FAQs of travelling to Tibet for foreigners

As the roof of the world and a pure land on the earth, Tibet is a popular tourist destination in the world. Every year, thousands of foreigners flock to Tibet to explore its time-honored unique culture and enjoy the stunning scenery on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau. Here are some FAQs for foreigners to travel to Tibet.

1. Can I travel independently in Tibet?

No, you can’t. All international visitors are required to follow a pre-arranged tour with a licensed travel agent.

We, Tibet Vista, is a Tibet-based tour agent that has been operating Tibet tours for international travellers since 1984. We now have offices in Kathmandu, Thimpu and Chengdu and you can trust us fully for a one-stop hassle-free service for your Tibet tour.

2. Is it safe to travel in Tibet?

Yes. It is totally safe. The local Tibetan people are among the most friendly and hospitable people in the world. Record of criminal is low here since they believe in Buddhism. And roads in Tibet are mostly well paved and are generally safe to travel by overland, biking or trekking, though some parts at certain times like summer (monsoon season) can be in poor situation.

Travelling with us, you are free from this worry since all our drivers are experienced and have driven through every corner of Tibet.

3. When is the best time to travel to Tibet?

The best time to travel to Tibet is from April to early June and September to November.

Summertime from late June to August is the monsoon season while winter can see many roads inaccessible.

After all, Tibet is suitable for travelling all year round. And we will always try to customize tours all year round based on your requests.

4. When is Tibet closed for foreigners?

Generally speaking, Tibet is closed for foreigners every year from mid-February till the end of March due to heavy snow and several important events. Nevertheless, tourism policies are subject to change. In 2019, Tibet was open to foreigners from the beginning of March and we arranged tours soon after.

As a responsible travel agent, we have a 7*24-reply system so, if you have any questions, just drop us a message, and you will have an answer within a short time.

5. How to get to Tibet?

If you travel from other Chinese cities to Tibet, you can enter Tibet by air, Tibet train and land.

If you travel to Tibet from Kathmandu, you can choose either flight or overland. Either way, our staff will take care of everything for you: group visa,Tibet permit, accommodation, guide and driver, etc. All you need to do is just sit back and relax.

6. What should I pack for travelling Tibet?

In general, when it comes to packing, there are three main things to consider: your destination, your way of travelling, and your personal well-being.

For example, if you just stay in Lhasa, then you can just choose the basic outdoor gear. But if you cycle to EBC, then you need some professional gear. And if you have a certain disease, always ask your doctor for advice and medicines to bring to Tibet.

We have searched thoroughly for you and you can find our complete packing guidebook for Tibet travel.

7. Are their age limits for travelling to Tibet?

Generally speaking, not really. But it really depends on your destination, way of travelling and the physical situation, and during the trip, you should pay close attention to them.

Here are some examples of our guests:
The oldest to make it to Mt. Kailash - an 82-year-old man, Gerhard
The oldest to make to EBC: - an 84-year-old woman, Anne Gentry
The youngest to make it to Mt. Kailash - an 11-year-old boy, Flurin Johan
The youngest to make it to EBC - a 6-year-old boy, Pablo

8. What is Tibet Travel Permit (TTP)?

You can see it as an entry permit. It is the key permit every foreigner traveller needs to apply for which allows you to enter Tibet and visit Lhasa.

You are expected to apply for it at least 20 days before your Tibet travel by using our passport and Chinese visa. The processing of Tibet permit takes 8-9 days. Later, the issued permit will be delivered to your hotel in mainland China.

9. What are the other permits needed if I travel outside of Lhasa?

Depending on where you go in Tibet, three other permits may be needed: the Alien Travel Permit, the Military Permit and the Tibet Public Security Permit/Foreign Affair Permit. However, there is no need to worry. All these permits will be properly handled your Tibetan guide in Tibet.

10. How to apply for the permits?

Simple. You just apply for a Chinese visa first on your own, book a Tibet tour with us and email the photo image of your passport information and of Chinese via page, and we’ll apply for the TTP for you.

For other permits needed, our guide will help with the application upon your arrival in Lhasa. You just do the minimum while we take the hassle for you.

11. How long in advance to apply and how soon can I get it?

Book a tour with us at least 20 days in advance, and we will do the TTP application for you and guarantee to get your Tibet Permit and deliver to you address in China before you head to Tibet.

