Travel to Tibet?

Tourism to Tibet is strictly controlled by the Chinese government, and restrictions were further ratcheted up after the riots and before the 2008 Olympics. As of 2009, the previous “backpacker” tours, which included the permit and a couple of nights stay in Lhasa is no longer an option and all travelers must stay with an organized trip the entire time they are in Tibet. That means you will not be allowed to travel on an independent basis and you will be presented Tibet from an official Han Chinese government sponsored perspective.

Considering the amount time and money put forward to travel to this region of China in comparison to others, in addition to the fact that little or no money will enter into the hands of the local population. Thus some travels simply opt to travel to other Tibetan regions of China instead for financial, ethical and logistical reasons. If you really want to go, be prepared for lots of paperwork and other manufactured hassles. Tibet is also the only region of China where travelers have reported being stopped or questioned by the Chinese police, which are normally either very kind and courteous or simply uninterested in your whereabouts or travel plans in the rest of the country.

All foreign visitors to Tibet need one or more permits. The basic one is the Tibet Tourism Bureau (TTB) permit, which can be issued to you by Chinese travel agencies that handle trips to Tibet, or (if overseas and arriving via Nepal) by the Chinese embassy in Kathmandu on proof of purchasing a package tour (there is no way around this). If you buy an expensive package tour, the TTB permit will only cost you US$6, but if you just want train/plane tickets (which, as of 2009, no longer seems to be possible), the travel agency will inflate their cut accordingly and you’ll need to fork out up to US$50-70. For land crossings (including the train), you’ll get a physical permit that will be checked; for plane tickets, the permit may just be an annotation on your ticket record.

Some parts of Tibet also require an Aliens’ Travel Permit (ATP), which is issued by the Public Security Bureau (PSB) in major Tibetan cities like Lhasa, Xigatse and Ali. The list of regions that require ATPs changes constantly, so enquire locally. Lhasa’s PSB has a poor reputation, while Xigatse and Ali are said to issue permits without any unnecessary difficulties. If your papers are in order, the permit can be issued in several hours for Y100.

Finally, some remote areas also require a military permit. These are only available in Lhasa, where processing takes several days, and are only granted for an appropriate reason.

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