Home How to Purchase Chinese Train Tickets

How to Purchase Chinese Train Tickets

Chinese trains are a great way to travel around the country, especially high-speed trains. They are cost-effective, comfortable, and punctual.

Sometimes, however, it is stressful to buy train tickets during peak seasons and holidays because there is often a much higher demand than supply. Buying tickets for Chinese trains is probably easier than you think.

There are four ways for foreign travelers to purchase Chinese train tickets.

1. Purchase Train Tickets Online with a Travel Agency

To save time and hassle, it is recommended that you purchase Chinese train tickets online through a reliable travel agency. We recommend Train Spread.

This is one of the best online ticketing platforms, providing a fast ticket booking service and the best after-sales support. More than 95% of the company’s customers have given 5-star reviews on social media sites including TripAdvisor and Trustpilot.

Train Spread is connected to China Railway’s ticketing system to give real-time domestic train timetables, prices, and availability. Apart from tickets for domestic trains, international train tickets from China, Vietnam, Mongolia, Japan, Korea, and Russia can also be booked on this website.

Train Spread’ Services

  • Easy-to-use English ticket booking service
  • Free seat selection
  • 24/7 after-sales support
  • Customized one-to-one consulting service


China Railway releases train tickets 30 days prior to the departure time but you can purchase train tickets via Train Spread months ahead of time if you want to.

Train Spread will hold your booking and purchase your train tickets on your behalf as soon as the reservations at China Railway open. Booking tickets more than 30 days ahead of the scheduled departure therefore improves the possibilities of getting your tickets successfully.

It is recommended to book your tickets as early as possible for popular rail routes (Xi’an–Chengdu, Xi’an–Shanghai, Guilin–Guangzhou, etc.), during Chinese holidays (May Day holiday, National Day holiday, summer vacation, the Spring Festival, etc.), if you want to book sleeper train tickets.

2. Purchase Train Tickets Online at China Railway’s Official Website

China Railway launched its official ticket booking website, 12306.cn, in 2010. You can check real-time timetables and make bookings for trains in mainland China and from mainland China to Hong Kong and vice versa. Tickets can be booked on this website 15 days before departure.

However, it is difficult for foreigners to book train tickets via China Railway’s official website. We suggest you don’t purchase tickets on this website yourself for the following reasons:

  • Language issue: The biggest challenge for foreigners when it comes to buying train tickets at 12306.cn is the language barrier. At present, China Railway has only launched a Chinese version of its website.
  • It is complicated to sign up for an account: before you can purchase tickets on 12306.cn, you are required to sign up for an account. A Chinese SIM card is needed to verify the account.
  • Only Chinese bank cards are accepted when making the payment.
  • There is no English customer service and no after-sales support.

3. Purchase Train Tickets at a Train Station in China

Train tickets can be bought at any train station in China. Unlike online ticket reservations, the off-line ticketing system releases tickets 2 days later.

Therefore, the train stations release tickets 15 days in advance. All passengers’ ID documents (passports, Hong Kong and Macau passes or travel permits) are required to be presented.

There are also difficulties, however, when buying tickets at a train station:

  • No English is spoken at any train stations in China, even those in major cities.
  • Only cash (Chinese yuan) is accepted.
  • There are long queues at the counters, especially during holidays.

Here are a few tips for buying train tickets at a train station:

  • Do your research and check real-time train timetables via Train Spread in advance.
  • Write down the dates and train numbers on a note beforehand to show to the train station’s staff.
  • Prepare alternative options in case your first choice isn’t available.
  • Don’t forget to take all passengers’ original passports and cash with you.
  • Don’t buy tickets at the ticket refund window (退票窗口) or ticket change window (改签窗口) because they are only for canceling or changing tickets.
  • Double check your tickets before leaving the counter to make sure they’re correct.

4. Purchase Train Tickets at a Ticket Office

Besides train stations, tickets can also be bought at ticket offices. They are located around the city and are not as busy or crowded as train stations.

Just like the train stations, reservations at the ticket offices open 15 days before the departure date. ID documents (passports, Hong Kong and Macau passes or travel permits) are required when purchasing tickets at ticket offices.

It’s not very convenient to purchase tickets at a ticket office because the staff don’t understand English. They only accept cash in Chinese yuan.

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