are accepted only at a small number of establishments, such as international brand hotels and some gift shops. While ATMs generally work, it’s still recommended to carry some cash as some places do not have ATMs.
Budgeting for expenses: If you have prepaid for all your meals, budget between $20-50 per day per person for additional expenses such as alcoholic beverages, soft drinks, offering at temples, gratuities, a few souvenirs, and laundry.

Tour Package Inclusions/Exclusion

If you have booked one of Wind Horse Tours’ packages, they typically include:
• Accommodation
• A guide
• Entrance fees
• Vehicle/driver
• Visa fees
• Sustainable Development Fee (SDF)
• Some meals (please refer to your program)
• Bottled water is provided in the vehicle but not in restaurants.

Please note that the package does not include:
• Bar beverages
• Laundry
• Gifts
• Tips/gratuities
• Offering in the temples
• Personal expenses
All of the above are not included in your package, unless specifically mentioned.

Vaccinations, Medical – Health

We highly recommend consulting with your doctor well in advance of your travel to ensure you are adequately prepared for any health-related risks in Bhutan. While there are no vaccination requirements for entry into Bhutan, it’s essential to be aware of potential health risks during your visit. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization recognize a risk of malaria in certain areas of South East Asia and South Asia, including Bhutan’s southern foothills. However, unless your itinerary includes towns such as Phuentsholing, Samdrup Jongkhar, or Gelephu, malaria should not be a concern.
Your safety and well-being are our top priorities. If you have any medical conditions, allergies, or dietary restrictions, please inform us so that we can communicate this information to your guides and relevant service providers, ensuring your comfort and safety throughout your journey.

Shopping in Bhutan

For those who love shopping and bringing home gifts, Bhutan offers a variety of goods mainly revolving around textiles, crafts, and arts. You may find hand-woven textiles made of raw silk or silk, carved masks depicting various animals, woven baskets of cane and bamboo, wooden bowls, handmade paper products, and finely crafted silver goods. Additionally, you can shop for thangkha paintings and Bhutan’s exquisite postage stamps. These items are available in many handicraft shops in and around Thimphu and major towns. However, please remember that buying and selling antiques is strictly forbidden in Bhutan.


To discover our recommended books on Bhutan, please visit our website. We strongly advise reading a variety of books to gain a realistic understanding of the country and enhance your enjoyment during your visit
Guide Books:
1. Lonely Planet Bhutan
2. Odyssey Guide Bhutan by Francoise Pommaret

You will find list of other books on our website at

Wind Horse in Bhutan:

(When in Bhutan, Contact our operation Office)
Wind Horse Tours, Treks & Expeditions
Opposite Motithang High School
Thimphu, Bhutan
Phone: +975- 2-326026
You will also receive the contact details of the local person assigned for your file when we send you final document.

Immigration Visa & Customs Requirements

All visitors (with the exception of Indian passport holders) must apply for a visa prior to arrival. Visas are not granted abroad by Bhutan embassies or foreign missions. They are processed at the Immigration Department in Thimphu by Wind Horse Tours or your local tour operator/host organizations.
A pre-approved visa is sent to you in digital format. The actual visa will only be stamped upon arrival based on this prior approval. The visa cost of $40 is included as a part of your package. There are no provisions for applying for a visa upon arrival, and you will not be allowed to board the flight into Bhutan without this pre-approved visa.

A clear, uncut, scanned color copy of the passport pages with personal details, along with a passport-size photograph (via email) and proof of travel insurance that includes your name on the certificate, are required for processing your visa. Passports must be valid for 6 months beyond the intended stay. Tickets and documents for return or onward travel are also necessary.

Visas for countries you transit before or after Bhutan: Check visa requirements for transiting countries. If you are transiting in India, you must apply for an Indian visa in advance. Nepal visas can be obtained upon arrival.

Customs: The following articles are exempted from duty:
a) Personal effects and articles for day-to-day use by the visitor.
b) 2 liters of alcohol.
c) Instruments, apparatus, or appliances for professional use.
d) Photographic equipment, video cameras, and other electronic goods for personal use. The articles mentioned under c) & d) must be declared on the Customs Form. If such items are disposed of in Bhutan by sale or given away as gifts, they are liable for customs duty. Import and export of the following goods are strictly prohibited:
• Arms, ammunition, explosives, and military stores.
• All narcotics and drugs; (medically prescribed drugs are exempted)
• Wildlife products, especially those of endangered species.
• Antiques: Visitors are advised to be cautious in purchasing old and used items. Customs authorities will not allow any old/used items to be taken out of the country if they have not been certified as non-antique.
As laws regarding the importation of cigarettes change, we advise that if you plan to bring cigarettes, please inquire with us at the time of your travel.

