Disclaimer: Spinn Cafe aims to provide you the most up-to-date information, but you are still suggested to google for more information.
The information below was last updated on 19 Sept 2018.
The situation in Tibet has been changing very fast throughout the past few months, the information given below should be used as a reference only.
- There's no restriction for the number of visitors in the group.
- The Tibetan New Year and Chinese New Year will fall on 16 February 2018, you'd better avoid February and March to come to Tibet as the permit is usually not issued during this period.
- One person can also form a one-man group to come to Tibet, but better come with more people as it's more affordable to share the cost of tour guide and driver.
- Mixed nationalities are allowed.
- It is okay to go to Everest Base Camp and Ngari area.
- Permit application must be sent in at least 25 - 30 days before the trip date. No quick permit. But yes, if you have time, you can get the permit.
- Let me emphasize the point above, it really takes much longer to apply for the permit now, so please make sure you have enough time!
- Indian nationals require special permits to visit Tibet. If you are Indian-passport holders, make sure the tour agencies fully understand the special requirements for Indian nationals. (If they tell you Indian is treated the same as other foreigners, they don't know the rule, go and ask other agent.)
You can also contact me (Pazu Kong) for any tour arrangement or if you have any further question, but please read this FAQ first. My email is: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please note that I got a lot of emails everyday after writing this FAQ, while I try to answer all emails, it would be better if you could read the FAQ first. And please also understand that I cannot comment on the operation of other tour agencies to avoid any conflict of interest (as we are a tour agency as well).
What can we do for you?
Our goal is as simple as this homepage, we aim to provide a very straightforward and transparent tour for those who felt confused about the Tibet situation.
Please fill in the form at the bottom of this page and we will give you more details of your trip. Or just email us: email@example.com
Before joining tour organized by Spinn Cafe, please read some comments from our previous group members here.
Our tour service were recommended by the Lonely Planet Tibet (8th edition, 2011 and 9th edition, 2015). They said our service was "clear and transparent".
Is Tibet safe now?
Yes, Tibet is very safe. Tourism was hugely affected by the unrest in March 2008 and the Olympics 2008, but I never felt any personal threat at anytime. Tibetans are some of the most helpful and friendly people, their presence makes your trip safer.
Will I be affected by attitude sickness?
It is one of the most frequently asked question. It can take a few pages to answer this question, I suggest you to read http://www.basecampmd.com/expguide/amsprev.shtml.
How to enter Tibet?
You will need a Chinese visa first, and for all foreigners, you will also need a Tibet Travel Permit (TTP), hire a tour guide, stay at a hotel with foreigners' accommodation license and rent a tour vehicle (if going out of Lhasa). The rule is strictly enforced now. Foreign tourists can choose two ways of transportation to go to Tibet, 1. Flying into Tibet. 2. Taking a train to Tibet.
Overland trip from Yunnan or Sichuan to Tibet is off-limit to foreigners, as no permits would be issued to foreigners going to Chamdo (which lies between Yunnan/Sichuan and Tibet).
Can foreigners take public buses?
In Lhasa area: Yes, foreigners can take public buses.
Outside Lhasa: No, foreigners must take "tour vehicle", with tour guide accompanying the group.
Airport and train station transfer: No, foreigners must take "tour vehicle" as well, because there are checkpoints between the train stations and airports. Foreigners are not allowed to take taxi or airport shuttle bus to go to the train station or airport.
I've read other information which said that foreigners could go to Tibet without any permits, why?
The travel situation in Tibet has changed drastically since March 2008, even after so many years, we can still feel the effect now. Any information written before March 2008 should be treated as a reference only. All the information and restrictions written here were written after March 2008.
Can I hire a tour guide from one tour agency, but hire my own transportation through other sources, e.g. another tour agency, or simply a taxi?
You can only hire a taxi WITHIN Lhasa City, roaming around in Lhasa City. If you go from Lhasa to other areas, you will have to arrange the transportation through the same tour agency where you applied for your Tibet permit.
