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How to Travel to Tibet from US

  • Last Updated: 2024-05-19

Tibet attracts thousands of international travelers every year, and more and more travelers from the U.S. want to explore this mysterious culture and unique landscape.

Tibet is isolated, perched in the high Himalayas. If you are from the US, there's no direct flight available to Tibet. You have two route options to enter it. First, your route option is via mainland China through its seven gateway cities. Your second route option is via Kathmandu, Nepal. You are recommended to enter Tibet via China as China visa is easier to obtain rather than China Group Visa, which is required to enter Tibet visa Nepal.

From the major cities of the United States like San Francisco, Seattle, Los Angeles, New York, Miami, Washington D.C, Dallas, Chicago, Denver, Phoenix, Tampa, New Jersey, etc., you can either book a direct flight to either of seven gateways cities of China or a connecting flight to Kathmandu.

American tourists in Lhasa
A group of American tourists in Lhasa.

Reach Tibet via Mainland China

The best route option is to fly to gateway cities in mainland China directly then Tibet. There are direct flights to the following cities: Beijing, Shanghai, Chongqing, Kunming, Xi’an, Chengdu, and Guangzhou.

From San Francisco or Los Angeles, for example, you can book a flight to any of these gateway cities. If you depart from JFK International Airport in New York and land at CTU Airport in Chengdu, the non-stop flight takes only 15 hours and costs about 730 USD. If you depart from BWI Airport in D.C. and land at PEK Airport in Beijing, the ticket is about 500 USD with a 19-hour duration.

Once you arrive in mainland China, you can either board a flight or a train to Lhasa, Tibet.

By Plane to Lhasa, Tibet

Taking a flight is fast and comfortable. There are daily flights to Lhasa from any of the seven gateway cities of mainland China. Among the seven cities, you are suggested to land in Chengdu because there are more than ten flights to Lhasa every day and the train tickets are cheaper. Chengdu is close to Tibet, therefore it’s called the Gate of Tibet. The non-stop flights from Chengdu to Lhasa take about 200 USD and the flying time is 2.5 hours, which is really a short journey. In this way, you can reach your dream destination and explore this holy land as soon as possible.

If you choose Beijing, the capital of China, you can board any of the two daily direct flights to Lhasa. These flights take around 4.5 hours to reach Lhasa and would cost you $516 for the economy ticket. These flights are operated by Air China. Please note, there's no direct flight from Shanghai and Guangzhou to Lhasa.

By Train to Lhasa, Tibet

Taking a train to Tibet helps you accommodate the altitude little by little and enjoy the breathtaking scenery along the railway. Train to Lhasa is available in the abovementioned gateway cities. You are suggested to choose a soft sleeper cabin for better privacy and more comfortable beds. Along the Qinghai-Tibet Railway, you’ll have a view of beautiful pastures, snow-capped mountains, and crystal lakes. These breathtaking sceneries will impress you and offer you an unforgettable journey. If your schedule is tight but still want to witness the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, you are suggested to start your train journey from Xining, where the Qinghai-Tibet railway starts and this segment of the railroad will afford you the most spectacular train travel views.

amazing scenery along Qinghai-Tibet railway.

Required Document

To get started with your Tibet tour, US citizens need to process a few important documents. First of all, you need to have your passport updated for at least 6 months validity. Other than that, you also need to have a Tibet Travel Permit.

Tibet Travel Permit

The Tibet Travel Permit is a very important document that you should present on different occasions during your trip to Tibet. The Tibet Tourism Bureau at Lhasa issues this permit. According to the rule, international travelers in Tibet must be in an organized group and accompanied by a guide. So you need to book a Tibet tour with a local Tibet travel agency first. Your travel agency will apply for this permit on your behalf. Your tour operator will require you to send a copy of your passport and China visa to them so that they can process this permit. It usually takes several weeks to process this permit. As such, you need to have this permit processed way ahead of your tour schedule.

China visa

You can secure your Chinese Visa from the Chinese Embassy in the United States. If you live in Washington, D.C., for example, you can secure a Chinese Visa from the nearby Chinese Embassy. Chinese Visa usually costs $185. Also Chinese embassies are avaialbe  in Chicago, Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco.

To obtain a Chinese Visa, you need to present a valid passport with 6 months validity on the day of your scheduled travel. Then, you need to fill out an application form and present a passport-sized photo. You are also required to present documents about your planned travel and itinerary to China along with your round-trip air ticket booking confirmation and proof of your hotel reservations. The point is that You should not mention your intended tour of Tibet. If you mention Tibet, they will ask you to present your Tibet travel permit. However, the local authority will not issue you a Tibet travel permit without your China visa.

Reach Tibet via Kathmandu, Nepal

There is no direct flight to Kathmandu, Nepal from the United States. So, you may take transit flights from the US to Kathmandu. The shortest transit-flight duration takes 20 hours and takes you to Kathmandu's Tribhuvan International Airport(KTM).

Upon arriving in Kathmandu, you may either board a plane to Lhasa or make an adventurous overland trip across the boundary of Nepal and Tibet. The first choice is by plane. Direct flights from Kathmandu to Lhasa are available on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, so you can land in Tibet in 1.5 hours from there. However, you can also choose to drive along the Friendship Highway, the famous highway that connects Kathmandu with Lhasa, and you’ll have a view of changing sceneries on the road.

China Group Visa

If you intend to go to Tibet via Nepal, you will need to secure a different type of visa, besides your Tibet Travel Permit. This visa is referred to as "Group Tourist Visa". The Group Visa is issued by the Chinese Embassy in Kathmandu, and you can only apply for it with an invitation letter from the Tibet Tourism Bureau. Before you can secure this Group Tourist Visa, you need to have an invitation letter, an original copy of your passport , along with 2 passport-sized photos. The application for a Group Tourist Visa usually takes three business days. So, you need to reach Kathmandu at least three days before your scheduled tour of Tibet. Your chosen tour operator will be of great help in facilitating your travel permits. Currently the Chinese embassy only issue one China Group Visa per 4 participants, which means, if there are less than 4 people, you can't get a group visa to enter Tibet from Nepal.


For U.S. travelers, Tibet adventure begins with careful planning and the selection of the most convenient route, whether via mainland China or Kathmandu, Nepal. While flying to one of China's gateway cities offers a straightforward path and simpler visa procedure, the overland trip from Nepal presents its own unique allure. Regardless of the route, securing the necessary visas and permits is essential for a smooth journey.

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