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How to Travel to Tibet from the United States

Gongga Airport, Lhasa, Tibet

Traveling from the United States to Tibet to enjoy your holidays and adventure in the culturally and naturally rich and unique plateau is easy. There are many ways of getting to Tibet from the different states in the US. The two distinct options of getting to Tibet from the US are through the neighboring country Nepal or Mainland China. After a flight to either of the two countries, there is an option of an overland drive or flight to Tibet.

Getting to Tibet either by flight or by overland drive is an experience unlike any other. The flight offers a bird's eye view of the trans-Himalayan landscape and high plateaus. Alternatively, the overland drive gives you a first-hand experience of the culture and traditions of the Tibetan Buddhist region. The option you take for the trip is dependent entirely on your budget, personal preferences, and time.

The major destination of Tibet tours is visiting its capital city; Lhasa. On your way to Lhasa, you get the opportunity to cross the Gyirong border from Nepal or pass by many commercial hubs and cities in China. Either way, you get to explore the different cities in China or Nepal on your way to the “Roof of the World”- Tibet.

How To Get To Tibet From The United States

Many Americans have the dream of exploring the Tibetan plateaus and for them getting to Tibet from the United States is pretty easy. As a top tourist destination, Tibet regularly welcomes a huge inflow of US residents who seek the distinct Tibetan Buddhist religion, culture, heritage, and majestic nature.

There are two main ways to get to Tibet from the United States:

  • The United States to Tibet via Mainland China
  • The United States to Tibet via Nepal

There is no direct flight from the U.S. to Tibet. You will take a flight from the US to either Mainland China or Nepal which are the bordering countries of Tibet. While Nepal borders a small portion in the southwest, China covers a majority of the North West and East of Tibet. If you were to take a flight to Nepal, you would then be taking your second flight or your first overland drive from Nepal’s capital city of Kathmandu to Tibet's capital city of Lhasa. Likewise, if you were to take a flight to Mainland China then you could fly or take an overland drive from the many cities of China to the prefectures of Tibet.

Taking a flight from the US to China or Nepal is very easy as many flights are taking off from different parts of the U.S. each day.

The daily flights to China or Nepal from different US airports are mentioned below:

Pacific Zone:

Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles

Mountain Zone:

Phoenix, Denver, Salt Lake City

Central Zone:

Dallas, Michigan, Chicago, Mississippi

Eastern Zone:

New York, New Jersey, Miami, Tampa, Washington DC, Philadelphia

The costs of travel vary depending upon the airlines, class, and the city you wish to land in. Before your trip, you can do an online comparison to get the best deals at a reasonable price.

Recommended Read: 15 Best Itineraries For Tibet Everest Base Camp Tours

Option 1: United States To Tibet Via Mainland China

United States to Tibet via Mainland China

One of the options to get from the US to Tibet is by taking your first flight to Mainland China from the US. There are many departure and landing options in both countries. The first phase of the tour takes a flight from any of the different states of the US to one of the cities in China. For the second phase, you can either take a flight to Lhasa, Tibet, or can take an overland drive to the plateaus.

Taking a flight from Mainland China to Tobet is an easier, more comfortable, and quicker option if you have a time constraint. However, if you have ample time, budget and wish to explore the nooks and corners of Tibet and China, then taking an overland drive is the best option.

United States to Mainland China by Flights

In the US you can depart from different states in the Pacific, Eastern, Mountain, and Central Zones.

You can land at any of the different cities across China including Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu, Chongqing, Kangding, Xining, and more. The flight from the US to China takes anywhere from 15 to 22 hours depending upon the location.

One of the best options is to make a stop at Hong Kong which takes around 16 to 18 hours to get from the US depending upon where you are located in the US. The cost can range from 350 to 1500 US dollars per person.

After reaching China, your next step would be to either take a flight or an overland drive to Tibet.

Mainland China to Tibet by Trains or Flights

From Mainland China, you can opt to take either a flight or a train ride to Tibet.