A taxi in Lhasa could only take foreigners up to any places with a checkpoint. For example, there's a checkpoint near Lhasa River side, it's only 6km away from town centre, and you cannot hire a taxi and go beyond that point.
Can foreigners buy the train tickets by themselves without joining a tour?
Foreigners can buy train tickets by themselves, or ask a Chinese friend to buy one for them, but permits will be checked while boarding the train, on the train and on arrival at the train station in Lhasa. There is a big checkpoint right outside the Lhasa Railway Station. It's difficult to avoid all those checkpoints.
If I ask a tour agency in Chengdu to buy the train tickets for me, do I need to show them my Tibet permit?
No, you don't need to show them anything to buy the train ticket. If they ask you about the Tibet permit, tell them that you will get one from a tour agency in Lhasa. Your permit will be checked only when you board the train, on the train, and arrive at the train station in Lhasa.
Can foreigners ride their bicycles into Tibet?
Foreign cyclists are very rare, all were accompanied by a rented vehicle.
Road checks are extremely frequent, I think it's almost impossible for foreigners to avoid any road checks now, even if you cycle at 2am!
Police at checkpoints along the road will check the IDs of all people, including Tibetans, Chinese and foreigners.
What will the tour guide do? Is it like a North-Korean-styled trip in Tibet?
Hiring a tour guide is one of the requirements for getting the permits through a tour agency, you cannot get a permit if you don't hire a guide.
Some internet reviews claim that it's possible to go without tour guides, it's wrong! One review said that, "if your travel agent tells you (that you need a tour guide for everyday), get another travel agent." This is completely wrong. You will certainly need a tour guide for every single day in Tibet, whether you go outside or stay at hotel only. If your tour agent tells you otherwise, they are breaking the rule. The penalty is high (e.g. suspension of the whole tour operation for a month) and I think most tour agencies would try to follow the restrictions almost religiously.
However, hiring a tour guide doesn't mean that the tour would follow you like a minder. You could still wander around Lhasa by yourself without the tour guide. A tour guide is compulsory if you enter any religious sites (monasteries) or government agents. The tour agency will face penalties if you were found without a tour guide inside these premises.
If you travel out of Lhasa, a tour guide is necessary to accompany you in the vehicle. Police at checkpoints will ask for your permit and your tour guide.
I'm planning to enter Tibet from China, is it okay for me to continue traveling if my Chinese visa expires but I have a longer Tibet permit?
Chinese visa is different from the Tibet permit.
You must have a valid Chinese visa to cover the whole period of your stay in Tibet, a Tibet permit is not a visa extension. If your Chinese visa expires, you will have to leave Tibet even if you still have some days left on the Tibet permit.
For example, if your Chinese visa expires on 1 August, your Tibet permit expires on 5 August, it means that your tour will end on 1 August (not 5 August).
Normally you are not allowed to get any permit that expires after your Chinese visa, sometimes the Tourism Bureau may give you a longer permit by mistake, but it doesn't imply any visa extension. In any case, even if you do get a Tibet permit longer than your Chinese visa, you will still have to end the tour before the expiry date of your Chinese visa.
You should be responsible for making sure that you have a valid Chinese visa for the duration of your stay in Tibet.
Note that no visa extension will be allowed in Tibet for foreign tourists under any circumstances. I have to repeat it, no visa extension is allowed.
I know a Tibetan friend, can I get a Tibet permit or invitation letter from him? Or can I travel with him so I don't need a tour guide?
Unfortunately, this is also not possible. Even if you have a lot of Tibetan friends, you still need a Tibet permit, you still need to hire a tour guide for every single day in Tibet to get the permit, and yes, you can only get it through a tour agency.
I know a Tibetan friend, can I get a Tibet permit through a tour agency but STAY with him? Or can he be my tour guide?
You still need to get the permit and a licensed tour guide through a tour agency.
A tour guide means a tour guide with the valid tour guide license, most Tibetan don't have this license except if they are real tour guides.
I'm using a foreign passport to enter China. I know some friends from Hong Kong/Macau/China and they already had a driver, can I just go and travel with them without getting a Tibet permit?
