Going from Nepal to Tibet can seem extremely difficult. In reality, it is very easy! Read this post for clear information on how to travel from Nepal to Tibet. Still have questions? Email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org
For a recommendation on a reputable and affordable travel agency to use in Tibet, send me an email at: email@example.com
How to go from Nepal to Tibet
Unfortunately, Tibet has a reputation as being an extremely difficult place to get to. Much of this is because of inaccurate information that is listed on overseas travel 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 Nepal to Tibet. If you still have questions after reading this, feel free to email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Travel from Nepal to Tibet
The travel regulations when going from Nepal to Tibet 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 of mine: How to go from China to Tibet
Regardless if you go to Tibet from Nepal or from Mainland China, 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 assist you in getting to Tibet. You will need to contact a travel agency at least 5 or 6 weeks in advance so they can apply for your required travel permits and arrange the details of your journey.
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.
Nepal to Tibet Overland
There are 3 ways to get to Tibet from Nepal. The first is to travel overland from Kathmandu to Tibet. From Kathmandu, the Tibet border is about 115 kilometers north along the Araniko Highway, which connects Kathmandu to the border town of Kodari. Kodari is the last town on the Nepal side. From Kodari, the Tibet (China) border is just a couple hundred meters away. There are daily buses from Kathmandu to Kodari or you can have a travel agency in Kathmandu arrange a private vehicle to take you along this scenic road.
You will not be able to cross from Nepal into Tibet without an organized tour, which I will explain how to arrange later in this post. With your organized tour, 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 and anywhere else in Tibet. Again, you will not be able to enter Tibet from Nepal without an organized tour from a travel agency, which needs to be arranged well in advance.
NOTE: Nepal Tibet Border Crossing Update: Due to the April 2015 Nepal Earthquake, the overland border crossing from Nepal to Tibet (and vice versa) is CLOSED to all foreign travelers. The new border point will be in Kyirong, Tibet, but it is impossible to say when this will reopen. I expect it to be closed until spring or summer 2017. Check the following link for more information: Nepal-Tibet border closed.
Flying to Tibet from Nepal
The second option of going from Nepal to Tibet is to fly. 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 the travel agency you are working with in Tibet.
Simikot to Kailash
A more unique way to get to Tibet from Nepal is going from the small town of Simikot, located in far northwest Nepal. The only way to reach Simikot is by flight and unfortunately, there are no direct flights from Kathmandu to Simikot. You will have to first fly to Nepalganj and then fly to Simikot. From Simikot, it is a 5 day trek to the small village of Hilsa, Nepal, which is located just across from the border of Tibet. The trek from Simikot to Hilsa is stunning, however, a travel agency in Nepal will need to assist you with the required permits and arrangement for this extremely isolated area. From Hilsa, you can then cross over the bridge and enter Tibet where your required private vehicle, driver and guide will be waiting for you. From there, you will then travel to the nearby town of Purang where you will stay the night before going on to Lake Manasarovar and Mt Kailash.
Because you require 2 flights to reach Simikot from Kathmandu and because you have to have travel permits for this region of Nepal and a full organized tour once you reach Tibet, this is a not a budget-priced journey. However, it is an amazing journey that few foreign travelers experience!
Group Chinese Visa
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.
A travel agency in Lhasa will have to assist you in getting the Group Chinese Visa. They 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. The travel agency in Lhasa will then forward this letter to their partners 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.
Unlike a standard Chinese Tourist Visa, which is placed inside your passport, the Group Chinese Tourist Visa is NOT in your passport. It is a full-sized piece of paper that lists your full name, birthdate, gender, profession, nationality and passport number. It also states how long your visa is valid for and how long you can stay in Tibet and China. The Group Chinese Visa will always be valid for the duration of your pre-arranged journey to Tibet. Normally the Group Chinese Visa will be valid for at least 28 days, though if you are taking a longer journey in Tibet, say 45 days for example, your Group Chinese Visa will be valid for the entire duration of your time in Tibet with at least another week for you to go to Mainland China and depart the country.
It is important to know that Group Chinese Visa’s can be issued to solo travelers. They are called “Group” visa’s, but for the past several years the Chinese Embassy in Kathmandu has issued these group visa’s to solo travelers as well. Contrary to popular belief and contrary to many of the reports on the internet, you do not need to be in a group in order to travel from Nepal to Tibet. So, whether you are traveling with a small group, large group or traveling solo, you can easily have a travel agency in Lhasa arrange the required documents for you to obtain the Group Chinese Tourist Visa in Kathmandu.
Inconveniences with a Group Chinese Visa
There are a couple of nuisances with the Group Chinese Visa. The first is that this type of visa cannot be extended in China. A normal Chinese Tourist Visa can be extended at least once (and sometimes twice) in China, but the Group Chinese Visa cannot be extended. When you first begin to contact a travel agency in Tibet to arrange your journey, be sure to tell the agency if you plan to spend a couple of weeks or more traveling in Mainland China after your time in Tibet. That way they can make sure to write on the visa invitation letter that you be given a 28 or 35 day Group Chinese Visa.
The second nuisance is that if you are traveling with a group of people from Nepal to Tibet and then on to Mainland China, each of you MUST depart China from the same port, on the same day, at the same exact time. This is because the Group Chinese Visa is not in your passport, but is on a full-sized piece of paper. This means that all of you will have to exit through the same Chinese customs together at the same exact time. This can cause MAJOR problems if you use a budget travel agency and they place a group of strangers together who all plan to exit China from different ports (ie. some leaving from Beijing, others leaving to Hong Kong and others leaving from Shanghai, etc). So again, Group Chinese Visa’s cannot be extended and if you are traveling with a group, all of you MUST exit China together at the same place and time.
Travel to Tibet must be arranged in advance
All travel to Tibet, whether from Nepal to Tibet or Mainland China 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 to send the visa invitation letter to their partners in Kathmandu so they can submit it for your Group Chinese Visa.
For more information about tours to Tibet, send an email to: email@example.com
Summary of How to go from Nepal to Tibet
Here is a quick summary of how to go from Nepal to Tibet:
- Traveling from Nepal to Tibet is not difficult
- All travelers going to Tibet MUST be on an organized tour
- Only a travel agency can arrange an organized tour for you
- The 3 ways to get from Nepal to Tibet are by overland journey, by flight or by trekking from Simikot to Hilsa (NOTE: Currently the overland route from Nepal to Tibet is closed to to natural disasters)
- To go from Nepal to Tibet, you must have a Group Chinese Visa
- Group Chinese Visa’s can only be obtained with the help of a travel agency
- Group Chinese Visa’s for Tibet can only be issued from the Chinese Embassy in Nepal
- Group Chinese Visa’s can be issued to solo travelers who are on an organized tour
- Group Chinese Visa’s cannot be extended
- Everyone traveling on the same Group Chinese Visa must exit the country together
- Contact a travel agency at least 1 month before you plan to go to Tibet
***This post is ONLY for those who are going from Nepal to Tibet. Going from Mainland China to Tibet is easier and the regulations are different than the regulations going from Nepal to Tibet. For information on how to go from China to Tibet, please read the following link: How to go from China to Tibet. If you have any travel questions on Tibet or other regions of the Himalaya, feel free to email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org