Bhutan has 4 types of passports and 2 types of travel docs

Around 60,000 passports being flown in next week

In mid August there was a lot of unhappiness as the Passport Office under the Foreign Ministry ran out of passports due to unprecedented demand and started issuing travel documents.

It was said then that the passports are expected to come by the end of October 2022 as per the commitment of the German company that makes Bhutanese passports. 

Now, as promised, around 60,000 passports are being dispatched and are expected to reach Bhutan sometime by next week. The original order was for 50,000 passports but more were ordered since there is space in the packing.

Of the 60,000 or so passports only around 2,000 are diplomatic (red) or official passports (white) and the rest are all mainly ordinary passports.

From January till date 19,097 passports and 3,500 travel documents have been issued.

An official from the passport office said there are 1,000 people who have paid and given their details and it is in the system, and it will only be required to be printed onto the passports.

The office is anticipating a big rush and so has prepared around 10 staff including its drivers to help.

People can also exchange their travel documents with the passports and they will not have to pay anything extra as the documents had been issued as a temporary measure for which they already paid.

The official said that for even those who took travel documents (barring the Nepal episode) they did not have problems traveling to popular destinations like Australia, Bangkok, USA, Canada, Japan etc as these countries had been informed in advance to treat the travel document as a passport for now.

Some rush is expected as Australia’s admission cycles are in January and July, however, given the limited IELTS slots the rush is not expected to be too much as well.

The office expects the passports to last for four years if the trends of the previous years are seen, but it may last only two years if a similar rush like this year is seen every year.

The plan in the future is to issue digital or e-passports, but it will take some time as not all airports that Bhutanese use have facilities to accept such passports.

According to the experience of staff in the passport office the majority of those seeking passport mentioned Australia as a reason though it was not clear that they were going.

Another big reason for the rush in passports was a rumor that spread that the government will be suspending or restricting the issuance of passports to discourage people from going to Australia.

This led to large numbers, including those not even planning to travel, to rush for the passports.

The data also tells its own story. In 2015 a total of 12,926 passports were issued, in 2016 it was 12,070 passports, in 2017 it was 12,108, in 2018 it was a high of 13,266 passports and in 2019 it was 12,826 passports.

 In 2020 with the pandemic the numbers dropped to 3,597 passports and with travel restrictions still in place it improved a bit in 2021 to 7,586 passports.

In 2022 there was not much rush in January, February and March due to the long lockdowns, but in a period of five months from April to mid August the bulk of the 19,097 passports were issued.

The data clearly shows that the backlog of 2020 and 2021 had built into 2022 creating a huge rush and shortage which could not be alleviated right away due to global supply chain issues in printing passports.

At the beginning of 2022 official had assumed that the 19,000 plus passports in stock would be more than enough as they went by the 2018 data point when the demand for passports was highest at 13,266 passports.

Those availing travel documents are not only people using them in lieu of passports but also non-citizen residents in Bhutan who have been able to use the travel documents to travel and study in Australia.

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