Tibet Travel Customs

– General Provisions

1. Inbound and outbound travelers must complete a customs declaration form listing the valuables or amount of foreign currency being brought into the country. A copy of the form will be collected upon exit. Except declaration to the customs, other declarations anytime and anywhere are invalid.

2. Travelers shall fill out their declaration forms. If they employ agents for filling, the agents should sign their names on the declaration forms. The agents must obey the Customs regulations and take related legal responsibilities.

3. Travelers should show valid inbound and outbound travel certificates, identity certificate, inbound and outbound goods certificates, commercial certificates and other documents concerned.

4. The copy of the Customs declaration form signed by the Customs should be preserved by travelers during valid time limit. Travelers should show it to the Customs when they pick up goods and make some other procedures.

5. Overseas travelers’ luggage should be checked by the Customs when they leave China. At the same time, they should show luggage declaration form to the Customs. The goods (such as camera, video camera) that travelers take when entering China should be taken out of China on the departure. The goods that have been detained by the Customs should be taken out of China by themselves or by agents within 3 months. The goods that are not taken within the time limit will be disposed according to law. The owners of some luggage that has to be transported should go through relevant Customs procedures before leaving.

6. The inbound and outbound travelers who hold diplomatic or preferential visas should show visas to Customs forwardly.

– Red and Green Channels

There are two channels, red and green, in China Customs. You shall take the red one if you have something to declare, otherwise the green one. If you are uncertain which channel you should take, then you shall take the red one.

If you take the red channel, the Customs officer will check whether you have to pay duty, deposit the items at the Customs, or allow you to take them into China but take them out on your departure. If you take things such as computers, cameras, video cameras, gold and silver, printed or recorded materials, or anything more than you need during your travel in China, you have to fill in the “Customs Luggage Declaration Form”. Similarly, if you are planning to leave any sort of significant item there, you should also fill out the form.

A copy of the form must be retained by the traveler and be submitted to the Customs when leaving the country. All the items declared on the form must be brought out of China or else import duty will be charged on them.

Visitors are allowed to carry into China a limited quantity of duty-free goods including:

-2 liters of alcoholic beverages

-400 cigarettes

-50g (2 ounces) of gold or silver

-US$ less than 5,000

-Chinese RMB with a total value less than 6,000

-Reasonable amount of perfume

-1 still camera and reasonable amount of film

Prohibited imports include: fresh fruit, arms, ammunition and explosives, printed matters, films or tapes “detrimental to China”, narcotic drugs, animals and plants.

Remember: All the receipts of the valuable articles, such as jewelry, jade, gold and silver ornaments, handicrafts, artifacts, paintings and calligraphy, you bought in China should be kept for the exit check. Antiques are not permitted to leave China without the proper “Certificates for the Export of Cultural Relics” from the Chinese Authorities.

Inbound travelers who take the following goods should take Red Channel:

1. Travelers who take goods listed on the second, third and fourth kinds of Classifications of Travelers’ Inbound and Outbound Luggage (excluding the limited cigarette and wine).

2. Non-resident travelers and resident travelers who hold re-entering visas and take more than one such articles as cameras, radio recorders, video cameras, portable video recorders, portable word processors and so on.

3. Travelers who take more than RMB6,000 or gold, silver goods with more than 50 grams.

4. Non-resident travelers who hold foreign cash currency that is more than US$5000.

5. Resident travelers who hold foreign cash currency that is more than US$1000.

6. Travelers who take some goods that are beyond the usage of themselves.

7. Travelers who take the animals, plants and products that are limited by China quarantine laws or some products that have to be checked.

Outbound travelers who take the following goods should take Red Channel:

1. Travelers who take some self-use products such as cameras, portable radio recorders, video cameras, portable video recorders and portable word processors. Moreover, these goods have to be taken back.

2. Travelers who fail to fetch goods that should be taken back or who haven’t finished relevant Customs procedures.

3. Travelers who take foreign currency, gold, silver or concerned products that have no pass certificates or over the limit sum.

4. Travelers who hold more than RMB6,000 (cash).

5. Travelers who take cultural relics.

6. Travelers who take cargoes and samples of goods.

7. Travelers who take goods with values over the limited level.

8. Travelers who take the animals, plants and products that are limited by China quarantine laws or some products that have to be checked.

Other travelers can take Green Channel.

