Travel in Tibet

Potala palace, Travel in Tibet


Traveling to Tibet can sound extremely complicated at first. Different information sources seem to contradict each other and even different travel agencies tell you different things. In reality, travel to Tibet is quite easy and straight forward. In this post I will give you detailed information on how to get to Tibet. All of the information listed here is current and valid as of September 2015. If any changes occur, I will update this information right away.

Tibet Travel Permits

All foreigners going to Tibet must have their travel arranged through a travel agency before arriving in Lhasa. The days of arriving in Lhasa and putting together a trip to Everest Base Camp or Mt. Kailash are long over. Everything now has to be arranged in advance. All foreigners must have travel permits, a tour guide and a private vehicle and driver (if you are only staying in Lhasa, no private vehicle is required). Absolutely no independent travel is allowed in Tibet. Any rumor you may have heard that foreigners can travel on their own in Tibet is not true.

You should contact a travel agency at least 4 to 6 weeks before you plan to arrive in Lhasa. For journeys to Kailash and Western Tibet, I recommend contacting a travel agency at least 2 months in advance. This will give you enough time to finalize your travel plans and for the agency to apply for your travel permits. You will need to have a specific itinerary listed on your travel permit. Major changes to your itinerary will not be allowed after your permits have been issued. Travel agencies can arrange your permits for you in advance before you arrive in China to minimize the amount of time you have to wait.

The first permit that all foreigners need to obtain is a Tibet travel Permit which is only issued by the Tibet Tourism Bureau. You cannot get this permit from a Chinese embassy or consulate. A Tibet Travel Permit is NOT a visa and is not placed in your passport. It is a 2 paper form that lists your full name, nationality, age, passport number and your travel route while in Tibet. It will have the seal of the Tibet Tourism Bureau on the front page and the license number of the travel agency who is arranging your tour. This permit is arranged by the travel agency that is organizing your tour. You will NOT need to personally get this permit as the travel agency you use will get it for you.

The next permit that you may need, depending on which areas you plan to travel to, is an Alien Travel Permit which is arranged by the Public Security Bureau (a branch of the police that deals with foreigners). If you plan on traveling outside of the Lhasa-Shigatse area you will need one of these permits. If you need this permit, the travel agency you are using will take care of it for you. Travel agencies are kept up-to-date on travel regulations and will know if the places you are planning to go to will require an Alien Travel Permit or not. The most common way of getting this permit is in Shigatse. If you need this permit, your guide will take your passport and apply for the Alien Travel Permit for you once you arrive in Shigatse.

The third permit that you may need is a Military Permit. If you plan on traveling to Mt. Kailash, overland to Kashgar or to Nyingtri or Chamdo prefectures, you will need a Military Permit. This permit is needed because the Tibet Autonomous Region borders some sensitive and disputed areas of India. This permit is issued in Lhasa by the military authority. Again, your travel agency will know if you need this or not and will apply for the permit for you.

Another permit that is sometimes needed in highly restricted areas of Tibet is a Foreign Affairs Permit. Like the above permits, your travel agency will arrange this for you if you need it.

**Remember, you don’t need to worry about which permits you need or don’t need! The travel agency you use will know all of the current travel regulations and will know which permits are required for your travel route. It is the travel agency’s responsibility to apply for these permits for you. All you have to do is supply your travel route and the agency will take care of the rest of the details.

༌View from the roof of Lhasa's Jokhang Temple ཇོ་ཁང་གཙུག་ལག་ཁང༌, travel in Tibet

View from the roof of Lhasa’s Jokhang Temple ཇོ་ཁང་གཙུག་ལག་ཁང༌

Dana Monastery རྟ་རྣ་དགོན་ in Nangchen county ནང་ཆེན་རྫོང་, Yushu prefecture, Kham (southern Qinghai province)

Applying for Tibet Travel Permits

You will need to scan and email your passport and Chinese visa to the travel agency you are using if you wish to have your permit processed before you arrive in China (you can also arrange a tour by walking into a travel agency, but you will have to wait several days for your tour and permits to be processed. Most people prefer to have it arranged in advance to minimize the waiting time).

If you have a tourist (L) visa, no other documents are required to be sent to the travel agency. If you have a student (X) visa, you will need a letter from your school stating that you are an official student there in addition to your passport and Chinese visa. The letter must include your full name, passport number and nationality. If you have a business (F) visa, you will need a letter from your inviting company stating your full name, passport number, nationality and position with the company. If you have a work (Z) visa or residence permit, you will need a letter stating that you are an official employee of your company. Tibet Travel Permits normally take 12 to 15 days to be processed. Military and Foreign Affairs Permits can take up to 4 weeks to arrange.

