Bhutan is a difficult country to visit. The country has a “High Value, Low Impact” tourism policy in place, meaning that tourist arrivals and impact is heavily regulated. Only citizens from three countries, Bangladesh, India, and the Maldives, can visit Bhutan without a visa or booking with a licensed tour operator – speaking of a strict visa policy!
Even with such a policy, Bhutan managed to process more than 200 000 tourists in 2017, with the majority coming from India (172 000+ visitors) and Bangladesh (10000+ visitors). Both are citizens of Freedom of Movement countries.
Besides the visa conditions, you need to know how to use your phone when visiting Bhutan. Roaming with your provider can be expensive depending on your provider. In many countries, travelers buy a local SIM card so that they can use their phone and use data at local rates. Can you get a Bhutanese SIM card with its strict regulations on tourism? Let's find out.
Telecom Provider in Bhutan
Bhutan has two telecom providers: B-Mobile and TashiCell. B-Mobile is state-owned and ran by Bhutan Telecom. TashiCell is privately owned. 2G is extensive in the country. The 3G network is alright, but patchy outside the capital. 4G/LTE is being deployed by both providers, although TashiCell uses the 700 MHz (band 28).
It is not essential to know what that means, but what you should know is that the frequency is not that common around the world. As a result, you may not be able to use 4G/LTE, even though there is coverage in your area.
What SIM card should you buy when visiting Bhutan? If you want to buy a SIM card in Bhutan, I would recommend going with B-Mobile because their coverage is much better than TashiCell. TashiCell is somewhat cheaper than B-Mobile and should only be considered when staying in the capital.
Just like other destinations in South Asia, you have to bring your passport with you when buying a SIM card. Additionally, you have to hand them a photo of you. If you buy your SIM card at the airport, the office can handle the paperwork, including taking a picture of you, for you.
As there is nothing more to add, let’s see what B-Mobile and TashiCell have to offer to us.
Tip: Looking for cheap flights? Book with AirWander and add stopovers! Not in a hurry yet? Set up flight alerts with Airfarewatchdog and get notified when ticket prices for your preferred route(s) drop!
Usually, state-owned companies are not the leading providers in many countries. However, in Bhutan, that is not the case. Bhutan Telecom is the clear leading provider in Bhutan in terms of fixed-line telephony and internet service. Additionally, their mobile brand, B-Mobile, is the preferred provider because of their extensive coverage.
Earlier, I mentioned that B-Mobile is building its 4G/LTE network. If you buy a 4G SIM card, you can experience 4G/LTE in Thimphu, Phuentsholing, Punakha, Paro, Wangdue, and Dzongkhags. More towns will be added in the future.
You can buy your SIM card at Paro International Airport for 100 BTN ($1.40) and can choose from the Tourist SIM and the regular Prepaid SIM – both cards come with 100 BTN in credit. The major differences between the tourist and regular SIM cards are that the tourist SIM is valid for one month only and cannot be extended, which is fine for most visitors, and no regular data packages can be added to it.
The following tourist packages are available. The numbers represent the price in BTN:
- 100 Plan: 100 BTN credit for calls and SMS valid for 1 month
- 200 Plan: 1 GB and 100 BTN credit for calls and SMS valid for 7 days
- 300 Plan: 2 GB and 100 BTN credit for calls and SMS valid for 14 days
- 500 Plan: 3 GB and 200 BTN credit for calls and SMS valid for 1 month
The Prepaid SIM card comes with many options. Below are some of the packages:
- 29 BTN: 265 MB for 24 hours
- 49 BTN: 425 MB for 7 days
- 99 BTN: 860 MB for 30 days
- 199 BTN: 1770 MB for 30 days
- 299 BTN: 2910 MB for 30 days
- 499 BTN: 5370 MB for 30 days
- 699 BTN: 14500 MB for 30 days
A data package will automatically be activated depending on how much you top-up. For example, if you add 300 BTN to your account, the Monthly 299 package of 2910 MB for 30 days will be activated.