This is not possible, you will still have to arrange your tour with tour guide and driver first, then you can invite your friends from Hong Kong (or Macau or mainland China) to join this tour, but you are not allowed to join their tour.
People from Hong Kong, Macau or mainland China are free to join any tours they like (even a group with foreigners), but not vice versa.
When I apply for a Chinese visa, I was required to write down the itinerary in the application form, should I write down Tibet?
DO NOT MENTION Tibet in your application, it will jeopardize your trip in Tibet. It's also DEFINITELY legal to enter Tibet even if you didn't mention "Tibet" in your visa application.
The "itinerary" part on the Chinese visa application form is for reference only. Even if you didn't mention Tibet in the form, you can still come to Tibet. I suggest you to write something simple, like "Spending 2 weeks in Kunming (Yunnan), 2 weeks in Lijiang (Yunnan)".
However, if you mention "Tibet" in your visa application form, your visa will probably be denied by the Chinese embassy.
Then how to obtain a permit?
There are two types of permits. Tibet Travel Permit (TTP) and Alien Travel Permit (ATP). To get into Tibet, you will need the TTP; to travel around Tibet, you'll need the ATP. In the past (before February 2009), some tour agencies were willing to sell you a permit without hiring a guide, but everything has changed, you MUST join a tour now, hire a tour guide and rent a car if you want to get the permit. The permit MUST be obtained through a travel agency, you are not allowed to apply one by yourself.
What are the steps of arranging the Tibet Travel Permit (TTP) through a Lhasa tour agency, via the internet?
As mentioned above, you need a Tibet Travel Permit (TTP) to enter Tibet.
This permit will take about 15 - 30 days to get, depends on the policy at the moment. You will need to send the scanned copies of your Chinese visa and the information page of your passport to the tour agency which helped you to get the permit.
To make it easier to understand, you should:
- Get a Chinese visa anywhere first. Do not mention "Tibet" in the visa application.
- Contact a tour agency in Lhasa.
- Send the scanned copy of your Chinese visa plus the information page of your passport to the agency.
- Enter China.
- The tour agency will send you either a photocopy or a real copy of the Tibet Travel Permit (TTP) by courier service (EMS) to your hotel in China (so you should spend at least one night in China).
- Enter Tibet either by flight or train.
I'm working in China, would this make any difference when applying for the permits?
Depends on what type of Chinese visa you are holding, if you are using the tourist visa (type L), it's totally okay. For other types of visa, see below:
- Tourist (L) visa - no additional documents are rquired.
- Visiting (F) visa - a letter of recommendation from your company (with the official company seal).
- Business (Z) visa - a letter of recommendation from your company (with the official company seal) and a scanned copy of your work permit (issued by the government).
- Student (X) visa - a letter of recommendation from your school or university, with the school stamp (seal) and a scanned copy of the student ID card.
What should be included in the tour package?
1. Permit should be included in the package.
2. Tour vehicle must be booked through the same tour agency which helped you to apply for the permit. Depends on your trip and the vehicle type, it's around RMB 3600 - 4200 per day as of 2016.
3. Transportation tickets can be booked by yourself or through other tour agencies. Train/flight ticket in and out of Lhasa, double this price (in and out). The flight prices are fluctuating days and nights, e.g. the cheapest flight from Guangzhou to Lhasa costs around RMB 2700. The flight ticket of one-way from Chengdu - Lhasa = RMB 1700, including tax and fuel surcharge (Sept 2011).
4. It's optional to include entrance tickets in the tour package, but the tour agency should list out all the entrance fees, they shouldn't make money on buying the tickets for you except for the Potala tickets, some agencies may charge around RMB 200 for the "reservation fee" (plus RMB 200 for the Potala Palace ticket). And you must be accompanied by a guide to visit the Potala Palace and other monasteries. (I would suggest you not to include the entrance fees in your package, the tour agencies would not give you any discounts if you pay the entrance fees in advance. If you finally decide to skip some sight-seeing points, it may be difficult to ask for a refund of the ticket fee.)
