How to buy train tickets in China?

Tickets can be purchased online while in China or outside of China or they can be purchased in person while in China. Here is how the three options work.

1- How to buy China train tickets online from the official website?

• Go to the official website www.12306.cn (in Chinese only);
• Create an account (you need a Chinese phone number to receive the verification code);
• Once your account is “verified” with your phone number, the account is created;
• Search the schedules;
• Choose a train number, class of service and date;
• Enter the passenger information (max. of 5 passengers per account);
• If the tickets are released, you purchase and pay. Payment can only be made with a card issued by a Chinese bank;
• The purchase is confirmed and you get a confirmation number;
• Repeat the steps for more trains. No more than 4 trains can be purchased for each account (foreigners need to be verified at a station with their passport);
• You pick up the tickets at a train station using the confirmation number and passports.

China-train-ticket-with-passport

2- How to buy China train tickets online from China DIY Travel?

• Go to the home page and search your itinerary;
• Examine the schedule and choose your preferred train and class;
• Continue to search for more trains until your itinerary is complete;
• Enter your contact and passengers’ information;
• Verify your order;
• Submit your order;
• A ticket expert will examine your plan and make recommendations if needed and ensure that your information conforms to the railway company requirements;
• Confirm your final order;
• We purchase your tickets;
• We send you the invoice;
• You pay the invoice;
• We send you the ticket confirmation number, pick-up instructions in English and Chinese, guides to navigate the railway stations plus instructions in both languages for the taxi driver.

While we usually not require payment before buying your tickets, the exceptions are tickets with a travel date in less than 20 days, larger groups and tickets for Tibet. In these cases a deposit of 20% to 100% may be required.

3- How to buy China train tickets at the station?

• Go to our home page and search timetables for your itinerary;
• Examine the schedule and choose your preferred train and class;
• Write it down;
• Select a 2nd and 3rd choice (tickets may be sold out when you get to the station);
• Get some local currency, payment in cash only;
• Go to the train station closest to your hotel;
• Find the ticket office;
• Find the ticket counter that sells tickets (some counters are for refunds or exchanges, some are reserved for military, etc.). The longest queue is usually where they sell tickets;
• Give the ticket clerk the paper with your first choice of train, class and date of travel along with the passports of the travelers;
• If the tickets are available, make payment and tickets are printed;
• If tickets are not available, ask for your second choice, etc.

Ticket-office-sign

4- How to buy China train tickets at ticket offices?

• Ask your hotel for the nearest train ticket office;
• Get clear directions as often these offices do not have very obvious signs and are often the ‘hole-in-the-wall” kind of operations;
• Examine the schedule and choose your preferred train and class;
• Write it down;
• Select a 2nd and 3rd choice (tickets may be sold out when you get to the ticket office);
• Get some local currency, payment in cash only;
• Go to the ticket office closest to your hotel;
• Give the ticket clerk the paper with your first choice of train, class and date of travel along with the passports of the travelers;
• If the tickets are available, make payment and tickets are printed;
• If tickets are not available, ask for your second choice, etc.
• There will be a charge of 5RMB per ticket.

Ticket-office

Pros and cons

1- Buying online from the official website:

Pros
It is the cheapest option
You can buy ahead of time as soon as tickets are released

Cons
Most tourists cannot use the site unless they have a Chinese phone number, can read Chinese and have a Chinese bank account for payment;
Changing or cancelling tickets is complicated if you are not familiar with the system;
If you have several trains or a large group, you need additional Chinese phone numbers to create more accounts;
It is not a viable option for most tourists.

2- Buying online China DIY Travel:

Pros
Buying ahead of time increases the probability of getting tickets for the train that you prefer;
You can place your order far ahead of time and we buy as soon as tickets are released;
We ensure that all members of the group sit together or share the same sleeper compartment;
No stress: you can plan your trip quietly at home without the stress of the crowds at the station and not knowing which counter to use;
No language issue: it is nearly impossible to find a clerk speaking English at most stations. Our staff will communicate in English;
You get an expert to review your plan and make sure that you made the best choice;
Our ticket experts have tricks and can find you tickets even though they appear sold out;
Payment can be made by credit card via PayPal;
You will get bilingual instructions to get to the stations, to pick up the tickets as well as advice about the train stations;
If you have not picked up the paper tickets, we can change or cancel the tickets online up to 24 hours before the departure time.

Cons
You have to pay a transaction fee
You need to plan ahead although you can change your booking or cancel it

Ticket-counter-waiting-line

3- Buying at the train station:

Pros
You keep your plans flexible until the last minute
You save the transaction costs

Cons
You may not get the tickets that you want;
You may not get any tickets at all and be required to fly, take a bus or change your plans;
If the train is not sold out but rather full, you may not sit together or sleep in the same compartment;
It is extremely rare that the staff will speak any English, so it is difficult to communicate especially if they start asking you questions;
You need to pay cash;
Even if tickets are sold out, there may be a way to get at your destination but the staff will not provide any help;
You waste valuable time by going to the station one time to buy the tickets and a second time to take the train;
If you change your plans, you need to return to the train station to cancel or change your tickets.

4- Buying at ticket office:

Pros
You keep your plans flexible until the last minute;
The transaction cost is small at 5RMB per ticket;
The ticket office may be closer to your hotel than the train station.

Cons
Some of these offices can be hard to find;
There will be no English whatsoever spoken there;
You may not get the tickets that you want at the last minute;
You may not get any tickets at all and be required to fly, take a bus or change your plans;
If the train is not sold out but rather full, you may not sit together or sleep in the same compartment;
It will be difficult to communicate especially if they start asking questions;
You need to pay cash;
Even if tickets are sold out, there may be a way to get at your destination but the staff will not provide any help;
If you change your plans, you need to go to a train station to cancel or change your tickets.

Learn more about China train tickets:

Tips on placing your order
When to order
How to pick-up train tickets
Frequently asked questions
Cancelling or exchanging your tickets

China train travel Tips

How to buy train tickets
How to pick up your train tickets
Peak travel times to avoid
How to read a train ticket
Luggage on China trains
Child discounts

POPULAR TRAIN ROUTES IN CHINA

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Comments

  • Hello,

    My husband and I are travelling to Chengdu for 6days in June. During that time we are wanting to visit the Terracotta Warriors in Xian. We were thinking of taking a day trip as our time is limited. I see there are bullet trains with just under 4hr travel time. What is the best thing to do travel in the morning to xian then catch a bus for an hour to the terracotta warriors..then travel by bullet train at night back to chengdu? Your help would be appreciated.

    ---- Pora