I traveled from Nepal to Tibet overland, but was delayed in Nepal due to bad weather in Mainland China. Due to this, I was able to take my time and search out all the possibilities of this great overland adventure ... yes this page is fully up-to-date!
(click on a topic heading to jump to that section)
» What do you really need? (officially)
» Do I really need a tour company, costs & how to choose?
» Visas, Permits which ones and How to get them?
» The Nepal Tibet Route
» Tips and FAQ's
There are several ways to do this trip. I will stick with the main route focusing on Nepal to Tibet as it's often times the one that causes the most confusion.
For an easy trip: do the China Tibet route. Less visa hassles and it's pretty straight forward meaning less time spent researching - but its very much a dry follow the leader style tour.
Simply book a tour from Beijing and off you go. I'll cover the tour-less option in the FAQ's. Meanwhile, for those who like independence and adventure - the Nepal to Tibet overland route is the one to go on!
Post March 2008 the Chinese created all sorts of restrictions on travel to and from Tibet. In 2012 the Chinese again changed permit rules into Tibet and Chinese visa rules the updated next section will deal with what you need. In 2015 the earthquake in Nepal caused damage to the Tibet road and friendship bridge - tours will reopen mid-October 2015 (they were opened, but then promptly closed in December 2015 for all of 2016).
2017 updates - Although the road is official repaired the Chinese authorities refused to give the Nepali overland operators permission to start overland tours again (mainly to promote their own via China mainland as Chinese citizens can cross the border). As of September 16th 2017 the Nepal Tibet China overland Tours start operating again!
You can read more about why the Nepal Tibet overland tours keep changing.
(link to top)
A tour company leaving Kathmandu
A Tibet Group Permit (one can only get this through a tour company - solo permits are now also being handed out in 2017)
Be a part of a group of the same nationality (read on)
An onward ticket
A Chinese visa
In Kathmandu there are 100's of agency's offering tours. The prices vary a lot yet the Itineraries vary little. Why? Well, there are only
four three actual tour operators running these tours; everyone else is just an agency for them.
What does that mean? It means that there only three company's running the 4X4's and mini-buses from the Nepali border to Lhasa. All the agency's work through them. Most of the 4x4's since 2016 have now been replaced with mini-buses.
For me, I always go for the top dog. Agencies are not in charge, the operators are. If you have used a nice agency for a trek and want to use them for the tour it's the same thing - though it might be more expensive. But if you prefer to locate and deal with the Tibet tour operator yourself then you can.
For me the operator. But, unless you are good at one on one conversation and dealing with people. It might be a hassle. Your travel agent may be able to contact them with the latest info that bit faster.
Sure, but just like a trekking tour, it will cost a lot more. Doing it in person will be cheaper. However if stuck for time then there may be no choice but to book online. Just remember, you'll still need to give them your passport for the permit once you get there.
So, if possible do it in person - here's a guide to the times to help. Tibet tours leave every Tuesday and Saturday (usually Saturday) numbers and weather permitting. It takes 5 - 15 days to arrange a permit, but ... for an $30 extra it can be done in three days. So that's your time frame for doing it in person.
Ha! The great question. I spent 6 weeks snowed in and visited so many it was boggling. In the end there were some huge differences. I paid well under $500 for my tour direct from an operator including visas etc. Another person on the same exact tour paid $1000. Most paid around $600.
When updating my guidebooks to Nepal in 2017 I learned that due to the Chinese government scrapping the older jeeps and enforcing the use of their own vehicles the price has increased. The lower priced tours now start from around $825. Feel free to bargain. Unfortunately it doesn't end with just this cost as you'll need to pay for a permit and onward journey too. However, there are ways to reduce these costs.
A flight to or from Tibet for your "onward journey when included with overland tours are more expensive due to the crazy cost of the flights. Tours alone also jumped up to around USD$750-$1050. Plus RTN flights of USD$450-650. You can half this by going overland to mainland China instead of flying back to Kathmandu via a bus or more easily a train.
In general there is a difference between the agencies and operators as far as the Tibet tour price went re commissions- $10 - $50 -$100. However there are a crazy amount of agencies around Kathmandu charging around $2200-$5600. Online, it's even worse. Avoid the big international travel companies who really are charging crazy prices. So watch out!
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Kathmandu! Go find them, you have the names! Seriously though; Chinese restrictions and policies change. I found all of the above with no problems and I know three are still up and running. Things change quickly though as do names. If any drop off or are added I'll make the change here too.
: Be careful about doing an internet search on the above names. There are sites with their names that are not the same companies! Even though they offer the same type of tour. It's Nepal, business sense is not always as it seems.
If you want the full contact details on these Tibet overland operators with maps they are available in my exclusive guide book to Kathmandu city, my guidebook to the Kathmandu Valley and my guidebook to Nepal.
As mentioned previously if entering into the Tibet from Nepal you do not need a Chinese visa. The Tibet permit will do you until you leave mainland China, e.g., Beijing, Shanghai etc. Do not get confused when the Nepali travel company calls this a Chinese visa (it is not a visa, it is a slip of paper that you keep inside your passport)
If you do have a Chinese Visa it will be cancelled on entry so don't get one.
A Tibet Permit is for 21 days though with a bit of persuasion can get 28 day permits
It takes up to 15 days to process the Permit. 3 Days urgent for an additional fee of around $30. Fees are higher for USA citizens starting at USD$175, Canadians $110, Europeans & Russians $85 for express.
