Bhutan – Money Matters
Budgeting costs and expenses when going on a foreign vacation can be a challenge. There’s the difficulty of making sure your estimates are correct and you won’t go overspending. But for most travelers, the challenge lies in familiarising oneself in the local country’s finances. These finance challenges usually involve exchange rates, choosing favourable exchange centres, down to getting familiar in the different currency denominations.
Bhutan, particularly, is one of the countries in the world that still has difficulties in its financial system and institutions. Fortunately, with the help of neighbouring countries, they are slowly modernising their money system.
Having said that, here are a few tips on how to better manage your finances while on your Bhutan holiday:
The national currency of Bhutan is the Bhutanese Ngultrum and is globally denoted as NU or BTN. The Ngultrum is dealt with coins and banknotes, with the coins being called as Chetrum. The banknotes come in the following denominations: 1, 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 500, 1,000. As the denomination amounts increase, so too does the size of the banknote, with the exception of the BTN 500 note that is slightly smaller than its BTN 100 counterpart.
Do remember that the Bhutanese currency is officially pegged with the Indian Rupee, and as such, Indian Rupees (INR) are also accepted throughout the country except the 500 and 2,000 amounts.
Anything under BTN 1 come in coins and as was mentioned above, are called Chetrums (Ch). They come in the following denominations: 20, 25, 50, and BTN 1. The coins are still widely used in the country especially in small stores.
The exchange rate of the USD with the BTN as of writing is USD 1 is to BTN 72.64. The exchange rates can fluctuate between 70 to 75 as of 2018. Going back to the connection of the INR with the NTB, INR 1 is exactly equal to BTN 1. So if you want to buy a small amount of currency that you can use upon your arrival, Rupees would be a much accessible and easier alternative.
Should I Convert My Money in My Home Country?
The answer is no since your home country exchange centres would always have unfavourable rates compared to your destination country, which in this case is Bhutan.
Where Should I Convert Money?
You will surely need a bit of cash upon your arrival, so the best decision is to convert a small amount for BTN, such as USD 10. You can then use this to travel to your accommodations or find a suitable money exchange centre.
Banks in the capital would be your first option, followed by the hotels in Bhutan’s capital Thimphu, although admittedly the latter’s exchange rates are not that good. You can also look for specialised stores called Foreign Exchange Bureaus around the capital.
Thimphu is the safest and most accessible place to exchange your money. Going out of the capital could decrease your chances of finding an exchange centre. Although you can find hotels and foreign exchange bureaus, their rates are not as competitive as to what you can get from banks.
Banks Around the Capital – Bank of Bhutan, Druk PNB Bank, Bhutan National Bank, Bhutan Development Bank
These banks are your best options in exchanging currency. You can inquire and compare which currently offers the best rates before deciding.
In theory, another advantageous alternative to exchanging money is through contacting or transacting with an online currency broker but the currency itself is sparse and can be hard to obtain.
Do not bring US Dollars issued in 1996. Bhutan law prohibits exchanging notes printed during this year due to the 1996 counterfeit issue.
Some establishments will require you to present your passport when exchanging.
The higher the denomination of your US Dollars, the better rates you can obtain.
Exchanging in establishments that are not banks might include waiting in long lines for about 30 minutes to an hour. So, if this is your fancy, have a huge amount exchanged altogether, rather than returning and wasting time.
You would help Bhutan’s economy a lot when you bring in INR in the country as payment for your transactions since the country’s reserves are slowly depleting due to their import economy.
Credit and Debit Card
Bhutan is without a doubt a cash country, they still don’t use that much plastic – cards. Deluxe hotels, restaurants, big handicraft establishments, and large-scale stores are the only ones willing to accept credit cards and are mostly be found in the capital and in nearby towns. If you really insist on using your cards, it would be best to inform your home bank of your itinerary lest you risk getting your card blocked because of most banks’ anti-theft security mechanism. And, since the country is not accustomed to cards, the risk of something wrong happening with it is high. So it’s best to stick to cash to minimise credit card problems during your holiday or even when you go home.
Most of the ATMs in Bhutan can be found mostly within bank establishments. And these banks become rare the further you travel away from the capital. The maximum withdrawal on a single transaction would be BTN 10,000, with a total withdrawal transaction limit of 4 per day – so the total amount you can get is BTN 40,000. Most banks charge BTN 150 as ATM fees. Although some banks might also have hidden charges of about 3 to 5 percent of the total amount you withdrew. So it’s best to bring enough cash on your trip.
Thankfully, traveler’s cheques are still accepted and exchanged in most of the country’s banks and with the foreign exchange desks at the airports. You can also find an American Express office in the capital wherein you can exchange your traveler’s cheques as well.