– Classifications of Travelers’ Inbound and Outbound Luggage

(Amended by the General Customs Administration of People’s Republic of China on November 25, 1994)

Class 1: cloth, clothing, shoes, caps, handicraft articles and other daily necessities that are worth below RMB500 (including RMB500)

Class 2: tobacco, alcoholic beverage

Class 3: daily necessities that are worth above RMB1,000 and below RMB5,000 (including RMB5,000)

Class 4: daily necessities that are worth above RMB500 and below RMB1,000 (including RMB1,000)


1. The value of inbound goods on the form is according to the duty-paying value authorized by the Customs. The value of outbound goods is according to the prices on domestic legal commercial invoices.

2. The Customs shall levy duties according to law on goods permitted to be imported or exported and articles permitted to enter or leave the territory.

3. The goods whose value is above the top limit are not permitted taken as travelers’ luggage.

Tibet Travel packing list
Address list and list of important contacts or numbers
Backpack, suitcase, sports bag (something to pack everything in)
Paper or Notebook
Passport (check validity!)
Pencils, Pens
Tickets and itinerary (airline, train, bus etc.)

ATM card (Maestro or Cirrus logos on the back are most widely accepted)
Calculator or currency converter
Cash in the local currency of your arrival destination
Credit card (Visa or MasterCard are most widely accepted)
Money belt (You can’t be too safe in some places)
Sufficient Travelers’ cheques (and receipts for travelers’ cheques)

Luggage and Bags:
Dragging along a sleeping bag is a MUST. Make sure it’s covered because if you’re doing a road trip over land like we did, you’ll see more dust than you can ever imagine. Even though your bag is piled on top of the vehicle, it’s not exempt from the dirt and dust that kicks up from any living thing passing over the roads. 

Clothing/Shoes/Weather Gear:
Layer, layer, layer. And protect your skin from the sun! You’re up high, so slather on the lotion AND the sweaters. As long as you’re in the sun, you can be reasonably warm…we went in mid-October and the temps required jacket and sometimes just a sweatshirt or long sleeve shirt. But along those high-passes as you’re traveling the Plateau – yikes – windy and C-O-L-D! You can see the Tibetans’ cheeks are windblown and ruddy. Yours will be too if you don’t protect yourself. Wear comfortable shoes – tennis shoes.

Toiletries & Medical Supplies:
That saline nasal spray will really come in handy because the air is so dry, your nose is likely to bleed. If you keep it moist, however, you’ll be winning the battle. Plus, you’ll breathe better.

Make sure to get a prescription for Diamox (250 mg should do) from your doc, just in case you have an uncomfortable night of altitude sickness. We were somewhat bothered maybe one night and one day during the entire 8 day trip, and we each took half a pill. Sleep is about the only thing that will help, plus a pill – if used with caution and the approach that it’s a precautionary measure – not a panacea. Altitude sickness is a serious ailment and if left to continue, can kill.

Drink plenty of Water! Staying hydrated will help your body deal with the altitude.

First Aid Kit
Band aids
Compression bandages
Diarrhea tablets
Insect and/or mosquito repellent
Motion Sickness Tablets
Small scissors
Vitamin pills
Water purifying tablets

Photo Equipment:

Bring a mechanical camera, since it might be possible your automatic one won’t work because of the extreme coldness. Or your batteries are empty in no time, so you might need to bring lots of those as well.


If you go on a trip into Tibet, Bring compact sources of energy E.g. chocolate. The air is extremely dry and you need to drink a lot.

There can be big wolves-like dogs around. If they scare you, you can bring some stones in your pocket, just in case…

Note: if you fly directly into Lhasa, you’ll need at least a full 24 hours of absolute REST. No eating – just sleep and water. It’s the only way to help your body build those extra red blood cells needed for precious oxygen!!

Tibet Travel Water and Toilets

In China, tap water is considered quite hard and needs to be boiled before drinking. Therefore, Tap water at all hotels in China is not drinkable. Inquire with hotel staff members when you check in. If you are unsure it is recommended you drink bottled water only or cool boiled water offered by hotels.

Chinese toilets might be fairly dismal, but Tibetan toilets make them look like little bowers of heaven. The standard model is a deep hole in the ground that bubbles and gives off noxious vapors. Many people (including women with long skirts) urinate and defecate in the street. On the flush side there are some fabulous "toilets” with a view in Tibet.

Honors go to the Sammy Monastery Guesthouse, the Sakya Guesthouse, the public toilets in the Potala, and the small village of Pasum on the way to Everest Base Camp.

With the exception of the odd hotel here and there, toilets in Tibet are of the squat variety–as the clichés go, good for the digestion and character building too. Stock up on toilet paper in Lhasa and Shigatse.

Be warned that toilets are not secure–keep an eye on valuables. And finally, a tip for the boys: If there’s nobody about, the women’s toilets are always cleaner than the men’s.