“How do I get a Tibet travel permit?” is one of the most common questions we are asked by people planning trips to Tibet. Here is the first in a series of posts that help you answer that and other questions, like “How do I get a Tibet ‘visa’?” and “When is Tibet closed?” If you are interested in making a trip to Tibet, you will need a Tibet travel agency to help you with permits. If you want help with that, ask us here to connect you to a reliable Tibetan-owned travel agent to plan a great trip for you that also supports the local Tibetan economy and culture.
First up, a summary of what you need to know about travel permits for Tibet.
Tibet Travel Permit: Quick Guide
- To enter the Tibetan Autonomous Region (T.A.R., which includes, Lhasa, Everest Base Camp, and Mount Kailash), you need both a Chinese visa and a Tibet travel permit.
- To get a Tibet travel permit, you must be part of an organized tour with a Tibet travel agency, no exceptions. (The tour does not have to be a group tour. You can go as an individual or a couple. More details below.)
- You need to allow at least 20 days in advance of your trip start date for your permits to go through.
- The travel agency will help you plan your itinerary and handle all the details of your tour and permits, so the first and most important decision you need to make is to find a reputable, Tibetan owned agent.
- If you have questions, fill out our Tibet travel inquiry form as best you can, and our excellent, Tibetan-owned agents will respond and provide further guidance on everything related to your trip.
What is a Tibet travel permit?
- A Tibet travel permit (TTP) is a special permission issued from the Chinese government for travel in the Tibetan Autonomous Region (T.A.R.). Most first-time travelers to Tibet usually visit such places as Lhasa, Everest Base Camp or Mount Kailash, which are all in the T.A.R.
- The permit is not a visa. You must get your travel permit in addition to a Chinese visa.
- The Tibet permit consists of paper documents separate from your passport.
- You need a copy of your permit to board a train to Tibet, and you need the original to board a flight.
- While inside Tibet, your guide will usually carry it, to be shown at checkpoints.
How do you get it?
- You can’t apply for it yourself.
- Your travel agency will apply for it on your behalf as part of an organized tour. (Which can mean a group tour, but can also mean a private organized tour for one or more people.)
- Tibet Travel Permits are issued by the Tibet Tourism Bureau in Lhasa, not by embassies or consulates.
- After you confirm a trip with a Tibet travel agency, you scan and email the agency a copy of your passport and Chinese visa. They will get your permit from the TTB.
- If you travel to Tibet by train: your agent will send you a copy via email to show at the station.
- If you are flying to Tibet: the agent will mail you the original permit, or send it to your hotel in China before you need to board the flight.
- Your agency will also get any other special permits required for your particular trip, since some locations require additional permits. You don’t really have to worry about these as your agent will do it for you. (Assuming you use a reputable agent! We are happy to recommend a good, Tibetan-owned agency for you: contact us here.)
What are the restrictions?
- Every year, travel in Tibet is restricted in most or all of February and March, and sometimes at other times. See updated information here.
- Your permit has to be applied for by a travel agency, as part of a “tour.” (Note that a “tour” in Tibet can also include private tours of one or more people.) The tour, no matter what size, has to include a guide, a driver and a private vehicle. The only exception to this is if you are only traveling to Lhasa. In that case, you only require a guide.
- Non-Chinese are not able to book flights from mainland China to destinations in the TAR (like Lhasa) without a TTP. BUT your Tibet travel agency should be able to book flights to Tibet for you —for example from Beijing to Lhasa, or Chengdu to Lhasa — even before your TTP comes through.
- Note, if you work or live in China or are visiting for business, you will need a special letter from your company certifying your purpose for being in China. (Ask your agent for a sample of how to do this.)
- Diplomats, journalists and government officials have to get permit through different means. Inquire at Chinese Embassy.
How long does it take to get?
- The permit process with the government normally takes something like 15 days. (Though this can change depending on the season and on the whims of the government.) The agents we know usually require a scanned copy of your passport and China tourist visa 20 days before your departure date.
What about other permits?
- The permits listed below are required for certain areas in Tibet. If you use our recommended agents there is no need to worry, and they will take care of all of them. If using other agents, just check that your agent is getting all required permits.
- Alien Travel Permit: Required for travel to a number of areas outside of Lhasa, like Everest Base Camp, and Samye Monastery.
- Military Area Permit: Required for travel in certain areas of the T.A.R., like the Mount Kailash area.