In the current circumstances, there is actually no such thing as a “Tibet Visa.” One needs to get a Chinese visa, and then an additional Tibet travel permit to travel to the Tibetan Autonomous Region.
Quick Guide: Chinese Visa and Tibet Travel Permit
- You need to arrange the Chinese visa on your own. To apply for a Chinese visa anywhere except in Nepal, apply to your local Chinese embassy or consulate, or through a visa service. We loved using Travel Visa Pro, which felt less stressful than going directly through the local Chinese consulate. See also the Nepal section below if you’re thinking of entering Tibet via Nepal.
- However, you cannot get your Tibet travel permit (TPP) on your own. No independent travel is allowed to Tibet and a Tibet travel agency must get the permit for you as part of your official tour (the tour can be a private tour for just you and your party, if you wish). We recommend using a Tibetan-owned agency, which hires Tibetan guides only. If you need help, ask us 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. Once you have organized the trip with the agent, the agent then applies for the Tibet travel permit on your behalf. Learn more about theTibet travel permit and how to get it here >>
- Note that there are wonderful parts of Tibet, in the regions of Kham and Amdo, which are not considered to be part of the Tibetan Autonomous Region, which you can travel to without needing the additional Tibetan travel permit. (Some parts of Kham are included in the T.A.R.)
Can I mention Tibet on my application for a Chinese visa?
- No you shouldn’t mention Tibet or any Tibetan cities when you apply for your Chinese Visa. (Unless you are applying from Nepal, which is a different case. See the next section.)
- Tibet travel agents all recommend getting your Chinese visa first, with no mention of Tibet. Applicants simply list mainland Chinese cities that they are traveling to, like Beijing or Shanghai. Then, once they have their Chinese visa, they organize their trip to Tibet with a Tibet travel agent, who will apply for the Tibet Travel permit.
- Note also that the booked flight you submit for your Chinese visa should not include travel to or from anywhere in Tibet. Instead, most travelers book a flight to a city in mainland China (like Beijing, Xi’an, Xining, Chengdu), and then book a separate ticket to and from Lhasa. For the Chinese visa application, you will show only the roundtrip portion to mainland China.
- Of course this process makes some people nervous and they fear they are lying on their visa application, but it is by far the most common and practical way to organize your travel to Tibet. It may help to know that the Chinese government allows travelers to get a visa, and then add destinations at a later date.
- If you have more questions or concerns about applying for the Chinese visa, we offer an free Tibet Travel Plan that includes detailed information on getting your Chinese visa. You can buy the Tibet Travel Plan here >>
The Special Visa Required to Enter Tibet from Nepal
- Entering Tibet via Nepal requires a special instance of the Chinese visa, even if you already have a Chinese visa.
- If you plan to enter Tibet from Nepal, either by air or land, you must have a Group Chinese Visa (also called at times a Tibet Group Visa) from the Chinese Embassy in Kathmandu.
- “Group” really means just a tour organized by a travel agency. You can do it as an individual or small group of family or friends.
- Our Tibet travel agents in Lhasa have partners in Kathmandu who can help you with this. For a referral to our agents, fill out our Tibet Travel Service form as best you can, and ask whatever questions you have in the comment section.
- It’s important to note that if you plan to enter Tibet from Nepal, you do not need to apply for a Chinese visa from your home country. Even if you already have a Chinese visa, you must get the Group Chinese Visa from the Chinese Embassy in Kathmandu, and once you get the Group Chinese Visa, any other visa you have obtained is invalidated.
- One option, if you want to keep your individual tourist visa for China, but still go to Tibet from Kathmandu, is to fly from Kathmandu to a Chinese city like Chengdu or Kunming, using your individual tourist visa for China. (The flight from Kathmandu may be routed through Lhasa, but if you’re only in transit you don’t need the special Tibet entry permit.) You can then overnight in Kunming or Chengdu and catch a flight to Lhasa the next day. The cost of the flights are sometimes comparable or even less than a direct Kathmandu to Lhasa flight, and you don’t have to 1) obtain the Tibet Group Visa in Nepal and 2) lose your individual visa for China after you leave Tibet. You will have to obtain, however, the Tibet entry permit from a Tibetan agent 20 days or so before you plan to enter Tibet. (Agents can send your permit to your hotel in Chengdu or Kunming for you to pick up. You do need the hard copy original Tibet permit to travel by air to Tibet.) Please note that we don’t recommend flying into Lhasa (see this post on good itineraries for preventing altitude sickness) but just want you to know your options.
- Note that the Group Chinese Visa that you get in Nepal is single entry and can’t be extended in the way a normal Chinese visa can.