Lord Buddha: “The thoughts of peoples and their ways and wills, those too great the law binds, more is the treasure of the law than gems”.

In its roots Bhutanese Law is similar to Tibetan Law and refers to the same basic texts and principles of Lamaist Buddhism. It also reflects the culture and ways of life of the Bhutanese people and so customary law has also shaped its development. The first set of laws was promulgated by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal in 1652. These emphasised the principles of Mahayana Buddhism.   During the time of Deb Umzed Tenzin Drugyel there was a codification of the law, including the ten pious acts, known as Lhachoc Gyewa Chu (including charity and benevolence) , and the sixteen virtuous acts of social piety, known as Michoe Tsangma Chudrug.

The codes continued to be developed, influenced by developments in neighbouring Buddhist countries. In particular, the 10th Desi, Mipham Wangpo consolidated and amended parts of the Code of Zhabdrung. Desi Chogyal Sherub Wangchuk also made amendments in the mid-18th century. Further changes came during the reigns of the first and second Druk Gyalpo.

Major changes were introduced during the reign of the third Druk Gyalpo when the National Assembly enacted a comprehensive codified law for the country known as the Thrimzhung Chhenmo referred to in English as the Supreme Law of 1957. The fourth Druk Gyalpo initiated changes to the code and supplemental legislative measures reflecting the needs of a changing society and a developing economy.

The Civil and Criminal Procedure Code came into effect on 23 July 2001. The new Penal Code came into force on 11 August 2004. These have been influenced by Common Law systems, particularly that of the USA. There is no Civil Code. Most of the matters that would usually be contained in such a code are set out in numerous Acts and regulations.

Rules and Regulations for Tour Operations in Bhutan 1999

Art. 1  Licensing

Those engaged in the business of tour operations must have a licence. The Article sets out the criteria: The applicant must

  • Be a Bhutanese national;
  • Have attained majority (18 yrs old);
  • Submit a police clearance certificate;
  • Complete all formalities prescribed by the Rules and Regulations for Establishment and Operation of Industrial and Commercial Ventures in Bhutan 1997.

The fees are set at Nu 1000 on registration and Nu 25000 annual fees.

Art 2   Grant of Licences

The Licensing Authority issues the licence on approval being given by the DOT.

Art 3   Establishment

The licensee must have an office with adequate communications facilities. Any change of address etc. must be notified to the DOT.

Art 4   Employees

  • Those employed as tour guides must have a valid tour guide’s licence.
  • The tour operator must ensure that the tour guide complies with the relevant codes of conduct.
  • Drivers must have valid driving licences.
  • All employees must submit police clearance certificates.
  • All employees must be Bhutanese nationals.

Art 5   Transport

  • Vehicles must have valid fitness certificates issued by the RSTA.
  • Vehicles must be registered with the DOT for inspection and certification.
  • Vehicles must have valid comprehensive insurance.

Art 6   Accommodation and Food

  • International tourists should only be lodged in DOT approved and classified accommodation in accordance with the Rules and Regulations on Accommodation for International Tourists 1999.
  • The tour operator must ensure that tourists are provided with a high standard of service.
  • The package must follow the minimum meal entitlements laid down in the regulations.

Art 7   Visas and Permits

  • Applications must be submitted by the tour operator on the prescribed form to the DOT allowing them a week to process them with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
  • As far as possible, three copies of the original passport-sized photographs must be furnished to the DOT. If not, the tourist must bring photographs at the point of entry.
  • All applications, requests etc. in respect of visas must go to through the DOT.
  • All requests for other types of permits must also go though the DOT.

Art 8   Tariff and Payment Procedures

  • The RGOB will fix the minimum daily package rate.
  • The package rate will be all-inclusive.
  • The break up of the rate into its component parts is set out in the Schedule of Tariff for International Tourists 1999.

Art 9   Restricted Areas

  • The tour operator must not take tourists to restricted areas.
  • The RGOB will issue a list of places open to tourists.

Art 10 Penalties

  • Fine of Nu 5000 for every first instance violation.
  • Fine of Nu 10000 for every second instance violation.
  • Cancellation of the licence and ban from the profession for any subsequent violation.

Art 11 Interpretation

In any dispute concerning the interpretation of the regulations the decision of the DOT is final and binding.

