Travel in Tibet

"Since being in Tibet I have been struggling with the amount of Chinese military control over the local Tibetan people. Everywhere I look I see a camera, they are everywhere and I mean everywhere, on every corner of the main wall, every walkway even in the gardens. I spotted this camera that would move about, it was looking around the room, this was not odd, what was odd was when it spotted me. I remember nudging my friend and whispered to him, do you think that camera is following me?"

- 'Tattered Passport' blog by Australian traveller Shane

"I found the crossing from Nepal particularly intimidating, with an intrusive hand-held camera monitoring, close-up, everyone going through the passport checks. As well as the main border crossings, there were many internal checkpoints.

"While travelling, there was one incident when a driver needed to buy petrol. He was asked if he had a permit, which really upset him. He seemed to have said, “Why do I need a permit to buy things in my own country?”

- Free Tibet supporter Rowan 

Should I go to Tibet?

Arguments for:
  • The Dalai Lama has encouraged foreigners to visit Tibet and to inform others of their experiences on their return.
  • Tourism provides a window to the outside world for Tibetans.
  • Tibetans welcome the presence of (non-Chinese) tourists.
  • Tourist expenditure can help Tibetan communities, though only in certain circumstances
Arguments against:
  • China has no right to determine who enters Tibet and visiting provides legitimacy to China's occupation.
  • Most of the money you spend will go into the pockets of Chinese enterprises.
  • Travel in Tibet is conducted on the terms laid down by the Chinese, not by Tibetans, and always involves some degree of compliance with policies and security measures of the Chinese regime.
  • Tibetan culture is used as an exploitable resource by China to attract tourist income for the benefit of the Chinese state. In reality, China has attacked Tibetan culture for decades.
  • Some Tibetans complain that their culture is being "Disneyfied" for the benefit of Chinese tourists and other international visitors.
  • Although signs of repression can be obvious, many are not and because Tibetans risk persecution if they speak freely, visitors may leave with a false sense of the situation in Tibet.
  • There is no simple answer. Ultimately, it is up to the individual traveller. If you would rather not travel, consider going to a Tibetan area of India, such as Dharamsala or Ladakh.

Current situation

  • Foreigners are allowed to travel to the Tibet Autonomous Region under certain restrictions but permits are required in addition to Chinese visas. Independent travel is not possible - all must be organised through a travel agency.
  • There can be restrictions on travel to many other parts of Tibet, especially if protests have taken place.
  • There is a military or security presence on the streets of many Tibetan towns.

Know before you go

Be aware that any restrictions in place may change dramatically and without prior warning.

It is also important to plan your itinerary, particularly if you are going to the Tibet Autonomous Region. Up-to-date information on visa and permit restrictions may be found on travel forums such as Thorntree.

If you do decide to go to Tibet it is most important that you should be as informed as much as possible, so that you can see through the propaganda that you will inevitably encounter.

What endangers Tibetans?

  • Do not take pictures of the Dalai Lama into Tibet. Possession of such photographs is banned and Tibetans can be detained for possessing one.
  • Do not engage in any discussion on political topics, such as mention of the Dalai Lama or protests.
  • Do not take photographs of security personnel or troops (your tour guide may be punished if you do).
  • Do not hitch-hike as heavy fines may be given to drivers found giving lifts to tourists.
  • Do not depart from your official itinerary as this can cause huge problems for any Tibetans you may have met.

How can I maximise the benefit of my trip for Tibetans?

Help to keep Tibetan culture alive. It is very important to use Tibetan-owned and ran businesses, including hotels, restaurants, guides and souvenir stalls.

When visiting temples, monasteries or shrines you may wish to leave a donation. It is best to give it directly to a monk or nun.

We would love to hear more about your trip if you do go to Tibet and see any photos you would like to share; get in touch with us by emailing

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