All foreigners wanting to visit Tibet will need a Tibet Entry Permit, a full valid Chinese Visa, and if you want to see anything outside of Lhasa then you will need an Alien Travel Permit, too. Residents of Hong Kong of Macau are exempt. Typically, travel agencies need at least 3 weeks in advance to obtain the Tibetan Entry Permit for you (you must get the Chinese visa yourself).
You must send the travel agency your passport, Chinese visa, and other relevant information, at which point they will send them off to the Tibetan Travel Bureau. If your application is granted, your travel agency will inform you of the decision and send you the Tibet Entry Permit, which you will need before booking a flight or train to Lhasa (the travel agency must book this for you, too).
Only when in Tibet, can you apply for the Alien Travel Permit. You will need your original passport and visa documents when applying. Successful application of this permit will enable you to travel to “restricted” areas in Tibet outside of Lhasa, such as Mount Everest or Lake Namtso.
The original Tibet Entry Permit is needed when checking in at the airport before your flight to Lhasa, and copies of all permits you obtain must be given to your guide in Tibet for safety reasons. Travellers require their Tibet Entry Permit when checking in to their hotel. Your permits could also be checked by Police at any time when you are travelling around Tibet, so make sure you have copies with you at all times.
Lhasa Gonggar International Airport in the only international airport in Tibet, and you it receives flights daily from most major Chinese cities, including Beijing (4 1/2 hours), Kunming (2 1/2 hours), and also Kathmandu in Nepal (1 1/2 hours). You can also arrive in Tibet from Kathmandu on a bus, via Mount Everest, but this is a 4 day journey on dangerous roads. Bus journeys to Tibet from nearby Sichuan or Yunnan provinces could be enjoyable and economical, but have regrettably been closed to foreigners since 2008.
A very popular way of arriving in Tibet is on the world’s highest railway, the Qinghai-Tibet Railway (this is a railway line NOT a train, so any train can use the line regardless of departure point). Since its inauguration in 2006, the Qinghai-Tibet Railway has become one of the busiest railways in Asia, as millions of travellers want to experience this engineering icon in the mountains – but you must get to Qinghai first! Until then, travelling on regular high speed railway is the order of the day.
From Beijing, you will need to board the Z21 train ready to travel the epic 3,757km to Lhasa. This journey should take a whopping 41 hours (if you don’t have that kind of time to spare, you should book a flight instead). Ticket prices fluctuate on a supply and demand basis, and in peak season foreigners will pay much, much more than the usual advertised price, but regular seats cost around $57USD, hard sleeper cabins are around $114, and soft sleeper cabins cost about $182. This is a one way fare only and does not include any entry permits. It is best to book as far in advance as possible, especially if you’re planning to visit Tibet during the summer months.
When you arrive in Tibet, it will be time to go to your accommodation. Wherever you’re staying, you must remember to allow yourself sufficient time to acclimatise to the altitude. At least one day should be spent initially with a slow-pace before you start exploring Lhasa and beyond. Excluding accommodation, travel in and out of Tibet, and permits, you should budget for at least $300USD per week per person. This will enable you live fairly comfortably throughout your stay, with good food (eating out is always cheaper than eating in hotels), access to tourist attractions, and taxi fares around town.