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Tibet travel guide

About Tibet

Hidden high on the roof of the world, Tibet is a land of golden monasteries, spectacular mountain scenery and a deep spiritual heritage that lives as much in our imagination as it does in the remote Himalayas.

Of course, it’s hard to ignore the complex political situation, with Tibet seen both as occupied territory and an integral part of China for the best part of a century depending on who you talk to. This contentious situation can affect your freedom of movement in the country, and so it’s wise to plan your itinerary and do your research well in advance.

Once you’ve crossed these barriers, however, an enthralling, unique realm awaits.

Many travellers will be drawn to Tibet by the spectacular Buddhist temples, ageless monasteries perched on cliff edges and robed monks chanting peacefully. With the amount of reverence and faith among Tibetans, Tibet truly feels like one of the most spiritual places on Earth.

Beyond the zen vibes, Tibet’s nature is also life-affirming. Stunning high-altitude scenery and huge blue salt lakes borne on high towards the heavens are the highlights, while epic journeys beckon. Try the world's highest railway trip, for example, or take the classic overland drive across the Himalayas to Kathmandu in Nepal.

A recurring highlight wherever you go is the Tibetan people, always quick with a smile, from visiting bands of pilgrims to nomads in their yak-hair tents. Be sure to try beer in a Lhasa teahouse, or to accept a monk’s offer of yak-butter tea. The Tibetans’ openness and warmth in the face of political oppression is remarkable.

Once the very definition of remote, arduous and forbidden travel, Tibet is now surprisingly well connected by road, plane and even rail links. Massive change is reshaping the politically troubled plateau but complicated travel restrictions make independent travel tricky, so do plan ahead.

Key facts

Area:

1,228,400 sq km (474,288 sq miles).

Population:

3.3 million (2016).

Population density:

2.7 per sq km.

Government:

People's Republic of China comprises 23 provinces (China considers Taiwan its 23rd province), five autonomous regions, two special administrative regions and four municipalities directly under central government.

Travel Advice

This travel advice covers mainland China. See travel advice for the Special Administrative Regions, Hong Kong and Macao.

Before you travel

No travel can be guaranteed safe. Read all the advice in this guide and any specific travel advice that applies to you:

Travel insurance

If you choose to travel, research your destinations and get appropriate travel insurance. Insurance should cover your itinerary, planned activities and expenses in an emergency.

About FCDO travel advice

The Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) provides advice about risks of travel to help British nationals make informed decisions. Find out more about FCDO travel advice.

Follow and contact FCDO travel on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. You can also sign up to get email notifications when this advice is updated.

This information is for people travelling on a full ‘British citizen’ passport from the UK. It is based on the UK government’s understanding of the current rules for the most common types of travel.

The authorities in China set and enforce entry rules. If you’re not sure how these requirements apply to you, contact the Chinese Embassy in the UK.

Immigration authorities may collect biometric data, including scanned fingerprints and photos, to register your entry into China.

COVID-19 rules

There are no COVID-19 testing or vaccination requirements for travellers entering China. 

Passport validity requirements

To enter China, your passport must have an ‘expiry date’ at least 6 months after the date you arrive and 2 blank pages for visas and stamping.

Check with your travel provider that your passport and other travel documents meet requirements. Renew your passport if you need to.

You will be denied entry if you do not have a valid travel document or try to use a passport that has been reported lost or stolen.

If you renew your passport while you are in China, contact your local exit and entry office or call the national immigration service hotline on 12367, before or immediately upon receipt.

Visa requirements

You must have a visa to visit mainland China.

However, you can visit the island of Hainan for up to 30 days without a visa.

Visa-free transit through China is permitted from 24 hours to 144 hours depending on location. See China Visa Application Centre for more information.       

Visa requirements for Hong Kong and Macao are different.

Applying for a visa

If you’re 14 to 70 years old, you must apply for a visa online and then go in person to a visa for China application centre. Officials will take a scan of your fingerprints as part of your application. There are visa application centres in London, Manchester, Belfast and Edinburgh. If you’re aged 13 or under, or 71 or over, you do not have to attend in person.

The Chinese Embassy has further information on visa categories and how to apply.

If you visit Hong Kong from mainland China and want to return to the mainland, you need a visa that allows you to make a second entry into China.

Check your visa details carefully and do not overstay your visa. The authorities carry out regular checks and may fine, detain and deport you.

If you want to stay in China longer than 6 months, you may need to get a residence permit.

