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Travel: Nepal to Tibet

May 24, 2009

Life on the Tibetan Plateau
May 22, 2009

1. Chinese Visa

If you plan to enter Tibet from Nepal, you can
only get a 15 day group Chinese visa. This visa
is usually not placed in your passport, but is a
sheet of paper that lists all of the names of the
people in your group along with nationalities,
birth dates and passport numbers. This group visa
is usually not able to be extended, even though
many travel agencies in Kathmandu will tell you
that it can be extended. Many travelers find out
the hard way when they go to get an extension and
find out that instead of getting a visa
extension, they have less than 48 hours to leave
China. With the group Chinese visa, you have to
enter AND EXIT with all of the members of your
group at the same time and the same place. It is
not possible for you to split from the group
since your group Chinese visa is only on one
piece of paper. This can cause huge problems if
some people in your group plan to exit China to
Hong Kong while others are planning on flying out
of Beijing. For most people, 15 days is not
enough to travel overland to Lhasa and tour the rest of China.

The group Chinese visa can only be arranged
through a travel agency in Nepal. If you arrive
in Nepal with a Chinese visa already in your
passport, you will NOT be able to use it. The
Chinese embassy in Kathmandu will cancel whatever
type of Chinese visa you have (there are some
small exceptions to this, but for 99% of the
people reading this, those exceptions don't
apply). Entry from Nepal into Tibet requires you
to have the group Chinese visa that is valid for only 15 days of travel.

If you plan on going from the rest of China into
Tibet, this visa restriction does not apply. From
China, there is no need to be on a group visa.
You can enter on a standard 30 or 60 day tourist
visa. Tourist visa's can be extended for an
additional 30 days at any city in China, however,
visa's cannot be extended in Lhasa or anywhere in the Tibet Autonomous Region.

2. Tour Prices

Tour prices from Nepal to Tibet are generally
much higher compared to going from China to
Tibet. There are a couple of reasons for this.
The first is that the agency in Nepal not only
has to arrange your permit, but they also have to
arrange your Chinese visa for you. More paper work to process means more money.

The second is that most travel agencies in
Kathmandu use travel agencies in Lhasa to arrange
the tour. Arranging tours to Tibet in Nepal means
that 2 or 3 agencies will be used and all of them
add to the total price (example: a small
backpacker travel agency in Thamel can arrange
tours to Lhasa, but first have to contact a
larger travel agency in Kathmandu who then
contacts the agency in Lhasa. This means that 3
agencies are involved in arranging your tour).
The third reason that tours from Nepal into Tibet
are more expensive than going from China into
Tibet is that most people go to Tibet from either
Xining or Chengdu. Not nearly as many people
enter Tibet from Nepal so that means that the
tour prices are higher since there are fewer
customers. Since there is so much competition in
Xining and Chengdu, it keeps the tour prices lower.

The last major reason that tour prices form Nepal
to Tibet cost more is transportation. The only
way to get from Kathmandu to Lhasa is to either
go overland in a Land Cruiser for 5 days or fly.
Since taking public transportation in Tibet is
not possible, foreigners have to use private
vehicles which are not cheap. The flight from
Kathmandu to Lhasa only takes about 55 minutes,
but usually costs around $325USD or so.

Entering Tibet from mainland China is cheaper
because you can take the train to Lhasa. The
train is a very affordable and comfortable way to
get to Lhasa. Also, from China you can either
arrange a tour from a travel agency in Lhasa or
from a travel agency in Xining, Beijing or
Chengdu that is well connected to a travel agency
in Lhasa. Because of the high number of tourists
who go from mainland China to Lhasa, prices are
very competitive and considerably less than in Nepal.

3. Ease in Arranging

Arranging tours from Nepal to Tibet aren't
difficult to do, but they do take some time. The
travel permit will take at least 5 to 7 days to
arrange plus you have to wait for the Chinese
group visa to be issued. This means that if you
arrive in Kathmandu, don't expect to be on your
way to Lhasa the next day. You will most likely
have to wait up to a week or more. Since the
travel agency will have to arrange your group
Chinese visa, it is difficult to arrange tours
from Nepal to Tibet in advance (they can't
arrange your tour in advance because they need to
have your passport in order to begin the process).

On the China side, travel permits normally take
around 3 business days to arrange. Most travel
agencies can arrange your tour in advance as long
as you email them copies of your passport and
Chinese visa 2 weeks before you plan to depart.
It is very common for customers to arrive in
Xining or Chengdu and depart for Lhasa the next
day (this is only possible if the customers have
arranged their tour in advance). Even if you
don't arrange your tour in advance, it is
possible to be on your way to Lhasa from Xining within 3 or 4 business days.

DSC01493 In general, it is easier, cheaper and
you get a longer visa for China if you go from
China to Tibet then to Nepal. Doing the tour in
the reverse order (Nepal to Tibet to China) means
that the tour will cost more, take longer to
arrange and you will only have a 15 day group
Chinese visa. I am not writing this to discourage
people from going to Nepal. Nepal is a great
place to visit and the overland route from Lhasa
to Kathmandu is one of the best in Asia. I highly
recommend people to go to Nepal. However, it is
important to realize that the travel regulations
are very different regarding Tibet if you start
your tour in Nepal rather than China. Again, it
is much easier and cheaper to begin your journey
in China and then work your way to Nepal through
Tibet rather than beginning in Nepal.

If you have any other questions about travel in
Tibet, please send an email to info@tibetanconnections.com
CTC National Office 1425 René-Lévesque Blvd West, 3rd Floor, Montréal, Québec, Canada, H3G 1T7
T: (514) 487-0665   ctcoffice@tibet.ca
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