How to Travel to Tibet from the United States of America

Mar 7, 2022 17 Minutes
How to Travel to Tibet from the United States of America

Tibet is one of the top destinations for tourism in Asia; that is why it has now become a regular tourist destination from the United States of America. If you want to travel to Tibet from the United States of America to enjoy holidays and adventure in the culturally and naturally rich and unique plateau of the Himalayas, it is not any difficult.

There are many ways to travel to Tibet from the United States of America. There are two definite ways of travel to Tibet from the United States of America, one of them being through the neighboring country, Nepal, and another being through Mainland China. From the USA, one has to take a flight to either Nepal or Mainland China, and then there are two options, either take a flight to Tibet or go on a road trip to Tibet.

Tibet's one of the most visited tourist destinations in Lhasa city. When you are on your way to Lhasa, you get a chance to come across the Gyirong (also known as Kerung) border from Nepal. You may also pass through many commercial hubs and cities in China. You will get to explore the different cities of China or Nepal on your way to the Tibet "Roof of the World" from either of the way you choose; that's why we said traveling to Tibet is not only easy but also pretty interesting.

Before we know how to travel to Tibet, let's clear the air about tourism in Tibet.

Is Tibet open for tourism?

The autonomous region of Tibet is a province of China that has had fascinating visitors from all over the world for decades. Normally Tibet is open for tourism most of the time in a year, but there are only a few instances of closures, the most common of closures is Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR). Sometimes, in extreme circumstances, closures are being implemented.

Besides this, some regions in Tibet are not open for tourism. These regions are places where weather is too harsh, or climate is not suitable for living for humans without any special types of equipment. There are only a few places that are harder to get to for tourism because of high altitude and inaccessibility.

Considering such special geographical and climatic conditions, a series of protocols on the entry of foreigners in Tibet is made by the law. These regions are mostly located in northern Tibet in Nagqu and Ngari.

Likewise, places located in highly elevated land such as Mount Kailash, Lake Mansarovar, Tholing, Zanda County, and Lake Namsto remain closed in winters.
Moreover, Journalists and Diplomats are also not allowed to travel to Tibet.

How to get to Tibet the right way?

Foreign visitors have to apply for special permission to enter Tibet, which is only part of organized tours.

You cannot travel to Tibet on short or immediate planning; you have to plan for many reasons. Firstly, you will require a wide range of travel documents to get permission to enter Tibet. And these documents take good time to process. The most important document is the Chinese entry visa because, after this only, you will be able to make bookings for a Tibet tour with only registered travel agencies.

Once your trip gets completely booked, the tour operator will apply for Tibet Travel Permit on your behalf as one cannot make a personal application with TBB (Tibet Tourism Bureau). Then, you need to book flights to China or Nepal, then either flight or train tickets to Tibet from China. All this planning will take around 3 to 4 working weeks depending on the peak season, holiday season, and tourist flow. The Tibet travel advice that we would give you is to separate at least a month for preparation for Tibet travel.

  • Properly research and understand the Tibetan plateau, its altitudes, and acclimatization.
  • Travel in Tibet is only regulated under the Tibetan guide.
  • Get updated knowledge of the visa that you need to obtain.
  • You cannot travel to Tibet alone as it is against the law of China. Traveling to Tibet is allowed only as an organized tour with a registered Tibetan tour operator.
  • Booking with a travel agency is mandatory for Tibet travel

How to travel to Tibet from the United States of America?

There are two ways to travel to Tibet from US. You can fly to mainland China or Nepal and then enter from either one of several Chinese gateway cities or the capital of Nepal, Kathmandu. Travelers from the States like Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York City, New Jersey, Miami, Tampa, Washington DC, etc. can travel in this way.

1. From the US to Tibet via Mainland China:

The first option to travel to Tibet is by flying to the cities of China which has direct flights from different states of the USA. These cities include Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu, Qingdao, Shenzhen, Jinan, Wuhan, Shenyang, Guangzhou, Hangzhou, Chongquing, and Fuzhou. The travelers can fly to any of these gateways as per the flight availability from their state.

1.1 Mainland China to Tibet by “Air”

After the transit flight to flight-available cities of Mainland China, you can take a flight to Gonggar Airport, Lhasa in Tibet.

The flight duration to China can usually take around 15-20 hours depending on the airlines and the distance between departure and arrival airports. The cost of the flight tickets also varies from duration, distance, arrival and departure airports, transit, time of ticket booking/purchase, airlines, and different classes of flight tickets. Hence, we advise you to book your tickets prior to the duration of travel.

The flight duration from Mainland China to Tibet varies from 2 and a half hours to 6 hours at most. Chengdu and Beijing are the most popular connecting flights to Tibet. The flight to Chengdu takes 2 hours 30 minutes whereas the flight from Beijing takes around 5 hours.

1.2 Mainland China to Tibet by “Train”

Another way to travel from Mainland China to Tibet is via train. You can opt for a train ride to Tibet from a few cities in China alongside Qinghai Tibet Railway.

