What makes Bhutan a unique country to travel to?
Bhutan is a small, land-locked Himalayan country that completed its transition from an absolute monarchy to a constitutional monarchy in 2008. The United States does not have diplomatic relations with Bhutan and there is no U.S. diplomatic presence there. Consular issues relating to Bhutan, including assistance to U.S. citizens, are handled by the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi.
There is relatively little crime in Bhutan. Petty crime, such as pick-pocketing and purse snatching, is occasionally reported. While generally safe, the capital Thimphu has begun to see burglaries, street fights, and an increasing, although still small, number of drug abusers. Reasonable precautions should be taken when visiting the town and, in particular, when going out at night.
Do not buy counterfeit and pirated goods, even if they are widely available. Not only are the bootlegs illegal in the United States, but you may also be breaking local law.
While you are traveling in Bhutan, you are subject to its laws even if you are a U.S. citizen. Foreign laws and legal systems can be vastly different from our own. In some places, you may be taken in for questioning if you don’t have your passport with you. In some places, it is illegal to take pictures of certain buildings. In some places driving under the influence could land you immediately in jail. These criminal penalties will vary from country to country. There are also some things that might be legal in the country you visit, but still illegal in the United States, and you can be prosecuted under U.S. law if you buy pirated goods. Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime, prosecutable in the United States. If you break local laws in Bhutan, your U.S. passport won’t help you avoid arrest or prosecution. It’s very important to know what’s legal and what’s not where you are going.
While some countries will automatically notify the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate if a U.S. citizen is detained or arrested in a foreign country, that might not always be the case. To ensure that the United States is aware of your circumstances, request that the police and prison officials notify the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate as soon as you are arrested or detained overseas. Although no formal diplomatic relations exist between the United States and Bhutan, engagement is maintained through the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi, India.
Medical Facilities and Health Information
Medical facilities in the populated areas in Bhutan such as Thimphu and Paro are available but may be limited or unavailable in rural areas. U.S. citizens in need of urgent medical care should try to get to the Jigme Dorji Wangchuck National Referral Hospital in the capital city, Thimphu. For emergency services in Thimphu, dial 113 for police or 112 for an ambulance. Medical services may not meet Western standards, and some medicines are in short supply. Certain emergency medical services are provided free of charge to all tourists. Visitors planning to trek in Bhutan should pay special attention to the risk of altitude illness. Altitude sickness is a risk above 8,000 feet and travelers to that altitude should consult an appropriate health care provider 4 to 6 weeks before their trip. Treks in Bhutan can take visitors days or weeks away from the nearest medical facility. Helicopter evacuation from remote areas in Bhutan is available through the registered tour operators at the U.S. citizen’s expense. The U.S. Embassy in New Delhi can also help arrange evacuations through private companies at the U.S. citizen’s expense. We strongly urge you to ensure that your medical insurance covers such evacuations, which can be extremely expensive.
The Government of Bhutan recommends that visitors obtain tetanus, typhoid, and hepatitis A inoculations before traveling to Bhutan. Hepatitis B, Japanese Encephalitis, and rabies vaccines are recommended for prolonged stays for people at risk. The influenza vaccine is also recommended.
Tuberculosis is an increasingly serious health concern in Bhutan. For further information, please consult the CDC's information on TB.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the risk of malaria exists in rural areas below 1,700m (5,577ft) in the southern belt districts of Bhutan (Chirang, Geylegphug, Samchi, Samdrup Jongkhar, and Shemgang) along the border with India. Dengue is also a risk; you should take measures to prevent insect/mosquito bites in the higher-risk areas in the south from July to December.
Although yellow fever is not a disease risk in Bhutan, the government requires travelers arriving from countries where yellow fever is present to present proof of yellow fever vaccination.
Safety and Security
In May and October, 2011 small improvised explosive devices were detonated in the southern border towns of Phuentsholing and Gelephu. These were the first such reported incidents of these types for several years. Except for one bombing that took place in the capital, Thimphu, most of the other incidents occurred in areas near the border, far from tourist destinations, and resulted in little damage. The government has blamed various groups for these bombings. Groups demanding the repatriation of Nepali-speaking Bhutanese refugees currently living in camps in Nepal have in the past resorted to protests and small-scale violence.
Traffic Safety and Road Conditions
While in Bhutan, you may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Bhutan is provided for general reference only and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
General road conditions outside urban areas are poor, and emergency services generally are not available. Because of the mountainous terrain, roads tend to have steep drop-offs and blind curves. During heavy rains, there is a risk of falling rocks and landslides which can block roads. However, because Bhutan requires tourists to arrange their trips through registered tour operators and travel in groups with experienced drivers, most tourists will not drive themselves.