1. What is a Tibet Travel Permit?
Firstly, a Tibet Travel Permit (TTP) is NOT a visa or any other kind of stamp that goes in your passport. It is a completely separate document that is issued by the Tibet Tourism Bureau. It has two pages: the first page is the “permit” page and lists the name of the registered travel agency that is responsible for the organized tour as well as the dates and planned itinerary (place names within the TAR); the second page lists the names, passport numbers, nationality, age, and profession of each group member.
Without a Tibet Travel Permit, you cannot enter Tibet. You will not even be permitted to board a flight or a train to Lhasa. Foreign travelers must have the original permit in their possession; a copy is not permitted. Furthermore, it is highly likely that the smallest mistake on the permit will result in being prohibited to board your flight/train or to enter Tibet. This document and it’s accuracy are very important.
2. Who needs a Tibet Travel Permit?
With the exception of Hong Kong and Macau citizens, all foreigner travelers are required to process a TTP to enter Tibet. Diplomats, journalists, and certain professional media photographers are not permitted to enter on a TTP and must apply through the diplomatic channels of their respective countries, or media company they represent.
3. How do I process a Tibet Travel Permit?
The first step to processing a TTP is to obtain a Chinese tourist visa. You cannot process a TTP on your own. A registered travel agency in Tibet must be hired to process your Tibet Travel Permit for you. Why? The law in Tibet (TAR only) requires foreigners to book a tour with a registered Tibet travel agency and to have a guide accompany them for the duration of their time in Tibet. After you purchase a tour package or agree on an itinerary with your chosen Tibet travel agency, they need two items from you to process your TTP: 1. a scanned copy of your passport and, 2. a scanned copy of your Chinese visa.
Be aware that travel agencies in Tibet are prohibited by law from mailing the completed permit overseas, and do so at risk of losing their license. They are only permitted to mail the permit to a domestic address in China. Therefore Tibet travel agencies work with partner agencies in other Chinese cities such as Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu, etc. to deliver the permit to travelers at their hotels before boarding their flight/train to Lhasa.
Chinese embassies and consulates cannot process Tibet Travel Permits*. Unbelievably, they have no authority to do so. Only the Tibet Tourism Bureau has the authority to issue a TTP, and the application must be made on your behalf by a registered travel agency.
*ENTERING TIBET FROM KATHMANDU. The one exception to this is for travelers who are entering Tibet from Kathmandu, Nepal. In this case a GROUP VISA needs to be applied for through the Chinese embassy in Kathmandu. For such visitors entering from Kathmandu, the group visa consists of one piece of paper that lists all travelers’ names. The group must both enter and exit the TAR together and the visit is limited to 15 days. Extensions are generally not permitted.
Chinese visas issued from other places are not valid for travel to China from Kathmandu.
4. How much does a Tibet Travel Permit cost?
The Tibet Tourism Bureau does not charge anything to issue the permit. Any cost associated with processing the TTP is charged by the travel agency that you hire, and is usually just included in your tour price. Such charges are understandable due to the time and hassle required by the agency to send staff in person to both submit the application and return to pick it up. Online submissions are not possible.
5. How long does it take to process a Tibet Travel Permit?
Processing a TTP can take up to two weeks. In theory, it can be completed as quickly as 3-4 days but often takes longer. This means that travel to TAR must be planned in advance by booking a tour with a registered travel agency ahead of time so they can obtain your TTP for you. Then they must get the original permit (not a copy) to you before you board your flight or train to Tibet.
6. From which cities can I enter Tibet with my Tibet Travel Permit?
Foreigners can enter Tibet with their TTP from any city within mainland China that offers a flight and/or train. This includes cities such as Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu, Xian, Xining, Kunming, etc. There are increasing numbers of cities that offer flights to Lhasa, including small county level airports in places like Kangding, Labrang (Xiahe), and Shangri-la.
*The ONLY international flight that operates to Tibet is from Kathmandu. All other flights originate from mainland China.
7. When is a Tibet Travel Permit checked while traveling in Tibet?
Foreign travelers are checked for their TTP at the following times and places:
the departure city for Lhasa, Tibet
the entrance port on arrival in Tibet: Zhangmu, Lhasa, Tuotuohe River (when traveling overland from Xining)
each hotel/guesthouse visited in Tibet
major Tibet attraction sites (Potala Palace, Everest, etc.)
*Once you arrive in Tibet your guide will assume responsibility for your TTP and use it for checking you into your hotel, purchasing tickets to tourist attractions, and processing the permit when traveling outside of Lhasa.
Remember, a Tibet Travel Permit is only required if you plan to visit the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) where Lhasa and other iconic sites such as Yamdrok Lake and Everest are found.