Seven gateway cities of Mainland China, including Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu, Xining, Chongqing, Guangzhou, and Lanzhou offer train rides to Lhasa. However, the train rides can take from 21 to 53 hours to reach Tibet depending on the region. The best option is to take the train from Xining as they are the fastest options and they also have more availability than other cities which is very helpful during peak season.

NOTE:If the travelers are in Xi’an or have extended their trip for sightseeing or any other reasons in Xi’an, then they can catch a train ride to Lhasa from Xi’an which is departed from Shanghai and Guangzhou, but this can be done in only low season.

2. From the US to Tibet via Nepal

The second option to travel to Tibet from the US is via Nepal. As Nepal is located in the south of Tibet, they share a large landmass of the Himalayas. Traveling to Tibet via Nepal is also considered the best option.

If you are planning to travel to Tibet via Nepal then you need to take connecting flights to Kathmandu as there are no direct flights in Nepal from the states.

The transit countries while traveling to Nepal from the USA usually are Middle Eastern nations like UAE, Qatar, Malaysia, Singapore, and Asian nations such as Korea, Thailand, India, Pakistan, Indonesia. The duration of the flights from the USA to Nepal takes around 14-18 hours depending on airlines, transit, distance, arrival and departure airport, and weather conditions.

2.1 Nepal to Tibet by “Air”

In Gonggar Airport, international flights are only allowed from Nepal. The flight from Tribhuvan Internation Airport, Kathmandu to Gonggar Airport, Lhasa is of 2 hours and 30 minutes. After reaching Gonggar Airport, it takes another 1-hour ride to reach the main city of Lhasa.

The flight to Lhasa from Kathmandu is truly magnificent as you can enjoy the aerial view of Mt. Everest and other high Himalayas as well as the unreal-like change in Landscape from Sub-tropical to Alpine which allows it to presents the colors of nature.

2.2 Nepal to Tibet by “Road”

Another way to travel to Lhasa from Kathmandu is by traveling overland. To reach Gyirong Port from Kathmandu requires an 8/9 hours drive depending on road conditions and vehicle. You will drive across the Sino-Nepal border between Nepal and Tibet at the Gyirong port. After this, you will go to Lhasa, bypassing the asphalt road of the G318 Highway.

After the arrival of all the documentation and permits, the travelers can travel to Tibet the next morning. The Tibet Travel Permit and China Group Visa take 3 working days to arrive. The drive to reach Lhasa requires 3 to 4 days. Hence, the overall road trip to Lhasa from Kathmandu takes around a week.

We suggest this road trip to the ones who have ample time as this ride is truly magical. Kathmandu to Lhasa overland trip is one of the most popular and world-class travel routes. On this road trip, you travel enjoying the dreamlike landscapes, Tibet’s cultural treasures, pristine valleys, and historical wonders.

Similarly, you can witness some remarkable cities such as Shigatse, Tingri, and Gyantse. You can also glance at pristine Yamdrok lakes surrounded by high mountains before reaching Lhasa. If you’re lucky enough, you might encounter Yak herders and Yaks as well as Tibetan Mastiff. They enjoy playing with you and don’t mind taking pictures.

Another exciting thing about this road trip is that you will get a wonderful opportunity to enjoy an up-close view of the Northern side of Everest also known as Quomolongma in Tibetan. You also get to see the views of Shishapangma, Cho Oyu, Kailash, and other snow-capped peaks.

We highly advise travelers to do enough research and ask questions about the place that they are traveling to with the travel organizer because we do not want you to miss the major attractions and experiences while you are traveling. These are the things that you need to assure while planning because once you are already on the road, it will not be possible to extend your traveling days in Tibet.

NOTE: For the travelers who are short on time but still wish to experience this fabulous road trip, then we suggest them to travel to Gyirong port immediately after receiving the Visa Approval and spend overnight in Gyirong. This way you can save time and hit the road to Lhasa the next morning. This way, it might also be beneficial if you are interested in sightseeing at Gyirong and the famous Bhrikuti Cave located there.

But we inform you in advance that due to unforeseen issues, the route to Bhrikuti Cave might be closed.

Documents that you will need to travel to Tibet:

Chinese Entry Visa for traveling to Tibet from the USA via Mainland China

All American citizens traveling to Tibet require a Chinese Entry visa. You can access a Chinese visa either from the Embassy of the People's Republic of China in Washington DC or from a Chinese Consular Office.

You will be needing another Chinese permit to travel to any other part of China and along with that permit, you will need another permit to travel to Tibet which is the Group Tourist Visa. The Chinese travel permit does not include Tibet travel and the Tibet Travel permit does not cover traveling to other parts of China.

Similarly, if your arrival and departure destination are both from China, then, you cannot travel to both Tibet and other regions of China at once even if you have permits and a valid visa. But, if your arrival is from Nepal and departure from China and vice versa, then you can apply for a different Chinese Travel Permit and travel to Tibet as well as other parts of China.

For US citizens, the visa cost starts from US$ 140+. The visa cost depends on the time period you are traveling in, issue dates, and other further reasons. It also varies from time to time and for accurate current prices, you can consult with your authorized travel agency.

You will also need a valid passport to acquire a valid visa at least for six months during your visit to Tibet.