SDF – Sustainable Development Fee for Bhutan

Since the reopening of tourism post-COVID, the SDF has undergone several revisions. Currently, it is pegged at USD $100 per person per night, down from $200 in 2021. For Indian passport holders, the SDF is 1200 per day. This is the current SDF status as of February 2024. However, it may change in the future.

Travel Insurance

Travel insurance is mandatory for all travelers visiting Bhutan. While basic travel insurance can be purchased from Bhutan Insurance Corp in Thimphu, we strongly advise purchasing comprehensive coverage from your country of residence.

Your travel insurance should cover personal accidents, death, medical expenses, and emergency repatriation, including air ambulance and helicopter rescue services. We recommend a minimum coverage of US $200,000 for each category. Additionally, it’s essential to have insurance that includes cancellation, curtailment, personal liability, and coverage for loss of luggage and personal effects.
Ensuring adequate travel insurance coverage is crucial for your safety and peace of mind during your journey to Bhutan.

Airlines / Luggage Allowance

Druk Air (the national carrier) and Bhutan Airlines are currently the only two airlines operating in and out of Bhutan. Both airlines operate Airbus A319 and A320 aircraft. Additionally, there is the ATR 42, primarily utilized for internal flights between Paro and Bumthang, Yongphula, and Gelephu.

Due to Paro airport’s “daylight restricted” status and its susceptibility to weather conditions, flights can sometimes experience delays. It is recommended that guests allocate a 24-hour transit time for connecting flights out of Paro to account for potential delays or cancellations.

Flights into Paro may also be affected by adverse weather conditions. In such cases, flights may not depart from the airport of origin. To prepare for such circumstances, it is advisable to carry essential personal items such as medications, toiletries, and a minimal amount of currency in your carry-on luggage.

Hand baggage allowance on Druk Air is limited to one piece, with dimensions not exceeding 45+35+20 cm (17 ½ +13 ½ +8 inches) and a weight limit of 5 kg (11 lbs) for Economy Class and 7 kg for Business Class. Passengers are typically permitted to bring one additional personal item such as a purse, laptop, or camera onboard.

Checked baggage allowance varies based on the class of travel. Economy Class passengers are allowed 30 kg (66 lbs) of checked baggage, while Business Class passengers are permitted 40 kg (88 lbs). Excess baggage charges apply for weights exceeding the specified allowance and are calculated based on the route, with charges applied per extra kilogram.

Bags / Luggage

For touring or day hike trips with hotel stays, you have the option of bringing either a suitcase or a backpack with wheels. We recommend choosing a bag with carry straps or handles for ease of lifting and carrying, especially on rough surfaces or when navigating steps. It’s advisable to pack as lightly as possible to ensure you can manage your luggage comfortably, including lifting and carrying it for short distances or up and down stairs. Travelers often find that smaller luggage enhances their experience by reducing the burden of heavy bags. Aim to keep your main luggage under 15kg/33Lbs.
Additionally, remember to bring a day pack or bag for carrying essentials such as water, camera, hiking shoes, and a jacket when exploring during the day.

Phone & Internet

While internet access in Bhutan may be slower compared to other countries, it’s generally sufficient for making calls or uploading posts. Most hotels offer free WiFi, allowing you to stay connected during your stay. Alternatively, you can purchase a local SIM card and data plan at an affordable price, enabling internet access on the go in most areas, including villages. However, keep in mind that due to the terrain, there may be areas with limited connectivity or dead spots.


If you’re touring (not trekking) in Bhutan, serious altitude sickness (Acute Mountain Sickness or AMS) is uncommon based on our experience. However, it’s still wise to consult your physician before traveling.
During tours, road journeys may reach altitudes exceeding 3000 meters (10,000 feet), and over 3800m when crossing over to Haa if your itinerary includes Haa. However, immediate descents into valleys typically prevent altitude sickness. AMS results from rapid ascents to high altitudes and spending time there, and it can be fatal if ignored. To acclimatize, allow your body time to adjust to lower oxygen levels. Our itineraries start with easy days and gradually become more challenging, allowing for acclimatization. Stay hydrated, listen to your body, and speak with your guide if altitude concerns arise.

