Bhutanese Ngultrum (Nu)
Fixed Daily Rate: US$250
- All tourists must pay US$250 per person per day (US$200 a day from December to February and June to August), with a US$40/30 surcharge per person for those in a group of one/two. This covers accommodation, transport in Bhutan, a guide, food and entry fees.
- Possible extra charges include hot-stone baths, cultural shows, horse riding, rafting, mountain bikes and tips.
- Children under 12 years are exempt from the royalty component (US$65).
Budget: Less than US$150
- Only Indian tourists and foreign residents are able to set their own travel budgets.
- Budget hotel: US$20–40
- Restaurant meal in Thimphu: US$5–15
Top end: US$500–1750
- Luxury hotel: US$250–1500 above the daily US$250 tariff
Bargaining is not a Bhutanese tradition, and you won't get very far with your haggling skills here, except with trail-side vendors on the hike to Taktshang and in the local handicrafts section of the Thimphu Weekend Market.
Tours are prepaid so you'll only need money for drinks, laundry, souvenirs and tips; for this, bring cash. There are ATMs in most main towns, but it would be wise not to rely entirely on being able to use plastic. Credit cards are accepted in some hotels and souvenir shops, but only in major cities or well-touristed areas.
The unit of currency is the ngultrum (Nu), which is pegged to the Indian rupee. The ngultrum is further divided into 100 chetrum. There are coins to the value of 25 and 50 chetrum and Nu 1, and notes of Nu 1, 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 500 and 1000. The Nu 1 coin depicts the eight auspicious symbols called Tashi Tagye, while each note depicts a different dzong.
Indian rupees may be used freely anywhere in Bhutan (don't be surprised if you get change in rupees). Officially 500 and 1000 Indian rupee notes are not accepted due to large amounts of counterfeit notes; however, in practice 500s are usually accepted. Ngultrums cannot be used in India.
It is OK with the Bhutanese if you bring a reasonable amount of Indian currency into Bhutan, though Indian regulations prohibit currency export.
Bank of Bhutan (BoB), Bhutan National Bank and Druk PNB Bank ATMs usually accept foreign credit cards; however, it would be prudent to get your cash in Thimphu or Paro before heading out into the countryside, particularly the far east. Transactions are limited to Nu 10,000 or Nu15,000.
If you plan to make a major purchase, for example textiles or art, consider bringing US dollars in cash. Most shops will accept this, and it can save you the hassle of exchanging a large quantity of money in advance and then attempting to change it back if you don't find the exact piece you were looking for.
Cards are accepted at major handicraft stores and some of the larger hotels in Thimphu and towns that get many tourists, but you will often be charged a surcharge of up to 5% to cover the fees levied by the credit-card companies. PINs have to be four digits.
Tourist trips are fully prepaid, so you could in theory manage in Bhutan without any local money at all, though you'll probably want to change at least US$50 to US$100 to pay for laundry and drinks, plus whatever you need for souvenirs and tips.
The exchange counters at the airport, larger hotels and the banks in Thimphu and Phuentsholing can change all major currencies, and sometimes Scandinavian currencies. If you are heading to central and eastern Bhutan, you will do better sticking to US dollars. In smaller towns, foreign-currency exchange may be an unusual transaction so be prepared for delays. You'll often get a slightly lower rate (10% lower) if changing US-dollar bills in denominations less than US$100. US-dollar bills that are pre-1993 are generally not accepted.
You may change your unused ngultrums back to foreign currency (though usually only into US dollars) on departure from Thimphu or Paro. Travellers departing via Samdrup Jongkhar didn't have this facility at the time of research. You may need to produce your original exchange receipts. Ngultrums are useless outside of Bhutan (except as a curiosity).
Bhutan has two major banks, the Bank of Bhutan (www.bob.bt) and the Bhutan National Bank (www.bnb.bt), each with branches throughout the country. Both change cash with no commission and charge 1% for travellers cheques. The Bank of Bhutan's main branches are generally open 9am to 1pm Monday to Friday and 9am to 11am on Saturday, though the branches in Trongsa, Trashigang and Mongar are open on Sunday and closed Tuesday. It also has a branch in Thimphu that stays open later. Newer banks with forex include the Tashi Group's T-Bank and Druk PNB with limited but expanding branches.
For those paying their own way, most hotels charge 10% Bhutan Sales Tax (BST) and either 5% or 10% service charge, which are included in the rates shown. Most restaurants will charge the same, especially if you want a receipt.
- Tour guides You will usually be accompanied throughout your visit to Bhutan by the same tour guide and probably the same driver. Though it's against the official TCB policy, these people expect a tip at the end of the trip. Many leaders on group tours take up a collection at the conclusion of the trip and hand it over in one packet. With a large group this can be a substantial amount and the practice has created high expectations on the part of Bhutanese guides. If arranging tips yourself, hand them over in individual envelopes the evening before you leave, as things get rushed and easily forgotten on the day of departure.
- Trekking guides If you've been trekking, it's appropriate to tip the guide, cook and waiter. Horsemen also expect tips, but this can be minimal if they are the owners of the horses or yaks and are making money by hiring out their animals. The stakes go up, however, if they have been especially helpful with camp chores and on the trail.
You can cash travellers cheques at any bank, most hotels and the foreign-exchange counter at the airport. There are bank charges of 1% for cheque encashment. You should carry only well-known brands such as American Express. There is no replacement facility for lost travellers cheques in Bhutan.
For current exchange rates, see www.xe.com.