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How to Buy Train Tickets in China - 5 Ways

Written by FabioUpdated Jan. 12, 2024

Booking train tickets in China has become increasingly convenient for international passengers. They can easily register and book tickets through the English version of 12306, the official website of China Railway. For those seeking personalized assistance and greater flexibility, utilizing a train ticket agency is highly recommended.

1. Book Online at

Since its launch three years ago, the English version of 12306 has facilitated train ticket booking for international travelers in China, resulting in an improvement in convenience. However, it is important for travelers to consider the following points:

  • While there is no personal assistant to answer queries, the system provides support for frequently asked questions.
  • International credit or debit card refunds may take up to four days.
  • Only the train tickets for the next 15 days are available for booking.
  • The booking system undergoes maintenance every Monday and Wednesday from 1 am to 5 am and every Tuesday between 11:30 pm and 5 am, China Time.

2. Book Online with China Highlights

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, and there are language problems, etc.).

China Highlights makes train ticket online booking available to you to save you time, hassle, and money. Our experienced and professional travel advisors will handle all your inquiries, ensuring you receive the best possible service.

Why book with us:

  • Convenient and user-friendly web pages for hassle-free reservations
  • 24/7 one-to-one English service
  • You can select seats for free
  • Bilingual instructions provided
  • 2500+ five-star reviews on social media like Trip Advisor and Trust Pilot
  • Domestic and international tickets (China to Laos) can be booked

Search for train prices and schedules and book a ticket now!

China Highlights accept booking requests months ahead and will purchase your tickets as soon as reservations open. We do the extra to save you time.

Happly passengersOur Happy customers at Beijing West train station

3. Buy Tickets at a Train Station

Navigating ticket purchases at Chinese train stations can pose challenges for non-Chinese speakers. Typically, you'll find yourself in line at a ticket window to secure your tickets. While the introduction of digital tickets has eased congestion, major hubs like Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Hangzhou, Xi'an, and Chengdu can still see lengthy queues during peak holiday seasons.

Here are some tips for buying tickets at train stations:

  • Bring all the passengers' original passports.
  • Your preferable train can be fully booked, especially for popular routes or during peak season (including Spring Festival, National Holiday, Mid-autumn Festival, Dragon Boat Festival, etc). It is recommended to prepare alternatives.
  • Most staff at the train station cannot speak English. So it would be advisable to search train information in advance and write it down to show the person at the counter. Our travel advisors are glad to help with the translation or you can ask hotel staff to translate the information into Chinese.
  • Check the ticket fare on China Highlights and prepare enough cash (RMB), as the train station does not accept foreign credit cards.
  • Skip the self-service ticket machines as they accept Chinese ID only.

Buy ticket in the station

4. Buy Tickets at a Local Ticket Office

Like train stations, ticket offices sell tickets 15 days in advance. RMB 10 will be charged per ticket as a service fee. The working hours at ticket offices are usually from 9:00 am to 6:00 pm. Also, bring your passports to buy the tickets. Only cash (RMB) is accepted. Tickets can not be collected in any ticket office if you have made a booking online. Do not expect English to be spoken at a ticket office. It would be better to prepare a note in Chinese with the train number, travel date, and seat class.

About twenty years ago, ticket offices were established to serve individuals residing far from train stations. However, with the increasing convenience of online booking, nearly 90% of these offices have shuttered. Presently, only travel agencies, requiring frequent ticket bookings, continue to utilize train ticket offices.

A ticket office in ChinaA ticket office

5. Book by Telephone

The official telephone number for ticket booking is area code + 95105105, e.g. Beijing: 010-95105105, Shanghai: 021-95105105, Guangzhou: 020-95105105, etc. Working hours are from 06:00 to 23:30. Only Chinese is spoken.

Tickets can be booked by telephone 4 to 30 days in advance. After a successful reservation, you need to collect the tickets at a train station within 24 hours and make a payment by cash (RMB), otherwise, your booking will be canceled.

When Do Reservations Open

Train tickets can be conveniently purchased 15 days before your planned departure date, whether you choose to buy them directly or through a third party. For instance, if your intended travel date is March 15th, the tickets will become available from March 1st.

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 or 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 for 2024.

Documents Required for Booking Train Tickets

  • Foreign passengers: Passport
  • Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan passengers: Mainland Travel Permit
  • China Mainland passengers: ID card or passport

China Train Travel FAQs

Do I need to pick up paper tickets before boarding the train?

Answer: No, paper tickets are not required for boarding trains. Instead, e-tickets are now available for all trains across the country. Once your train tickets are issued, just use your passports to either swipe at the automatic check-in machines or present them at the manual ticket check-in gate to board the train.

Can I purchase train tickets at the station on the day of travel?

Answer: Although it may be possible to purchase tickets at the train station on the day of travel, it is generally recommended to book in advance. China train tickets can be sold out quickly, especially during peak travel seasons, so advance booking ensures you have a seat.

When purchasing tickets at the train station, it is recommended that you have the necessary information such as the train number, class, departure station, departure date, arrival station, and other relevant details printed out or written down, as English is rarely spoken at most train stations.

What types of trains operate in China?

Answer: China operates different types of trains, including:

  • High-speed trains (G-category, D-category, and C-category): These are the fastest trains in China, reaching speeds up to 350 km/h (217 mph).
  • Conventional trains (Z-category, T-category, and K-category): These are slower than high-speed trains but cover a wide network, including remote areas.

Find more information about Train Types and Seat Classes in China.

Are meals included during train journeys?

Answer: Meals are not typically included in the ticket price for most trains in China. However, there are usually dining cars or trolley services offering snacks and drinks for purchase.

More Questions about China Train Travel

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