Many people each day send me emails asking how to get to Tibet. Unfortunately, Tibet has a reputation as being an extremely difficult place to get to. Much of this is because of inaccurate information about Tibet on overseas travel agency websites and on personal travel blogs. In reality, getting to Tibet is not difficult at all. In this post I will explain in detail how to travel from China to Tibet.
How to go from China to Tibet
The travel regulations when going to Tibet from China are different than the regulations when going to Tibet from Nepal. For information on going to Tibet from Nepal, please go to the following post of mine: How to go from Nepal to Tibet
Regardless if you go to Tibet from Mainland China or from Nepal, all foreign travelers MUST be on an organized tour that only a travel agency (preferably one in Tibet) can arrange for you. There are no exceptions. All foreign travelers to Tibet must have travel permits, a tour guide, a private vehicle and a driver. Only a travel agency can help you get to Tibet. You will need to contact a travel agency in Tibet at least 5 or 6 weeks BEFORE you plan to arrive so that your required permits can be applied for and so that the details of your journey can be arranged.
Contrary to popular belief, group travel to Tibet is not required. You are free to visit Tibet as a solo traveler as long as you are part of an organized tour. However, many budget travelers will find the costs of traveling to Tibet quite high and will join a group tour in order to afford to travel there. Contact me for travel agency recommendations for an economical group tour of Tibet.
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China to Tibet by Train
The 1972 kilometer/1233 mile railway connecting Xining to Lhasa opened to travelers in July 2006. I was fortunate to be one of the first foreign travelers to take the train from Lhasa to Xining shortly after it opened. Since then, I have taken the China to Tibet train more than a dozen times. I enjoy taking the train to Tibet. The scenery is quite amazing. Most of the route past Xining is complete wilderness, which is quite spectacular. Taking the train to Lhasa is now a very popular way of getting to Tibet from Mainland China.
There are 5 trains per day that arrive to Lhasa. The trains originate in the following cities:
Chengdu (Every other day)
Chongqing (Every other day)
Lanzhou (Every other day)
Xining (Every other day)
Contrary to popular belief, there are no trains going to Lhasa that originate in Golmud or Xi’an. All trains going to Lhasa pass through Golmud and make a stop there for a few minutes. The trains from Shanghai and Guangzhou both pass through Xi’an. **It is better to take the train to Lhasa from a point in which the train originates in order to have a better chance of getting tickets. Tourism in Tibet is now big business. In 2014, there were 9.25 million tourists to Lhasa and 15 million total tourists in Tibet. Getting train tickets to Lhasa during the high season, which is from late May through early October, can be very difficult as many of these millions of travelers to Tibet want to take the train there. Most people taking the train to Tibet do so from Xining. Xining is the official starting point of the Tibetan Railway and is the closest major city to Lhasa. Xining, elevation 2300 meters/7500 feet, also allows travelers to better acclimatize to Tibet’s high elevation. It is best to have the travel agency you are using in Tibet also arrange your train tickets to Lhasa from Mainland China as these tickets can be difficult to obtain on your own.
For more detailed information on how to take the train from China to Tibet, please read through the following post of mine: Train from Mainland China to Tibet.
To Tibet by Flight
You can easily fly to Tibet as there are dozens of flights each day to Lhasa. The most common place to fly to Lhasa from is the city of Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province. During the high season from May through early October, there are at least 12 direct flights per day from Chengdu to Lhasa. In addition, there are direct flights to Lhasa from Xining, Lanzhou, Beijing, Chongqing, Xi’an and Dechen. When traveling by flight to Lhasa, the travel agency you use in Tibet will mail your Tibet Travel Permit to the hotel/address you are staying at in Mainland China. You will need this in order to board any flight to Tibet.
To Tibet Overland from China
Since 2009, the overland routes to Tibet from Sichuan and Yunnan provinces have been closed to foreign travelers. It is impossible to say when these once-popular overland routes will reopen again. The overland route from Qinghai remains open to foreign travelers, however this route follows nearly the same exact route that the train line to Lhasa follows. Since a private vehicle from Xining or Golmud in Qinghai province to Lhasa costs many thousands of dollars, nearly everyone chooses to simply take the train for a small fraction of the cost.
NOTE: When going overland from Qinghai province to Tibet, you will need a private vehicle from a travel agency to go beyond Golmud. Even though Golmud is located in central Qinghai, local officials in Qinghai require all foreigners to be part of an organized tour in order to go any further south than Golmud.
Chinese Tourist Visa
Since Tibet is part of China, all foreigners will need to have a valid Chinese visa in their passport. For most travelers, this will mean a standard Chinese Tourist Visa, which can be obtained from most Chinese Embassies and Consulates across the globe. It will be your responsibility to get a Chinese Tourist Visa as travel agencies in Tibet cannot assist you with this. For most nationalities, getting a Chinese Tourist Visa is very easy and takes anywhere from a couple of days to a week at most to obtain. When applying for your Chinese Tourist Visa, it is extremely important that you do NOT list Tibet as one of your travel destinations. If you do, you will have major problems. Just list a couple of major cities in Mainland China and you will be fine. For more on why you should not list Tibet on your Chinese Visa application, please read the following post: Do not list Tibet on your Chinese Visa application.
Along the upper Mekong River in the Kham region of Tibet.
Tibet with Work, Student and other types of Chinese Visa’s
If you hold a student, work, business or spousal visa you can also travel to Tibet. However, there are additional documents that you will need to submit to the travel agency you are using in Tibet in order to obtain the required travel permits for Tibet. If you are a student in China, you will need a letter from the school you are attending that states your full name, nationality, birthdate, passport number and needs to state that you are a student at the university and that you are going to Tibet for a vacation. The letter needs to be written in Chinese and needs to be on your schools official letterhead. Finally, the letter needs to be stamped with your schools official read government-issued stamp. That letter then needs to be scanned and emailed to the travel agency in Tibet you are working with and they will use the letter to get your travel permits.
