There are five ways to buy train tickets in China:
- Book online with a travel agency like China Highlights
- Buy tickets at a train station
- Buy tickets at a ticket office
- Book at China Railway's official website
- Book ticket by telephone
Certificate required for booking
- Foreign passengers: Passport
- Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan passengers: Mainland Travel Permit
When Do Reservations Open
Most train tickets can be purchased up to 15 days before the departure day when you book online or by telephone, and 15 days in advance when you buy them at train stations or local train ticket offices.
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.
Read on to see the five ways to buy train tickets in China:
1. Book Online with China Highlights - Recommended
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, 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 can be booked
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.
2. Buy Tickets at a Train Station
Buying tickets at train stations can be difficult for foreigners who cannot speak Chinese. Train stations sell tickets 15 days before departure. You need to queue in front of a ticket window to buy tickets. There are always long queues in front of each ticket window at train stations in large cities such as Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Hangzhou, Xi'an, and Chengdu, especially during holidays. An electronic board over the windows will update the information regarding the availability of tickets in Chinese only.
Here are some tips for buying tickets at train stations:
- Bring all the passengers' original passports.
- Expect long queues in front of the counters, especially during holidays.
- 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.
- 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 can accept Chinese ID only.
3. Buy Tickets at a Local Ticket Office
Like train stations, ticket offices sell tickets 15 days in advance. But ticket offices are less crowded and located all over the city. RMB 5 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 here 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.
4. Book Online at www.12306.cn
Since its launch a year and a half 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 or longer.
- 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.
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.
Our Recommended Train Travel Routes in China
If you are planning a tour in China and want to experience a high-speed train, please see the following itineraries for inspiration:
- 5-Day Shanghai and Its Neighbors Bullet Train Tour - modern Shanghai and traditional water towns
- See more China Train Travel Tours
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.
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 you buy international train tickets?
Answer: Yes, we can buy international tickets on rail routes including Siberian rail routes (Beijing-Ulaanbaatar, Beijing-Moscow and Ulaanbaatar-Moscow, etc.), Beijing-Hanoi, Nanning-Hanoi, Beijing-Pyongyang, and Urumqi to Almaty/Astana. Please search the train schedule and make a booking at China Highlights train ticket booking.
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.