Road & Transport

The road quality in Bhutan varies significantly, especially in proximity to major towns like Thimphu and Paro. Consequently, even short distances may take longer than anticipated due to the winding nature of the roads, narrow passages, and our drivers’ cautious driving for your comfort. Additionally, occasional road repairs, upgrades, and landslides can cause delays. There are no traffic lights in Bhutan.


For the most part, unless you’ve opted for alternative accommodation, you’ll typically stay in 3-star hotels where available. These hotels and guesthouses offer comfortable rooms with basic amenities and a traditional ambiance. While hotels in western Bhutan are generally better equipped, those in central and eastern regions are more modest, with fewer amenities. If you’re traveling to remote locations such as Zhemgang, Tingtibi, Merak, Sakten, Trashiyantse, and so forth, expect even more basic lodging. It’s important to note that the star classification in Bhutan doesn’t align with the international Star Accreditation System. Therefore, don’t expect a 3-star or 4-star hotel in Bhutan to match those in developed cities.


Generally, meals will be buffet style and taken in your lodging and sometimes in local restaurants.
Lunches and dinners normally include a selection of western, Chinese, or Indian style dishes, with some local specialties on occasion. Rice and vegetable dishes are always present for every meal. Vegetarians are well catered for and meat is the exception rather than the rule with most meals. You will be provided with the opportunity to try local food. Staples for Bhutanese are red rice and dishes with Chilies.
Restaurants will cook four or five dishes to share in a group.
Choices are limited and feedback has suggested that the food isn’t the main reason to visit Bhutan. Meals may become a little monotonous with similar offerings at most restaurants.

Dress & Clothing

Bhutan is quite conservative, and you should dress accordingly. Wearing shorts is not allowed in Dzongs and religious monuments. During your tour, opt for full sleeves and full-length pants or skirts. If necessary, consider bringing ¾ pants for day hikes.
Casual attire is common among visitors, so there’s no need for fancy clothing. Laundry services are available at most hotels for your convenience. Given Bhutan’s unpredictable weather, it’s advisable to carry a water and windproof jacket, along with a hat and sunscreen, as rain can occur at any time of the year.
Due to varying altitudes, temperatures in Bhutan can fluctuate significantly. Layering is key to staying comfortable, so pack accordingly with a wind/waterproof outer shell, inner wool or fleece liner, light down jacket, and quick-dry travel shirt. Additionally, bring extra thermal underwear for colder weather, as well as warm mittens/gloves and headwear/cap

Dress in Bhutan tends to be casual, and it is rare to see visitors with any fancy clothes. Should you need laundry service, it will be available at the hotel.
A water and windproof jacket, a hat and sunscreen are essential. In fact, it can rain at any time of the year.
Due to the altitude, it can be cold in the mountains even in the summer and hot in the Sun even in winter, so layering in the best for Bhutan at all times. Bring a wind/waterproof outer shell, inner wool or fleece liner, a light down and a quick-dry travel shirt with a extra thermal underwear incase of cold weather.
Consider bringing warm mittens/gloves and a cozy headwear or cap


While hiking boots with ankle support are recommended, they’re not essential for tours without extensive hikes. Comfortable walking or running shoes are preferable over formal shoes, regardless of your hiking plans. Consider bringing a second pair of shoes if your trip exceeds 4-5 days.
Rugged-bottom sandals are perfect for leisurely walks around town and within the hotel.
Footwear must be removed upon entering Buddhist temples and shrines, where the floors can be chilly. Thus, bringing warm socks can be very useful.
Other Essentials:
Pack your own toiletries and a small medical kit, along with insect repellent, lip balm, and an ample supply of any prescribed medication. Consider bringing favorite snacks, flashlights, books, and games to pass the time during your journey.

Jet Lag

To combat the fatigue and insomnia often experienced when crossing multiple time zones, we recommend the following:
Before your trip: Ensure you are well-rested and avoid last-minute activities. If traveling east, try adjusting your sleep schedule to go to bed and wake up earlier a few days before departure; if traveling west, try staying up later. Reduce consumption of caffeinated beverages.
During your flights: Consume meals in moderation and avoid alcohol and caffeine. Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water and other fluids to counteract dehydration caused by airplane air. Attempt to sleep or rest with your eyes closed. When awake, take occasional walks, stretch, and find uncrowded areas to stand.
Upon arrival: Eat a high-protein meal, engage in stretching, walking, yoga, or breathing exercises. A shower or swim can be beneficial. Avoid falling asleep until evening in your destination and stick to regular meal times. If arriving at a high altitude, prioritize rest.