The Tour Company you book with will arrange all your permit needs. But make sure to keep an extra couple of photocopies.
You do need an onward ticket out of Tibet. Your tour company (Nepali) can arrange this in the form of either a flight (to mainland China or Nepal) or a train ticket (to mainland China).
You could also swing a bus ticket if you book one yourself on-line, but it will need to be genuine and in both Chinese and English - the train option is easier).
Previously you needed to have a group permit. Since late 2013 this is no longer needed. Just in case the Chinese Authorities reintroduce it here are some tips.
- The Tibet Group Permit must have a minimum of two people of the same nationality on it.
- It is possible to get a group permit with just one persons name on it. But, it will cost you over $1000, and a little time (this changes randomly, so do ask)
- If you are with others using a Group Permit you will need to leave China together at the same exit port.
Again, you no longer need to be on a group permit.
However, it is now mandatory to have an exit ticket out of Tibet before a permit can be obtained. This can either be a flight ticket or a train ticket or even a bus ticket. Both of these can be purchased from your tour operator if need be as it's usually easier this way.
For more information about visas check out my tourist visa help section.
If you need to book a hotel in China once you leave Tibet try my hotel search here.
Okay no matter which agency or company you choose, the overland route is the same (if you fly into Lhasa the itinerary is different). Overland you'll be going along the friendship highway.
The average itinerary is for 8 days. Each agency will add their own wording etc. At the border your Tibet guide is the one who decides what town you stay at that night. They will usually say weather conditions, hotel problems or whatever to work the multitude of itinerary's into one that conforms to all. Either way, it's still 7 days and 8 nights.
For the price of each tour you get transport, accommodation and breakfast included. Your accommodation is dorm style the first two nights in tea houses. Meaning basic accommodation sharing with one other or possibly more from the same tour. There after you will share the room with one other person.
You can arrange with your Tibet Guide for private accommodation at an extra cost once you are at the Tibet border.
Money changing can be done at the border at a high rate or at the first / second town. There are ATM's after the first town.
The Chinese authorities continuously change the overland border openings. As of September 16th 2017 the overland border is open. However, in case you want to go by flight - you still need to be a part of an official "tour" just like above.
It does make things a little more expensive. As a one way flight can cost USD $650-$750!
Please note that there is a difference between a Tibet permit and a Chinese visa. They are not the same although the Tibet permit is often called a visa by way of Nepali communication issues. It is in fact a separate piece of paper that you keep in your passport. It is generally for 21/25/28 days and also allows you into mainland China.
If you already have a Chinese visa in your passport it will be cancelled as the Tibet permit replaces it. The Tibet permit allows you entry into mainland China but cannot be extended with ease.
- Europe: USD $85.00 (excluding Romania)
- Romania USD $115
- USA USD $175
- Canada USD $155.00
12 though they will run with less people. There are never more than the capacity of the bus allowed.
Toyota mini-vans that usually hold about 12 people.
Do you speak Chinese? Do you look Chinese? Can you avoid one by one passport checks at the only bridge crossing into Tibet? Can you survive 1000's of KM alone walking barren off road terrain with no food or water? Take the tour or wait for the regulations to relax.
Yes, no problem. But you'll need to join the larger group on a the same bus. If you want an exclusive private tour with just you or a partner then expect prices above USD $5,000.
No. You make several stops en route. Toilet breaks, Everest viewing and various highlight stops. Once in a city or town you are free to wander around monasteries etc. Some of which are set into mountains. Consider it a day trek.
Yes. You will be in high altitude so Altitude Sickness can be an issue. Please consult your doctor about this. Personally, I had a headache, as did others. The tour staff are not medically equipped. If you suffer from any serious aliments you should be aware that you will be in remote areas and away from hospital care. There are hospitals en route but they could be a day away depending on your location. Again, seek medical advise before going on any high altitude tour or trek.
Tibet uses Chinese Yuan. I would change money in Kathmandu before departure. You can change at the border and all the little border money changers will tell you that it's the last place to sell Nepali Rupees. It's money. You can sell it further on if you want though once you leave Tibet the rates are not so good. Be patient and don't bow to their pressure.
Not so great. But not so bad either. Coffee, eggs, bread and noodles. There are plenty of shops in the towns and plenty of places to eat lunch and dinner. Bring a translation or picture menu book if you are not adventurous with what you eat!
Yes. But there's a better selection of Tibetan goods in Nepal.
Dodgy. You can bring them in. But if the person receiving them is caught, or seen, then it's them not you who will get into serious trouble. Either on the spot, or after you have left.
No. You can go where ever you want afterwards (permit permitting). Beware that many other regions in Tibet require different permits though. Most needing a week or two to clear. So with an average 21 day permit, you will be restricted time wise. The easiest thing to do is to take the T28 train (worlds highest) either direct to Beijing or stop off in Xi'an. Then go on to Hong Kong, break your Group Permit there, get a new Chinese Visa and come back in again.
No. Every few years the Chinese change the rules. It's no longer a requirement to have a a Group Permit. However if you are confronted with a change in regulations by the time you get there then do what everyone else has done. Get one with just your name on it. I got one. Technically it's not possible, but anything is possible if you try hard enough, ask the right questions and say the right things. ;-)
There's lots more practical information in my Nepal guidebook.
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