Tips for doing business in Bhutan

Bhutan is the country that very calm and beautiful which grab attention from many investors. Bhutan or the Kingdom of Bhutan, is located in Southeast Asia at the eastern end of the Himalayas and bordered to the south, east and west by the Republic of India and to the north by the People’s Republic of China. Bhutan is separated from the nearby country of Nepal to the west by the Indian state of Sikkim, and from Bangladesh to the south by the Indian states of Assam and West Bengal.Bhutan was ranked to be one of Ease country for Doing Business from World Bank.

In term of Economic View, Bhutan’s GDP increased very rapidly during this decade, reaching up to 21.4% growth in 2007-2008. It then suffered the consequences of the slowing down of Indian growth in 2008, which was affected by the global economic crisis. The growth rate increased to 6.8% in 2010 and should remain stable around 6% in 2011, sustained by the development of the hydro-electric energy sector. Below are the tips for doing business in Bhutan.

1. Clothing and National Dress in Bhutan

Bhutan’s national dress is one of the most distinctive and visible aspects of the country. It is compulsory for Bhutanese to wear national dress in schools, government offices and on formal occasions. Men, women and children wear traditional clothing made from Bhutanese textiles in a variety of colorful patterns.

  • Gho

The men wear a gho, a long robe similar to the Tibetan chuba. The Bhutanese hoist the gho to knee length and hold it in place with a woven cloth belt called a kera. The kera is wound tightly around the waist, and the large pouch formed above it traditionally used to carry a bowl, money and the makings of a doma. According to tradition, men should carry a small knife at the waist. Traditional footwear is knee-high, embroidered leather boots, but these are now worn only at festivals. Most Bhutanese men wear leather shoes, trainers, or trekking boots. Ghos come in a wide variety of patterns, though often they have plaid or striped designs reminiscent of Scottish tartans. Flowered patterns are taboo, and solid reds and yellows are avoided because these are the colours worn by monks; otherwise patterns have no special significance. Usually a pair of shorts is worn underneath. In winter it is correct to wear thermal underwear. Formality in Thimphu dictates that legs may not be covered until winter has arrived, which is defined as the time that the monks move to Punakha.

  • Kira


Women wear a long floor length dress called a kira. This is a rectangular piece of brightly coloured cloth that wraps around the body over a Tibetan- style silk blouse called a wonju. The kira is fastened at the shoulders with elaborate silver hooks called koma and at the waist with a cloth belt called a kera. Over the top is worn a short, open jacket-like garment called a toego. Women often wear large amounts of jewelry. The kira may be made from cotton or silk and may have a pattern on one or both sides. For everyday wear, women wear a kira with an embellished pattern woven into it. The most expensive kira are kushutara (brocade dresses), which are made of hand-spun, hand-woven Bhutanese cotton thread.

2. Greetings and Farewells

  • Shaking hands is not a Bhutanese tradition but it is becoming quite common, especially in the towns.
  • A formal greeting is to bow with hands open and outstretched and the palms up.
  • When wishing to be polite or to indicate interest, the Bhutanese add “la” to the end of sentences during a conversation. Often they add “la” even when speaking in English.
  • When a senior person enters a room, everyone is expected to stand until the person sits down. When it is time to leave, everyone waits until the guest of honor stands, indicating that he or she is about to go.

3. Exchanging Gifts in Bhutan

The exchange of presents is an important part of Bhutanese life. When you receive a present from someone, other than a superior, you are expected to reciprocate by giving a present in return. If the present comes in a container, you are expected to return the container with a few sweets, fruit or biscuits in it. To return an empty container is thought to indicate a lack of prosperity. A present is never opened in public or in the presence of the one bringing it. People will refuse something three times before accepting it. When you first move into a house, especially in a rural area, your new neighbors may welcome you with gifts of eggs, apple or potatoes from their garden. Presents are also given to someone going away from home to study overseas or on a long trip.

4. Bhutanese etiquette on giving and receiving gifts

When receiving a gift, the Bhutanese will always mildly refuse to take the gift for a few minutes with polite comments like: “You really don’t have to do this” “You shouldn’t have taken so much trouble” its okay, I don’t really need it”, etc. You are expected to press on a second or third time before he/she accepts the gift. If you are the receiver, you are also expected to politely refuse to accept at least for the first time. The tone of the “pretended” refusal is important – it must not be a loud definite “No”.

5. Dining/Eating Etiquette in Bhutan

When eating in a group, on all occasions, wait for everyone to be served before starting to eat, even in restaurants. When invited as a guest, the host will politely ask to you to start eating once everyone is served. You may notice some members of the family or the host himself will serve himself only after the guests have started their meal. This is in keeping with the Bhutanese custom of serving the guests first. When you invite a Bhutanese for a meal, make sure you request the guest to start the meal. You yourself should start only after they have started eating. If you are invited to a Bhutanese home, it is appropriate to bring a small gift, perhaps a bottle of wine or a box of sweets. Social occasions tend to start late and involve extended rounds of drinks and appetizers before dinner, often with several visitors dropping by for a short time. The evening is quickly concluded once dinner is finished.

Jaraswan Jarasjaruwan or Pear is a full-time MIM student. She got a Bachelor’s of Science from Chulalongkorn University in Thailand. After she graduated, she worked as an educational consultant in Thailand for 2 years. Pear chose to study international business at Portland State University because she is interested in the business field and also the reputation of the university. Currently, Pear is studying Chinese as a third language. Also, she will choose Global Marketing as her specialization in the Master of International Management program.

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Filed under Business and Asia, Pear's Entries

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