Tour Guides & Drivers

At Wind Horse Tours, we prioritize excellence and professionalism in our guides and drivers. All our Bhutanese guides are licensed by the Department of Tourism (Tourism Council) and are graduates of English medium schools, holding at least a High School Diploma (10+2). While English is their second language, they are proficient speakers with a solid understanding of the language.
Our team comprises both full-time and contracted guides, including both male and female professionals. They are selected based on their demeanor, passion, hard work, and integrity, ensuring that they represent the best in the industry. We maintain fair compensation and treat our staff with respect, leading to high retention rates among tour operators.
This commitment to excellence ensures that our guests receive exceptional service and enjoy a memorable experience during their time in Bhutan.

Tipping Guidelines

While tipping isn’t mandatory in Bhutan, it’s highly appreciated, particularly by workers in the tourism sector who may only have employment for part of the year. Tips significantly contribute to their income. A suggested amount is USD$10-15 per day for tour guides and $7-10 per day for drivers, based on a group of two.
In restaurants, a 10% service charge is typically included in the bill. However, if you enjoyed their food and services, leaving an additional 10% on the final bill is optional as a token of appreciation.

Geography, Climate /Seasons

Bhutan’s climate varies widely based on elevation, ranging from tropical conditions in the southern border areas to perpetual snow cover in the high Himalayas located just 150km (93mi) north. At the same latitude as Miami and Cairo, Bhutan’s climate is largely determined by its elevation.
Most tourist visited areas are a year-round destination which in general experiences warm days and cool nights with temperatures only getting below freezing on winter nights from late December till mid February.
The seasons can be broken down as follows:
Autumn: Late September to November – warm days and cool nights – max 23oC vs min 2oC – (especially cold at high camps) with the chance of rain – camping trek season.
Winter: December to February – crisp sunny days great for mountain views and cold dry nights – max 20oC vs. min -4oC – snow may fall but won’t settle for long in Western and Central valleys.
Spring: March to May – warm days and cool nights – max 24oC vs min 2oC
Summer: June to August – warm days and balmy nights with rain most afternoons – max 26oC vs. min 14o C.
For more information, visit our Bhutan Climate & Season page

Jet Lag

To combat the fatigue and insomnia that often results from crossing multiple time zones, we recommend the following:
Before your trip: Be as well rested as possible. Try to avoid last-minute flurries of activity. If traveling east, try going to bed and getting up earlier for a few days before departure; if traveling west, try staying up late and so forth. Cut back on caffeinated beverages.
During your flights: Eat sparingly. Avoid alcohol and caffeinated beverages. Drink plenty of water and other liquids because airplane air can dehydrate you and aggravate jet-lag symptoms.
Try to sleep or rest with eyes closed. When awake, try to occasionally walk, stretch, and stand in un-crowded areas.
On arrival: East a high protein meal, stretch, walk, do yoga or breathing exercises. A shower or a swim can be a great help. Don’t let yourself fall asleep until it is evening in your destination, and eat meals at normal times there. If you are arriving at a high altitude, full rest is highly recommended.

Safety and Security

Bhutan is known for its low crime rate, making it one of the safest travel destinations globally. The local population is renowned for its honesty and hospitality, offering travelers a sense of security unmatched in many other countries.
However, it’s always wise to exercise caution while traveling. Keep your valuables secured and consider using the hotel safe for additional peace of mind. With our guides and drivers accompanying you throughout the trip, you can rest assured knowing that you have knowledgeable support to navigate any situation that may arise.

