10 things that you should know before you travel to Nepal – some key practical information to help you plan your trip to Nepal.
Note: Since I’m an Indian citizen, the information in some parts of this post is specifically about what is applicable to Indian nationals travelling to Nepal. If you’re from a different country, the conditions applicable to you might be a bit different. Nevertheless, a majority of the content in this post that should be useful for anyone (irrespective of nationality) who is planning to travel to Nepal.
Do you need a passport or visa to enter Nepal?
Indian nationals do not require a visa to enter Nepal by road, and consequently no passport is required either. In fact, when I crossed the border from India to Nepal by road, I was not required to do any registration or provide any document proof for myself. However, technically, you can be required to provide a valid Government issued identity proof (usually either a passport or voter ID), especially if you are flying into Nepal. Keeping a few passport size photos and photocopies of ID documents handy is always a good idea.
On another trip, when I travelled to Kathmandu by air, from India, the airline insisted on providing either a passport or voter ID as identity proof – no other document was accepted. Further, an entry and exit stamp was marked on my passport even though no visa was required per se.
While an Indian person does not require much documentation to enter Nepal, if you are taking a vehicle across the Indo-Nepal border, you need to obtain a “Bansar” – Nepali customs permit – for the vehicle. I’ve explained the Bansar process in more detail in my separate blogpost about “How to Take an Indian Bike into Nepal – Procedure and Details”.
If you’re a citizen of any country other than India, it is likely that you will need a passport and visa to enter Nepal, I would recommend checking for applicable rules and regulations separately.
Are any special permits required for travelling in Nepal?
Generally speaking, there is no separate permit required for travelling to most parts of Nepal (e.g Kathmandu, Pokhara, Lumbini, Mugu, etc.). However, in some cases – especially for more remote or protected areas like National Parks and popular trekking areas near the Himalayas – additional entry permits are required to be obtained separately by all foreign nationals (including Indians).
In the case of most National Parks in Nepal it is simply a requirement to pay an entry fee – somewhat like buying a ticket (i.e. no paperwork required). However, for monitored trekking areas and Conservation Areas (for e.g. entering Annapurna Conservation Area) a prior permit needs to be obtained – this process involves application, submission of documents and payment of fees. It’s a good idea to check about any permit or entry fee requirements for the places that you intend to visit in Nepal.
What currency can you use in Nepal?
The currency of Nepal is the Nepali Rupee.
It is also possible to use Indian currency in Nepal – but there is no guarantee that it will be accepted everywhere. For more details about the use of Indian Rupees in Nepal, do read my separate blogpost titled “Can You Use Indian Currency in Nepal?”
If you’re carrying USD, Euros, Pounds etc. you should be able to change/convert them to Nepali Rupees quite easily with moneychangers in the bigger cities (i.e. Kathmandu or Pokhara). Interestingly, these money changers accept most currencies from around the world, but usually do not convert Indian rupees.
What languages do people in Nepal speak?
Apart from their local language/dialects, most people that I met in Nepal were comfortable speaking in Hindi. Given that tourism is such a big business in Nepal, people who understood and spoke english fluently were not too hard to come by in the larger towns/cities. In more remote areas, broken english could sometimes get the communication job done. Overall, it’s not a very difficult country to travel through in terms of communication with locals.
Can a foreigner get a local SIM card in Nepal?
Technically, yes – though sometimes the process might take some doing. Local SIM cards are usually issued against a passport (used as identity proof).
When I was in Nepal, I found it quite difficult to get a local SIM card and had to try around at a few places before I eventually found someone who was willing to issue on to me. Some places said that they do not accept Indian ID proof (i.e. you mandatorily require a Nepali address proof), but on asking around a bit more, I found a shop where they issued a SIM to me using my Indian ID. The twist in the tale, however, is that while Indians don’t need a passport to enter Nepal, I was told that they ONLY accept a passport as ID proof for issuing a local SIM card. This, of course, is not an “official statement” and on paper other ID documents may also work. However, practically it might be easier to get a local SIM if you have your passport with you.
Pro Tip: There are two primary mobile service providers in Nepal – NTC (private) and Ncell/Namaste (government). The Namaste SIM cards are known to have better overall connectivity (even in remote areas) and therefore I would recommend choosing Namaste.
Do you need travel insurance to travel to Nepal?
An Indian citizen travelling to places like Kathmandu, Pokhara, Lumbini and other easily accessible tourist spots does not need to have travel insurance. However, in the event you wish to visit Lower Mustang, Manang or other places where special permits are required, you are supposed to have a valid travel insurance for obtaining the mandatory TIMS registration. But, this requirement is not necessarily strictly enforced and you may be able to complete the process without valid travel insurance as well – it depends on where and how you get the permits.
