Bhutan Road Trip – Tourist Permit – Vehicle Permit – Inner Line Permit
Most people question: Is cross-country road trip possible? The answer is very simple – a big yes. Citizens of India can easily visit Bhutan without many formalities by obtaining a permit for visitors and vehicle. After a comfortable journey of 1750 KMs we finally reached Phuentsholing in Bhutan. The Jaigaon/Phuentsholing border is around 4-5 hours from Siliguri/Bagdogra which is well connected by air, rail, as well as road. Upon reaching Jaigaon, one can simply walk through or cross the border gate to Phuentsholing. The gates are open only till about 10 pm in the night and one can walk through or drive through without any permits or paper work formality. If making a night halt at border town, it’s advisable to stay in Phuentsholing instead of Jaigaon because of its cleanliness and quietness. Indian nationals can freely travel in Phuentsholing without any problem by their own car.
Everything said and done but tourism is still not simple in Bhutan. It’s not like other countries where you buy tickets, obtain a visa, book you hotels, and land up there. Tourism in Bhutan is not open like other countries and except natives of few countries including India others need to pay per day permit charges for their stay in Bhutan. Tourism is controlled by Tourism Control Board in Bhutan. Below are few important things before entering Bhutan:
- Itinerary for the entire tour
- Advance Hotel bookings of Thimphu and Paro on hotel’s official letter head
- A licensed Bhutanese tour guide for the extent of your stay
Welcome to Bhutan
Documents, Formalities & Permit for Indian Nationals
There are two types of permits that Indian nationals have to obtain:
Entry Permit: Immigration office at Phuentsholing issues Entry Permit that is valid for travelling upto or within Thimphu and Paro only.
ILP (Inner Line Permit)/Special Area Permit/Route Permit: To travel anywhere beyond Thimphu and Paro, one must apply for ILP at Thimphu Immigration Office. Getting an inner line permit is easier as here one just need to provide photocopy of Entry Permits to obtain the ILP.
Timings: All the Immigration Offices in Bhutan works on weekdays from 9AM – 5PM BST with a lunch break of 1 Hour (1PM – 2PM). All the Immigration Offices are closed on Weekends and Bhutan Govt. Holidays. The tour should be planned in such a way that one should enter Phuentsholing as well as Thimphu on working weekdays. We have designed our itinerary accordingly and had allocated half day for entry permit formalities for our group of 25. Immigration Counter at Paro Airport is the only exception to the above which works on all days. Please note that Bhutan Standard Time (BST) is 30 minutes ahead of Indian Standard Time (IST).
Online Permit: E-Permit is not accessible to public as of now, and you must reach out to local Authorized Bhutanese Tour Operators to get it arranged for you in advance. But if you are opting for Online Permit, you must mandatorily book take whole package (Hotels, Vehicle and Tour Guide) through them as they need to furnish those details while filling up the form.
Documents: Only Voter ID or Passport (with 6 months validity) is accepted for adults. For kids below 18 Years, Birth Certificate would suffice.
Indian nationals not carrying either a valid passport or voter ID cards may please contact Consulate General of India, Phuentsholing and apply for Identification Slip.
For details about identification slip: http://www.consulatephuentsholing.nic.in/?0668?000
NOTE : Bhutan Govt. is very strict about the permits. Ensure that your documentation are correct and in order before approaching the Immigration Office and wasting your time.
We reached Phuensholing around 12 p.m. and met our guide at hotel. We straight away started completing the paper work as directed by our guide. We completed the below requirement for submission to immigration office:
- Filled up application form
- Photocopy of Passport/Birth Certificate
- Passport size colour photograph
- Hotel Booking Reciepts – our guide arranged for the same
It took us some time to complete the documentation and by that time office was closed for lunch break. After completing the set of document we handed over the form to our guide who went ahead and submitted the same in immigration office. We reached immigration office with all members of our group and were waiting for the call from officials to complete permit formalities. The immigration office was very crowded due to the reason that previous day was a national holiday. Immigration Officials does the verification of documents and if everything is in order then they call tourist serially based on the forms accepted for biometrics. Throughout the process only one member from the group needs to stand in the queue. Finally we were called for biometric registration and went upstairs for registration at biometric counters as directed by our guide. During biometrics everyone should be present in the room as everyone will be called serially as per the group lead standing in queue. After registering biometrics we took a sigh of relief and went back to our hotel. By the time registration process was completed for all it was already 5 p.m. but there was no scope for vehicle permit on same day but we were aware that it consumes much lesser time. But we were satisfied that our target was achieved.
Extension Permit: If the planned travel in the country is for more than 7 days then first and foremost one needs to apply for extension of permit by filling and submitting a simple form along with the original permit issued in Phuentsholing at Thimphu Immigration Office.
Indian registered car’s are allowed to enter Bhutan and need to obtain a permit for the car from the Regional Transport Office in Phuensholing by paying a nominal fee. The road authority in Bhutan is the Road Safety and Transport Authority (RSTA) http://www.rsta.gov.bt/. It is important to wear formal or semi-formal dress in Bhutan especially when we are visiting any government office. After obtaining immigration permit one has to apply for vehicle permit in Phuentsholing only. You need to get your vehicle permits issued by the RSTA before you venture out of Phuentsholing. There are lots of check-post along the route where authorities check the permit and make an entry.
The below documents are required for obtaining the permit:
- Original Registration certificate – two photocopies required
- Original Insurance Paper – two photocopies required
- Original Pollution Under Control Certificate – two photocopies required
- Original Tax Paid Receipt – two photocopies required
- Original Driving License – two photocopies required (THE NAME ON THE LICENSE SHOULD BE EXACTLY SIMILAR TO THE NAME ON THE ENTRY PERMIT ISSUED BY THE IMMIGRATION)
- A simple application
- Copy of Immigration permit
- In case car is not registered in the name of person who is driving the car then an authority letter in the form of affidavit is required from the registered owner of the car
For vehicle permits, it is mandatory from drivers and along with their car to be personally present at RSTA office. We reached RSTA office in the morning with relevant documents for issuance of vehicle permit by 10 a.m. We completed the application form and attached the relevant documents for verification by the officer. It s advisable to carry original documents as well but normally they do not ask for it. The application was accepted and post that fees was deposited for relevant number of days. The logistics were being taken care of by our guide. The overall process of getting the vehicle permit didn’t take much time and we were happily out with the permit in an hour.
NOTE: If all documents are in order without any discrepancy then permit issuance becomes hassle free.
For Inner Line Permit we did not have to appear personally at immigration office in Thimphu and the formalities were completed by our guide. On the contrary for further route permit we visited the RSTA office personally but the permit was granted immediately without any issue.
Driving in Bhutan
Our guide gave us some briefing about driving in Bhutan and below is the highlights:
- Driving in Bhutan is fairly easy
- Honking is not allowed in the city
- Drivers usually do not use their horns
- Speed limits are monitored and respected
- Parking on the right side of the road is a taboo
- Uphill traffic to be given the preference.
- Right indicator means – ‘do not overtake’- If the vehicle ahead of you flashes its right indicator, it means you should not overtake that vehicle. It might have stopped for some uphill traffic or for some other reason to avoid any traffic issue. If you see a vehicle coming towards you with its right indicator flashing, means he has stopped for you and you should go towards it without worrying about traffic.
- Left indicator means you may get ahead – If the vehicle ahead of you flashes its left indicator, means it’s asking the vehicle behind it to come ahead.
- Do not use high beam at night.
- Always keep left especially at turns.
- When you reach behind a CAR at night, switch off your headlights and turn on your parking and fog lamps to avoid any reflection of your light in that car’s rear view mirror.