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The New Policy of China Railway Tickets Identity Verification Brings Great Trouble to Foreign Travelers

Published: Mar. 12, 2014

Since March 1, 2014, Chinese official ticketing website 12306.cn has implemented identity verification, which was said to improve real-name policy and crack down scalpers. Chinese passengers can do the verification online or at railway stations, and there is barely influence to their train travel. However, the new policy brings great trouble to foreign travelers.

The biggest problem is that some foreign passengers are refused to collect their tickets at railway stations because of the inconsistency between the names on their passports and in online booking system:

As we know, there are spaces in foreign names and some have symbols like a hyphen or an apostrophe, such as Catherine Zeta-Johns and Conan Christopher O'Brien. The online booking system, however, does not accept these symbols. So Catherine Zeta-Johns turns to Catherine Zeta Johns and the apostrophe of Conan Christopher O'Brien is omitted. 

Passenger information: hyphen and apostrophe are not accepted
Another situation is the name column of the booking system only accepts 30 characters, but some foreign visitors' family names have more than 30 characters. When booking tickets for them, Chinese agencies will put family name in front of given name as required by the official ticketing site. The result is that in the online booking information the passport numbers of a family of three or four are different, but their names are the same – the first 30 characters of their family name.
Name column only accepts 30 characters

A name on passport
There is a third case that passengers are not able to get their tickets. In most foreign names given name is in front of the family name, like Bill Clinton. But on their passports, the surname is at the first column and given name is below it. Thus the name in online booking information will be Bill Clinton, but the conductor at railway station find the name on passport to be Clinton and Bill. The passenger will probably be refused to collect his tickets.

If you are told that you cannot collect your tickets because your name on passport is different from the one in booking information, you can only cancel your booking and rebook at railway station.

The new policy also brings trouble to travelers who plan more than five train rides in China. According to the identity verification policy, foreign passengers are allowed to book no more than five tickets before they have their identities checked. So these travelers can only book five tickets and purchase the rest after they do the verification at a Chinese railway station. The problem is that Chinese railway tickets are available 20 days in advance and many will be soon sold out, so it is impossible for foreign travelers to get tickets after their arrival in China.

Foreign passengers' identity verification status is "to be checked"

In addition to the above mentioned problems caused by new the policy, you may also encounter some unexpected trouble as the conductors, the performers of the policy, may have different understanding to the new policy. Language barriers will also bring misunderstanding in communication. You can only ask for help from your agency if you encounter these problems.

Registration information: the last column is 
phone number, and only a Chinese 
mobile phone number is accepted.
We believe that the new policy will work in cracking down scalpers and helping more Chinese passengers get their tickets, but it can be more international and flexible. More and more foreign travelers prefer traveling by rail as this is a good way to learn more about China. When the official ticketing site 12306.cn was first put into use, we thought it would be a very convenient tool for foreigners. But the booking requirement of a Chinese phone number and a Chinese bank account that accepts online payment stops most foreign visitors, even if they can read Chinese. 

Traveling by rail is still not that difficult as many agencies like TCG provide professional and safe booking service. Passengers can either pick up tickets at designated offices and railway stations or have the tickets delivered to their hotels. The new identity verification policy, however, limits the number of tickets foreign passengers can buy and the ways to collect tickets, making booking a train ticket more difficult. We strongly call for an improvement to the unpractical and inflexible ticketing system, not only to provide convenience to foreigner travelers, but also to expand the Chinese tourism market and improve the tourists' experience.

  • Questions & Answers on China Tourism News
    Asked by Kenna Zeng from SINGAPORE | Sep. 11, 2018 08:21Reply
    I'd it possible to book 22 tickets before we even arrive in China?
    21 students and 1 will be heading to China at the end of the year. We have never booked and bought train tickets in China before. Will booking tickets 30 days in advance through TCG or 12306.cn be possible even though our passports haven't gone through the verification process implemented a couple years ago?
    Answers (1)
    Answered by Hailie from CANADA | Sep. 17, 2018 23:54

    I'm sorry to tell you that only the passport is valid, you can book the tickets. If your passports have gone through the verification process, then you can book the tickets in advance.
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