Schedule of Tariff for International Tourists

Art 1   Minimum Tourist Tariff

For a group of 3 or more:

  • High Season (March-May, September-November): $200 per person per night
  • Low Season (January, February, June-August, December): $165 per person per night

The minimum package includes:

  • Royalty.
  • Accommodation.
  • Tour guide services.
  • Transport within Bhutan.
  • Riding ponies and pack animals.

On the day of departure, meals include breakfast only.

These rules are to be uniformly applied irrespective of the locations or types of accommodation provided.

Art 2   Tariff for Individuals and Small Groups.

Individuals and couples:

Additional charge of $40 per individual per night of $30 per person per night if a couple.

The 10% agency commission payable to agents abroad is not deductible from the surcharge imposed in this Article.

The surcharge is not applicable to foreign travel agents on business or promotional visits approved and cleared by the DOT.

Art3    Agency Commission

  • 10% of the gross tour payment payable to principals abroad as commission and is deductible by them at source.
  • Commission is calculable from the net amount after deducting discounts applicable.

Art 4   Royalties and Other Levies

  • $65 per night for the high season.
  • $55 per night for the low season.
  • $10 per person for the Tourism Development Fund deducted at source by DOT.

Art 5   Discount on Tourist Tariff

  • Diplomats from foreign embassies/missions accredited to Bhutan: 25%.
  • Children: up to 5years, no charge; 6-12 years, 50%.
  • Full-time students below 25 with valid identity card: 25%.
  • Groups of 11-15: one member, 50%; groups of 16 or more, one member, 100%.
  • Those staying for 11-20 nights: 10%.
  • Those staying for more than 21 nights: 20%.
  • There is to be no duplication of discounts.

Art 6   Payment Procedure

  • All payments must be made in US$ or in any convertible currency acceptable to the Royal Monetary Authority of Bhutan( RMAB).
  • Payments must be made in advance to DOT so that visa applications may be processed.
  • If advanced payment is not possible, the tour operator must deposit an equivalent sum in local currency and this will be released on receipt of foreign funds.
  • If no funds are deposited the visa application will not be processed.
  • The exchange rates shall be based upon RMAB published rates.. Any fluctuation is entirely at the risk / to the benefit of the tour operator.
  • As far as possible, all payments must be made through the Bank of Bhutan or the Bhutan National Bank.
  • Payments must be received via telegraphic transfer to an overseas account of the two banks or by bank drafts or bank cheques drawn in favour of the Tourism Authority of Bhutan (TAB). The local tour operator must be named as the beneficiary.
  • Bank charges are the responsibility of the foreign agent or local tour operator and not the DOT.
  • Any other mode of payment is illegal. If such payment is received by a tour operator, he must declare it to the DOT along with documentary testimonials supporting the mode of payment and the amount.

Art 7   Cancellations

The penalties for cancellation are:

  • More than 30 days: free.
  • 21-30 days: 10%.
  • 14-20 days: 15%.
  • 7-13 days: 30%.
  • Less than 7 days: 50%.
  • After arrival in Bhutan: 100%.

Art 8   Delayed Arrival or Departure

  • No charge for the number of days of delays due to weather, Druk Air or roadblocks.
  • No charge for delays in departure due to weather, Druk Air or roadblocks, other than actual expenses of accommodation etc.
  • The tour operator must notify the DOT immediately in writing of these delays.

Trekking in Bhutan Rules and Regulations 1996

Part I: Regulations for Tour Operators and Guides

Art 1   Conditions

  • Mention of “trekking” as an activity in a licence issued by the MTI has no bearing on the application of these rules.
  • Those in breach of these rules are no permitted to conduct trekking programmes. Requests by them for visa processing will be refused by the DOT.
  • Every trekking group must have a licensed tour guide. The group visa application must specify the name of that guide. It is illegal to act as an unlicensed guide.
  • Groups of more than 10, particularly those embarking on longer duration treks to Laya/Gasa or Lunana must have an assistant tour guide,
  • There is a list of essential equipment.

Art 2   Trekking Routes and Campsites

  • Programmes must be approved by the RGOB.
  • There is a list of approved routes.
  • Must use regular campsites.
  • Tour operators and tour guides are responsible for compliance.

Art 3   Environment

Sets out strict guidelines on eco-friendly behaviour.

Art 4   Refresher/Training Courses for Tour Guides

Compulsory continuous professional development requirements.

Art 5   Conduct and Behaviour of Guides

Sets out a code of conduct to be followed.

