As of June 2017, the border between Nepal and Tibet is still closed due to the earthquake from 2 years ago. The only way to enter Tibet is to fly from Kathmandu to Lhasa which is a very short and expensive flight.
Travelling to Tibet means you will be travelling into China, however Tibet has a different visa and if you get a Chinese visa, you will not have access to Tibet. In fact, we read that if we had acquired a Chinese visa but then first entered into Tibet, our Chinese visa would become invalid. Tibet necessitates a group visa and a tour group, as tourists cannot travel independently. The term group visa is a confusing one as a group can just consist of one person, simply make sure that if you are going to apply for this group visa with multiple people, that you will all be entering and exiting China together.
We read stories of people signing up for a group tour of Tibet and ending up on the same group visa as everyone in their group even though they planned to travel separately afterwards. The nice thing about the Tibet visa is that you can get it for much longer than your tour, and it gains you access to China. We applied for a month long visa and got one for 1 month and 5 days. Our plan was to take the train from Lhasa to Beijing after our Tibet tour and visit a couple of Chinese cities.
We chose the company Tibet Highland Tours for its competitive prices and because it is run by Tibetans from Lhasa, rather than a Chinese company, or going through an intermediate Nepali company. Note however that all tours are quite expensive and visiting Tibet in general is not cheap.
Upon contacting the tour company, we let them know how long we planned on staying and when we planned on coming. They then provided us with different tour options and we went with an 8 day tour that visits many monasteries, temples and goes to Everest Base Camp*** (shorter tours were available). The company then sent us an invitation into the country, mandatory for acquiring our visa, and put us in touch with one of their contacts in Kathmandu. This contact assisted us through the process and went to the Chinese embassy to acquire our visas. While it seems like all nationalities pay 100$ US for this visa, if you are Canadian or American, they charge 200$ US!
From doing other research we had found that it should just be $120 for Canadians, so we aren't sure if that info was outdated or if we were just being charged extra by the tour company. Verify this with the company before hand, and give them plenty of time to apply for your visa. We were told it would only take 2 days, but that didn't seem like enough time to us, so we gave him 5 days. It's a good thing we did because we stressfully only got our visa 2hrs before our departing flight. If possible, fill out all the paperwork and leave your passports with them at the beginning of your stay in Nepal. You do not need them during hikes such as the Annapurna Circuit, and you can rest assured you will have your visa and passports waiting for you upon your return. Note that the Chinese embassy is only open Monday to Friday, so try to plan to arrive in Kathmandu on a weekday if possible.
Your visa should consist of two pieces of paper, one for entry into Tibet/China and one for exiting. Make sure to keep the visa safe as you travel, because it will be checked many times during your time in China.
To board the flight to Lhasa, you will need to show your Tibet visa. We flew with Air China, which we would not recommend. It had a 2hr delay, and as we flew over Lhasa, they decided the weather was too poor and continued to their final destination of Chengdu. We ended the day further from Lhasa than where we had started and had to spend the night in a hotel (paid for by the airline). We flew out the next morning and missed the first morning of our tour which included a delicious breakfast! We heard from other travellers that this seems to happen quite frequently with this airline.
Lhasa is an amazing city and you can only imagine what it must have been like before China developed it. The tour was very much worth the money and the hassle as we discovered this wonderful culture unknown to many. We would highly recommend reading 7 Years in Tibet by Heinrich Harrer before you go as it depicts an untouched Tibet from the 40's and 50's (note: the book has been banned by the Chinese government but they never asked us about it). Make sure you also download a VPN if you wish to use Facebook, Instagram or any of the google products such as gmail as China does block these sites.
To acquire our train ticket to Beijing, our tour company put us in touch with a contact of theirs who helped us buy them. Do this at least a month in advance as the places fill up fast. It's a long 40hr train ride but we did it for the experience. NOTE: there are metal detectors to enter the train station and you will lose any pocket knife you may have. They do not offer you any other option and we heard that China post may refuse to send them. We are writing this because no where are you warned about this.
If you have any further questions, please feel free to message us. We hope you have an amazing trip.
*** There are two Everest Base Camps, one in Nepal which necessitates a long hike and one in Tibet which you can drive to.