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Overseas Security Advisory Council
Bureau of Diplomatic Security
U.S. Department of State

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Bhutan 2019 Crime & Safety Report

The current U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory at the date of this report’s publication assesses Bhutan at Level 1, indicating travelers should exercise normal precautions.

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

The U.S. Embassy in New Delhi in does not assume responsibility for the professional ability or integrity of the persons or firms appearing in this report. The American Citizen Services unit (ACS) cannot recommend a particular individual or establishment, and assumes no responsibility for the quality of services provided.

Review OSAC’s Bhutan-specific page for original OSAC reporting, consular messages, and contact information, some of which may be available only to private-sector representatives with an OSAC password.

Crime Threats

There is minimal risk from crime in Thimphu. Most crime in Bhutan is concentrated in Thimphu, its capital and largest city. There has been a stark uptick in the number of reported rape cases, drug and alcohol abuse, and marijuana-related arrests. Bhutan attributes its 95% national increase in crime to the high rate of youth unemployment in bigger population centers, and to a change in policy in 2016 that made crime registration mandatory. The government aims to decrease the high unemployment rate that has caused the local economy to stagnate and crime to increase. There are also increased reports of burglaries, theft, robbery, stolen vehicles, and assault related to skin color, ethnic origin, and religion in recent years.

Cars left parked along roads are a major problem within the city of Thimphu. The city has responded by procuring CCTV cameras and investing in electric patrol cars, intended to replace patrol cars operating with insufficient oil.

Other Areas of Concern

There have been border disputes in Doka La, including in 2017 when China attempted to extend road construction onto the Doklam Plateau southward into Bhutan. Indian troops moved into Bhutan to prevent the construction, and a standoff between India and China ensued. The standoff resolved peacefully, but the border dispute has not resolved.

Transportation-Safety Situation

For more information, review OSAC’s Report, Security in Transit: Airplanes, Public Transport, and Overnights.

Road Safety and Road Conditions

Bhutan has cooperated with regional partners to improve its road quality in the past decade. However, the country experienced its highest number of vehicle accidents in seven years in 2018, and the highest number of deaths in 13 years. Driver error accounted for 85% (1,160) of accidents. Road conditions in Bhutan range between fair and poor. Roadways along mountainous terrain, with numerous hairpin bends and steep declines, pose significant dangers to drivers. Snow and rain during the monsoon seasons, as well as earthquakes can cause landslides.

For more information on self-driving, review OSAC’s Report, Driving Overseas: Best Practices.

Public Transportation Conditions

To limit short tourist visits, Bhutan requires that visitors pay a daily fee that covers accommodation, transport, guide, food, and entry fees. There are no available car rental services.

A public bus service operates in most major urban centers with routes, fare, and timetables available online. Buses in Bhutan travel in difficult road conditions, and are often in poor condition. Visitors should opt to use the transportation provided by their visitor fee.

Aviation/Airport Conditions

As there is no direct commercial air service to the United States by carriers registered in Bhutan, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed the government of Bhutan’s Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards.  Find further information on the FAA’s safety assessment page.

Paro International Airport (PBH) is the primary point of entry into Bhutan. There have been no reports of items stolen from checked baggage. Maintain awareness of belongings at all times, use Transportation Security Administration (TSA) approved locks, and retrieve checked bags as soon as possible.

Terrorism Threat

There is minimal risk from terrorism in Thimphu.

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence

Civil Unrest 

There is minimal risk from political violence in Thimphu. During the 1990s, Bhutan expelled over 100,000 Lhotshampa from the country due to demographic and cultural grievances. While ethnic-Lhotshampas remain in Bhutan, the total number is unknown. The majority of the expelled Lhotshampas have integrated into the populations of neighboring countries, but several refugee camps remain active in Nepal. There have been no reports of political violence associated with Lhotshampas in recent years.

 


Post-specific Concerns

Environmental Hazards

As a mountainous nation, Bhutan is exposed to landslides, earthquakes, droughts, and floods. While there was a major earthquake in 2009, Bhutan is not known for frequent seismic activity compared to neighboring countries. Monsoon rains that run from June-August can cause flooding and landslides on mountainous roads, creating treacherous passes for vehicles and cutting off access to south Bhutan in many areas.

Critical Infrastructure

Implementation of fire safety measures are either absent or minimal. Many buildings in Bhutan do not have fire alarms or fire suppression equipment in close proximity or at all. For more information on fire safety in hotels, review OSAC’s Report, Fire Safety Abroad.

