Since January 4th 2013, the selling periods of China train tickets are 20 days before the departure day for bookings online and by telephone, and 18 days in advance for train ticket windows at train stations and local train ticket offices.
China train tickets are often sold out, especially during holidays such as weekends, summer vacations, Chinese New Year, and Labor Day and National Day holidays. Therefore book a train ticket in advance as early as you can. However we cannot always guarantee the availability of the ticket you want at the time of release (usually late afternoon), due to the masses of people buying tickets.
Passports are needed when buying a China train ticket and boarding a train
In 2011 the China Railway Bureau decreed foreigners must show their passports when buying a train ticket and boarding a train.
Many tourists would like to use China’s vast and cheap rail network, however obtaining train tickets is not an easy process (sold out quickly, long queues, language problems, etc.). China Highlights make 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. Click here to search for train prices and schedules and book a ticket.
Being smartphone-friendly, you can also download our China Train Booking APP. This Android APP helps you search and book China train tickets as easy as it's like on our website.
Easy Booking Steps:
If you book a train ticket with China Highlights, you can either ask for delivering the paper ticket to your hotel in China, or collect it at a ticket window of a train station before you board the train. It is easy and you don’t need to face the language problem or risk of the ticket sold out. You only need to reach the train station earlier, show the staff the E-ticket number we sent you by email and your passport. Click here to search for train prices and schedules and book a ticket.
You may find this way difficult as staff in a railway station do not speak English. So if you want to have a try, you can first have the train number, travel date and seat class written in Chinese on a note (we are glad to help the translation). Besides you may find tickets are sold out on some occasions, especially those of popular train routes, and there may be long queues in peal travel periods such as weekends, summer vocations, Chinese New Year and National Days.
Large railway stations such as Beijing Railway Station and Shanghai Railway Station have special ticket offices for foreigners. But most of the railway stations do not have this service. The special ticket office for foreigners exists in the northwestern corner of the 1st floor, accessed through the soft seat waiting room in Beijing Railway Station. There is also a foreigner’s ticket office on the 2nd floor of Beijing West Train Station. English signs are available at most train stations.
Self Service Ticket Machines are available at train stations of major China cities, such as Beijing, Shanghai, Hangzhou, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, and Nanjing and so on. But it is only applicative for China citizens with their ID cards.
The convenience of being able to purchase train tickets locally at 'hole in the wall' ticketing agencies, generally against a small fee – 5 Yuan/RMB is currently the standard fee, seems to be gladly accepted by the public.
Please notice that all the ticket agencies have their business, not like the ticket windows at train stations which serve 24 hours every day. Many of them open during 8:00-17:00, and some open later and close earlier. It is advised to buy train tickets at the middle period of the business time, for example: 9:30 -14:00.
Don’t expect the staff at train ticket agencies can speak English. You’d better write the train number, travel date and seat class down on a note, and ask a staff of your hotel to translate them into Chinese. Search Train Ticket Offices In Major Chinese Cities.
The China Railway Bureau has enabled ticket booking online through its www.12306.cn site since late 2011. If not helpfully named, it does at least beat standing in long lines at railway stations and booking offices. Unfortunately, four years in, the site has yet to enable an English-language version, but here at China Highlights we are not going to let that stand in your way, and so we here present our handy(ish) guide to booking railway tickets online. Please have this guide open in your browser, another page with access to an online translation service, (you will need that as we go along), hit the link above, and prepare for an adventure in orange-colored buttons as you follow the instructions below.
(Alternatively use our acclaimed English booking and delivery service.)
Before we begin, here are some things you should know.
Now comes the tricky bit.
If you have used the service before, log in. If not, this is the process to follow in order to register:
When all this is done, refresh the page in order to log into the system.
The first and second fields are easy enough. Your user name goes into the first, your password into the second. Now comes the tricky bit. You are given a word in Chinese associated with some pictures. Here you might need help from an actual Chinese person who can tell you what the word means and show you which of the smaller pictures are to click. Once you have identified it, the system will tell you whether it’s right or wrong, determining your next step. The example shown here is with the centipede image selected. When that is done, click the orange-colored button to log yourself in.
You are now on your account page. From here, you can manage your bookings and personal information as follows:
Fill in those fields pertaining to your personal information, as this will save you time later.
You are now, (at last), ready to get the ticket(s) for which you came to the site in the first place. This is the procedure to follow:
Book Tickets (车票预订, chepiao yuding) on the top bar of the page takes you to the booking process. Here, again, you will need your online translator open as you identify your destination. Enter your travel date with that, and then click ‘Search’ (‘查询’, ‘chaxun’), the orange-colored button on the right.
Click the blue-colored button ‘Book’ (‘预订’, ‘yuding’) to carry on to the next page where passenger information is to be entered. The fields will contain the details associated with your account. In addition to this, you may add more passengers by clicking on the blue Chinese characters 更多, gengduo (‘more’).