Mainland China to Tibet via Flight

If you are planning to take a flight then you will get direct flights from different cities of China to the Lhasa Gonggar International Airport in Lhasa, Tibet. Some of the regular flights go from China’s cities of Beijing, Chengdu, Xi’an, Chongqing, Xining, and Shangri La, and others. However, this is a lengthy option. The major advantage of taking a flight is to save time. However, this option is more costly than an overland drive.

Mainland China to Tibet via Train

Another way is to get a train ride to Tibet from some cities in China along the Qinghai Tibet Railway. Seven distinct gateway cities offer train services from China to Tibet including Guangzhou, Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu, Chongqing, Lanzhou, and Xining. Starting your train ride from Xining to Tibet is regarded as the best option because more trains are departing from there in the peak months so you don't have to worry about finding a good seat. All train journey’s pass-through Xining as it is the start of the Qinghai Tibet Railway and the closest to Lhasa. It will take you anywhere from 21 to 53 hours to reach Lhasa by train. The scenic beauty of China and Tibet can be seen as you take the train route passing from one city to the other which is the major highlight of this option. However, if you have limited time then the flight is a better idea.

There is also an option to take an indirect flight to Tibet. You can make stops from Shanghai and Beijing in Chongqing or Xi’an. You can also depart for Tibet from Xi’an via train but this is only possible in the low seasons.

Get to Lhasa via Beijing and Shanghai

Lhasa, the capital city of Tibet is a major tourist destination for all tours in Tibet. There are many cities in China where you can get flights or train rides to Tibet, two of them are Beijing and Shanghai. Beijing is located in the northeast while Shanghai is located to the east of Lhasa.

From the US, it is very easy to get a flight to Beijing and Shanghai as they are the major commercial and tourist hubs of China. Hence, Beijing and Shanghai are good options to land from the US and then take a flight or train ride to Lhasa.

The flight from Beijing to Lhasa takes around 5 and half hours with a stopover at Xining. Alternatively, you can take a train ride via the Beijing Lhasa Railway which takes about 41 hours.

From Shanghai, you can take a flight to Lhasa with a stopover at Chengdu or Xi’an that takes about 8 hours. Alternatively, you can opt for a long train ride which takes about 47 hours.

Get to Lhasa Via Chengdu

Another route to get from China to Lhasa is via Chengdu. Chengdu is located in the east of Lhasa and is very close to Tibet. Getting from Chengdu to Tibet via flight is an easier option as it takes only around 2 hours and 30 minutes. This is one of the best options as it is a popular departure destination to Tibet and has the highest number of daily flights to Lhasa.

On the other hand, the Chengdu to Lhasa train ride takes around 36 hours making a long arc. The only high side to traveling via a train is to witness the view of Kunlun mountain, Jade Pearl Snow Mountain, Tuotuo river, and more. However, it takes up a lot of time.

Where to travel next?

Get help from our travel specialists for holiday ideas that matches your interests.

Option 2: The United States To Tibet Via Nepal

nepal to tibet

The other viable option to get from the US to Tibet is via Nepal. The country Nepal is located to the south of Tibet and shares a large chunk of the trans-Himalayan landscape with Tibet. The capital city of Nepal, Kathmandu is an important destination for flights from the US to Nepal, consisting of the country’s only international airport. From the US there are regular flights to Kathmandu. The flight could take anywhere from 22 to 41 hours depending upon your location. The flight lands at Kathmandu’s Tribhuvan International Airport. You are welcomed with the sights of majestic mountains covering the green valley. From Kathmandu, there are two options to reach Lhasa, Tibet:  

Kathmandu to Lhasa via flight

Flight is the easier and faster option to get to Lhasa. From Tribhuvan International Airport in Kathmandu, it will take only 1 hour 30 minutes to reach Lhasa Gonggar International Airport in Lhasa. The major highlight is that you will be flying past Mt. Everest and other 8000m peaks. Flights are available via Sichuan Air or Air China and take about 200 to 300 USD depending upon the season.

Kathmandu to Lhasa via Overland

The other option is to travel to Lhasa via an overland tour. You will be driving 6 hours north of Kathmandu to the Gyirong port which is the border of Tibet. After crossing the Gyirong Port in Tibet, you will drive off to Lhasa via the asphalt road of the G318 Highway which takes a week.

