Travelers can avoid paying some daily tourist fees in Bhutan if they stay at least five nights.

Last week, Bhutan announced the changes it had made to its Sustainable Development Fee headlines after jumping from $65 to $200 in a day when the country reopened its borders in September.

Passengers who pay the SDF for the first four days can stay the next four days without paying the fee, according to an announcement on the Bhutan Ministry of Tourism website.

Similarly, passengers who pay the fee for the first seven days can stay for another seven days without paying for the second week, while those who pay 12 days are exempt from paying it for 18 days after that, the agency said.

This equates to a $600 savings for tourists staying a week and a $3,600 savings for those staying monthly.

The changes, valid from June 1, are intended to encourage vacationers to stay longer. Bhutan’s Department of Immigration has created a website where travelers can calculate potential savings as part of various incentive programs.

Travelers who have already booked trips to Bhutan can take advantage of the new incentives by canceling their visas and reapplying for new ones, according to the announcement.

Government officials are quick to point out that Bhutan’s SDF has not changed, however, and remains at $200 per passenger per night.

The new fee incentives — which officials called “promotion” — are to remain in effect until the end of 2024, after which “the standard SDF will again apply,” the tourism ministry said.

Controversial charge

Spending at least $200 a day is nothing new for travelers to Bhutan.

Before the pandemic, tourists had to spend at least $200 to $250 per day, which was often bundled into tour packages that included hotel, food and transportation, as well as the SDF, which was $65 at the time.

Bhutan abolished this spending structure in 2022 in favor of a set SDF of US$200 for all tourists except:

  • Children 6 to 11 years of age who pay 50% of the daily SDF or $100 per visit;
  • Children under the age of 5 who are exempt from the fee.

Indian nationals are additionally charged 1,200 rupees per night ($14.50), while day visitors to Bhutan’s border towns do not have to pay the SDF.

Proponents of Bhutan’s $200 daily fee say it supports the country’s goal of attracting “high-value, low-volume” tourists who can afford the fees, which will go toward upgrading infrastructure, protecting the environment and creating jobs. which provide fair wages and working conditions.

But others say the increased rates are “elitist” and will damage the country’s tourism industry, which has already been reeling from the Covid-19 pandemic.

This was followed by reports that officials were considering changing the SDF discussion between Bhutan Prime Minister Lotay Tshering and members of Bhutan’s tourism and business communities in April, according to a local media report.

After citizens argued that tourism fees were hurting investment in the country and discouraging long vacations, Tshering assured community members that changes were in the works, the report said.

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