Other requirements to acquire a visa are two blank visa pages and an application form with a mentioned-sized photo attached; if you have had Chinese visas in the past, then attach their copies. If your previous Chinese Entry Visas are in an old passport, attach a copy of the data page and visa from that passport. Also, you will have to show documents of your travel plan in China, such as proof of hotel bookings and a round-trip air ticket booking confirmation.

Also, American citizens with Chinese heritage are advised to refer the Embassy to know their visa requirements.

Another protocol to acquire a Chinese travel Visa for traveling to Tibet is that, if you already have a valid Visa for China that was issued in the past, and even if it has validity, you will still have to cancel the Visa and issue a new one. This is the rule for traveling to Tibet as per the Chinese Government Laws.

The traveling protocols for Tibet change from time to Tibet, so we highly suggest you to consult with your travel organizers.

Group Tourist Visa to travel to Tibet from the USA via Nepal:

The visa required to travel to Tibet is known as the China Group Visa and Tibet Travel Permit. One can only apply for this visa in Kathmandu through a registered Tibet tour operator.
After your trip confirmation, the authorized travel agency will issue Tibet Travel Permit and Group Visa with the cooperation of the Tibet Travel Bureau prior to your arrival. This process takes around 3 to 4 working weeks to be approved.

After you arrive in Kathmandu, the authorized travel agency will collect your original passports and other necessary documents. You will have to fill up a physical/online form and the travel agency will collect the form and necessary documentation, verify it and apply for Group Travel Visa Approval which will take another 3 working days to arrive.
Once you obtain the Tibet Travel Permit and China Group Visa, you can travel to Tibet the next morning.

Group Tourist Visa to travel to Tibet from the USA via China:

To process Tibet Travel Permit and Chinese Group Visa, it takes around 8-10 working days from Mainland China, but we suggest you to provide all necessary documents like passport copies, mentioned sized-photos, etc a month prior to your travel date.

All the required documentation and process to obtain Visa will be done by the travel organizer. We will send our representatives to provide you with your Visa and permit after the collection. Then you can travel to Tibet after receiving the permits and visa for Tibet Travel.

Other Required Permits for Tibet Travel:

Alien’s Travel Permit

Travelers who are traveling in the regions outside Lhasa and Nagqu like Shigatse, Chamdo, Everest Base Camp, Kailash, etc require Alien’s Travel Permit. This permit requires less than an hour to process and is usually obtained by the guide from Shigatse or Lhasa.

Frontier Pass/Tibetan Border Pass

While traveling to places that are located on the border between Tibet and Nepal like the Everest Base Camp North, Cho Oyu Base Camp Tibet side, etc require Frontier pass or Tibetan Border Pass.

Military Permit

Travelers who are traveling to remote and protected areas of Tibet like Nyinchi, Ngari, and Nagqu require a military permit also known as Restricted Areas Permit. These permits are issued by us as the travelers cannot apply for them of their own.

Is it safe for travelers from US to travel to Tibet?

It is very safe for travelers from the United States to travel to Tibet. Several American citizens travel to Tibet every year, and our American clients who have traveled to Tibet with us have always returned home after a fruitful trip and with unforgettable memories for a lifetime.

The crime rate in Tibet is very low and even has dropped sharply in the last couple of years. Similarly, Tibet is a Buddhist region where the majority of the population follows Buddhism. And as per the Buddhist values, those who perform crime shall be punished by the almighty. So, they highly believe in the concept of Karma and treat everyone with kindness.

But this doesn’t mean that there isn’t any crime so following precautions would be the best option. Meanwhile, altitude sickness could be a problem in Tibet, but you do not have to worry about it as we plan your trip with proper acclimatization routines.

Travel tips for safe traveling:

Before you plan your trip, it is mandatory to have travel insurance for Tibet travel. It is very beneficial as it safeguards your complete tour.

Benefits of a travel insurance plan:

  • Travel insurance provides convenience and safety to foreign travelers.
  • It offers emergency medical protection.
  • Travel insurance pays back the expenses of losses such as trip cancellations, losing important documents, accidental death and disability, and much more.
  • Emergency cash in advance.

Basic Coverage of Travel Insurance plan:

  • Loss of passport
  • Personal accident cover
  • Repatriation of remains
  • Hijacking benefit
  • Medical emergency cover
  • Reimbursement due to trip delays
  • Sickness Dental Relief
  • Personal liability
  • Accidental dismemberment
  • Loss/Delay of checked-in baggage
  • Reasons to buy travel insurance for Tibet travel:
  • Medical Expenses Cover
  • Medical evacuation
  • Support for loss of baggage and loss of passport
  • Cashless treatment during a medical emergency
  • Accidental dismemberment
  • Legal liabilities are covered
  • Trip delays

Tibet is an exotic land that is blessed by the idiosyncratic wonders of nature as well as the mystic cultures and traditions. All the citizens of the USA can travel to Tibet either from Mainland China or Nepal. It is very important to do proper research and plan your trip according to your interest with the help of an Authorized Travel Agency.

The historic land of Tibet embodies lots of great places for travelers to behold and enjoy. So Tibet would a great travel destination to add to your bucket list.

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