The permit then is mailed to you at a hotel or emailed for you to print and use. If you plan on taking the flight to Lhasa, insist that the original is mailed to you as you will have a problem trying to board the plane with only a copy of the permit. If you plan to taking the train to Lhasa, you should have no problem with just a printed copy of the permit. People holding a journalist visa or a Diplomatic Passport are normally not allowed to travel to the Tibet Autonomous Region.

Permits are almost always checked before taking the train to Lhasa and are always checked before boarding flights to Lhasa. Without a permit, you will not be allowed to board a flight or train to Lhasa. It will be extremely difficult to slip into Tibet without a permit and tour and it will be even harder to stay at a hotel without a permit. Foreigner approved hotels will need to see your permit and passport before you are allowed to stay in them.

Overlooking Yamdrok Lake ཡར་འབྲོག་གཡུ་མཚོ་ with the glaciated peak of Nojin Kangsang གནོད་སྦྱིན་གང་བཟང་ in the background

Nomad family camped along the peaks of Amnye Machen ཨ་མྱིས་རྨ་ཆེན། in Golok prefecture, Amdo (southeast Qinghai)

How to Go to Tibet

There are a few way of getting to Tibet. The most common way now is to take the train to Lhasa. There are daily trains to Lhasa originating from Xining, Lanzhou, Chengdu, Chongqing, Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou. In addition, the train passes through many other cities along the way. Train tickets during the busy summer tourist season can be extremely difficult to get. For acclimatization purposes, Xining is probably the best option to take the train from as it sits at 2300m/7500 feet above sea level. It is also the closest major city to Lhasa and is the official starting point of the Tibetan Railway.

Another popular way to get to Lhasa is to fly there. There are daily flights to Lhasa from Chengdu, Xi’an, Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Chongqing and a few other major cities. Chengdu offers the most daily flights to Lhasa with at least 6 to 10 flights per day.

Though I have not heard any official reports of the bus from Golmud to Lhasa being off-limits to foreigners, I have heard from several travelers over the past 5 years who said they were not permitted to buy tickets for this route. With all of the trains passing through Golmud (but not originating there), it makes far more sense to take the more comfortable train rather than the very uncomfortable bus.

In order to purchase train or air tickets to Lhasa, you will need to show your Tibet Travel Permit. Most people prefer paying a little extra and have a travel agency arrange their tickets to Lhasa in advance for them. Getting train tickets during the summer high season can be extremely difficult even for a travel agency.

traveling to Tibet

Nomad grandmother with her grandson in Trindu county ཁྲི་འདུ་རྫོང་ in Yushu prefecture, Kham (southern Qinghai)

Transportation in Tibet

While in Tibet, you will have to travel by private vehicle. The only exception to this is if you are only staying in Lhasa. Most agencies will allow you to use taxi’s or public buses to get around if you are only staying in Lhasa. If you plan on traveling outside of Lhasa, you will most likely travel either by van or 4 wheel drive vehicle. The road conditions in Tibet have dramatically improved over the past 10 years, so more and more vans are being used. If you are traveling with a larger group, it is also possible to travel by mini-van or  private bus depending on the time of year and the conditions of the roads.

Tour Guide

Foreigners must have a tour guide while in Tibet, including in Lhasa. There are no exceptions to this. While in Lhasa, your guide is normally with you for 3 to 5  hours each day and then leaves you to have the rest of the day on your own. When you travel outside of Lhasa, your guide will accompany you in the same vehicle for the duration of the tour. Tibet is now a major tourist destination (over 8.7 million tourists visited the TAR in 2011), and a lot of guides have flocked to Lhasa for a job and some of the new guides are giving the older guides a bad reputation. A few of the newer guides don’t have a high English ability and know little about the sites in Tibet. The travel agency that you book your tour with will be responsible for assigning a guide to you. While in Lhasa, if your guide is not doing a good job, ask for a change before you depart to Everest or some other remote part of Tibet.

Huge glaciated peak in the Himalaya’s

Nomads from Zoige county, Ngawa prefecture རྔ་བ་ཁུལ་མཛོད་དགེ་རྫོང་ (northern Sichuan) on the move

Hotel Bookings

Most Tibetan owned agencies have many relationships with a wide range of hotels in Lhasa…everything from budget backpacker places to 4 and 5 star hotels. If you know the specific hotel you want to stay at, tell the agency and they can book it for you. If you are unsure which hotel you want to stay at, tell the agency which type of hotel you are looking for, such as budget, mid or high end, and they can make a booking for you. During the high season it is essential to have your hotel booked in advance. Most hotels in Tibet do not have websites or ways to reserve them on-line. In areas outside of Lhasa, it is not really necessary to make hotel reservations. These small towns usually only have a handful of accommodation options that usually have empty rooms on arrival. For a list of hotels in towns across Tibet, pick up a copy of Lonely Planet’s Tibet guidebook.