Culture & Differences

When visiting monasteries and temples, it’s important not to wear hats, and shoes should be removed outside the shrine. Smoking, consuming alcohol, or using narcotics in and around these religious sites is strictly prohibited, as is loud behavior such as shouting or laughing. Additionally, avoid pointing with your forefinger at people, religious figures, or statues; instead, use a stretched palm as a respectful gesture. When visiting temples and monasteries, small donations or offerings are appreciated, so change into smaller denominations at the start of your trip.
Always walk clockwise around monasteries, Chortens (stupas), and Prayer Wheels.
Photography is usually permitted in public areas like courtyards and dance grounds, but it’s not allowed inside the chapels of religious complexes.
Bhutan’s marketplaces offer a refreshingly straightforward experience compared to other parts of Asia. Prices are usually fixed, sparing visitors the need for bargaining. However, it’s still acceptable to engage in moderate negotiation, with discounts of around 10-15% being common.
Furthermore, it’s worth noting that Bhutanese culture tends to embrace a relaxed approach, with individuals preferring to respond to opportunities as they emerge, rather than assertively taking control. Punctuality may not always be strictly observed, so don’t expect events to start at an exact time. In Bhutan, it’s best to adopt a relaxed mindset, stay open-minded, and let the cultural experience enrich your life.
Peter Matthiessen, in his book “Snow Leopard,” suggests that if you expect nothing, then everything that happens is for the good. Embracing this perspective encourages a mindset of openness and adaptability, allowing travelers to appreciate each experience as it unfolds.
Similarly, John Steinbeck eloquently captures the essence of travel, stating, “We do not take a trip; a trip takes us.” This sentiment underscores the idea that travel is more than just a physical journey—it’s an opportunity for personal growth and discovery.
In Bhutan, adopting such attitudes can enrich your cultural experience, enabling you to fully immerse yourself in the unique beauty and charm of the country.

Itinerary Disclaimer

While we strive to adhere to the itinerary outlined in your program, please note that there is a degree of flexibility built into the schedule. At times, adjustments may be necessary or preferable due to factors such as availability or unforeseen circumstances.

Our itineraries are intentionally brief, reflecting the spontaneous nature of our journeys. As such, travel with us can be unpredictable, and we may venture off the beaten path. While the itinerary provides a general framework for the tour and region, it does not guarantee visits to specific destinations, hotels, or encounters with wildlife.

Additionally, any travel times indicated are approximate and subject to change based on local conditions and circumstances. We appreciate your understanding and flexibility as we embark on this adventure together.

Bhutan Trekking Guide & Checklist: If you have booked a trekking or walking holiday with Wind Horse, please contact us for an additional guide and checklist.


Prepare for your trip


  • Check the expiration date on your passport; many countries require a minimum of 6 months’ validity from the date of entry.
  • Visa: Apply for visas for countries you plan to visit or transit through. Wind Horse will handle the visa process for Bhutan. Note that visas for countries like China (including Tibet) and India cannot be obtained upon arrival.
  • Schedule medical and dental checkups, and get any necessary vaccinations.
  • Consider starting an exercise program to prepare for treks or hikes during your travels.
  • Purchase travel insurance.
  • Prepare a checklist of items to pack.


  • Confirm all reservations.
  • Withdraw cash from the bank, preferably requesting crisp fresh notes.
  • Finish shopping for your trip, including clothes and other essentials, and begin packing your luggage.
  • Review your insurance coverage for expiration dates and ensure it covers your belongings both at home and during travel.
  • Secure your valuables and jewelry in a safety deposit box or another secure location.


  • Minimize purchasing fresh items like milk and fruit that may spoil before your departure.
  • Finish packing most of your things to take and assess their weight for comfort.
  • Ensure your luggage is labeled with identification inside and out.
  • Adjust your sleeping and eating habits to align with your destination’s time zone.
  • Take pictures of your credit cards, passports, prescriptions, and other important documents.
  • Alert the police/ security company to treat any alarms as genuine .
  • Check prescriptions for necessary refills.
  • Retrieve all items from the dry cleaners.



  • Pay any bills due during your absence.
  • Move houseplants, plan water etc.
  • Empty the refrigerator of perishable items.
  • Arrange for the cancellation or hold of mail, newspaper delivery, or other regular services.
  • Adjust the refrigerator to its desired setting
  • Set timers for lights and other electronics as needed.


  • Turn off or adjust the settings of the water heater, air conditioner, and heaters.
  • Adjust shades or drapes as desired.
  • Securely lock all doors and windows and activate the security alarm.
  • Unplug electronic items, including computers, to safeguard against power surges during storms.
  • Park the car in the garage and, if necessary, remove the battery.
  • Check the garage door to ensure it is closed and secure
Your adventure. Our expertise.

Difference with Windhorse

Wind Horse Tours is well established adventure travel outfitter since 1998. We specialise in small group journeys and personalised custom private trips to Bhutan, India, Nepal and Tibet. Guide Books, Bhutan Tourism and several popular travel organisation recognises Wind Horse Tours as a leading tour operator for the region.

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