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How to Buy Train Tickets in China — 6 Ways

Trains in China can take you to many popular destinations, and it would be a fantastic experience to take a bullet train during your China tour. However, it could be a problem for you to buy a ticket in China. Read on to see six ways to buy a train ticket, including online booking, telephone booking, or buying a ticket at a train station.

A valid ID certificate is required when buying a ticket and boarding a train.

  • Foreign passenger: passport
  • Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan passengers: Mainland Travel Permit

Book Tickets up to 30 Days Before the Departure Day

Since January 1st, 2017, most of train tickets can be purchased up to 30 days before the departure day when booked online or by telephone, and 28 days in advance when bought at ticket windows in train stations or at local train ticket offices. However, some trains tickets like D overnight trains can be purchased 20 days before the departure day. Some Y trains tickets, e.g. Lanzhou - Jiayuguan or Duanhuang can be purchased 20 days ahead. Some other trains tickets can be purchased only 4 days ahead.

train ticketsTrain tickets

Book Tickets Early if Your Travel Date Coincides with a Chinese Holiday

You are recommended to book tickets early, especially when your departure date coincides with a Chinese festival/holiday, such as the National Holiday (October 1st to 7th) and Chinese New Year (usually during the end of January and the beginning of February). See more dates when you should book train tickets early.

1. Booking at China Highlights—Hassle Free

  • English booking system and tips
  • 24/7 service
  • Ticket delivery service
  • $6 commission fee
china highlights train ticket servciceChina Highlights' train ticket service

Many travelers would like to use China's vast and cheap rail network; however, obtaining train tickets is not an easy process (they are sold out quickly, there are long queues, and there are language problems, etc.). China Highlights makes train ticket online booking available to you to save you time, hassle, and money. All inquiries will be handled by China Highlights' experienced travel advisors to ensure you get the best service. Search for train prices and schedules and book a ticket now!

3 Booking Steps with China Highlights

  • Step 1: Select a train and book online, and you will receive a prompt response
  • Step 2: Forward the payment and receive a confirmation email
  • Step 3: Collect your tickets at a train station, or we can deliver the paper tickets to you

Download China Highlights' Train App to book train ticket easily.

2 Ways to Collect Tickets After Booking Online

Collect by yourself at a train station: If your booking(s) is less than 8 days before your travel date, please collect your paper ticket(s) at any ticket window of any railway station with your passport(s)/Mainland Travel Permit and the e-ticket number we sent you by email.

Ticket delivery service by China Highlights: We can express deliver the paper tickets to your hotel, and then you can collect them when you check-in.

Please make sure that you enter the correct details when making the booking or else your ticket may prove to be invalid when you collect it!

Also read How to collect Train Tickets after Booking Online with China Highlights

2. Buying Directly at a Train Station — Language Problem

  • You don't need to sign up for an account
  • You don't need to take the risk of using Internet banking
  • There are Chinese-speaking staff members only
  • There are very long queues
train stationA crowded train station

Tickets Maybe Sold Out on Popular Routes and in Peak Travel Seasons

Tickets are sometimes sold out, especially for popular train routes. There may also be long queues in peak travel periods, such as weekends, summer vacations, Chinese New Year, and National Day.

You need to queue in front of a ticket window to buy tickets. An electronic board over the windows will update the information regarding the amount of tickets left, but most are these are in Chinese only. Large railway stations, such as Beijing Railway Station and Shanghai Railway Station, have special ticket offices for foreigners. English signs are available at most train stations.

You may see some Self Service Ticket Machines at train stations in major Chinese cities, but these are only applicable for Chinese citizens with their ID cards.

Tips to Solve Language Problems — Take a Chinese-Written Note

  • Train number (or departure and arrival city)
  • Travel date
  • Time for departure that you want (08:00–12:00, 12:00–16:00, 16:00–20:00, etc.)
  • Seat class (first class, second class, sleeper, etc.)

We are glad to help with the translation or you can ask a staff member at your hotel to translate the information into Chinese.

3. Buying at Train Ticket Agencies Locally — Short Working Period

  • You don't need to go to a train station
  • Less crowded than a train station
  • Usually work from 8 am to 5 pm
  • Chinese-speaking staff members only

The convenience of being able to purchase train tickets locally at 'hole in the wall' ticketing agencies seems to be gladly accepted by the public. There is generally a small fee to pay — 5 yuan is currently the standard fee.

Don't expect the staff at train ticket agencies to speak English. You'd better prepare a note in Chinese with the train number, travel date, and seat class.

