Tibet is a holiday destination worth-visiting. It is famous for its mountainous landscape, religion, culture as well as architecture. For the past decade, it has gotten significantly easier to travel to and from Tibet, as well as around Tibet.
Visit on a Tour
In order to travel in Tibet, you have to visit with a tour. First off, only tour operators can obtain entry permits to Tibet. You cannot obtain entry permits to Tibet independently. Before leaving for Tibet, make sure your agreed itinerary and fees have already covered all of the places that you plan to visit in Tibet. This is because travelling outside of Lhasa requires additional permits. It will be easier and more convenient on both you and your tour operators if you plan thoroughly before visiting Tibet.
Requirements for Entering and Exiting Tibet
As with all entry requirements for a majority of countries around the world, as an American, you must have a passport that is valid for at least six months since your departure date. To enter Tibet, you must first enter China, and as such must have a valid visa to enter China. For foreigners looking to enter China, China offers 16 different visa categories. You will most likely need to obtain the "L" category visa, which is a visa for tourists. This costs $140 per person. When applying for this visa, you have to provide a passport, photo, a copy of your hotel reservation, as well as a copy of your round-trip flight reservation. In some cases, you may be required to provide proof of your residency in a US city, but this is not always necessary.
You have to submit your application in person directly to a Chinese consulate office in your city. This is because Chinese consulates do not accept visa applications by mail, email or fax. If the city you live in has no Chinese consulate, you can use visa services like My China Visa to help deliver your application for you. Usually, visa applications take approximately four business days to process. However, this is not set in stone. It is recommended that you apply for your Chinese visa at least one month before your departure to Tibet.
Say your Chinese visa has been approved. Now, you need to acquire a TTB permit, or Tibet Entry Permit in order to be able to enter Tibet. The TTB permit is not a visa. It is a document issued by the Tibet Tourism Bureau (TTB), hence its name, that you need to have with you to enter Tibet. Your tour operators will help apply for and secure your TTB permit for you. This usually takes about two weeks. You have to have your permit approved at least 15 days before your departure to Tibet.
Note that, when in Tibet, your TTB permit can be checked anywhere, including at the airport, train station and hotel, so make sure that you keep it with your person at all times. If you are entering and exiting Tibet by plane, you will need to show your original TTB permit when asked. If you are travelling by train, like on the Qinghai-Tibet Railway, just a copy of your TTB permit is acceptable.
If you are travelling to Tibet via Nepal, you will need a Group Tourist Visa. Your tour operators can help apply this visa for you. Note that, despite what its name suggests, this visa is not exclusive to groups. It applies to individual tourists as well. In order to apply for this visa, you will need your passport, photo, and TTB permit. It usually takes three business days to process the visa, and once acquired, this visa and your passport will be handed back to you at your hotel. As such, you should ensure to remain in Kathmandu for at least five days before you depart for Tibet. If you have already acquired a valid Chinese visa, it will be cancelled upon approval of your Group Tourist Visa.
Via Mainland China
You can get from the US to Tibet via mainland China in two ways: flight and train. Firstly, you have to fly to China from the US. From there, there are plenty of flights that can take you from China's major cities to Tibet, including from Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu, Chongqing, Kangding and Xining, among many others. If you are travelling on a budget, the cheapest flights are the ones from Chengdu, Chongqing, Kangding and Xining.
The second option is to take the train on the Qinghai-Tibet Railway. This option is great for those looking to acclimatise gradually to the unusually high altitude of Tibet. The railway is bordered by magnificent views of mountains and grasslands. You can take this train from seven gateway cities across China. The train travels from Beijing, Shanghai, Chongqing, Chengdu, Guangzhou, Lanzhou, Xining and Xian. It takes around 22 to 55 hours to take this train, so make sure you take that travel time into account when planning your itinerary.
You can get from the US to Tibet via Nepal in two ways: flight and overland driving. Flights between Kathmandu and Tibet are the only international flights available to and from Tibet, operated by three different Chinese airlines. You can take the flight from Tribhuvan International Airport in Kathmandu, and arrive at Gonggar International Airport in Lhasa within 90 minutes. You may even get a wonderful glimpse of the snow-capped mountains of the Himalayas from high above ground. Kathmandu-Tibet flights depart daily. A flight costs approximately $275 per person, depending on your choice of travel season and airline.
The second option is overland driving. To do this, you can enter through the Gyirong Port on the Nepal-Tibet border. If you want, you can plan your itinerary around this route, starting in Kathmandu, passing Gyirong Port, and ending in Lhasa, or vice versa. There are plenty of landmarks that you can visit along this route, including the Tashilhunpo Monastery in Shigatse which was founded in 1447 by the first Dalai Lama.
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