TashiCell has a market share of about 30% and worse coverage than B-Mobile. 4G coverage can be found in Paro, Wangdue, Phuntsholing, Thimphu, and Punakha Dzongkhag. TashiCell SIM cards are sold for 200 BTN at Consumer Care Centers and come with the same amount in credit. The card is valid for 3 months. They do not sell tourist SIM cards.
Various data packages are available, which are listed below:
- 19 BTN: 100 MB for 1 day
- 49 BTN: 340 MB for 7 days
- 99 BTN: 300 MB for 30 days
- 199 BTN: 1700 MB for 30 days
- 299 BTN: 2700 MB for 30 days
- 499 BTN: 5000 MB for 30 days
- 777 BTN: 1500 MB for 30 days
- 1299 BTN: 30000 MB for 30 days
Other Ways to Stay Connected When Traveling in Bhutan
Besides getting a Bhutanese SIM card, there are different ways of staying connected when exploring Bhutan, such as using an international SIM card, roaming with your provider, using pocket WIFI, or WIFI networks.
International SIM Cards
You can consider purchasing an international SIM card. International SIM cards are SIM cards that can be used internationally without the roaming charges.
There are many international SIM cards out there, such as OneSimCard and SIM cards from SimOptions. These SIM cards with the same as roaming with your provider, but the charges are often way less than actually roaming because they have been set up for international travel.
International SIM cards give you the same convenience as roaming with your provider. As in, not having to get numerous SIM cards, you will not use again, and being reachable on one number instead of multiple. In most cases, you can use your international SIM when back home, but their rates will be high compared to using your carrier.
Do note that using an international SIM card is often more expensive than using a local SIM card but cheaper than roaming with your provider. International SIM cards are appealing for those who travel frequently and cannot be bothered with the hassle of purchasing a SIM card each time they arrive at a new destination. Additionally, constantly having to switch SIM cards and using different phone numbers may discourage seasoned travelers from buying local SIM cards.
If you are visiting only one destination for a short period, get a local SIM card (or roam with your provider if they have attractive roaming rates or plans). If you travel often and want to be able to be contacted on one phone number when visiting multiple destinations, international SIM cards could be attractive. Check out my international SIM card comparison article, where I analyzed the top 10 leading international SIM cards out there.
Roaming with Your Provider
Roaming is a term used in wireless telecommunication that indicates a mobile device is outside the range of its home network and has connected to a different, available cell network. If you use your phone in Bhutan without changing SIM cards, you would be roaming in Bhutan.
You have probably read numerous horror stories of travelers who went abroad for a while and came back home to a phone bill in the thousands because they were roaming. An example of such a story is this individual who received a bill of £8,348.41 for data roaming for 40 minutes. I also found the reason why roaming is so expensive.
No idea how roaming works? I made this comprehensive guide about what roaming is and how it works. It is worth the read – promised!
Roaming can be convenient because you do not have to wait in line to get a local SIM card, go through the whole SIM card registration process, and can easily be reached when friends and family who are in your home country want to call or text you.
However, this convenience comes at a cost – a high cost if you do not watch out. But this does not always have to be the case.
Some carriers allow you to roam for free in select countries, such as Sprint (Canadian provider). They have a program called Sprint Global Roam, which allows its customers to roam in 205 destinations, including Bhutan, for free at reduced speeds.
Other carriers allow you to use your plan's allowance if you pay a fixed daily fee. For example, Koodo, a Canadian provider, allows you to use your plan's allowance with their program called Koodo Easy Roam International for $12 a day, which can be used in Bhutan as well. This means that if you get 10 GB a month, you can use those 10 GB in Bhutan as well.
However, you should take caution with such plans. They are convenient and inexpensive when done for a few days, but not when going abroad for a week or more. I often argue that one can use these plans if you are staying abroad for a maximum of three days. If longer, than you are better off with a local SIM card, which will give you more bang for your buck. Check out my articles to see if your provider offers roaming bundles.
Finally, you can roam on Pay As You Go roaming rates. With standard roaming rates, you get charged per action on the go. In other words, you get charged per minute, SMS, or KB/MB. Often, Pay As You Go roaming rates are insanely high (which leads to those stories where people got charged into the thousands), and should be avoided in most cases. However, some providers do have reasonable standard roaming rates, especially to neighboring countries.