Teaching visas

Teachers have been detained and deported for working on the wrong visa. It is your responsibility to check you’re working on the correct visa.

Dual Chinese-British nationality

China does not recognise dual nationality. If you were born in China to a Chinese national parent, you will be:

  • considered by the Chinese authorities to have Chinese nationality
  • treated as a Chinese citizen, even if you used a British passport to enter China

If you enter China on a Chinese passport or identity card, the British Embassy will not be able to offer you help. If you have formally renounced Chinese citizenship, you should carry clear evidence that you have done so. See guidance on nationality in China.

Working in China

You can only work in China if you have a work visa (Z visa). Tourist and business visas do not allow you to work. You must also hold a valid work permit. The local police regularly carry out checks on companies and schools. If you do not follow Chinese immigration laws, there can be serious penalties, including:

  • imprisonment
  • fines
  • deportation
  • an exit ban, which stops you from leaving China
  • an exclusion order, which stops you from returning

Before you leave the UK, contact the Chinese Embassy in the UK to check Z visa requirements. When submitting your application, and when you receive your work permit, check the details are correct, including the location you’ll be working in. If the details are incorrect – even if your employer or others submitted the application on your behalf – the authorities can detain you, fine you or deport you.       

If you are going to change employer once you’re in China, or change location in China with an existing employer, check with the Chinese authorities whether you need a new visa and work permit before doing so.

Vaccine requirements 

To enter China, you must have a certificate to prove you’ve had a yellow fever vaccination if you’re coming from a country listed as a transmission risk.

For full details about medical entry requirements and recommended vaccinations, see TravelHealthPro’s China guide.

Registering with the authorities

You must register your place of residence with the local Public Security Bureau within 24 hours of arrival. Chinese authorities enforce this rule with regular spot-checks of foreign nationals’ documentation. If you’re staying in a hotel, they will register you when you check in.

Customs rules

There are strict rules about goods you can take into or out of China. You must declare anything that may be prohibited or subject to tax or duty.

This guide also has safety advice for regions of China.

Terrorism 

There is a high threat of terrorist attack globally affecting UK interests and British nationals, including from groups and individuals who view the UK and British nationals as targets. Stay aware of your surroundings at all times. 

UK Counter Terrorism Policing has information and advice on staying safe abroad and what to do in the event of a terrorist attack. Find out how to reduce your risk from terrorism while abroad.

Terrorism in China

Terrorists are likely to try to carry out attacks in China.

Although foreigners have not been specifically targeted, attacks may happen in places visited by foreigners. Take particular care during national holidays and at public transport hubs, and always follow the advice of the local authorities.

Political situation 

China is ruled by a single political party. Though China is open to foreign visitors, you should be aware of political and cultural sensitivities.

Avoid any demonstrations or large gatherings. The Chinese authorities enforce public order strictly, and you may face arrest, detention and deportation. Foreign journalists have been intimidated, assaulted or detained for trying to report on demonstrations.

You may risk becoming a target when there is an anti-foreign feeling or attitude in China. Keep informed of developments and follow the advice of the local authorities. During periods of tension, the authorities may block:

  • news reporting
  • access to text-messaging
  • the internet
  • international telephone lines

Posting, publishing or supporting political statements critical of China or the Chinese authorities could be viewed as illegal.

Crime

Serious crime against foreign nationals is relatively rare, but incidents can happen. Take care of your belongings at major tourist sites and other busy places, particularly where foreign nationals gather.

Drink spiking and sexual assault

Do not leave drinks unattended or accept drinks from strangers. Personal attacks and sexual assaults are rare, but they can happen, including through drinks being spiked. Women, travelling alone or with female friends, could be at higher risk.

Scams

Beware of scams in popular tourist areas. A common example is the ‘tea tasting’ or ‘massage’ scam. Friendly strangers may invite you to visit a bar, to drink tea or have a massage, and the establishment then demands a large fee. This can be followed by threats, violence or credit card fraud.

Inspect the QR code stickers on rental bicycles carefully before using them. The legitimate barcode can be replaced with a false code, which redirects money to a different account.

Commercial disputes

Before entering a commercial contract in China, take legal advice, both in the UK and in China. Contracts agreed in the UK are not always recognised by Chinese courts.

If you’re involved in or connected to a business or civil dispute, the Chinese authorities may impose an exit ban, which means you cannot leave China until the matter is resolved. British nationals have been detained against their will, intimidated and forced to pay money.