5. It's optional to book the hotels by yourself or through the tour agency. It's usually better to book the hotels in Lhasa with your tour agency as they know which hotels could let foreigners to stay.
6. Salary of driver and driver should be included. You don't have to pay for the meals and accommodations of the drivers and tour guides, this should be included in the price of the tour package.
7. Tipping is optional in Tibet. If you really enjoy the service, pay around RMB 30 per day for the driver, RMB 30 per day for the tour guide. However, tipping should not be compulsory.
When you compare prices offered by different companies, you should compare the prices based on the same ground, don't compare a Business Van with a Toyota land cruiser, don't compare train tickets with air tickets, don't compare a cheap guesthouse with a boutique hotel.
In your email, you should check if there's anything hidden, some items may be included, some items may be excluded. The components of your tour should be:
- "Optional" means you can book it by yourself or through a tour agency. "Compulsory" means you must book it through a tour agency.
- OPTIONAL: Transportation to and from Tibet.
- COMPULSORY: Tibet Permit.
- COMPULSORY: Salaries of the tour guides.
- COMPULSORY: Transportation from / to the airport / train station and your hotel (first day and last day of your trip).
- COMPULSORY: Rented tour vehicles (driver salary included).
- OPTIONAL: Entrance fees.
- OPTIONAL: Hotel inside Lhasa.
- OPTIONAL: Hotel outside Lhasa.
- OPTIONAL: Meals.
- OPTIONAL: Tippings.
So what is the real permit price?
The permit price is actually zero, and on the permit it will state very clearly that the permit is free. But it's actually fair for the tour agency to charge some money for handling the permits. They need a lot of connection at the governmental departments to get you the permits. The tour agency need also a lot of insurance to arrange foreigners' permits, it's always about politics and security.
When you get into any trouble in Lhasa, the tour agency which helped you to get the permit will take full responsibility. Some "offense" committed by foreigners may seem trivial, but will have big consequence to the tour agencies. e.g. if a foreigner was found to enter a monastery without tour guides the tour agency will face penalty.
The permit price I wrote here are totally for your reference only. At the very beginning I wrote RMB 800 in the FAQ, but some tour agencies contacted me and said they try to charge people cheaper on one item but more expensive on the permit, but even if their packages are overally cheaper than the others, some people may think they are still expensive. Some people even quoted my FAQ and use it to bargain with the tour agencies.
The price for each item is for your reference only, the budget should not cost more than this referenced price, but you should compare different packages based on the offerings and the total price, not just the price of each single item.
What is a typical tour package like?
Day 1: Take a flight from Chengdu / Chongqing to Lhasa. (or Xining to Lhasa by train)
Day 2: Stay in Lhasa for 3 days for acclimatization and sightseeings.
Day 3: Still in Lhasa for 3 days for acclimatization and sightseeings.
Day 4: Still in Lhasa for 3 days for acclimatization and sightseeings.
Day 5: Start to pay for a rented vehicle, from Lhasa to Shigatse, via Gyantse and Yamdro Lake.
Day 6: From Shigatse to Everest Base Camp.
Day 7: From Everest Base Camp back to Shigatse.
Day 8: From Shigatse to Namtso Lake.
Day 9: From Namtso Lake to Lhasa.
Day 10: Lhasa to Xining (Qinghai Province) by train, then tour ends in Xining. (or fly back to Chengdu, there are flights from Chengdu to Bangkok).
Is it possible to arrange a Tibet trip through some Nepali agencies?
It seems to be easier to arrange the trip from mainland China. There are many different tour agencies in Nepal which organize trips to Tibet for foreigners. However, all agencies in Nepal (or other parts of China outside Tibet) are actually cooperating with the tour agencies in Lhasa in order to get all the papers done, it would be much cheaper to contact tour agencies in Lhasa through the internet as there are fewer middlemen.
What are the situations of arranging a trip to Tibet from Nepal?
You can arrange a trip from Nepal to Tibet and then China, but the big problem is, you can only get a visa of around 21 days, it's not possible to extend this visa in China right now.