You can choose to have a travel agency arrange all of your meals for you, but it isn’t necessary or required. I recommend doing your meals on your own. That way you can choose what food you want to eat and can be sure that you are not overpaying for a meal that your agency arranged for you.

Kham woman from Jyekundo སྐྱེ་དགུ་མདོ་, capital of Yushu prefecture (southern Qinghai)

A monk in Kham reciting prayers

Entrance Fees

You will need to specify with your travel agency regarding if entrance fees into temples, monasteries and parks are included in your tour price. It is best to have these not included in your tour price. That way, you can decide which places you want to visit on your own. If you have the agency pay for the entrance fees and you decide to not visit a certain monastery, it could be difficult getting that amount refunded.

Deposit and Cancellation Fee

Most agencies will require you to pay between a 10% to 50% deposit on your tour before they will process it. Deposits are paid either by credit card, bank transfer or Western Union transfer. Make sure your agency is very clear with you on their cancellation fee. Also ask what their refund policy is if you become sick during the trip and have to end the tour early. Most agencies should offer at least some of a refund for a tour that has to end early due to illness.

Yaks grazing at 4000 meters

Which Travel Agency?

Choosing a travel agency with a good reputation is very important. Responsible tourism in Tibet is also important. I suggest using a reputable, Tibet-owned/Tibetan-staffed travel agency in Lhasa. As a general rule, the further away from Lhasa, the more expensive the tour will be. Xining and Chengdu are usually cheaper places to arrange a Tibet tour than Beijing, Shanghai or Guangzhou. Arranging a Tibet tour from an agency outside of China will be the most expensive. Choosing an agency directly from Lhasa is usually the cheapest option. I recommend using a Tibeten owned agency to ensure that your tourism money goes to the Tibetan people. Please email me for recommendations on on which travel agency to use:

Nepal to Tibet

The advice is above is only for entering Tibet from the rest of China. If you plan on entering Tibet from Nepal, you have to go by much different rules. Please read through the following for the regulations on entering Tibet from Nepal:

Going from Nepal to Tibet

Kham and Amdo Regions

The Kham and Amdo regions of the Tibetan Plateau are found in Qinghai, southwestern Gansu, western and northern Sichuan and far northwestern Yunnan provinces. These areas are home to over 60% of the total Tibetan population and over 50% of the land mass of the Tibetan Plateau. These areas are completely open to foreign travelers and do not require a tour or any travel permits. Many of these areas are completely Tibetan and are the best places to see traditional Tibetan culture. Many repeat travelers to Tibet consider regions in Kham and Amdo to be the best places that the Tibetan Plateau has to offer.

For more information on travel in Tibet, please send an email to

Lobsang བློ་བཟང་

Overlooking Gyantse རྒྱལ་རྩེ་

66 thoughts on “Travel in Tibet

  1. Pingback: Tibet Travel — How to Plan Your Trip to Tibet

  2. Inspirational Quotes

    Travel in Tibet The Land of Snows Very nice post. I just stumbled upon your blog and wanted to say that I have truly enjoyed surfing around your blog posts. In any case I will be subscribing to your rss feed and I hope you write again soon!

  3. Pingback: ADDITIONAL PERMITS « mysticwalk

  4. Pingback: Travel Route | Backpacking from Bangalore to Singapore

  5. Pingback: Lhasa Tibet: Dos and Don'ts for a First-Time Visitor

  6. Chng k g

    Hi. I am from singapore. I m planning to visit Tibet/ lhasa this year some time in September. Which travel agency in lhasa / Tibet you would reconmend. I have communicated with one from lhasa. Look like his tour price is recent able compare to those agency in Singapore.

    You can email me to the above email add.

    Thank you

    1. Losang བློ་བཟང་ Post author

      With the “S” visas (Both S1 and S2), you will still need a letter from your family member/spouses employer or school. The letter needs to be written in Chinese, needs to state your relationship to the person that is connected to your S visa and needs to state that you are traveling to Tibet for tourism.


    1. Losang བློ་བཟང་ Post author

      You will need to get one. You will NOT be given a travel permit for Tibet without this letter. An “S” visa is for visiting family/friends that live in China. To get this type of visa, you almost always have to have a letter from this friend/family member. How did you get your “S” visa?

