Going from Mainland China to Tibet can seem extremely difficult. In reality, it is quite easy! Read this post for clear information on how to travel from Mainland China to Tibet. Still have questions? Email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org
If you still have questions on how to go from China to Tibet after reading this or need a reputable and affordable travel agency in Tibet, send an email to: email@example.com
How to get to Tibet
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. 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.
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:
- Beijing (Daily)
- Shanghai (Daily)
- Guangzhou (Daily)
- 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
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.
For more information on going to Tibet or a recommendation on a reputable and affordable travel agency, send an email to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Summary on How to Get to Tibet
Here is a quick summary of how to go from Mainland China to Tibet:
- Traveling from Mainland China to Tibet is not difficult
- All travelers going to Tibet MUST be on an organized tour
- Only a travel agency can arrange travel permits and organized tour for you in Tibet
- The 2 main ways to get from China to Tibet are by train or by flight
- You will need to get your own Chinese Tourist Visa BEFORE arriving in China
- Do not list Tibet on your Chinese visa application
- Group travel to Tibet is not required
- Contact a travel agency at least 1 month to 6 weeks before you plan to go to Tibet
***This post is ONLY for those who are going from Mainland China to Tibet. For information on how to travel from Nepal to Tibet, please read the following link: How to go from Nepal to Tibet. If you have any travel questions on Tibet or need a recommendation on a reputable and affordable travel agency, email me at: email@example.com