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How to Buy Train Tickets

Compared with coach and flight, train tickets will be a problem for tourists who want rail travels during their visit in China, especially for those busy rail routes to popular travel destinations on public holidays. The situation will be worse during the long holidays, for example the two week-long holidays: National Day Holiday (Otc. 1 - 7) and Chinese Spring Festival.


 Important Notice:
Since December 6, 2014, pre-sale time of China railway tickets has been extended to 60 days prior to departure from previous 20 days prior online or through phone, while the pre-sale period at railway stations and ticket outlets has been extended to 58 days ahead of departure. 

 Where to buy?

Tickets Selling Office
•  Passengers can purchase tickets at railway stations at most 58 days in advance.   Transportation to Major Railway Stations

• Designated Ticket Offices: The pre-sale time of the designated offices are also 58 days prior to departure. However, due to the adoption of real-name ticket policy and identity verification, lots of the offices are unable to issue tickets for foreign/Hong Kong/Macau/Taiwan passengers any more.

• Telephone booking in 1-60 days is available in several cities, but there are only Chinese prompts. The tickets should be paid and collected within 24 hours at railway stations or ticket offices, or the booking will be cancelled. A service fee of CNY5 per ticket is charged if collected at a ticket office.

• Online Booking Agency: The above mentioned methods are not practical for foreign visitors who speak little Chinese and have limited time to queue for the tickets, especially during the peak seasons like the Golden Week (October 1 - 7) and Spring Festival. The website and the booking hotline do not provide Chinese service, so booking a ticket online or through telephone is as difficult as doing a Chinese reading or listening test. Not to mention that you have to pay online with a Chinese bank card. Thus, it is advisable for tourists from other countries to purchase via a reliable online booking agency like TravelChinaGuide.com. This is an efficient and secure way. Book at TravelChinaGuide.com

TravelChinaGuide (TCG) has English train ticket booking page. Our professional booking operators are always ready to solve any problems you meet during your trip. We will make sure you enjoy a secure booking and payment (TCG accepts Paypal and Western Union). When you collect the tickets at railway stations, TCG will provide useful instructions on how to collect tickets and Chinese documents to aid you.

• Online Booking with China Railway Customer Service Center: Passengers can book ticket through the official website of China Railway Customer Service Center (www.12306.cn) 60 days prior to departure. A valid passport number and a Chinese phone number are required. The website only has Chinese version, and payment should be made within 45 minutes with a China UnionPay bank card that supports online payment. Ticket can be collected at railway stations before boarding.

1. The upgraded real-name ticket policy, identity verification, requires passengers to have their identities checked before booking or collecting tickets. This, however, causes some troubles for foreign passengers who book online. The name column of the booking information on the official site 12306.cn does not accept spaces and symbols (hyphens) other than at most 20 English letters. When foreign passengers collect their paper tickets with original passports at railway stations, the conductors will reject them as their names on passports are different from the ones (without symbols or only the first 20 letters) in booking information. In this case, passengers can only cancel their bookings and rebook at the railway station. Another problem is that foreign passengers can book no more than 5 tickets before they do the verification, so those who plan a long trip with more than five rail rides can only buy the rest tickets after arrival in China when some tickets may be sold out.

2. The pre-sale period may be adjusted temporarily during the rush Chinese holidays or festivals, such as Chinese New Year, National Holiday and summer vacation. To avoid disappointment, it is suggested that you book through an agency as early as possible. 

3. If a passenger can not board the train, he or she can refund or change the ticket at any railway stations within China. If you lost a ticket, you can buy a replacement ticket and have the booked seat reclaimed with your valid ID certificate. Some passengers may need to transfer to another train on the way. 

4. The ticket price does not include insurance for accidents of the rail transport, so you can buy yourself transport insurance before your trip if necessary. 

5. Children between 1.2 m (3.9 feet) and 1.5 m (4.9 feet) need to buy child ticket while those under 1.2 m are admitted for free. Please note that children are asked to be accompanied by adults. 

 How to read an ticket and identify the authenticity of it?
Scalper, Huangniu or Piaofanzi in Chinese, refers to those who buy tickets repeatedly and resell them at higher prices. This practice is of course illegal and it is not recommended to buy from them. Some sell fake ones that are difficult to distinguish from the real ones. We supplied samples with some facts below to identify the authenticity of a ticket.
Train Ticket
Sample (Click to enlarge)
China G Train Ticket Sample
Ticket of Multiple Unit Train (Click to enlarge)

1. Watermark: Clear watermark of CR and 中国铁路 must be printed.
2. Feel: The authentic one should be smooth to the touch. To be opposite, some fake ones may be rough feel, the words of which are easily to rub out or not neatly.
3. Flexibility: Roll up and twist, an authentic one could resume its original shape.
4. Comparison: Please compare the ticket with an authentic one if you already have.
5. Code: Every ticket  has a set of code at the upper left (e.g. 198A001524). You could find a corresponding set of code at the lower left (e.g. A0-0152-4).
6. Anti-fake Pattern: At the lower right, there is an anti-fake two-dimensional pattern which could record train no. and date.

Real-Name Ticket Policy & Identity Verification

From January 1, 2012, this policy applies to all trains in China. Passengers should buy tickets and board with the presentation of their own valid ID certificates (ID card, passport, or Mainland China entry permit).

To further improve the real-name policy and crack down on scalpers, from March 1, 2014, identity verification is applied. All passengers have to have their identities verified before buying tickets. Chinese citizens can have their 2nd generation ID card checked on official website (12306.cn), at railway stations or ticket offices; foreigners, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan citizens can only do the verification at railway stations by presenting their original passports or Mainland China entry permit before purchasing or collecting the paper tickets.

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