Bhutan is one of those few places in the world where the Indian passport doesn’t need a visa. In fact, an Indian doesn’t even need a passport to get inside this Himalayan kingdom. Such, is the good relationship between India and Bhutan. All one needs is a permit to visit Bhutan that is provided free of cost at the immigration borders.
Flying into Bhutan
If you are flying in, you will need your passport as an identification document and the permit will be provided at Paro airport’s immigration office for the duration that you wish for. You will get an exit stamp on your passport while getting out of India. And hence you will need to remember to get an entry stamp if you are entering into India overland.
Overland into Bhutan
If you are doing an overland crossing from Phuntsoling, you can either carry your passport or voters identity card. In case, you have neither of these identification cards, you can walk over to the Indian immigration office at Jaigaon (on the India side), show your PAN Card, driving license, ration card, etc. and get a special ID made for you by the Indian immigration.
While doing the overland crossing, there is no need to get an exit stamp on your passport. You can simply walk into the Bhutan immigration office with two passport size photographs and a copy of your identification (passport or voters identity card). You will be given a entry form to fill and upon doing so, your photograph will be taken and your necessary permits will be given to you in about 30 minutes. These permits will be valid for 7 days and can be extended at the immigration office in Thimphu. These permits allow you to visit the Thimphu and Paro area only. For other areas, special route permits need to be taken.
If you are just visiting only Phuntsoling, no permits are required. It is a porous border here. But, permits are required for beyond Phuntsoling.
Extension of Permits at Thimphu
If you are planning to stay in Bhutan for more than one week, you will need to get your permits extended at the immigration office in Thimphu. This office is situated in the middle of Thimphu on Norzin Lam and is open on weekdays between 9 AM and 4 PM. It is best to walk in to the office first thing in the morning for a shorter turnaround. Once you are armed with copies of your identification documents and your initial permits, you will be given a form to fill for the extension and once the needful has been done, your extension will be ready in less than 30 minutes. And there is no cost to getting this done.
Special Route Permits, Trekking Permits and Temple Permits
The standard permits for all tourists to Bhutan include visits to Thimphu and Paro only. If you wish to visit other areas like Punakha, Haa, Wangdi, Trongsa, Bumthang or East Bhutan, then you need to apply for special route permits. The process is again simple as above and can be done at the Thimphu immigration office. A simple form needs to be filled along with the dates required for these destinations. If you are traveling independently, you will easily get permits till Bumthang in Central Bhutan. To travel further east from Bumthang to Mongar, Trashigang, Lhuntse, Trashi Yangtze and/or Samdrup Jongkhar, either a local Bhutanese friend or a local travel agent needs to vouch for your safety. Again, such permits take less than 30 minutes and is free of cost.
Similar process can be followed for temple permits and trekking permits.
All these permits are routinely checked and stamped at each check point across Bhutan and finally on your return, these permits are collected at your last check point.
P.S. If you are a foreign national (Not from India, Bangladesh or Maldives), then you need to go through an authorized travel agent and get all this done prior to arriving in Bhutan.