Train Ticket Offices in Major Chinese Cities

All ticket agencies have their own business, unlike ticket windows at train stations, which serve for 24 hours every day. Many of them open between 8am and 5pm, while some open later and close earlier. It is advisable to buy train tickets during the middle period of these working hours, for example, between 9:30am and 2pm, when they are least busy.

4. Booking by Telephone — Limited Time to Collect Tickets

  • Convenient if you don't have a network bank
  • Hard to see if any tickets are available
  • A Chinese system only and a limited booking time
  • Need to collect tickets the next day after you have booked them
book ticket by telephone

Passport/Mainland Travel Permit Needed

Your passports/Mainland Travel Permits are accepted when buying train tickets by telephone. You need to enter your passport/Mainland Travel Permit number when booking.

Collect Tickets at Train Stations or Ticket Agencies

You will get an e-train ticket code after booking successfully, and are required to pay and exchange the e-train ticket code for a paper ticket at any ticket window at any train station, or at any ticket agencies.

If you book a ticket before midday, you must collect the paper ticket before midday the next day; if you book after midday, you need to collect the paper ticket before midnight the next day.

Telephone Numbers

There are 18 local railway bureaus that provide train ticket booking services by telephone, as detailed below. Every railway bureau can book train tickets all over China. Try another phone number if one is busy.

Xi'an: 029-96688 Beijing: 010-95105105 Harbin: 0451-95105105
Shenyang: 024-95105105 Taiyuan: 0351-95105105 Hohhot: 0471-95105105
Zhengzhou: 0371-95105105 Wuhan: 027-95105105 Jinan: 0531-95105105
Shanghai: 021-95105105 Nanchang: 0791-95105105 Nanning: 0771-95105105
Kunming: 0871-95105105 Lanzhou: 0931-95105105 Urumqi: 0991-95105105
Guangzhou: 020-95105105/96020088 Chengdu: 028-95105105/96006 Tibet and Qinghai: 0971-95105105

Good to know: Telephone booking is available from 7am to 11pm. Some cities start bookings later and closed earlier. You need to follow every step according to the machine voice introduction; if you find that a specific ticket is sold out, you need to listen to it again, which is very inconvenient.

5. Booking Via Your Hotel or Travel Agency — High Service Fee

  • You don't need to go out or use a network bank
  • High service fee
  • You won't know whether tickets are available until you actually get them

You may also book your train ticket at your hotel. Most star-rated hotels offer a train ticket booking service for their customers for a service fee. Even if you are at a small inn, they will more than likely be about to help you out.

Most travel agencies provide a train ticket booking service. You can ask your travel agent to help you book tickets in China. An additional fee is charged on a regular route.

High Service Fee for Train Tickets to Tibet

A very high service fee may be charged for booking a train departing from Xining and Golmud to Tibet in the peak travel season from May to October. So if you want to travel by train to Tibet, it is wise not to board the train at either of these two cities. See trains to Tibet. The service charges will also rise in the peak travel periods, such as Chinese New Year (late January to early February) and the National Day holiday (October 1st to7th).

6. Online Booking at www.12306.cn — Not Recommended

book train ticket at 1230612306.cn
  • Easy to find out how many tickets are available
  • No booking fee, and a free or 5% to 20% cancellation fee
  • 24/7 availability
  • Complicated identification codes that are hard to fill in
  • Chinese website only

www.12306.cn has yet to enable an English-language version. If you want to book tickets at 12306.cn, please see our handy guide about how to buy railway tickets at 12306.cn.

Using, Altering, and Cancelling Tickets

How to Board a Train with Different Ticket Types —Blue and Red

  • Red tickets: go to a manual ticket check entrance, and a staff member will check it
  • Blue tickets: go to an automatic ticket check entrance and put the ticket into the slot

Train Ticket Alteration

Every train ticket can only be altered once and there is no fee, refund for any overpayment, or supplemental payment for any deficiency.

Train Ticket Cancellation

Making a cancellation attracts a cancellation fee, which varies depending on when you make the cancellation. If you make the cancellation more than 48 hours before the departure of the train, a 5% cancellation fee will be charged, 10% if it's within the period of 24 to 48 hours, and 20% if less than 24 hours.

During the peak train travel season of Chinese New Year (the Spring Festival rush) in January/February, a 20% cancellation fee will be charged no matter when you cancel tickets.

How to Read A Train Ticket

Note: Passengers who hold red-colored tickets shall go through the manual ticket check and blue-colored ones to the automatic ticket check.

china train ticket

Our Recommended Train Travel Routes in China

train travel

If you are planning a tour in China and want to experience a high-speed train, please see the following itineraries for inspiration:

Not interested in the above tours? Our tours can be customized or tailor-made from scratch. Just tell us your interests and requirements and we will help you design your China tour.

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Author: Kelly

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