Upon the submission of Tibet Permit, about 8-9days are needed for the process. If you enter from Nepal, you have to spare an extra 3 days for the group visa application.

12. How about people from HK, Macau and Taiwan?

Overseas Chinese and Taiwanese also need to apply for the Tibet Travel Permit. Hong Kong and Macao residents need a Home Return Certificate instead of the TTP.

13. What is altitude sickness?

Altitude sickness is a combination of discomfort that occurs above the altitude of 3000m with low-pressure and low-oxygen. It is common in highland and the major symptoms are headache, insomnia, loss of appetite, fatigue, breathing difficulty, etc.

14. What are the altitudes of Tibet?

The average altitude of Tibet is above 4000m. In Lhasa, the altitude is 3656m. But if you go to other parts of Tibet, the altitude varies from as low as 2000m something in eastern Tibet like Nyingchi; the highest region in Ngari prefecture, western Tibet, averages an altitude of above 4500m.

The popular tour destinations like EBC (5200m), Lake Namtso (4718m) and Mt.Kailash (4600m) are some of the highest places for travelling in Tibet, let along some of the lofty mountain passes. However, our well-trained Tibet guide and expertly-designed itineraries and scientific management can ensure the travel safety for our clients.

15. What to do to prevent altitude sickness?

To minimize the symptoms, the key is to avoid quick ascent. Taking Tibet train to Lhasa is a great way to prevent acute mountain sickness as long as you have enough time to enter Tibet. For newly-arrived tourists in Lhasa, do not rush to visit attractions in downtown Lhasa and have a good rest in your hotel. Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated and do not exert yourself doing things like jumping or running. Mostly importantly, follow your guide’s guidance.

Besides, you’re suggested to do some special preparation like exercising a bit or taking some medicine before coming. However, always remember to ask your doctor for professional advice and prescription.

16. Can I fly into Tibet?

Yes, you can. But direct flights to Tibet means lower time for acclimatization to Tibetan Plateau due to abrupt ascent, esp. the flight from Kathmandu to Lhasa.

17. What are the other flight choices?

Firstly, use a combination of flight and train or overland. For example, you can fly to Chengdu and take the Chengdu-Lhasa train or overland trip to Tibet via the G318 highway, or you can fly to Xining and then take the Xining-Lhasa train.

Or, you can take a train into Tibet and fly out.

18. Which Tibet train should I take?

Right now there are Tibet trains from many inland major cities. You can have a look for Tibet train information, tell us your needs and you will get a rough plan for you.

Do keep in mind that the most beautiful part of the Tibet train journey lies between Xining and Lhasa.

19. Can I buy train tickets on my own?

Yes, you can. But it’s very difficult for foreigners.

Firstly, English is not available for both online booking, booking through phone call, or booking at train stations. Secondly, tickets are on sale 30-60 days and can be sold out in a short time, especially in peak time. Thirdly, train schedules change once in a while.

To save your hassle, we provide an online booking system and provide the most up-to-date information about Tibet train tickets. Plus, we have multiple channels to assure tickets for our guests

20. How long in advance to book it?

3 months in advance is what we recommend. As mentioned above, train tickets are on sale 30 to 60 days. You book the tickets on our online system and we will book them as soon as it opens for sale.

21. When can I have the tickets?

Normally around 3 to 5 days after we get the tickets. We will send it to your address in China via express. Or in some extreme cases, our staff will give it to your in person.

22. Will I have no altitude sickness taking Tibet train?

Not really. The train is specially designed and pressurized to prevent passengers from altitude sickness, and there are two oxygen systems provided on the train. However, tourists may still have trouble sleeping and feel exhausted after arriving in Lhasa. So, for the well-being of our guests, most of our Tibet tours are designed with the first few days in Lhasa for acclimatization.

23. What are the overland tour choices?

You can take an overland tour from inland China like our Sichuan-Tiber overland tour via G318. You can also enter Tibet by overland from Kathmandu.

24. What travel documents will I have to hold?

If you travel to Tibet by overland from inland Chinese cities, you have to show your Chinese visa and Tibet Travel Permit.
If you enter Tibet from Kathmandu. You will have to show your China Group Visa and a photocopy of your Tibet Travel Permit.

25. Motion sickness

The roads can be very windy so prepare some medicine or small things to help with motion sickness, like a wristband or sour fruit.