  7. packard

    i own property in china. so all i needed was the red book ownership of property with my name and i got my s visa. so no family, no friends, nobody. they cannot deny me access to my property.

  8. yee kai ming

    This is my first time going to tibet and curious on this coming trip, I have planned to visit next march 2015 , so my question is should I book through a tour agency in Tibet itself? Does the tour include accommodation and transport? What about the TTP will they arrange for me?
    Thank you and looking forward for your respond.

    1. Losang བློ་བཟང་ Post author

      Tibet is closed each March for about 4 or 5 weeks. You will need to change your travel dates and go to Tibet outside of the month of March. All travel agencies in Tibet are required to arrange all transportation, the required guide and all permits for you. They can also arrange accommodations for you.


  9. yee kai ming

    Hello again,
    Regarding about the Chinese visa, once I have completed my tour in Tibet and returning to Guangzhou airport, will my present visa be expired or do I have to apply a second entry visa to China.

  10. Yazi

    If I am planning a trip with 8 years old and a 3 years old kid. Is there any restriction on kid? Any recommendation of child friendly hotel in Lhasa?

  11. Leo Gander

    I am from Austria and will travel by myself. I start my trip Apr 5 in mainland China.
    My questions are:
    1. I will take the Train from Xining-Lhasa. Where do you recommend to stop for app. 3 days to acclimatize bevor continuing to Lhasa.
    2. Can an agency get me the Train ticket an Tibet Permit?
    3. Please send me some travel agencies that you recommend for a 7 day trip from Lhasa – Kathmandu including Rongbuk Monastry.
    I am a Budget traveller and interested in nature and culture.
    Thank you so much.
    Leo Gander

  12. nora gantcheva


    i couldn’t find any indications of costs of a tour with guide? We are overland travellers from the Netherlands to Singapore, and would like to travel through Tibet to Nepal if it is not too expensive.
    Thank you in advance.

    Kind regards, Nora Gantcheva

    1. Losang བློ་བཟང་ Post author

      Nora, with countless overland routes and countless options of things to see and do in Tibet, it would take me eternity to put up all the different prices! Prices for Tibet tours are greatly determined by 1) where in Tibet you plan to go, 2) how long you plan to be in Tibet, 3) how many people will be traveling with you and 4) what types of accommodations you will be staying in. Without knowing any of these, it is impossible to give any type of price estimates. I can give you 3 or 4 excellent, Tibetan-owned travel agencies to contact who would be happy to assist you in planning your journey. They can also give you the price requests that you need.


  13. Erwin K

    Dear Losang,

    We are from Indonesia and accidentally read your site , when i was browsing for Tibet tours, glad we stumbled upon your site.
    Inspiring site , gives me a pretty good idea of Tibet, in general.
    We fall in love with The Himalayas after did a trek to Tengboche, Nepal side, on December 2014.
    In the future , we would like to visit the Everest , from the Tibet side.
    We are interested on a Lhasa -Rongbuk Monastery- North EBC ,is it possible to do this journey on late December to early January ?


    Erwin ,Sharon ,Cheryl

  14. Aisyah

    Hi there, I’m from Singapore and planning to go to Tibet (free and easy) in a week’s time. Is it possible to get the visa for Tibet via a tour agency? And any recommended one?

  15. Ann Coughlan

    I stumbled upon your website and it brought back good memories! The photographs are beautiful: I particularly like the b&w one at the head of this post. Thank you for sharing! Ann

  16. Angela

    Hi Lobsang, we are a group of 3 female travellers. We plan to visit Tibet in Mid September 2016. We have 10 days to explore Tibet. We would enter Tibet by train. We would like to do a little bit of cycling, and would like to visit the Everest base camp. Do you have recommendation on the travel agent that do cycling tout? We are not hardcore cyclists but leisure cyclists. Hope to hear from you soon.

  17. Simona


    Do you know which is the best time for trekking in Kharta valley, up to the the Kangshung face of Everest?

    All the websites say April till October, but a local agent told me that only October is suitable.

    I would like to go in May.

    Kind regards,

  18. vistet

    Re the best ways to acclimatize on a Lhasa trip : apparently there is a new option this year . You can acclimatize in Xining , and then fly in to Lhasa . Cabin pressure is near identical to Xinings altitude , so you may even have a benefit from a long flight to Beijing , and a connecting flight the same day .

    ( I wrote a long post on this in August on my blog , they were selling flights then . Haven’t checked if they do now in the winter. )

    1. Lobsang བློ་བཟང་ Post author

      Fights from Xining to Lhasa have been around for over 10 years. Even the first time I went to the Tibet-side Everest Base Camp nearly 15 years ago, I went to Lhasa by flight from Xining. In the low season, there are 3 direct flights per week from Xining to Lhasa and during the high season there is normally one flight per day. Staying in Xining for a night, as you recommend, is a great way to help acclimatize.


