The requirements to get a Bhutan visa include

(...) nationals of Switzerland and Thailand who hold diplomatic or government-official passports, are also eligible for a visa on arrival at their port of entry.

Why is Switzerland special for Bhutan?

I only found a reference to some past close relationships between a former Bhutan king and a Swiss family:

Bhutan’s relationship with Switzerland dates back to the close personal friendship between Late His Majesty the Third King and the Von Schulthess family in the 1950s.

  • Honestly, not requiring diplomats to apply for visas is not exactly rolling out the red carpet special treatment anyway.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Nov 27, 2023 at 10:58
  • @ohwilleke yes, but explicitly highlighting two countries is intriguing.
    – WoJ
    Commented Nov 27, 2023 at 11:06

1 Answer 1


From the Swiss foreign office:

The special relationship between Switzerland and Bhutan dates back to the 1950s and the personal contact established between King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck and the Swiss industrialist Fritz von Schulthess-Rechberg. Von Schulthess funded the first development cooperation projects in Bhutan in a private capacity.

During the 1960s and 1970s, private aid organisations took up these development programmes. From 1978 onwards, the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) was also involved. In the 1980s and 1990s, Switzerland was one of Bhutan's four main donor countries.

From 2007 to 2016, the SDC invested over CHF 20 million in the governance sector in order to assist the Bhutanese authorities in the country’s democratisation process. The SDC concluded its activities in Bhutan at the end of 2016.

The Swiss development NGO Helvetas is still active in Bhutan. Both being mountain countries may also contribute to the relations. There is a Bhutan bridge in a natural area in Valais, Switzerland for 2002 UN Year of the Mountains.

The above lays the basis for some "special" relations. It should be kept in mind, however, that visa on arrival for official passports isn't that big of a deal and these sorts of agreements are often results of circumstances. Switzerland getting such treatment does mean that the two countries maintain close relations, but does not necessarily imply the relation is special to a unique degree, for example, other friendly countries may not find the need to ask for such treatment.

You can find a lot of seemingly "random" special treatment by different countries, for example, unilateral visa exemption for Bruneian citizens by China. Or going back to Switzerland, Canadian and U.S. citizens benefit from accelerated procedure to obtain permanent residency (5 years of residency instead of 10) in Switzerland, yet they require visa for long-term stays in the first place; whereas Malaysian citizens do not benefit from accelerated permanent residency, but are exempt from long-stay visa requirements. I do not think you can draw any conclusion on the level of relationship between Switzerland and these countries from these treatments alone, although they do indicate certain special relations, but the exact facilitation measures obtained are likely a result of historical circumstances and negotiation.

  • That does not explain why Swiss diplomats and government officials get exeptional treatment, nor why Austria isn't mentioned. – Its development cooperation is comparable to the Swiss (around 2m EUR per year), albeit in different areas: governance/law and sustainable energy.
    – ccprog
    Commented Nov 25, 2023 at 15:38
  • 1
    @ccprog I don't believe Switzerland is exceptionally special to Bhutan, but there is a particularly close connection compared to most other countries. SDC is a government agency and their staff would have travelled on official passports. The personal connection with the King probably also mattered.
    – xngtng
    Commented Nov 25, 2023 at 16:42
  • 1
    @ccprog With these sorts of agreements (visa on arrival for official passports isn't that big of a deal; it's a nice diplomatic gesture with minimal financial or political costs to them), a particular relationship isn't necessarily everything. Often it also is a matter of circumstance (for example, perhaps Austria simply didn't ask).
    – xngtng
    Commented Nov 25, 2023 at 16:46

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