Art 6   Reporting

Tour guides must submit a report to the DOT in the prescribed format on the status of the trekking routes and campsites.

Part II: Regulations for Trekkers

This part of the Regulations contains a code of conduct for trekkers covering the following:

  • Initial preparation for the trip.
  • The requirement only to use a licensed tour guide.
  • The requirement to use a tour guide.
  • Essential items to be brought on the trip.
  • Rules re litter and sanitation.
  • Respecting the scarcity of fuel.
  • Essential equipment.
  • Environment protection.
  • The requirement to stay on the route.

Regulations Governing Familiarisation Tours and Business Visits by Representatives of Overseas Travel Agents 2000

Art 1   Familiarisation Tour

  • Do not have to pay the prescribed royalty.
  • Purpose: to help foreign travel agents to gather firsthand information about tourist attractions etc.
  • In the case of businesses already sending tourists to Bhutan: it enables them to look at new opportunities etc.
  • Local tour operators must provide the local support and land arrangements. The visitor pays the airfare and the cost of the visit.
  • The regulations apply to the foreign visitor and the local tour operator host.
  • The local tour operator is responsible for strict compliance.
  • This privilege is only available in respect of representatives of foreign travel agents registered as such in their own countries.
  • The DOT will, if necessary, verify the status of the foreign tour travel agent.
  • Generally, only the president/CEO/owner or senior marketing executive is eligible. Other persons need DOT approval.
  • The Article sets out the application procedure.
  • It also has rules governing the number of visits and size of the group.
  • It sets out the obligations of the visitor.

Art 2   Visits of Representatives of Listed Companies

This Article sets out what is meant by “listed companies”, the application procedures and visitors’ obligations. These visitors are afforded “official guest status”.

Bhutan Filming Regulations 1995

Art A   Title and Commencement

Art B   Definitions

Art C   Implementation Agency

  • DOT issues permits on the basis of approvals granted by the Minister of Trade and Industry.
  • DOT is responsible for implementation and enforcement.

Art D   Applicability

  • Filming by foreign film and TV companies:
  • Project or development activities.
  • Educational, promotional or commercial purposes.
  • The filming royalty does not apply to cinema photographic or feature films. As to whether this is applicable will be decided on a case by case basis.

Art E   Application Procedure

Art F   Royalty for Filming

Art G  Security Deposit

Art H   Other Terms and Conditions

  • Members of the team must have a tourist visa and pay the full daily tariff.
  • The filming team of foreign agencies may be exempted by the DOT.
  • Visas are only granted after formal approval of the MTI for filming.
  • The crew must not deviate from the subject or locations approved.
  • No access to restricted areas.
  • No special status at festivals.
  • Must respect cultural sensitivities.
  • DOT may revoke permission without stating its reasons.
  • Royalties are not refundable if the project is cancelled or curtailed by the film company but the security deposit may be refunded.
  • The permit is not transferable.
  • The DOT may require the crew to screen selected sequences.
  • Must provide a VHS version to DOT.
  • The DOT may require the crew to edit or remove inaccurate material etc.
  • Screening or broadcasting before DOT approval is not permitted.
  • Three copies of the final edited version must be given to the DOT.
  • The Article sets out penalties for violation.
  • The local agency is strictly liable for compliance.

New Tourism Law

The existing framework, though containing some useful materials, focuses entirely on regulation of the tour operators, travel agencies, tour guides etc. The language of much of the material is that of a code of conduct, what is called by lawyers as “soft law”. Some of the language is vague and unenforceable under the procedural laws of Bhutan. There is often a confusion between civil and criminal law matters. In other matters there is too much detail e.g. fees should be left to be fixed from time to time by the Minister and not specifically stated in the regulations.

There is a comprehensive draft Tourism Law which is soon expected to be adopted by the National Assembly. The Law will establish a Tourism Council of Bhutan. Amongst its functions will be to:

  • encourage, develop and improve tourism-related human capacity development, tourism infrastructure and tourism services in Bhutan whether by its own activities, through measures to be taken by the Government through public-private partnerships, private investment or otherwise;
  • promote Bhutan as a tourist destination and encourage domestic tourism;
  • carry out other tasks relating to tourism, heritage protection, including natural heritage, and cultural development which the Royal Government determines.

The draft law promotes sustainability of tourism development and the protection of culture and heritage.