Unlike the rest of China, travelling to Tibet is more complicated and requires extra planning and documents. Also, due to the sensitive nature of the area, policies regarding travel to Tibet are constantly subject to change. Borders may suddenly be shut to foreign tourists and permits are only issued to group tours with a Chinese tour operator. While this article tries to be as accurate and up-to-date as possible at the time of writing, the first piece of advice you should take into account is to always check for updates and changes regarding visa policy in Tibet. The best site to do so is the China Tibet Tourism Bureau (www.xzta.gov.cn) or the Chinese Embassy website of your country. Travel Agencies specializing in Tibetan tours are also a good source to turn to.
The maximum amount of permits needed for travelling to Tibet is four. These include:
- Chinese Visa
- Tibet Entry Permit (TTB permit), issued by the Tibet Travel Bureau
- Alien’s Travel Permit (PSB permit) if planning to travel to closed areas.
- Military Permit if travelling to sensitive border and military areas.
Foreigners travelling to Tibet will need a valid Chinese visa in a passport that is valid for at least six months. All visitors to Tibet need to get a Tibet Entry Permit. The Alien’s and Military permits are only necessary when travelling outside of Lhasa. Check your travel agency for advice on travel to remoter areas in Tibet like Mount Everest.
Though Tibet permits are only issued to tour groups, individuals can apply for the permits at a travel agency. As long as you permit is issued under an organised tour visa you should have no problem obtaining one. To obtain the Tibet entry permit, travel agencies require the following: name, nationality, passport number, sex, date of birth, occupation and one passport-sized photo. Journalists, diplomats and government officials who may travel to Tibet for political purposes may be refused permits. These people should travel to Tibet under the arrangement of the Foreign Affairs Office of Tibet. So when submitting your occupation details think hard about the wording. The application process for the entry permit usually takes 3-7 days, but you should give yourself at least 10 days and prepare all the necessary documents well in advance.
Travelling during politically sensitive dates is not advised, such as March 10th, the date the Dalai Lama fled into exile. When applying for a Tibet Permit its best to plan a time that doesn’t coincide with key dates. Therefore, it is recommended that you do more than just prepare the necessary documents and hand in the application on time. Putting a bit of time into researching the situation there may prevent disappointment later. Also, if you are travelling to Tibet from China on a non-tourist visa please mention this to the travel agency you plan to obtain the permit from, as different rules apply to non-tourist visas. Since Tibet’s re-opening to foreigners after the Olympics in 2008, harsher restrictions were put into place. Foreigners in China on F visas have to provide a certificate in Chinese by their company or Chinese travel agency. More information on this can be found here.
Also remember that the above mentioned rules and required documents are necessary regardless of whether you travel by air, train, bus or any other form of transport. Below is a list of some travel agencies that specialise in Tibet travel. Enjoy your trip!
Tibet Travels and Tours: www.tibet-travels.com
Tibet Travel: www.tibettravel.info
Access Tibet Tour: www.accesstibettour.com
China Tibet Tour: www.tibettour.com.cn
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