Bhutan’s New SDF Program: Slow Travel, Cultural Preservation
Editor’s note: The government of Bhutan has announced that it is updating its SDF program. As of September 1, 2023, all travelers will now be charged $100 per person, per night. This replaces all previous SDF charges. The SDF fees will continue to support vital developmental efforts in areas including environmental and cultural conservation, sustainable tourism, education, infrastructure, and healthcare.
On June 1, the government of Bhutan implemented a new program of Sustainable Development Fee (SDF) incentives that are designed to encourage long-stay visits. This program is valid through Dec. 31, 2024.
What is Bhutan’s SDF?
Bhutan introduced the SDF in 2004 as part of an overall strategy to promote high-value, low-volume tourism. The SDF is a daily fee, currently US $200, that international tourists visiting Bhutan are required to pay in addition to the cost of visas, accommodations, and other expenses.
The SDF is a visionary way to ensure that visitors to Bhutan truly appreciate the country’s cultural and natural treasures and are willing to contribute to their preservation. The revenue generated by the SDF is used to support developmental efforts in areas including environmental and cultural conservation, sustainable tourism, education, infrastructure, and healthcare. A portion of the funds is also used to offset visitors’ carbon footprints through an extensive tree planting program.
The SDF manifests Bhutan’s dual commitment to sustaining its cultural heritage and natural environment and to using tourism to uplift the well-being of all its citizens. This enlightened commitment preserves the vitality of the very riches that travelers journey there to appreciate, and ensures that the visitor’s experience in Bhutan is not only an enlarging adventure but also an ethically and culturally mindful journey that leaves a positive impact.
What is the Goal of the New SDF Policy?
Bhutan’s new SDF policy is designed to encourage visitors to immerse themselves more deeply in Bhutan’s rich cultural heritage and to explore its pristine landscapes and local communities at a slower pace. With longer stays, travelers have the opportunity to engage in more meaningful cultural exchanges and to fully embrace the sustainable lifestyle that Bhutan exemplifies. By encouraging slow travel and longer stays, Bhutan seeks to ensure that visitors can truly absorb the essence of the country and leave with a profound appreciation for its warm people and extraordinary natural and cultural treasures.
What is Bhutan’s New SDF Program?
The new program offers three incentive options to choose from:
- 4 + 4: Travelers pay the SDF of US $200 per night, per person, for the first four nights, and receive up to four additional nights without the daily levy. (Total cost: $800 for up to 8 nights.)
- 7 + 7: Travelers pay the SDF of US $200 per night, per person, for the first seven nights, and receive up to seven additional nights without the daily levy. (Total cost: $1400 for up to 14 nights.)
- 12 + 18: Travelers pay the SDF US $200 per night per person, for the first twelve nights, and receive up to eighteen additional nights without the daily levy. (Total cost: $2400 for up to 12 nights.)
More Information About Bhutan’s New SDF Programs:
- These incentives come into effect for applications submitted after June 1, 2023, and are valid for stays in Bhutan between June 1, 2023, and December 31, 2024. Guests staying in Bhutan after January 1, 2025, are not eligible for any SDF incentives under this program.
- Travelers who have already booked their trips to Bhutan can take advantage of the new SDF incentives. However, to do so, they will need to cancel their existing visa applications and re-apply. They will forfeit their original US $40 visa fee and will be required to pay the US $40 fee again when they process their new visa application. The SDF that they have already paid can be used when applying again.
- The SDF incentives are only applicable for travelers purchasing US dollar SDFs.
Breakdown of Bhutan’s New Tourism Fees
The breakdown of the new SDF program is as follows:
|Night(s)||Total SDF payable per person (USD)||Incentive Savings (USD)|
|4 to 8||800||0 to 800|
|11 to 14||1400||800 to 1400|
|20 to 30||2400||1600 to 3600|
Travel to Bhutan with GeoEx
GeoEx sends more travelers to Bhutan than any other American company. We took our first group to Bhutan in 1985, and we have been leading trips, crafting itineraries, and nurturing our in-country connections ever since. We offer a wide range of group trips, and we also specialize in creating customized journeys to fit our travelers’ particular interests and schedules. For more about our options for travel to Bhutan, visit our Bhutan travel with GeoEx page.