Is China still allowing foreign tourists to visit Tibet?

by Dave from The Longest Way Home ~ August 26th, 2015. Published in: Travel blog » Nepal » Tibet.
The Potala Palace Lhasa, Tibet

The Potala Palace Lhasa, Tibet

Yes, you can visit Tibet in 2015/2016 but here are some things to know first

One of the most popular questions I get is how to travel from Nepal to Tibet overland. It’s a very easy thing to do as that previous link to my guide will show. Likewise from mainland China into Tibet it’s also very easy. Due to strict permits and security checks there really is only one option – take a tour.

However, since the 2008 uprising in Tibet, China has constantly changed the regulations, document requirements and outright closed off access to Tibet for everyone.

Last week new rumors popped up that China was planning to close off Tibet to foreign visitors for the 2015 – early 2016 seasons as it’s the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Tibet Autonomous Region.

I took this to task and visited the main Nepal Tibet overland organizers this week and here’s what I found out.

Tibetan village woman

Tibetan village woman

Nepal to Tibet overland tours are closed until the 26th of October 2015

This is not due to Chinese regulations, but due to damage to the road from both the 2015 earthquake and post earthquake landslides. The friendship bridge that joins Nepal and Tibet is closed to all traffic aside from one-way commercial vehicles.

Does that mean Tibet is closed to foreigners? No, Tibet it open to foreigners. The Nepal – Tibet road is closed by the border only. Tours are being arranged by flying into Lhasa from Kathmandu. However, Lalung-La pass, Shigatse to Gyantse are not on offer. You can access these locations from mainland China tours to Tibet only.

From October 26th on Nepal – Tibet overland tours are open again – pending road repairs.

Are there restrictions on nationality to enter Tibet?

The bizarre ban on Indian Nationals to Mount Kailash is no longer in effect. Likewise there is no current ban on nationalities looking to obtain a permit.

The equally bizarre requirement on having to be on a group permit with people of the same nationality is also no longer being enforced.

Buddha statue in a Tibetan Monastery

Buddha statue in a Tibetan Monastery

What permits are required to enter Tibet?

I’ve written answers to all permit questions on my guide to traveling to Tibet overland – please read it if you are preparing.

The most important rule is – you don’t need a Chinese visa to enter Tibet from the Nepal side. You need a Tibet permit. From the China side you will need a Chinese visa to enter China, plus a Tibet permit.

Again, please read the guide.

Will China close off access to Tibet again?

It’s highly likely they will. Every year since 2008 they’ve closed off access to Tibet from late February to late March due to the uprising. So I really wouldn’t plan a trip to Tibet then.

At other times of the year it’s at the whim of the Chinese government when it comes to changing the regulations. As the tour operators told me.

“They only tell us verbally a week before any changes. They never do it in writing. And it’s never clear when or why this is happening.”

Generally speaking over the past few years access has not been cut off so frequently as it was before. As a safe bet have a back up plan. Bhutan from Nepal is a popular choice. As is extending a stay in Nepal.

Do confirm with your travel agent that all is okay before you travel. And, keep an eye on the news. If you see something like a demonstration in Tibet or mainland China about Tibet the officials usually get jumpy and close it off.

Yamdrok Lake in Tibet

Yamdrok Lake in Tibet

Have Tibet overland tours gone up in price?

Again I cover this in my guide.

Last year the Chinese government insisted that all the Nepal – Tibet overland vehicles be scrapped and only new Chinese vehicles could be used. This has led to an increase in Tibet tour costs.

Purchasing online tours range from ridiculous to obscene in terms of cost. The lowest cost I was quoted for a walk-in Nepal-Tibet 7 night 8 day overland group tour was USD $670. The highest was USD$5,000.

There are now only 3 official tour operators in Kathmandu. I list them in my Kathmandu Valley Guidebook. Including contact information. Please don’t email me for the information. Just buy the book :)

More information on traveling Nepal to Tibet Overland

You can get all the information you need, plus itineraries and permit details on my updated free guide on traveling to Tibet overland.

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