China makes getting a tourist visa to Tibet tougher for foreign visitors in Nepal

New rules require in-person interviews and fingerprinting.
By Sangyal Kunchok for RFA Tibetan
2023.05.23
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China makes getting a tourist visa to Tibet tougher for foreign visitors in Nepal Tourists pose for souvenir photos in front of the Potala Palace in Lhasa, capital of southwest China's Tibet Autonomous Region, in 2019.
Jigme Dorje/Xinhua via AP

China has put in place stricter visa rules and conditions for foreign tourists who want to visit Tibet via neighboring Nepal, according to two travel agencies operating in the Nepalese capital.

The Chinese government routinely blocks access to Tibet for foreign journalists, NGO workers, diplomats and foreign citizens of Tibetan heritage. International tourists must obtain a Tibet Entry Permit to enter Tibet, though obtaining one is not usually a complex process.  

Many foreign visitors obtain travel permits in Nepal, a common starting point for those planning to visit Tibet. 

Those who want to enter Tibet from Nepal must form a group before obtaining a Chinese Group Visa issued by the Chinese Embassy in Nepal’s capital, Kathmandu. When they have the group visa, they can then obtain the Tibet Travel Permit issued by the Tibet Tourism Bureau for travel according to the preset itinerary.

Under the new procedures, foreign tourists who plan to enter Tibet from Nepal must arrive in Nepal one week prior to completing a visa application, and visas will be issued only to groups with a minimum of four people, the travel agencies said. Another report on the new procedures by the Tibetan Review, an independent monthly publication, said a minimum of five people was necessary.

Visa applicants must go in-person to the Chinese Embassy in Nepal in Kathmandu for interviews and provide fingerprints, they said. Chinese Group Visas for approved tourists are issued after five days after background checks.

Foreigners who already have a visa to travel to different cities in China now must apply for a special visa to enter Tibet, they said. 

Individual tourists must provide more detailed personal information, such as schools they attended, and specify the places they intend to visit in Tibet, according to Thamel Tours and Travels, a tour agency based in Kathmandu. 

Another travel agency in Kathmandu told Radio Free Asia that only one foreign applicant who applied for a visa through the agency has been turned down under the new procedures.

Previously, foreign tourists did not have to appear in-person at the Chinese Embassy in Nepal to obtain a visa to enter Tibet, and travel agencies arranged for group visas which were issued within two days of application. Visas issued could cover as few as one foreign traveler going to Tibet, because applicants on the list were not individually verified, the Tibetan Review said.

Chinese authorities reopened the Tibet Autonomous Region to foreign visitors this April, after the region was closed for three years amid the COVID-19 pandemic. On Jan. 8, officials lifted border restrictions imposed during the outbreak in early 2020.

On March 31, China’s Cultural and Tourism Ministry issued an announcement to urge Chinese tour operators to abide by the new rules and strictly oversee the tourist activities through group supervision to boost the country’s tourism industry following the COVID-19 pandemic.

Translated by Rigdhen Dolma for RFA Tibetan. Edited by Roseanne Gerin and Matt Reed.

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Wangchuk
Jun 06, 2023 10:07 AM

China doesn't want foreign tourists who would report on the truth about life in Tibet under Chinese occupation. They don't want foreigners asking the tough questions.