Violence is rare, but it can be threatened. Report any threats of violence to the Chinese police.

Laws and cultural differences 

Personal ID

Always carry your passport with you. Police carry out random checks, especially during periods of heightened security and major sporting or political events. They do not accept printed copies. Failure to produce your ID can lead to a fine or detention. 

National security laws

China’s authorities have detained foreign nationals who break national security laws. Both ‘national security’ and ‘national interest’ appear regularly in Chinese legislation and have broad scope. You may be detained without having intended to break the law. Activity that happened outside of mainland China – including online activity – could fall under the scope of mainland legislation. There is a risk of arbitrary detention, including of British nationals. 

If you’re detained on grounds of national security, you may be held for up to 6 months before formal arrest and denied legal representation before charges are brought.  

Travelling to sensitive areas

All foreign nationals travelling to or around ‘sensitive’ areas might attract more attention from the authorities, including when:

  • taking photographs
  • engaging with political groups or charities
  • engaging with ethnic minority populations

Sensitivities can change over time and may heighten around particular dates or events.

You may attract additional scrutiny while travelling around mainland China if you’re a current or former employee of:

  • foreign governments
  • media outlets
  • NGOs

This list is not exhaustive and may change over time. This is particularly relevant when travelling to areas with large ethnic minority populations, including but not limited to Xinjiang. See Regional risks for more information.

Religious activities and materials

The Chinese authorities formally recognise 5 religions: Buddhism, Catholicism, Islam, Protestantism and Taoism. Only officially registered religious organisations are permitted to carry out religious activities. Even officially registered organisations must observe restrictions on some religious activities, including preaching and distributing religious materials. The Falun Gong movement and others the authorities consider as ‘cults’ are banned in China.

Criminal proceedings      

Chinese laws and procedures relating to the arrest, detention and trial of criminal suspects are different from in the UK. For example:

  • if you’re detained, only your legal representatives and consular staff from the British Embassy are allowed to visit you until your sentence is passed
  • there is no trial by jury, the presiding judge or judges will reach a verdict and then pass sentence if they find the accused guilty
  • if a case goes to trial, the conviction rate is 99%
  • if an offence does not meet the threshold for criminal proceedings, the police still have the right to sentence someone for up to 15 days administrative detention without trial

The granting of bail is rare, and the criminal process can often last at least a year before a verdict is passed. If bail is granted the accused will not be permitted to leave China.

If you’re suspected of a crime, the Chinese authorities can stop you from leaving China by:

  • withholding your passport
  • applying an exit ban
  • detaining you for up to 37 days without charge

The thresholds for detention and prosecution in China differ from those in Hong Kong.

Exit bans

Foreign nationals can be subject to exit bans. Exit bans can:

  • be put on people involved in commercial or private disputes to stop them from leaving mainland China
  • relate to investigations into an individual, their family or an employer
  • be used in criminal and civil matters, including business disputes

An exit ban can last for months or years or until a legal process is complete. You may not be aware you are subject to an exit ban until you try to leave mainland China.

Money

Cashless payments through smartphone apps such as WeChat Pay or Alipay are extremely common, especially in major cities.

Outside major cities, credit cards are not always accepted and ATMs are limited. It is not possible to exchange Scottish or Northern Irish banknotes.

Counterfeit banknotes (especially 100 renminbi notes) are common, including from ATMs. Banks will not replace them. Check notes carefully before accepting them.

Illegal drugs penalties and prison sentences

There are severe penalties for drugs offences in China, including the death penalty. The Chinese authorities randomly test foreign nationals for drugs, including on entry to the country. If you test positive, the Chinese authorities can prosecute you regardless of where or when you took drugs. Police also raid homes. If drugs are found in your property, penalties can be extremely harsh.

The police can raid nightclubs and bars. If you’re in a bar that’s raided, you will be subject to on-the-spot testing and immigration checks. This may involve:

  • being kept at the location, or another location, for several hours
  • giving hair and urine samples
  • passport and visa checks

Testing positive for drugs, or being found in breach of your visa conditions, can lead to heavy fines, detention and deportation.

Internet access

The Chinese authorities control internet access. Internet access can be limited around key political events and dates. Some services are permanently blocked, including:

  • Google
  • Facebook
  • YouTube
  • Twitter

Other websites may sometimes be blocked. 