When you enter Tibet from Nepal, you can only get a so-called "group visa". A group visa is actually an A4-sized paper with a list of members' names. A group can be composed of one or two people only, and you have to enter and leave the country together with all the members on the list.
The group visa has a serious limitation, it's probably valid for only 21 days or even shorter, this visa is not possible to be extended anywhere in China, not in Kunming, Leshan, Chengdu or Xining. If you read somewhere else that this group visa was extendable, it was probably before 2008, I haven't seen anyone who can do it in the past several years (after 2008).
If you have any previous Chinese tourist visa in your passport, the Chinese Embassy in Nepal will cancel all your previous visas before issuing you a group visa.
With this group visa, you can spend some days in Tibet and the remaining days in China, e.g. 2 weeks in Tibet, one week in other parts of China.
There are some other alternatives.
And please also note that no matter which way you travel, you will still need all the requirements stated on my website to get the permits. i.e.
- Get a longer tourist visa (usually around 3 months) elsewhere, probably at your home country first. Then fly from Kathmandu to Chengdu (not Lhasa), then join a tour in Chengdu. But the flight from Kathmandu to Chengdu is usually quite expensive.
- Get a group visa and permits in Kathmandu, travel from Kathmandu to Tibet, then take a train to Guangzhou, exit at Hong Kong, and get another new Chinese visa in Hong Kong.
- Hiring a tour guide for every single day of your stay in the Tibet Autonomous Region. (Can be shared by other group members).
- Renting a vehicle, either Toyota 4WD or a van. (Can be shared by other group members).
- Staying at specific hotels (not a problem, they are very good and always prefered by tourists even if there are no special restrictions to ask foreigners stay there.)
What is a travel license for vehicle?
All private vehicles involving in the tourism industry in Tibet must have a travel license. It's easy to see if a car has this license or not, just check the car number plate.
All number plate in Tibet will be started with a Chinese word "Zang" (Tibet), followed by an alphabet assigned for each prefecture, e.g. A for Lhasa, B for Shigatse. A car with travel license will have one more letter "L" (lv-you, travel).
e.g. A car with a number plate of "Zang A L 12345" has a travel license. A car with number "Zang A T 54321" did not.
A car with travel license has insurance and is monitored by the Tourism Bureau. And most important, any tour agency who was caught with using unlicensed vehicle will be fined RMB 20,000 or above. If a tour agency risks arranging an unlicensed vehicle to tourists, you may want to ask why.
Can I extend my visa in Tibet?
For most cases, no, you can't extend your visa without a good reason. They will tell you something like you still have 5 days on your visa and it should be enough for you to fly out of China! If you really have only one single day left on your visa, the police may give you a temporary extension of a maximum of 5 days, for the price of a single visa (Y160 for most nationalities).
I haven't met any tourists who could extend their visa in Lhasa since 2010.
I've heard that a medicine called diamox is useful for prevention of attitude sickness, can I buy it in China?
Acetazolamide, sold under the trade name Diamox, is used to treat attitude sickness. While this medicine is effective, it cannot be found in China! If you want to take diamox, remember to bring enough from home, it is a prescription drug in many countries, consult a doctor for advice. In China, the most popular attitude sickness remedy is "hong-jing-tian", which is usually around RMB 30 per box with 20 tablets, depends on the ingredients and brand name.
I love cycling or walking alone, can I cycle around Lhasa by myself without my tour guide?
There are three parts of the answers.
Firstly, you will still have to hire a tour guide, you hire a tour guide to get your Tibet permit.
Secondly, you can tell your tour guide that you want to roam freely around Lhasa City without the tour guide accompanying you, provided that you do not enter any religious sites (e.g. monasteries) or government venues (e.g. police stations).
Thirdly, you can cycle or walk or roam around to the area around 25km from Jokhang Monastery.
This 25-km boundary is not official, and you should ask your tour guide and tour agency to see how they interpret this boundary.
What time must I go back to my hotel?
Even if you need to hire a tour guide, he's not going to be your minder or nanny. You can go back to your hotel anytime.
Can we decide where to stay in Lhasa?