  19. Samuel Tan

    I am planning a trip to Tibet / Lhasa in Jun 2016 with 13 years old and 11 years old kids.

    Would you recommend which local travel agency that I may contact for more trip itineraries suggestion and planning arrangement ?

    Thank you.

    1. Kei

      Hi Wanida. Im from Singapore as well. Would like to ask if you have booked your tickets to Tibet? And how do you apply for the visa or permits from Singapore? I tried to book from the travel agency in Singapore.. But it dont seem like they can assist..

  20. Andy Killeen

    Hi Lobsang

    Thanks for your really helpful site. We’re currently living in Beijing, where my wife teaches at an international school, and we want to go to Tibet in the summer. Can we book with a Tibetan agency, or should we book here? Can you email me your recommendations?

  21. Jeffrey Manuel

    Hi Lobsang,

    Love your website. So much info already!

    I’m travelling the silk road later this year and intend to go to Tibet for a week or so. I’m coming from west-China. What do you think is the best route to get into Lhasa overland?

    And my second question, what area do you recommend for a week in late november/early december? Obviously I want to see some of the culture as well is the scenery. Not really sure if that is possible if I just stay in Lhasa.

    Hope you can help me out!


  22. Charlotte

    Thank you for writing this article, it’s so helpful.
    My boyfriend and I are planning a big trip this year, flying from Brisbane to Ho Chi Minh then travelling by land – mainly train – to Saint Petersburg.
    We are thinking of travelling from Hanoi to Beijing by train and maybe stopping somewhere on the way as we want to see rural China??? Stopping in Bejing and Xian for a few days to see various sights and a 2 day Great Wall trek before we head to Mongolia…. I have read about the Silk Road and Tibet and am really interested to visit but we are on a budget!
    I am feeling overwhelmed by the amount of research I have to do and trains a lot of which I need to book in advance, I prefer to go with the flow more.
    Any travel agent tips for Tibet or other tips you may have would be really appreciated.

    Charlotte and Leroy.

  23. Vincent Low

    Hi Lobsang!

    Thank you for writing up the article!
    I’m Malaysian and I would like to visit Tibet in August this year from Singapore with my gf.
    Do you have any recommendations on agencies to hire or how should I arrange for it?


  24. Kei

    Hi. Im from Singapore. Would like to ask how do you apply for the visa or permits from Singapore? I tried to book from the travel agency in Singapore.. But it dont seem like they can assist.. Im travelling alone, thus I definitely need a travel guide to bring me around Tibet. Please assist me out. Thank you.

    1. Lobsang བློ་བཟང་ Post author

      Kei…Travel to Tibet should be arranged from travel agencies in Tibet, not far away Singapore. The required travel permits for Tibet come from the Tibet Tourism Bureau, which is in Lhasa. I have emailed you a couple of excellent travel agencies in Tibet to contact. Enjoy your journey!


  25. Cheryl

    Hi Lobsang,

    Thanks for sharing great information!
    I think of going to Tibet for 7-10 days in October from Singapore, probably by myself. I want to visit Everest base camp as well. I am a budget traveller. Could you help recommend some good travel agency? Thanks!


  26. Sflow

    Hi Lobsang,
    My friends & I are planning a trip to Tibet from Singapore in May next year. We are budget travellers and our group is about 10 persons. Can you recommend some travel agencies with English speaking guides? Thank you.

  27. Lina

    Hi Lobsang,
    thanks so much for the post, it really helped me get some ideas on travelling to Tibet. I was hoping I could go this summer, but surely seems like it needs much planning in advance. Could you recommend me some travel agencies in Tibet I could contact for the itinerary and the budget? I’m in Tianjin with Z visa, but prefer to backpack on a budget.

    Thanks again for your help in advance!


  28. Alan

    Hello, I’m planing to visit Tibet for 10 days this Sept. Hope it’s not too late to start arranging all necessary permits, hotel and itinerary. I would appreciate advice on an agency to use and itinerary recommended for 10 days. I’m interested to visit the Everest Base camp but I’m not sure how tough it can be. Open to any suggestion. Thank you so much in advance for any advise you could give.

    1. Lobsang བློ་བཟང་ Post author

      Alan….The Tibet side of Everest can be reached overland. This means that NO trekking or climbing is required. You can get there easily by vehicle. I have emailed you further info to help you arrange your journey to Tibet.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *