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Is It Possible to Take a Self-Driving Tour in Tibet?

Last Update: September 10, 2020

Self-drive tours in China are becoming a very popular way to travel around the country. A number of international tourists are taking on this amazing adventure to experience China like a local, driving yourself around. However, self-driving in Tibet is another matter.

Self-Driving in Tibet Can Be Realized

It is possible to take a self-drive tour to Tibet, though you may need to plan more carefully to meet the requirements of a self-drive experience on the Tibetan plateau. The one thing you cannot do is self-drive alone. Independent travel is prohibited in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), and all tourists to the region are required to be on a pre-arranged tour with a registered Tibet travel agency. Even those wanting to self-drive across the plateau. However, instead of being part of a large tour group, you will have your own guide to help you travel in Tibet more easily.

How to Take a Self-Driving Tour in Tibet?

If you are planning to take a self-drive tour of Tibet, then there are a number of factors to consider in your preparations for the trip, from licensing and vehicles to permits, visas, hotels, etc. And even the route you take through Tibet has to be well-planned out before you travel.

Obtain the Required Documents for Self-Driving in Tibet

The first thing you need to do is obtain all the documents you will need for your self-drive tour. Aside from your typical Chinese Entry Visa, you will also need to have a Chinese Driving License. China does not permit holders of the International Driving Permit (IDP) to drive locally.

Take a self-driving tour in TibetTake a self-driving tour in Tibet.

Your Chinese Entry Visa must be obtained from the Chinese Embassy in your home or resident country, and processing normally takes around 3-5 working days. You can make the application in person, or by mail of the embassy permits, providing all the relevant documents for a standard tourist (L) visa. The requirements do depend on your country of origin, but the standard requirements for a Chinese Entry Visa are:
● Valid passport with at least 6 months validity remaining and one blank visa page
● Completed visa application form (Form V.2013)
● Recent passport photo with bare head, full face, and light background
● Proof of round-trip flights and proof of hotel bookings in China (do not include Tibet)
● Payment of the relevant visa fee, depending on your country of origin

The Chinese driving license is more of a temporary permit, and can now be applied for in just a couple of hours, with no hoops to jump through anymore and no test to take now. Known officially as the China Provisional Driving Permit, this is the easiest way to get a temporary driving license for driving in China, including Tibet. As of September 2019, it is now even easier to get the driving permit, removing some of the previous requirements. All you now need to do is make the application for the temporary driving permit, which no longer includes things like medical reports and exams. You can normally obtain the driving permit at the airport or traffic police department in the city you are in, and processing can take a little as 1-2 hours. You need to provide them with:
● National driving license (of your home country)
● International Driving Permit.
● Chinese translation of the foreign driver’s license
● Completed application form.
● A hotel booking for at least one day.
● Three one-inch colored photos with white background.

Once your permit has been issued, you will be able to drive in China, and hire vehicles from local rental companies. You should carry both licenses with you at all times, in case you are asked to produce them at checkpoints. And the license will only be valid for the period of your Chinese Entry Visa.

You need applied temporary driving permit self-driving in TibetYou need to obtain the temporary driving permit for self-driving in Tibet.

Finally, you will need to obtain the Tibet Travel Permit, for entry into the TAR. This is normally obtained on a completed booking with a registered Tibet travel agency of a guided tour of Tibet.

Contact a Trustworthy Travel Agency for Self-Driving in Tibet

A registered travel agency for travel in Tibet is required for all international tourists planning a trip to the region, and you will need to contact a travel agency to help you arrange your self-drive tour of Tibet. Once you have found the right agency, you can start to plan your trip.

All international tourists to Tibet must be on a pre-arranged tour, and once your self-drive tour is booked with us, we will process the application for the Tibet Travel Permit, which takes around 10-12 days to complete. The Tibet Travel Permit is the main permit for all tourists to Tibet, and is required for entry to the TAR and travel in the area around Lhasa. We will also arrange the application of the other permits you may need for your tour, including the Alien’s Travel Permit for travel outside Lhasa, and the Frontier Pass for travel to EBC and other areas close to China’s borders with Nepal, India, and Bhutan.

We will help you provide with the car for self-driving in TibetWe will provide you with the car for self-driving in Tibet.

In addition to the arranging of the documents, we will help you decide on your itinerary for the trip, provide you with the car rental for you to drive and your Tibetan guide for the duration of your tour, and give you complete back up and support for the whole duration of your consultation and tour with us. We can even help you with arranging your hotel accommodation in Tibet and your train or flight tickets to the region.

Choose the Suitable Routes for Self-Driving in Tibet

As well as planning your license application, your entry into Tibet, and the car and guide for your tour, you need to decide on where to go on your lifetime self-drive tour of Tibet. There are a number of options you can choose from, and while you do have the choice of where to go, there are some limitations to where you can travel in Tibet.

There are a number of easier routes that you can undertake, across Tibet only or ones that you can take from mainland China into Tibet. The route from Lhasa to Kathmandu is a popular one for many travelers, and you get to visit some of the most amazing destinations in Tibet, including the stunning Everest Base Camp. Or you can include a trip north from Lhasa to visit Lake Namtso, the Heavenly Lake.

Self-driving to Tibet Everest Base CampSelf-driving to Tibet Everest Base Camp.

For those with a bigger sense of adventure, you can choose to drive into Tibet from mainland China along a number of routes, including the Chengdu to Lhasa route along the Sichuan-Tibet Highway and the Xining to Lhasa route along the Qinghai-Tibet Highway.

Choose the Best Time for Self-Driving in Tibet

If you are planning to self-drive in Tibet, you really need to choose the optimal time for doing so. The best time for a self-drive tour is in the spring and autumn, from April to May and September to October, when the weather is mild and pleasant, with almost no rain and warmer weather. It is not advisable to drive in Tibet in the summer monsoon months or the winter months unless you are very experienced in driving here during those periods.

Spring and autumn have mild weather, dry road conditions, and better visibility, to make your trip as pleasant and safe as possible. Monsoon rains have been known to wash away roads in the remote areas of Tibet. And winter snows can block high passes and make driving on icy conditions dangerous for inexperienced drivers.

Pack up Necessities for Self-Driving in Tibet

Another part of your planning for the self-drive tour of Tibet is to know exactly what to pack for the trip. While spring and autumn are warmer times of the year, the nights can still get cold, so you will need to bring warm clothes to wear in the cooler periods, normally at night.

You should also make sure that you have more than one pair of shoes. Hiking boots or sturdy shoes may be good for wandering around the plateau’s many attractions, which can be rough and rocky, but are not good for driving. Bring a comfortable pair of shoes for driving, so you can change when you get in the car to feel more comfortable. Clothing for driving should also be loose-fitting and comfortable, as you will be sitting for long periods in the driving seat.

Most rental companies will provide you with all the things you need to complete your drive, including spare wheel, jack, etc. However, you might want to bring a portable tire inflator with you, in case of low air pressure in remote areas. And bring or buy large bottled water, which you can keep in the car. Staying hydrated is important when driving at high altitudes.

Enjoy a lifetime self-driving experience in Tibet with us

If you are thinking of taking a self-drive tour across the plateau, then we can help you make this amazing lifetime dream come true. Not only can we arrange your tour guide, vehicle rental, and other aspects of the tour, but we offer a full service for the whole tour. We will also process all of the documents that you require for the trip (with the exception of your Chinese Entry Visa), and provide you with full support for the whole tour from our local Tibetan crew in Lhasa.


Self-driving is not as hard to arrange in Tibet as you might think. Even though you cannot drive on your own license, you can apply for a local temporary license to let you drive in China. You can also find the perfect travel agency to help you manage and arrange your tour, and provide you with all you need to make this dream trip of a lifetime come to fruition.

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