In normal years, Tibet is closed to foreigners at least once or twice a year. Some closures happen more or less regularly every year but others can happen suddenly, so if you’re traveling to Tibet any time soon, you need to keep an eye out for Tibet travel advisories and updates.
2021 Travel Advisory: Permits for expats currently living in China are now open! Travelers not already living in China still seem to be subject to a 14-day quarantine and the Tibet permit situation for these is not known. However, if you want to travel to Tibet you can pre-book travel for a later date. By doing this, you will support local Tibetan-owned businesses at a time when they are struggling to survive. To learn more, ask us for an introduction to a reliable Tibetan travel agency here.
There is no reliable way to guarantee that you will miss an unexpected closure, but here’s a list of closures we’ve put together to help you get a sense of when Tibet is more likely to be closed.
For the very most up-to-date news on closures, you can rely on your Tibetan travel agent. If you don’t have one yet, we’re happy to introduce you to a great one here.
Tibet Closures Listed by Year
Since other closures and rules related to permits are not regular, here’s a year by year breakdown of the events we know of. This is by no means complete, and we would welcome your updates or corrections if you find a mistake!
- Closed to all foreign travelers: January through the end of July. (In May 2021 the Chinese government announced that the Tibet Autonomous Region(TAR) would be open to open to foreigners currently living in China, but these did not actually begin to be processed until July 12, 2021 — and were again briefly halted likely because of a high Chinese leadership trip to Tibet in late July. After the brief halt, permits began processing again for trips in early August.)
- Brief opening for expats currently living in China: August 1 to 9
- Closed to all foreign travelers: August 10 to September 14, likely due to C19 outbreak in various cities in China — not in Tibet.
- Currently open to expats currently living in China but not to other foreign travelers.
The latest word on travel for foreigners not living in China is that as of China has extended it’s border restrictions through mid-2022.
- Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, all tourist attractions and hotels in Tibet closed down from January 27, forcing all non-residents to depart, including foreign tourists. As of June 2020, tourist attractions began opening, but only to domestic travelers. No foreign travelers were allowed to enter the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), even foreigners who have been living in China. However, foreigners in China could visit the non TAR regions. For the most recent news and more info on this see our Tibet travel advisory page.
- From approximately February 1 to March 1, no travel permits were issued.
2019 was very unusual in regards to the regular February/March closures.
The closure began earlier in February due to Tibetan New Year starting on February 5, and then surprisingly, on February 26 certain Tibet travel companies were told they would be allowed to process permits in March this year.
The late announcement meant, effectively, that travelers would not be able to actually travel in Tibet in March 2019, as the permit typically takes three weeks to process.
Still it was welcome news that the TAR may be open in March in the future.
- It was announced around January 14 that the T.A.R. would be closed starting February 10, and that all foreign travelers would have to be out of Tibet by that date.
- Permits were re-opened on April 1. Usually, permits begin to be issued at some point in March for
- April 1, following the March closure, but in 2018, the permits were held longer than usual, through 3/28.
- The T.A.R. was closed to foreign travelers from February 25 to March 31.
- The Tibet Nepal border re-opened at a new location, at Kyirong.
- The T.A.R. was closed to foreigners from October 18 to 28. The announcement was made not quite a month prior. (Thanks to travelers for this update!)
- T.A.R. was closed to foreign travelers from Feb 20 to March 30.
- It was closed again, unusually, from June 18-23. This closure was announced mid-May.
- The Tibet-Nepal border was closed all year due to earthquake damage.
- The T.A.R. was closed from February 10 to March 30.
- Due to the April 25, 2015 Nepal earthquake, the border between Tibet and Nepal was closed. This lasted until August 28, 2017. Routes along the road from Lhasa to the border, including Shigatse and EBC, were closed until sometime in the summer during earthquake recovery.
- Beginning August 31 travel permits were suddenly halted, and all tourists had to be out of Tibet. The closure lasted from September 3 to 11.
- Tibet travel permits were not issued from February, 20 to March, 31 2014.
- In 2014, any nationalities could once again travel together in a small or large group size through Tibet travel agencies.
- For a period of time, travel to Mount Kailash was restricted to 3 people of the same nationality.
- Suddenly, on January 22, 2013, the Tibet tourism bureau announced, much earlier than usual, that the travel permits would be stopped until the end of March, effectively extending the annual March closure through the whole of February as well. Permits were resumed, more usually, on April 1.
- On March 25, 2013, it was announced that travel permits would only be issued to a minimum group size of two people and always of the same nationality. Then, on March 27, it was announced that this minimum rule had been removed. Solo travelers would be allowed, but would need, as always, to sign up for an organized tour through a Tibet travel agency. (You can be on your own private organized tour.)
- A new rule was instituted by the government, mandating that travelers would be admitted to enter in Tibet only if being part of an organized group composed by a minimum of 5 persons of the same nationality.
- June 1 into the autumn: foreigners were banned for a period of time, though this was not officially announced, after a wave of Tibetan self-immolations.
- Foreigners were banned from mid-June until the end of July.
- Foreign travel groups were not allowed in Tibet from the March closures until June 25, 2008, in relation to the 2008 Beijing Olympics. (We’re not sure of the closure dates and locations in the summer. If you have more information, let us know.)
Note: We have focused here on the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR) closures but certain areas of the non-TAR areas of Kham and Amdo are sometimes affected as well.
The “Regular” February/March Closures
From 2008, you could pretty much count on the Tibetan Autonomous Region (the T.A.R.) being closed every March due to the Chinese government’s extreme sensitivity to potential protests around the time of the March 10, 1959 Tibetan uprising.
The closures would extend into part of February as well, for, apparently, some sensitivity related to Tibetan New Year, though the dates don’t always really match Tibetan New Year.
You can see in the list below that the dates are not exact, but to be on the safe side, we have typically advised avoiding the entire months of February and March.
2020: Closed from January 27 to the present
2019: Approximately Feb 1 to about March 1 (officially open in March but in practice no permits likely were issued. See more info below.)
2018: February 10 to March 31
2017: February 25 to March 31
2016: February 20 to March 30
2015: February 10 to March 30
2014: February 20 to March 31
2013: January 22 to April 1
Now you know about closures, how can you start planning your Tibet trip?
If you need help finding a reliable Tibetan-owned agency, fill out the short form here and we will forward the information to one of our highly recommended locally owned Tibetan travel agents, who will contact you directly and give you all the help you need, including the very most recent news on closures.
Truly, one of the great advantages of Tibet travel is that your travel agents handle so many things for you, including getting your Tibet travel permit and helping book trains or flights from mainland China.
Some additional resources used for this post, in addition to travel agency information:
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