Definitely yes, and foreigners are also allowed to book the hotels by themselves, but it would be better to book the accommodations in Lhasa through your tour agency, you may have slightly more flexibility as your agency would probably have a better relationship with the specified hotels. It's always the travelers who have the final say about where to stay provided the places have the necessary license to accomodate foreigners.
Bear in mind that the hotel the travelers choose to stay must have the Foreigners Accommodation License (外国人住宿许可证).
I've read that the government requires all foreigners to stay at expensive 3-star hotels or above, is it true?
The only requirement for the hotels where foreigners stay is the Foreigners Accommodation License (外国人住宿许可证). Some guesthouses with this license also have dormitory beds, which costs less than RMB 100 per person per night in high season. It's the responsibility of the tour agency to fully disclose the basic requirement of the tour arrangement to the tour members.
I love to experience a more local aspect of Tibetan life, can I stay at local homes?
You can only stay at the designated hotels or hostels with foreigners accommodation licenses. It does NOT mean high-end hotels, some are more like youth hostels, but they are not local homes.
How can I know which hotels allow foreigners to stay?
There is no official system to check out the hotels with this licenses. Most guesthouses listed in the Lonely Planet guidebook or Tripadvisor.com have this license.
Do I have to reserve the hotel rooms outside Lhasa as well?
You can choose your hotel outside Lhasa later, you only have to reserve the rooms in Lhasa first. For the hotels outside Lhasa, it's usually better to pay after seeing the hotel first, and you have the full rights to decide if you want to stay or not.
Can I get the latest edition of Lonely Planet Tibet in Lhasa?
No, as far as I know, there are no places to sell Lonely Planet.
Which area should I stay in Lhasa?
Better choose a hotel inside the old quarter of Lhasa. All important spots are within the old quarter. Choose hotels at Beijing East Road, Dosenge Road, Barkhor.
Do you have some recommendations for guesthouses in Lhasa so I can check out their price and location?
All hotels listed below are in Lhasa old quarter, I think this is the best area to stay in Lhasa. All guesthouses listed below are popular and affordable, all equipped with the necessary license to accommodate foreigners.
1. Rama Kharpo Hotel
This guesthouse near the Mosque in Barkhor is owned by Lobsang-la (aka Lobsangy on this forum). As a hotel owner, an academic and a scholar, he can probably tell you more interesting stories about Tibet than any other guidebooks. This is also the only place which lets you to reserve dormitory bed.
2. Phuntsok Khasang Youth Hostel, also called a Youth Hostel
Popular hangout for independent travelers, used to be the definite hub for meeting foreign travelers before the unrest in March 2008. Around ten minutes away from almost all major tourist spots. The new compound just opposite the old one is actually a hotel (not a "youth hostel"), some more expensive rooms have amazing view of the Potala Palace.
3. Shambhala Palace and House of Shambhala
Boutique hotels with nice decorations, very friendly and helpful staff. I think it's one of the most beautiful boutique hotels in Lhasa.
4. Gorkha Hotel (twin room)
Used to be the Nepali Consulate in Lhasa, centrally located, but a bit run down.
My tour agency told me something very different, they said I must stay at their designated hotels, they said the hotels listed above did not have any license to let foreigners to stay legally, why??
Because the tour agencies are not honest, they may be able to get a better commission for some hotels, they may tell you the hotels in the old quarter are old, dirty, unsafe or bad. Don't believe them.
Can I design my itinerary?
You have lots of freedom to choose which places to go and how many days you want to spend there, provided that you hire a tour guide and rent a vehicle.
The most popular trip is the 10-day Everest tour.
Can I go to Namtso Lake in the winter time?
Yes, the road from Lhasa to Namtso Lake is usually open throughout the whole year now, there are a few guesthouses (with wi-fi service...) open even during winter.
Can I go to Everest Base Camp in the winter time?
Yes, the road from Lhasa to Everest Base Camp is usually open throughout the whole year now, there's a new road now. If you go to the EBC during winter, you better spend the night at Rongbuk Monastery Guesthouse or Tingri.
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Note that reply time will be a bit longer in March (only in March), expect to get a reply in 96 hours.
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