China’s cybersecurity laws state that online products and services (for example, VPNs) need to be licensed by the Chinese government. See the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (in Mandarin). Make sure you stay informed and follow Chinese law.

Building safety

Fire protection standards in Chinese accommodation are not always the same as in the UK. You should:

  • check fire precautions, including access to fire exits
  • make sure your accommodation has a working fire alarm
  • regularly check fire exits are not blocked

Make sure your accommodation has a working carbon monoxide alarm. People have died of carbon monoxide poisoning due to incorrectly installed gas equipment. 

Energy UK has advice on how to stay safe and the symptoms to look out for.

Teaching in China       

Thoroughly research the school or university that is hiring you in China and make sure you’re confident they are following the law.

LGBT+ travellers

Same-sex relationships are legal in China, but public attitudes are less tolerant than in the UK. Showing affection in public may receive negative attention. There’s no Chinese law guaranteeing freedom from discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation.

Read more advice for LGBT+ travellers.

Outdoor activities and adventure tourism  

Hiking

Do not hike alone in isolated areas, including on the Great Wall, due to unpredictable weather conditions and the chance of injuries. Even when hiking in a group, leave your itinerary, mobile number and expected time of return at your hotel or with a third party.      

Transport risks

Road travel 

You must have a Chinese driving licence and valid insurance to drive in China. There are harsh penalties for driving without these, including fines and detention.

Drive with caution in China. Accidents are common due to: 

  • the poor quality of roads
  • high volumes of traffic
  • low driving standards

If you’re involved in a serious traffic accident, call the police. Do not move your vehicle until they arrive but make sure you and your passengers are in a safe place. If there are injuries, you may be held legally responsible for medical costs. You will also be held responsible if you hit a pedestrian. 

There are harsh penalties including fines, detention and imprisonment for driving under the influence of alcohol, even at very low levels. 

Rail travel

You must show your passport to buy a ticket and to board a train in China.

Trans-Mongolian Express trains (Beijing-Moscow via Ulaanbaatar) are known for smuggling. Petty theft on overnight trains is common. Search your compartment and lock the cabin door before the train leaves.

Sea travel

Mariners should avoid the disputed territory between China and other countries in the East China Sea and the South China Sea. There have been incidents of piracy and armed robbery against ships in the area. ReCAAP Information Sharing Centre has further information about piracy and armed robbery.

Taxis

Avoid travelling in unmarked or unmetered taxis, as there have been incidents of sexual assault and robbery against foreign nationals. In marked taxis, make sure someone knows where you are and try to take a note of the taxi’s number.

Disputes over taxi fares can quickly escalate. Any physical altercation could lead to detention regardless of who is to blame. Insist on paying the metered fare and ask for a receipt. The receipt should have the taxi number on it.

Extreme weather and natural disasters

Find out what you can do to prepare for and respond to extreme weather and natural hazards.

Earthquakes

China is in an active seismic zone and can experience major earthquakes. Learn what to do before, during and after an earthquake from the US Federal Emergency Management Agency. 

Typhoons

The typhoon season in China normally runs from May to November, affecting southern and eastern coastal regions. Air travel and other forms of transport can be affected. You should monitor the progress of approaching storms on the Japan Meteorological Agency and the China Meteorological Administration websites.

See guidance on tropical cyclones for advice about what to do if you are caught in a typhoon.

Flooding 

Flooding and storms are common between May and November. You should monitor local weather reports and follow the advice and instructions of local authorities, including any evacuation orders.

This section has safety advice for regions of China. It only covers regions where FCDO has specific advice.  

You should also read FCDO’s overall travel advice and safety and security advice.

Tibet and the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR

You must get a permit to travel to Tibet and the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) through a specialist travel agent in China. You must also travel on an organised tour. The Chinese authorities sometimes stop issuing permits without notice or restrict travel to Tibetan Autonomous Prefectures (TAPs) in neighbouring provinces, even if you have a permit. Check with tour operators or travel agents and monitor this travel advice and other media for information. 

Once in Tibet, avoid large public gatherings. Political and ethnic tensions have historically generated violent protests. Security measures will be tight. Unauthorised gatherings may be dispersed by force. Do not film or take photographs of public security forces or any altercations.

Local authorities will react negatively if you’re found carrying letters or packages from Tibetan nationals to be posted in other countries. 

You must ask before you take photographs in Buddhist monasteries. 

The ability of the British Embassy to help British nationals in the TAR is limited. 

Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region 

Violent unrest in Xinjiang has resulted in deaths. There are allegations that police use lethal force to disperse protests. 

The Chinese authorities have a significant security presence throughout Xinjiang, both as a visible demonstration of state control and to respond quickly and harshly to any unexpected demonstrations or outbreaks of violence. 

There have been widespread arbitrary arrests and extra-judicial detentions in Xinjiang, mainly affecting the local population, particularly Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities. You may be at increased risk if: 

  • you’re of Turkic descent
  • you have lived previously in Xinjiang
  • your appearance or practices are perceived to be Muslim
  • you publicly participate in Islamic religious practices
  • you’re a foreign national

Expect airport-style security measures, including passport and security checks, at shopping centres, markets and parks. You may need to give the security forces your phone number, have your photograph taken and explain why you are travelling. Organisations monitoring facilities in Xinjiang are at risk of harassment and detention.     

Always carry your passport and avoid all protests and large crowds. Do not photograph or film protests, large crowds, security officials or installations, or anything of a military nature. Mosques and other religious sites are also considered ‘sensitive’ by the authorities. 

The ability of the British Embassy to help British nationals in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region is limited. 

China-Myanmar border

There is increased armed conflict in north Myanmar. Stray artillery shells have caused injury in Zhenkang county, Yunnan province.

Before you travel check that: 

  • your destination can provide the healthcare you may need
  • you have appropriate travel insurance for local treatment or unexpected medical evacuation

This is particularly important if you have a health condition or are pregnant. 

Emergency medical number

Call 120 and ask for an ambulance.

Contact your insurance company quickly if you’re referred to a medical facility for treatment.

Vaccine recommendations and health risks

At least 8 weeks before your trip:

Altitude sickness is a risk in parts of China. Read more about altitude sickness on TravelHealthPro

See what health risks you’ll face in China, including:

  • avian influenza
  • dengue – present in Guangdong Province and some parts of China, mainly during the rainy season from May to November

Tap water is generally not safe to drink. Only drink bottled water 

The Chinese authorities react quickly to outbreaks of any infectious disease. They might enforce quarantine if you show symptoms. 

Medication

The legal status and regulation of some medicines prescribed or bought in the UK can be different in other countries. 

If you’re take prescription medication, make sure you bring enough with you or have access to a supply in China. Certain medicines may not be available and you may be not allowed to bring others into the country. For more information, check with your GP and the Chinese Embassy before travelling. 

Read best practice when travelling with medicines on TravelHealthPro

Healthcare in China

Healthcare is not free in China and can be very expensive. Make sure you have comprehensive travel and medical insurance covering healthcare and medical evacuation and repatriation. For more information, see medical treatment in China

FCDO has a list of doctors and medical facilities in China where some staff will speak English.

Travel and mental health 

Read FCDO guidance on travel and mental health. There is also mental health guidance on TravelHealthPro

The Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) cannot provide tailored advice for individual trips. Read this travel advice and carry out your own research before deciding whether to travel. 

Emergency services in China  

Ambulance: 120 

Fire: 119 

Police: 110 

Traffic Police: 122 

Maritime Search and Rescue Centre: 12395 

Contact your travel provider and insurer 

Contact your travel provider and your insurer if you are involved in a serious incident or emergency abroad. They will tell you if they can help and what you need to do. 

Refunds and changes to travel 

For refunds or changes to travel, contact your travel provider. You may also be able to make a claim through insurance. However, insurers usually require you to talk to your travel provider first. 

Find out more about changing or cancelling travel plans, including: 

  • where to get advice if you are in a dispute with a provider
  • how to access previous versions of travel advice to support a claim

Support from FCDO 

FCDO has guidance on staying safe and what to do if you need help or support abroad, including: 

Contacting FCDO 

Follow and contact FCDO travel on TwitterFacebook and Instagram. You can also sign up to get email notifications when this travel advice is updated. 

You can also contact FCDO online

Help abroad in an emergency 

If you’re in China and you need emergency help from the UK government, contact the nearest British embassy or consulate.

If your passport is lost or stolen, go to the nearest police station or Public Security Bureau and get a report of the incident.   

FCDO in London 

You can call FCDO in London if you need urgent help because something has happened to a friend or relative abroad. 

Telephone: 020 7008 5000 (24 hours) 

Find out about call charges 

Risk information for British companies  

The Overseas Business Risk service offers information and advice for British companies operating in China on how to manage political, economic, and business security-related risks.

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