This is most certainly a lengthier option suited best for tourists with ample time and budget. The major highlight of taking this route is to witness the historical cities of Shigatse, Gyantse, and make stops at pristine lakes surrounded by high mountains before reaching Lhasa.

Another adventurous and exciting option to get from Kathmandu to Lhasa is a cycling tour. This is a rather unique and physically demanding option that is rarely chosen as it takes a week or two. Also, as of now, there is no railway connecting Kathmandu to Lhasa so a train ride is out of the option here.

Planning to travel from Lhasa to Kathmandu, you can check out the How To Travel From Lhasa To Kathmandu? for details.

Required Documents

American Passport

Tibet is very protective of its land and tourism, although flourished, is strictly under the control of the governing bodies. Hence you would require certain permits and documentation to get to Tibet. You would be required to hold a Chinese Visa or Group Tourist Visa, a Tibet Travel Permit, and other documentation depending upon where in Tibet you are traveling.

Chinese Visa for the US to Mainland China

This is mandatory for all tourists who are visiting Mainland China to get to Tibet. This is available from the Chinese Embassy in Washington DC or the Chinese Consular office located in other states like San Francisco, New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and more. You need to have a valid passport with at least 6 months validity, filled with an application form with your photo, tour itinerary, hotel reservation bookings, and flight ticket proof. It takes about 3 to 7 working days to be issued by the office.

Chinese Group Tourist Visa for the US to Nepal

For the tourists who are opting to fly from the US to Nepal, the Chinese Group Tourist Visa is mandatory. It will be issued once you land in Kathmandu, Nepal where the registered tour agency will make all the necessary arrangements. Although called a group visa this can also be applied to an individual tourist. To get the Group Tourist Visa you need to show your Tibet Travel permit, original passport, your application form, and photo. This can only be done by the tour operator and not the individuals themself. If you have a Chinese Entry Visa in your passport then it will be canceled in favor of this group tourist visa. It takes about 3 working days to be issued.

Tibet Travel Permit

The Tibet Travel Permit is required for any travel in and around the Tibetan Autonomous Region. It is issued by the Tibet Tourism Bureau in Lhasa. This can only be applied by your registered tour operator after your tour is booked. You would need to present a copy of your passport for the application. Other Permits and Documents for Tibet Tour

Alien’s Travel Permit

The Alien’s Travel Permit is required only for those tourists traveling to areas of Tibet outside Lhasa and Nagqu like Shigatse, Everest Base Camp (EBC), and more. Moreover, if you are traveling to EBC, you would require a Frontier Pass/Tibet Border Pass as it lies on the border of Nepal. It is issued by the Tibet Armed Police Border Corps in Lhasa.

Military Permit/ Restricted area permits

If your tour takes you to the restricted areas in Tibet like Nyingchi, Nagqu, and Ngari, then you would require this tour. It applies mostly to Mt. Kailash area tour.

All these permits can be applied only by the registered Tour operator on your behalf. Individuals or groups cannot apply for these on their own.

Where to travel next?

Get help from our travel specialists for holiday ideas that matches your interests.

Is Tibet Safe To Travel For US Citizens?

The final question for many tourists is if Tibet is safe to travel for US citizens. The answer would be yes, it certainly is. Millions of tourists from the US have traveled to Tibet and have completed their tours with satisfaction. As all the tours in Tibet are managed by registered Tour operators, there is less chance of any safety issues. The crime rate is very low in Tibet and has been dropping in the past years.

Moreover, as most of the population is Tibetan Buddist, they believe and follow Buddhist values. While altitude sickness can be a concern, the itineraries are made in such a way to best avoid it. However, it is advised to take all the precautions as you would take in any other country where you travel.


Tibet is a beautiful Southeastern country with unique topography and rich culture. It has been a dream destination for many tourists for decades. It is very easy to travel from the United States to Tibet whether via Mainland China or Nepal. With the development of roadways and the increase in daily flights to and from Tibet, many tourists are getting the opportunity to live their dream.

Before visiting Tibet, do in-depth research and make all necessary plans. To get the best advice and plan your Tibet tour successfully, get in touch with our expert representatives and enjoy the trip of your lifetime.

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