What Is the Bhutanese Ngultrum (BTN)?

The Bhutanese ngultrum (BTN) is the national currency for the Kingdom of Bhutan, an isolated, mountainous country in central Asia. Its name is a combination of the word ngul, meaning "silver” in the traditional Bhutanese Dzongkha language, and trum, a Hindi word meaning “money.” The ngultrum subdivides into 100 chetrums and uses the abbreviation "Nu" locally.

As of September 2020, 1 BTN is worth roughly US $0.015.

Key Takeaways

  • The Bhutanese ngultrum (BTN) is the official currency of the Kingdom of Bhutan.
  • The ngultrum was introduced in 1974, where it remains pegged at par with the Indian rupee, which is also the only other international currency it can be exchanged for readily.
  • Bhutan's economy is considered to be small and underdeveloped, relying heavily on India for assistance.

Understanding the Bhutanese Ngultrum

Until 1789, the most common currency in Bhutan consisted of coins manufactured at the Cooch Behar mint in West Bengal, India. After the occupation of the mint by the British colonial armies, Bhutan began to issue its own currency, initially copper and silver coins called chetrum. These were manufactured traditionally, by blacksmiths operating with hammers and dies. Thanks to the nation’s isolation from industrialization, it was not until 1929 that Bhutan began to issue modern coins. 

The Bhutanese ngultrum was first introduced in 1974, where it was pegged at par (1:1) with the Indian rupee (INR), an exchange rate which persists to this day. The rupee also continues to circulate widely in the country. The exact exchange rate does vary slightly yet remains connected to the Indian rupee.

Paper denominations include the 1, 5, 10, 20, 50, 100 and 500 Nu notes. As the value of the bill increases so too does the physical size of the banknote, except for the Nu.500, which is slightly smaller than the Nu.100 note. There is a recently released Nu.1,000 bill, although much like the Nu.500 sees little day-to-day use.

After a period of modernization and economic reform, in 1968 the Bank of Bhutan was created and handled monetary issues until 1982. In 1982, the Royal Monetary Authority of Bhutan became the central bank and managed monetary policy and the issuance of currency.

The only foreign currency with which the ngultrum can be exchanged is the Indian rupee.

Economy of Bhutan

 The sparsely populated Kingdom of Bhutan is a small landlocked country in the South Asia Himalayas. The country transitioned to a constitutional monarchy in 2008. The Bhutan economy relies heavily on trade and support from India, but has recently grown over the last decade and had the second fastest growing economy in the world in 2007.

The Kingdom's primary export is hydroelectric power to India, which also forms over 40% of the economy. Most recent growth is in the e-commerce sector. Tourism is one of Bhutan’s other essential industries, and many foreign currencies are accepted instead of the local official money in tourist areas. Agricultural exports include corn, rice, eggs, dairy products, citrus, root crops, and food grains.

According to the 2019 World Bank data, the Kingdom of Bhutan experienced a 4% yearly growth in the country's gross domestic product (GDP) with an annual inflation rate of 2.6%.