His Holiness was driven from Dulles International Airport to a downtown hotel under tight security, where he greeted local Tibetans celebrating the new-year festival of Losar.
The Washington visit has been condemned by China, with claims that it will undermine US-Chinese relations, but the US has refused to cancel it.
Tensions between Beijing and Washington have been rising of late, over issues ranging from trade and currencies to a US plan to sell $6.4 billion of weapons to self-ruled Taiwan, which China considers a renegade province.
Meanwhile in Chinese-occupied Rebkong (Chinese name Tongren), just outside the Tibet Autonomous Region and close to His Holiness' birthplace, Buddhist monks last night celebrated the Washington visit with a defiant midnight firework display.
Tibetans traditionally set off fireworks at Losar, but many of the monks in Rebkong said they were also marking the Dalai Lama's scheduled visit to the White House.
"My heart is filled with joy," one monk, Johkang, told Reuters. "It is so important for us that this is happening, that the US has not given in to threats and will meet our leader."
"I'm very excited about who the Dalai Lama is going to meet," said a local Tibetan woman, "but I worry about what measures the government could take against us in retaliation."
Another monk, Tedan, spoke proudly of the His Holiness' Nobel Peace Prize, awarded in 1989.
"That the 1.3 billion Han Chinese have never had one of their number win a Nobel prize and that we have, with just 6 million people, says something powerful," he said. "Now you understand why we love him so much."
After the Washington meetings, His Holiness' ten-day US tour will take him to Los Angeles and Florida.