Tibet and getting a Chinese visa


Getting a Chinese tourist visa is a fairly simple process. For many nationalities, including North Americans, EU citizens, UK citizens. Australians and New Zealanders, you can apply for a Chinese tourist visa at the Chinese embassy/consulate in your home country and in most Chinese embassies/consulates around the world. On the Chinese visa application, it asks for you to list the places in China that you plan to go to. It is very important that you NOT write “Tibet” on your application or any other Tibetan regions that are found in the Tibet Autonomous Region, Qinghai, western Sichuan or southwest Gansu. If you write Tibet or any Tibetan town or region on your visa application form, there is a very good chance that your application will be denied.

Tibetan nomads in the Kham region of western Sichuan

Nam Tso གནམ་མཚོ་, one of the most famous lakes in Tibet

Tibetan monk from Kham

 If you write “Tibet” as one of your destinations on your Chinese visa application, the consulate/embassy will tell you that they need you to first get a Tibet Travel Permit in order for your visa to be processed. However, the Tibet Tourism Bureau will not process your permit application without you first having a Chinese visa. You will then be in a Catch 22 situation (incapable of avoiding a problem because of contradictory rules) with the embassy refusing to give you a visa without showing your permit and the tourism bureau refusing to give you a permit without showing your visa. If this sounds illogical, it is!! After living more than 13 years on the Tibetan Plateau, I can tell you from personal experience that illogical situations occur all the time, especially in the government.

Upper reaches of the Mekong River

Nomad grasslands in the Labrang  བླ་བྲང་ region of Amdo

Tibetan man making tsamba (roasted barley flour dough) inside a yak wool tent

I have heard many reports over the past few years of people having problems with their Chinese visa application when they have listed Tibetan towns in the Amdo and Kham regions (modern day Qinghai, western Sichuan and southwest Gansu provinces). That is why it is best to avoid listing “Tibet” or any other Tibetan town or region on your visa application form. It is important to remember that you are free to go to places that you didn’t list on your visa application form. You are not going to be prevented from going to a certain place because it wasn’t listed on your visa application form. I recommend just listing a few of the major cities in China that you are planning to go to, such as Beijing, Shanghai, Xi’an or Guangzhou.

North face of Everest viewed from Rongphu village

Land Cruiser along the route from Cho Oyu base camp to Old Tingri

Monks from Yushu ཡུལ་ཤུལ་

Certain Chinese consulates and embassies are now requiring foreigners to show proof of hotel bookings in China before a visa will be issued to them. An easy way to do this is to book an extended stay at an inexpensive youth hostel in a large Chinese city that you are planning to go to (in order to get to Tibet, you will have to pass through Beijing, Chengdu or Xining). Ask the hostel before you book with them if you can change or shorten your stay after you make a booking. In most cases, the hostel will allow you to change your reservation without having to pay a penalty. Have the hostel email you your booking to you to give to the Chinese embassy. Once your visa has been given, contact the hostel and either cancel or shorten your stay with them. You are then free to make other hotel reservations in other parts of China, including in Tibet.

The most important thing to remember is to not list “Tibet” or any other Tibetan inhabited region as one of your destinations on your Chinese visa application.

If you have any questions regarding Tibet travel permits, Chinese visa’s or any other Tibet related questions, go to my Facebook Page or send an email to thelandofsnows@gmail.com

Prayer flags in the Kham region of Tibet

7 thoughts on “Tibet and getting a Chinese visa

  1. Anna Masella


    Your website is extremely helpful. I did send you and I haven’t heard from you. I guess you get many questions.
    I am going to Tibet next year and am looking for a tour for 6-8 days, I would like to go with a Tibetan tour company. I have been told it is important to book a tour beforehand, or I will not get into the country. I am travelling independently and will be travelling by train. If I book a tour before going to Tibet, will the tour company be able to get my visa for Tibet. I hope to pick up the tour in LLasa. I never use tourse, but I think for Tibet this is not possible.

    I would love to hear your views.

    My email address is zero 4 at the end of my name, not small ‘o’.

    Look forward to hearing from you.

    PS Your website is so informative – thank you

  2. Koen

    It is the reality (about Chinese visa) . First time in years they asked me to show the hotel booking. They did never before.

  3. Telly Gabriel

    I would like to know how I can obtain a Chinese visa & Tibet permit if I am coming & returning from Kathmandu. I know I have to work with an agency capable of getting the Tibet permit, however, the only place in China I am really visiting is Tibet on my trip. Is that possible today? I see your article in dated 2012 so can you please give me an update on what’s the latest ruling on this. Thank you very much.