Economic Concerns

Bhutan is member of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) but not the WTO, or any organization protecting intellectual property rights. As a result, the frequency of pirated items has not declined; stores may sell pirated copies of movies, television shows, music, counterfeit clothing, jewelry, and other luxury goods.

Bhutan uses the ngultrum (BTN) as its currency along with the Indian rupee. Visitors are advised to carry cash or travelers checks. Indian rupees are usually accepted for purchases in Bhutan, although most shopkeepers and businesses do not accept Indian rupees in denominations above 100. ATMs are accessible in Paro and Thimphu, but can be unreliable. Exercise caution, as credit card fraud and the use of card skimming devices do occur.

Personal Identity Concerns

Bhutan is a very religious and conservative country; men and women dress modestly. When conducting business, traveling to Dzongs, and sightseeing, semi-formal dress is preferable.

Same-sex sexual activity is illegal in Bhutan. The law does not provide any explicit protections against discrimination. In addition, members of the LGBTI community have reported instances of discrimination based on their sexual orientation.

Drug-related Crimes

Alcohol remains the most serious addiction in Bhutan. The National Statistics Bureau of Bhutan notes that 40% of crimes committed by youth occur under the influence of alcohol. Tobacco sales are illegal in Bhutan and carry a fine and possible jail time.

The most common illegal drugs in Bhutan are amphetamines and benzodiazepines imported from India. Drug possession is strictly enforced in Bhutan. Penalties for possession of any amount includes fines and possible jail time.

Kidnapping Threat

There is minimal risk from kidnapping in Bhutan.

Police Response

Report all incidents of crime to the local police authorities. Remain calm and polite when interacting with the police to avoid misunderstandings. You may be taken in for questioning if you don’t have your passport with you or if you take pictures of certain buildings. For more information, please review OSAC’s Report Picture This: Dos and Don’ts for Photography.

The ability of local police to assist victims of crime is limited due to lack of response vehicles, radios, and other essential equipment.

How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment

Arrested or detained U.S. citizens should comply with police requests, and contact the U.S. Embassy American Citizen Services section in New Delhi at +91-011-2419-8000.

Crime Victim Assistance

For fire services, dial 110. For medical emergencies requiring an ambulance, dial 112. For police emergencies, dial 113.

For administrative calls to local fire and police posts, dial:

Thimphu (HQ)       Fire: +975 02-322021            Police: +975 02-322347

Paro                                                                     Police: +975 02 271459

Medical Emergencies

Individuals requiring an ambulance in Bhutan should call 112 or the National Referral Hospital (+975 02-322496). The National Referral Hospital, located in Thimphu, is the main hospital in Bhutan. The hospital offers most general medical services and some advanced services. A medical evacuation (medevac) can still be very expensive and severely limited by the poor condition of ambulances in Bhutan. Carry adequate supplies of any needed prescription medicines, along with copies of prescriptions, the generic name of the drugs, and a supply of preferred over-the-counter medications. For more information, refer to OSAC’s Report, Traveling with Medications.

Contact Information for Available Medical Services

For a list of available medical facilities, refer to the Embassy’s Medical Assistance page.

Available Air Ambulance Services

Pacific Flight Services (+65) 648-3756 owns two Lear jets and contracts with specialty medical teams in Singapore to respond to medical emergencies. The company has a 24-hour call center.

International SOS (+65) 63-387-800 contracts with other companies for the use of their planes. The company has its own medical teams and a 24-hour call center.

While Bhutanese citizens are afforded universal healthcare by the government, international visitors are required to pay. Doctors and hospitals expect immediate cash payment for health services.

Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance

The CDC offers additional information on vaccines and health guidance for Bhutan.

OSAC Country Council Information

There is no OSAC Country Council in Bhutan. Interested private-sector security managers should contact OSAC’s South and Central Asia team with any questions.

U.S. Embassy Location and Contact Information

The United States has no official diplomatic relations with Bhutan, and therefore no diplomatic or consular presence in Thimphu. The U.S. Embassy in India is responsible for issues involving U.S. visitors to Bhutan.

Address and Hours of Operation

U.S. Embassy New Delhi, Shantipath, Chanakyapuri, New Delhi-110021, India

Hours of Operation: Monday-Friday, 0900-1700

Embassy Contact Number

Tel: (+91) (11) 2419-8000

Website: http://in.usembassy.gov  

Embassy Guidance

U.S. citizens traveling to Bhutan should register with the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to ensure they receive pertinent security updates and notices.

Additional Resources

Bhutan Country Information Sheet

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