IMPORTANT: It is crucial that the passenger information you submit is accurate. Incorrect information may mean you are unable to board, or unable to collect your tickets in the first place. Once the information is submitted, it cannot be amended.
Now we meet our old and annoying friend the security picture once again. Follow the process as previously described, (in this example by selecting the image of a sticking plaster), and hit the orange-colored icon ‘Send Booking’ (‘提交订单’, ‘tijiao dingdan’).
As shown in picture 6, China Rail will have assigned you a seat or a berth at random. The red-colored number on the panel tells you how many bookings are available in accordance with the choices you have made. If you are not content with what has been assigned to you preferring, say, a bottom berth over a top berth in a sleeper compartment, you may click on the gray Return and Change (返回修改, fanghui xiugai) button in order to repeat the booking procedure you have just completed. However, the assignment will, again, be random. Please do not get over-excited at this stage and treat it as a lottery. You are only permitted to change your selection in this fashion three times in any 24-hour period and, should you exceed that, your account will be blocked for 24 hours. Once you are satisfied, (or dissatisfied, but left with no choice in the matter bar abandoning your booking altogether), click the orange-colored Confirm (确认, queren) button to proceed to the payment page.
On the next page (picture 7), you have two initial options. One is to cancel the booking by using the gray-colored button (取消订单, quxiao dingdan). Having come so far and suffered so much this may be a painful button to press, but we would strongly advise you do so if you are uncertain in any way of the information you have previously entered. If you are satisfied, take the plunge and hit the orange-colored payment button (网上支付, wangshang zhifu). This page is linked to the payment systems that China Rail supports, including some Chinese banks, UnionPay (银联, yinlian) and Alipay (支付宝, zhifubao) (picture 8). We have listed the currently available options towards the top of this item, but you can check for new information here: A Chinese debit cards are accepatable, as long as a handful of foreign debit cards. If choosing to pay via UnionPay system, you get Citibank, BEA (Bank of East Asia), Standard Chartered, Societe Generale, UOB (United Overseas Bank), Shinhan Bank, IBK (Industrial Bank of Korea), HanaBank, NCB (Nanyang Commercial Bank), DBS (Development Bank of Singapore) and Dah Sing Bank. If paying via Alipay (支付宝), Standard Charted and Citibank are acceptable. (Bank info updated May 7th, 2015). Again, your online translator may come in handy at this point.
All being well, you’re now done. Well, nearly. Do not close the confirmation page until you have checked all your details. The lime-colored banner is your booking number, ‘E175946596’ in this example, which you will need for ticket collection. You will also be required to bring your actual passport. A copy is not sufficient.
Double-check your details as follows: passenger names; passenger passport or ID numbers; seats assigned; train number. The red-colored Chinese characters designate the station where you will board, (in our example 深圳北, shenzhen bei, (Shenzhen North Railway Station), while ‘检票口A16’ (‘Ticket Check (jianpiao kou) A16’) is the ticket checking point. Your number, of course, will be different.
If you’ve not had enough of your orange-button adventure, you can now book more tickets. Click the gray button to do so, (继续购票, jixu gou piao). The orange-colored button next to it (there had to be just one more) enables you to view your ticket details (查询车票详情, chaxun chepiao xiangqing).
To collect your ticket(s) in person, translate this section: How to Collect the Train Tickets by Myself? However, tickets are generally collected at railway stations and ticket booking offices, and they should be available from now to any time up to the departure of your train, so you may only need to check this if you run into difficulties.
Useful information: Now you have completed the process, remember that familiar non-prescription headache tablets are available at all good Chinese chemists.
Foreign passports are accepted when buying train tickets by telephone.
There are totally 18 local railway bureaus provide train tickets booking services by telephone. The numbers are as below. Every railway bureau can book train tickets all over China. Try the other phone number if one is busy.
Telephone numbers as follows:
You may also book your train ticket at your hotel. Most star hotel offer train booking service for their customers for a service fee. Even if you are at a small inn, they will likely be about to help you out.
Most travel agencies provide train ticket booking service. An additional fee of is charged on regular route. A very high service fee may be charged for booking a train departing from Xining and Golmud to Tibet in peak travel season from May to October. So if you want to travel a train trip to Tibet, it is wise not to board the train at these two cities. See trains to Tibet. The service charge need rise in the peak travel periods such as the Chinese New Year and the National Holiday.
Since September 1, 2013, if you need to make changes or cancellations to your train tickets, you can get to any train station at any cities with your passports and your paper tickets or E-ticket numbers.
Every train ticket can only be changed once and there is no charging fee. Refund for any overpayment or a supplemental payment for any deficiency.
Make cancellation attracts a cancellation fee. It varies to when you make the cancellation. If you make the cancellation more than 48 hours before the departure of the train, 5% cancellation fee will be charged, within the period of 24 to 48 hours, 10%, less than 24 hours, 20%.
During the high season of the Chinese New Year from January 16 to February 24, 20% cancellation fee will be charged no matter when you cancel the ticket.