Bhutan reopened its border gates with India on September 23, and its authorities have asked all Indian visitors to carry Covid vaccination certificates with them while travelling to and from the country.
India-Bhutan border gates at Samdrup Jhongkhar and Gelephu along the Assam frontier reopened for tourists on Friday for the first time since the Covid-19 outbreak in March 2020.
“No visa is required for Indian nationals to obtain entry permits free of cost. We suggest you carry Covid-19 vaccination certificate,” said an official statement of Bhutan India Friendship Association under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Royal Government of Bhutan.
However, Drukair, the Royal Bhutan Airline, said there is no need for Covid-19 testing for inbound travellers. “However, all individuals (12 years and above) entering Bhutan are subjected to random RT-PCR testing at the formal points of entry or at the worksite to maintain Covid-19 surveillance for new variants,” Drukair said in its new guidelines for tourists.
“No fee shall be charged for the RT-PCR testing for surveillance. Anyone testing positive will be required to self-isolate for five days (without having to test at the end of the isolation period). In the case of non-Bhutanese who test positive, they must pay for isolation and treatment, if needed,” it added.
Even as the gates were opened, the Bhutanese authorities are still concerned with the new variant of Covid-19.
Replying to a question from MP Yeshey Dem in the National Assembly, Bhutan Foreign Minister Dr Tandi Dorji said that the international gates along the border were closed in March 2020 and were done as per the Covid-19 protocol.
“Though the Covid-19 cases are going down globally, the risk still exists. News in recent times showed about a new variant which is more infectious. Moreover, we are yet to vaccinate children below the age of five years. Therefore, the re-opening of gates will depend upon the situation,” Lyonpo added.
Bhutan India Friendship Association informed that this time the old system of manual registration and physical checking has been replaced by a computerised integrated check post management system at all the check posts in Bhutan. The check posts are fully equipped with modern gadgets including 24×7 CCTV surveillance.
“Bhutan is a small nation with a small population and limited resources and the only carbon-negative nation in the world. Therefore, the Tourist Council of Bhutan has been doing its best to transform the tourism sector with the theme ‘high-value low volume’,” the statement said.
“All the guests, tourists, travellers, visitors should enjoy safe, comfortable and quality services during their stay in Bhutan,” it said.
“There are no changes in rules and regulations except the collection of 200 dollars (Rs 16,000) per day per person from foreign tourists and Rs 1,200 per day per person from Indian tourists towards the Tourism Sustainable Development Fund (SDF),” it also said.
Export within the border towns shall be facilitated as usual based on the registration of voters’ identity cards (passport no photocopy or other documents are accepted by the system no fee for an entry permit.
“The regular security check and registration of the person applies to all the travellers and vehicles including Bhutanese registration vehicles and citizens at the check posts,” it added.