Nepal relaxes entry for tourists
After much criticism about unnecessary hassles for tourists, the Nepal government has relaxed entry formalities for foreigners arriving by air.
Tourists visiting Nepal will no longer have to stay in mandatory hotel quarantine for five days as long as they have a PCR negative report before they board their flight, and again test negative on their arrival in Kathmandu. They will have to stay in a hotel, observing safety protocols until the test results arrive.
Tourists will also be eligible for visa on arrival at Kathmandu airport, as long as they can provide necessary documents about their itinerary in Nepal that is approved by the Nepal Tourism Board (NTB) or the Department of Tourism (DoT). The government has also done away with the $5,000 travel insurance requirement.
Although it looks at first glance like the government has streamlined a previously cumbersome and confusing process, tour agencies say it still leaves a lot of grey areas that could still create unnecessary muddles.
“Why do arriving foreign passengers have to provide travel itineraries approved by the tourism authorities? What if they are here to visit relatives or friends?” asks an exasperated airline executive, whose job it is to check passenger documents before they board their flights to Kathmandu.
Indeed, the new directive stipulates that the same documents that are needed for visa on arrival also have to be presented at the check-in counter before Nepal-bound flights. These include: a PCR negative report taken not earlier than 72 hours before departure or a vaccine certificate, travel itinerary approved by the NTB or DoT, proof of hotel booking.
The Cabinet made the decisions at a meeting on 17 March, but the details were only published in English on Monday. Nepal’s tourism entrepreneurs say that although the decision to relax rules seems to be aimed for the spring tourist season, it comes a little too late.
“Most trekkers or mountaineers have to make preparations, months in advance. Very few will just get up and go because they can get visas on arrival,” said one trekking agent.
The government’s rules have flip-flopped with each new guideline, adding to the confusion. The latest directive does clear the air, but is still vague and leaves a lot to the discretion of the immigration officer at Kathmandu airport.
Many tourists had cancelled plans to visit Nepal because of the difficulty in getting visas in countries where there are no Nepali missions, and even where there are embassies, they complained that staff in the visa section were either not picking up the phones for enquiries or did not have the correct information.
The Tourist Arrival Management Protocol 2077 passed by the Cabinet states: ‘Tourists wishing to visit Nepal should have their agents contact the DoT or NTB for a recommendation to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Department of Immigration and convey the necessary documents to the tourists.’
An official translations of the directive adds: ‘Tourists visiting Nepal through air route (airlines) can access on-arrival visa from the immigration desk at Tribhuvan International Airport in case Nepal’s visa is not available or difficult to avail in the tourist home country. All tourists must present the same documents at the immigration desk which was presented previously at the check-in counter before boarding.’
It says that tourists arriving via land route must have visas beforehand.
Among the list of documents required for visa on-arrival, are airline check-in and a ‘recommendation letter from Department of Tourism/Nepal Tourism Board for participation in any tourism activities within Nepal’.
Again, that list does not mention the recommendation from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs or the Immigration Department. Nor does it clarify what the requirements are, for foreign passengers who are not going on a trek or expedition.
The directive requires all arriving tourists to get a PCR test ‘immediately upon arrival in coordination with the concerned Association (at their own cost) …if the report is negative, tourists can continue their itinerary…if positive, the tourist must continue to stay in hotel quarantine.’
The directive comes as Nepal braces for a second wave, mainly from travellers from India where there has been a surge in new cases. The daily new case load exceeded 70,000 on Monday for the first time this year.
However, the directive does not lay out any extra precautions for passengers arriving in Kathmandu from Delhi, the only Indian city from where flights are allowed at present.
‘For Indian tourists arriving in Nepal through air route, the existing provisions will remain as per the Nepal-India Travel Bubble Agreement.’