That having been said, I would suggest buying at least a basic travel insurance policy in case you’re planning a slightly adventurous trip to Nepal, because (i) it doesn’t cost much (approximately 500 to 1000 Indian Rupees); and (ii) facilities are quite basic in many parts of Nepal and if a medical emergency arises, you usually need to be airlifted by helicopter, which can be a massive expense if not covered under insurance.
Is it tough to find places to stay in Nepal?
If you’re someone who is okay with basic accommodation options then finding a place to stay is almost no trouble at all. Because trekking is so big in Nepal, there are rest houses (often referred to as “tea houses” by trekkers) in almost every little village. These are usually just small rooms attached to the houses of people who live there (an easy way for them to make some money) but they are more than enough if you just want shelter for a night. They will usually also provide simple meals at an additional charge.
If you’re looking for luxurious or well-appointed hotels/guest houses, you are only likely to find them in Kathmandu, Pokhara and a few other popular tourist places – i.e. you might have to travel further to find something that meets your standards/expectations.
On a related note, it is possible to pre-book hotels in the bigger cities like Kathmandu and Pokhara (booking options available online), however, for other parts of Nepal you might need to pre-book through local travel agents, based on their recommendations. I, however, did not see the necessity to do this. During the 25 days that I spent in Nepal, I was always able to just land up at places and find accommodation quite easily.
What kind of food do you get in Nepal?
There’s this popular saying in Nepal “Dal Bhat Power, 24 Hour!”. The most easily available meal in Nepal are the “Thalis” (platters) which consist of, you guessed it, Dal (lentils), rice, one leafy vegetable (usually spinach of some kind), one other vegetable (usually potato) and a chutney or some other small accompaniments. This is the food you’re likely to find even in more remote parts of the country.
In places like Kathmandu and Pokhara food options are aplenty. There are several cosy, quirky and good cafes as well as restaurants that serve all kinds of cuisines from across the world. You might find continental, chinese and other food at some of your stops along more remote routes too (for e.g. at Kagbeni or Jomsom in Lower Mustang), but they are fewer in number and usually quite pricey too.
Is travelling through Nepal expensive?
In my experience, Nepal is a not an expensive country to travel through, unless you choose to make it so. Affordable food and accommodation options are easily available in most parts of the country and entry fees etc. for most tourist places are quite reasonable. Of course, if you seek more luxury in a travel experience, it will come at a premium, in which case a trip through Nepal could cost a sweet penny. Basically, though there are options available for both budget travellers/backpackers as well as those who prefer more lavish travel.
That having been said, there are a few parts of Nepal that are particularly expensive to visit – for example, Upper Mustang. For these highly restricted/controlled areas, permit costs can be quite steep (USD 500 or higher) and therefore, any kind of trip to these places will cost a fair penny.
Do also read my separate blogpost about “Costs and Budget for a Trip to Nepal”.
A few smaller, but relevant, points:
Saturday is Sunday in Nepal – all government offices and several establishments remain closed on Saturdays, but are open on Sundays. It’s good to keep this in mind while planning your Nepal travel itinerary.
Time Zone and Dates
Nepal time is 15 minutes ahead of Indian Standard Time (i.e. GMT + 5:45). Also, they follow a different calendar system, therefore dates (especially on permits, of any kind) need to be cross-checked so that you are sure of validity periods.
Can you fly a drone in Nepal?
Using drones anywhere in Nepal is prohibited unless you obtain prior permission from the relevant authority in Kathmandu. I tried to get some information about the process, but was told that these permits are usually not easily forthcoming. If you’re keen to use a drone in Nepal you might need to plan ahead and find someone locally who can help obtain necessary permits.
Interestingly, the signboards I saw in a few government offices stated that “carrying of drones” is prohibited, which seemed to suggest that even if you didn’t fly the drone you could be in contravention of local rules by simply having a drone in your bags.
Last, but not the least, do also look up the videos I made from my solo adventure to Nepal. You can watch them on my Youtube Channel by clicking here.
And with that, we round up this post. Do also read my other related blogposts that break up some of these things in a more detailed manner. If you have any additional knowledge or experience from travelling in Nepal that could be useful to people reading this blogpost, please feel free to add comments below. Thanks for reading and I hope you found the information useful!
Disclaimer: All the information contained in this blogpost is based on information gathered during my trip to Nepal in June 2019. These are personal experiences and should not be considered official or binding statements. I would recommend cross-checking information (especially with regard to border crossing regulation and other governmental/policy/immigration matters) with official sources prior to your trip to Nepal.