26. Who will be our guides? Are they Tibetans? Do they speak English?

All our guides are local Tibetan guides who have over 15 years - some even over 20 years - experience. They all speak good English and understand their own culture profoundly.

27. What currencies are used in Tibet? Can I use credit card and ATM machines?

Only the Chinese Yuan is accepted. Basically, credit cards are only accepted in some hotels in Lhasa. And ATMs are more common and easy to find in Lhasa, although they can be found in other parts as well.

So, all in all, the best way is to exchange enough cash in one-go in Lhasa. - Read more money and banking tips in Tibet.

28. What are the food choices in Tibet?

All around Tibet, Tibetan and Chinese (mainly Sichuanese) food are readily available, even in remote areas like EBC and Kailash. Typical Tibetan food is tsampa, noodles, momos, yak beef, etc. Popular Chinese food is like twice-cooked pork belly, fish-fragrant lean pork slices and Kung Pao Chicken, with rice the staple.

In Lhasa, there are more choices besides the two cuisines. Nepali, Indian and western food can also be easily found. - Find out more about food and restaurants in Tibet.

29. I am a vegetarian, is it going to be a problem in Tibet?

No problem. Vegetables are readily available in Tibet now, although it used to be scarce due to some historical reasons. Plus, there are some vegetarian restaurants in Lhasa.

30. What is the accommodation like in Tibet?

In Lhasa, there is a wide range of accommodation choices, from hostels to 5-star hotels.

Outside of Lhasa, the accommodation would be not that too many to choose from. However, in bigger cities like Gyantse and Shigatse, there are still starred hotels. But in areas like EBC and Kailash, you have only tent guesthouses or monastery guesthouses to choose from.

For all our tours and guests, we choose restaurants with the best hygiene and hotels with the best equipment and service, to make our guests feel as comfortable as possible.

31. Should I tip?

If your guide and driver did a good job and you really enjoyed the trip, we recommend you tip a certain amount. In hotel and restaurants, if you really like their service or food, you can also choose to pay a bit more to show your gratitude.

32. How to minimize altitude sickness during the trip?

Here are some basic tips:
1) Sleep well. A nice sleep would minimize your first reaction to altitude. Luckily, the hotels we arrange are carefully selected to ensure you a nice sleep.
2)Drink enough water but don’t eat too full or drink too much alcohol which may aggravate your altitude sickness.
3) Try not to shower when it’s cold. Whether at chilling night time or when the weather just turns colder, try not to shower to prevent catching a cold, which will lead to an uncomfortable journey and some severe result in the end if it’s not taken seriously.
4) Don’t exert yourself too much. Try to just relax and enjoy some easy moment before and after you get onboard.
5) Last but not least, if you have severe illness or disease, always inquire your doctor for professional advice and bring some medicines told by your doctor.

In general, just follow your guide’s advice. All our guides are local Tibetan guides who are experienced in dealing with altitude sickness. - For more information about altitude sickness and other related issues.

33. What are the customs to follow when travelling in Tibet?

1) DO ask for permission first before taking photos of anyone.
2) DO walk clockwise in or outside of religious facilities, like temples, monasteries, pagodas, and mani stones.
3) DO NOT touch Buddhist statues, sutras or ritual offerings, or take pictures of them inside temples or monasteries.
4) DO NOT rotate prayer wheel anti-clockwise.
5) DO NOT step on the threshold of any tent, house, temple or monastery.
6) DO NOT touch the head of anyone.
7) DO NOT wear hats or caps when you enter a chapel.
8) DO wear decent clothes during your visit to a monastery, chapel, and other holy places!
9) DO NOT wear any clothes and shoes that have Buddha’s picture and prayer flags on them.

Find more detailed info about Tibet etiquette and taboos.

Master Kungga Dundruk

About the Author - Master Kungga Dundruk

The Lhasa-born prodigy used to study business overseas, and got his Bachelor of Business in Nepal and India before moving back to his homeland.With pure passion for life and unlimited love for Tibet, Kunga started his guide career as early as 1997.

Responsible, considerate and humorous, he devoted his entire life guiding and serving international tourists travelling in Tibet.As a legendary Tibetan travel guru with 20-year pro guide experience , he once had an exclusive interview with the US media. Currently he is working in Tibet Vista as the Tour Operating Director. Whenever our clients run into troubles, he is your first call and will offer prompt support.

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