In general, I would discourage you from roaming on Pay As You Go roaming rates when visiting Bhutan, but it is still an option to explore. If you want to see what your carrier would charge you, check out my roaming with your provider articles with my analysis and verdicts.
If you do not want to get a local SIM card or an international SIM card and do not feel like roaming either, then you can get pocket WIFI. A portable hotspot is a device that acts as your personal router that you can take with you. This hotspot connects to the cellular networks of your destination – just like your phone would do but without the roaming costs.
There are many portable hotspots out there. Two reputable pocket WIFI companies I know are Skyroam (use coupon code PHONETRAVELWIZ) and Vision Global Wireless. WIFI access with Skyroam starts at $8 a day. Using a Vision Global device starts at $2 a day. Both services cover more than 130 destinations around the world.
A pocket WIFI device is ideal for those who are traveling with families or multiple individuals. This way, everyone can connect to the device and enjoy the WIFI network on the go. Some companies will charge you per GB while others will give you unlimited data. Be aware of the data restrictions of your device so that you will not receive a high bill after your travels.
Using Free WIFI Connections
If you do not want to pay anything extra for staying connected while in Bhutan, then you can choose to connect to WIFI networks instead of cellular networks.
Although using WIFI hotspots may save you money, it may not be convenient as using a SIM card. First, you would have to find WIFI hotspots, which can be difficult in Bhutan.
Additionally, public WIFI hotspots are unsecure. I would recommend using a Virtual Private Network (VPN) if you connect to an unfamiliar network. The VPN will encrypt your data and will keep your data private. I use NordVPN, and you can get up to 70% off when you get a NordVPN subscription. Get yours today or find out more about NordVPN.
The Best Way to Stay Connected When Traveling in Bhutan
Getting a SIM card from B-Mobile would do you well when considering a Bhutanese SIM card. Be sure to explore the roaming options your provider offers you, as they may offer free or cheap roaming bundles.
You could also consider getting an international SIM card or using a portable hotspot. International SIM cards are attractive for those visiting multiple destinations at once or within a year. Portable hotspots will be useful when traveling with multiple people so that not each individual has to get a SIM card but can use the hotspot.
Visiting other countries in South Asia? Check out my South Asian SIM card buying guide, covering other South Asian countries, such as Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. Going to other places around the world? Then you should also check out my sim card buying guides for other destinations around the world.
What is next?
Looking for the best companies and gadgets to enhance your travel experience? Check out my resource page for the best companies to use when you travel! Save money on plane tickets, bus rides, cruises, and accommodation. Besides that, I also list services and items I use to make my life easier – and I believe they will help you too!
Book Your Flight for Bhutan
It is time to book your flight. Find cheap flights with AirWander so that you can add free or cheap stopovers in destinations you have not considered yet before going to Bhutan. If you are not ready to take off yet, set up flight alerts with Airfarewatchdog, and they will notify you once ticket prices to Bhutan drop.
Book Your Accommodation for Bhutan
I am a huge fan of Airbnb because it allows me to live with a local or get a local place for myself. Staying in someone’s house or apartment feels much different than being in a ho(s)tel, especially in Bhutan. At least, that is how I see it. Moreover, Airbnb can often be much cheaper than staying in a hotel.
Get Your Travel Insurance for Bhutan
You will regret not having travel insurance once you actually need it and “forgot” to get it. Nowadays, travel insurance is cheap and comprehensive unlike back in the days. World Nomads is by far the best travel insurance for adventurous travelers like yourself. You can even get insured WHILE already traveling in Bhutan, which is not something many insurance companies allow you to do.
Get a Travel Debit Card
Travel Cheques are outdated. Paying with your credit card or debit card can be expensive because of all the exchange commissions banks charge you. TransferWise allows you to convert your main currency to the local currency for a small fee (up to 8 times less than with your bank!) Getting a Transferwise Borderless account is FREE, so you will get an instant return on your investment.
Enjoy your trip!