If you hold a work or business Chinese visa, you will need a letter from your employer (or the business you are associated with in China) that states your full name, nationality, birthdate, passport number and needs to state that you are employed by the company and that you are going to Tibet for a vacation. As above, the letter needs to be written in Chinese and needs to be on your employers official letterhead. Finally, the letter needs to be stamped with your employers official read government-issued stamp. The letter then needs to be scanned and emailed to the agency in Lhasa you are working with.
If you have a spousal visa, you should have your spouse write a letter in Chinese on your behalf. The letter needs to be in Chinese, state your spouses full name, your full name, nationality, birthdate, passport number and needs to state that you are married to a Chinese person and that you are going to Tibet on vacation. If possible, it is best to have your spouse write this letter on official letterhead from the company she works for in China and then have the letter stamped with her company’s official stamp. The letter then needs to be emailed to the travel agency in Tibet you are working with.
Travel to Tibet must be arranged in advance
All travel to Tibet, whether from Mainland China to Tibet or from Nepal to Tibet, MUST be arranged in advance. As stated throughout my website, all foreign travelers must be on an organized tour in order to go to Tibet. This organized tour includes travel permits, a tour guide, a private vehicle and a driver…no exceptions. Arranging this tour is actually extremely easy to do. You have the complete freedom to design your own travel route in Tibet. Itineraries listed on travel agency websites are merely suggestions. If you don’t see the specific route you are wanting to travel, no problem! Simply customize your own travel route and tell the agency you are using that you wish to follow your own route.
Travel permits for Tibet take a minimum of 14 days to arrange for most of Tibet. Travel permits for Western Tibet and Mt. Kailash take longer…about 4 weeks to arrange. You will want to begin contacting a travel agency in Tibet at least 1 month before you plan to arrive to Tibet. If you plan to go to the Kailash region of western Tibet, contact a travel agency at least 6 weeks in advance. This will give you enough time to finalize your travel route and for the travel agency you use in Tibet to arrange your travel permits and all of the other things required for your journey to Tibet.
Here are the documents you need to get :
1. A Chinese Visa
2.Tibet Entry Permit
3.An Alien’s Travel permit
GREAT TIPS :
How to Get a Tibet Entry Permit
Tibet Entry Permit
Foreigners are not allowed to apply for Tibet permits independently. You have to find a China-based travel agency, like China Highlights, to help you do it. What’s more, foreign citizens are not allowed to travel in Tibet independently. You have to be accompanied by a tour guide.
The first requirement for a Tibet Entry Permit is a China visa.
To apply for a Tibet Entry Permit, all you need to do is:
Find an approved Chinese travel agency to help arrange your Tibet tour (your tour itinerary must be shown on the permit).
Send your passport and China visa copies to your travel agency, and they will help apply for Tibet entry.
Applications are almost always successfully if you:
Send your passport and China visa copies at least 7 working days before departure to Tibet if you enter Tibet by train. The earlier the better.
If you are taking flights to Tibet, you are suggested to send passport and China visa copies at least 15 days before departure. Because original permits must be check when boarding, so extra time is needed for mail delivery.
Your occupation on the permit shouldn’t be diplomat, journalist, or government official. Otherwise, you have to apply for entry through the Tibet Foreign Affairs Office.
And you can only enter Tibet from the departure city as listed on your itinerary. For example, if your departure city is Beijing, you can only use the permit at Beijing airport, not other cities’ airports. If you want to change your departure city, please do inform your travel agency at advance, so that the travel agency can help you apply for another permit.
How to Use Your Tibet Entry Permit — When It’s Checked
A Tibet Entry Permit is required to visit the Potala Palace and other attractions in Tibet.
Your travel agency help you apply for the permits and send it to you before your departure.
Tibet Entry Permit Will Be Checked at Train Stations/Airports
A copy of your Tibet Entry Permit will be checked at your departure train station. And you are suggested to print at least 2 copies.
Your original permit will be checked at your departure airport (Nepal only requires copy).
In Tibet, your Entry Permit could be checked at any time, but typically it is when you check in at your hotel and when you enter Lhasa.
You are suggested to give permits to your Tibet tour guide for safe keeping.
Tour with China Highlights, We Will Send You Your Permit Before Departure for Tibet
Entering Tibet from China — Detailed Requirements
Your travel agency will help you apply for the permits with your passport and China visa.
All foreign individuals entering Tibet must hold a passport valid for at least six months.
Additional Requirements for F Visa and Z Visa Customers:
If you are an F (business) or Z (work) visa holder, you are required to provide additional information to get a Tibet Entry Permit. Your travel agency will send you the requirements after you book the tour.
1. If you are working in China on a Z visa, these are required:
A current Residence Permit (居留许可证, like a visa in your passport),
Certification in Chinese from your company/school in China (工作证明, using your company’s letter paper, with your name and passport number, and company seal on it).
2. If you are invited to China on an F visa (for business, research, lecturing; scientific, technological, or culture exchange; short-term advanced studies, or intern practice for a period of no more than six months), you need:
Entering Tibet from Nepal — Group Visas Needed
Entering Tibet from Nepal requires a “group visa” (at least 3 people in a group) valid for Tibet from the Chinese embassy in Kathmandu. It normally takes two weeks to obtain it.
First, you will still need to find an approved Chinese travel agency, like China Highlights, to help you apply for a Tibet permit.
After you receive an invitation letter and Tibet itinerary from your Chinese agency, a Nepal travel agency, will help you apply for your Tibet Group Visa.