Updated September 2017: Read through this post for accurate and up-to-date information on How to Get to Tibet and how to plan your journey!
How to get to Tibet
The most common question that people email to us is asking How to get to Tibet. While Tibet has a reputation as being an extremely difficult place to travel to, in reality it is quite easy to travel to. Unfortunately, there is a lot of very outdated travel information on Tibet on the internet along with information that is simply wrong or confusing. In addition, many travel agencies in Nepal and in North America and Europe have a misunderstanding of how travel in Tibet works so they have inaccurate information on their websites. In this post we will explain very clearly how to get to Tibet. If you still have questions about traveling to Tibet after reading through this post, please send us an email at: email@example.com
All foreign travelers going to Tibet are required to be part of an organized tour. This organized tour must include travel permits, a tour guide, a private vehicle and a driver. A lot of people don’t realize that when you travel to Tibet, you have the freedom to design your own itinerary that goes to the specific places you want to go to. On our website, we list many of the popular journeys across Tibet and other regions of the Himalaya. If you don’t see the specific itinerary you are looking for, simply contact us and we will assist you in planning a customized journey. Are you looking for a remote nomad adventure or isolated trek that few have done before? No problem! We can work with you to design your own unique travel experience in Tibet.
When planning your journey to Tibet, it is best to do at least a little bit of research in order to help you decide where you wish to go. The Tibetan Plateau, including the Amdo and Kham areas, is not just a couple of towns, but a HUGE area covering more than 2.5 million square kilometers (975,000 square miles). It is larger than many countries! Our expert sales staff, who have all thoroughly explored Tibet, can also assist with recommendations in what to see and do.
Long gone are the days of having to physically go to a travel agency office to arrange a tour to Tibet. All travel arrangements can be made through email. Since travel permits for Tibet take a minimum of 15 days to arrange, it is best to contact us at least 6 to 8 weeks before you plan to arrive in Tibet so that we have ample time to arrange all of the details of your journey and apply for your required travel permits. If you plan to travel to Mt. Kailash and Western Tibet, please contact us at least 8 weeks in advance as permits for these areas take longer to arrange.
Group travel to Tibet is normally NOT required. Solo travelers are permitted to travel to Tibet, however, they still must be part of an organized tour that only a travel agency can arrange.
What we will do for you
All foreign travelers to Tibet are required to be on an organized tour that requires travel permits, a private vehicle, a driver and a tour guide. It is impossible for you to arrange these on your own without the assistance of a travel agency. At Himalaya Journey, we will take care of everything for you including all required permits, vehicle, driver and guide. Our experienced sales managers will make getting to Tibet very easy for you!
Getting to Tibet
There are 2 ways of traveling to Tibet. The first, and most common, is from Mainland China and the other is from Nepal.
Going from Mainland 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: 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 can arrange for you. There are no exceptions.
To Tibet by Flight from Mainland China
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, Chongqing, Xi’an and Kunming. When traveling by flight to Lhasa, Himalaya Journey 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 as it proves that you have an organized tour arranged.
To Tibet by Train from Mainland China
The 1972 kilometer/1233 mile railway connecting Xining to Lhasa opened to travelers in July 2006. The scenery is quite amazing. Most of the route past Xining is complete wilderness, which is quite spectacular. For this reason, most people taking the train to Lhasa 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. Be advised that during the high season from early May through early October, train tickets to Lhasa can be very difficult to obtain.
There are 5 trains per day that arrive to Lhasa. The trains originate in the following cities and pass through many more across China:
- Beijing (Daily)
- Shanghai (Daily)
- Guangzhou (Daily)
- Chengdu (Every other day)
- Chongqing (Every other day)
- Lanzhou (Every other day)
- Xining (Every other day)
To Tibet Overland from Mainland 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 is quite expensive, we recommend to simply take the train for a small fraction of the cost.
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 we 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
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 us 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 government-issued stamp. That letter then needs to be scanned and emailed to Himalaya Journey as we 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 government-issued stamp. The letter then needs to be scanned and emailed to us.
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 Himalaya Journey. If you have any questions, we are here to assist you.
Going from Nepal to Tibet
The travel regulations when going to Tibet from Nepal are different than the regulations when going to Tibet from China. For information on going to Tibet from China, please go to the following post: How to go from China 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 can arrange for you. There are no exceptions. There are 2 main ways of getting to Tibet from Nepal. The first is to fly from Kathmandu to Lhasa and the second is to go overland.
Flying from Kathmandu to Lhasa
There are weekly direct flights from Kathmandu to the Tibetan capital of Lhasa. The flight is just over an hour long. During the summer months (May through early October) there are usually daily flights between these two cities. During the low season, there are 2 or 3 weekly flights from Kathmandu to Lhasa. You will not be permitted to board any flights from Kathmandu to Lhasa without proving that you have an organized tour arranged for Tibet. Once you arrive at the Lhasa airport, your required guide, private vehicle and driver will meet you. You will then begin your travels in Tibet according to the travel itinerary that you arranged in advance with us.
Overland from Kathmandu to Lhasa
An adventurous way to get to Lhasa is to travel overland from Kathmandu. From Kathmandu, the Tibet border is about 130 kilometers north to the border town of Rasuwagadhi. Rasuwagadhi is the last town on the Nepal side. From there, the Tibet (China) border is just a couple hundred meters away. There are daily buses from Kathmandu to Rasuwagadhi or we can arrange a private vehicle to take you along this scenic road. With your organized tour through Himalaya Journey, you can then cross into Tibet, go through Chinese Customs and then meet your required tour guide, private vehicle and driver. From there, you can continue overland through Tibet to places like Everest Base Camp, Mt. Kailash, Shigatse, Lhasa. Again, you will not be able to enter Tibet from Nepal without an organized tour, which needs to be arranged at least 6 to 8 weeks in advance.
Group Chinese Visa when going from Nepal to Tibet
The big difference when going from Nepal to Tibet compared to going from Mainland China to Tibet is the type of Chinese visa needed. When you go from Mainland China to Tibet, all you need is a normal Chinese Tourist Visa, which can be obtained from the Chinese Embassy/Consulate in your home country or at most Chinese consulates across the globe. However, when going from Nepal to Tibet, you MUST have a Group Chinese Tourist Visa, which can only be obtained from the Chinese Embassy in Kathmandu. If you arrive in Nepal with a Chinese Tourist Visa (or other type of Chinese visa) already in your passport, you will not be able to use it and you will not be refunded the cost of this visa, which is now useless.
Himalaya Journey will assist you in getting the Group Chinese Visa. We will write you an official Chinese Visa invitation letter, which will state all of the details listed in your passport along with your travel route in Tibet and the dates you will be in Tibet. We will then forward this letter to our staff in Kathmandu who will assist you in submitting it to the Chinese Embassy in Kathmandu. The Group Chinese Visa in Kathmandu normally takes 2 or 3 business days to obtain. Be advised that the Chinese Embassy in Kathmandu does not process visa applications on weekends, during Chinese holidays or during most Nepalese holidays.
It is important to know that Group Chinese Visas can be issued to solo travelers. They are called “Group” visas, but for the past several years the Chinese Embassy in Kathmandu has issued these group visas to solo travelers as well. So, whether you are traveling with a small group, large group or traveling solo, you can easily have Himalaya Journey arrange the required documents for you to obtain the Group Chinese Tourist Visa in Kathmandu.
If you have any questions regarding traveling to Tibet, please feel free to contact us. Even if you do not choose to have us arrange your journey in Tibet, we are happy to answer any travel questions you have for free! Send your inquiries to us at: firstname.lastname@example.org