Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Booking train tickets in China

This article explains how you can search a train in China and buy a ticket.

Buy them at the train station in advance

In China it is not possible to buy train tickets more than 10 days in advance. Also, it is quite complicated to buy them abroad. However, you can buy tickets at any train station in China, therefore just get your tickets once you have arrived in China.

English at the ticket office

Most staff at ticket counters do not speak English, but people are willing to help. So either ask someone in the queue to help you (more and more young Chinese people speak English) or be prepared with written details about your trip. In major towns such as Beijing there is often a dedicated counter with English speaking staff.

How to find your train

There is an online train search tool in English which lets you search for any train. If you want to be sure the guy at the ticket office books your the right train, you should write down all the details in Chinese and show it him (or learn how to speak Chinese). Note the train number, time and date, which is written in Latin script and Arabic numbers. For train station names, also write down the station name in Chinese signs which can be found using the previously mentioned search engine. Maybe Google Translate can be a valuable help.

For example, if you want to book the train G16 from ShangHai to BeiJing, on September 13, you should write down the following: G16, 上海 -> 北京, 2012年09月13日

Buying the ticket

The person at the counter will enter your train into his or her computer and will show the train on a screen before purchase. Be sure to check if that is the right train. Foreign people will need a passport when purchasing train tickets. Also, most ticket counters will not accept credit cards, so be sure to bring enough cash. Finally, you will receive your train ticket(s). There is a nice website that will explain what is written on the ticket.

When to buy the ticket

For long distance trains or trains that do not run on an hourly basis, I'd suggest buying them as soon as possible. For other trains (e.g. local trains), it is usually sufficient to get your ticket just before the trip.

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