With Backpack

One World in One Lifetime

How to buy train tickets in China.

Train tickets cannot be bought by someone outside the country. In fact you can only buy a ticket from the train station from which you will be departing. In other words, it is impossible to buy round-trip tickets.

So what happens when someone buys Chinese train tickets on-line? Well, you may buy the tickets on-line, but someone at the agency still has to physically go to the train station and buy your tickets in person.

I have never used an online agent to buy a ticket for me when I was not in China. I do not want to endorse any of those companies, because I have done none of the research that I would need to feel comfortable enough to give out their website.

(But even if I recommend something on the site, you should still do your own research. I could be wrong. A company could have changed ownership. Or any number of things could have happened to make your experience different from mine.)

My Advice: Don’t travel in China during any holiday in which massive numbers of people will be traveling across the country. That way you don’t have to worry about tickets being sold out.

  • In China, you can buy your train ticket at any hostel (not hotel). You pay for the ticket. Someone then runs down to the train station and buys the ticket for you. Then you come back later to pick it up. There is an extra fee for buying the ticket through the hostel. It is usually small and definitely worth not having to go down to the station yourself when you don’t speak the language. Trust me!
  • You can buy your tickets before you get to China through a travel agency. You must give them an address in China, like a hotel, for them to send it. Some may allow you to go to their agency office to pick up the ticket.
  • Tickets can be bought up to 2 weeks in advance, no more. You might be able to go online and buy them from a travel agent months in advanced. But there is no guaranty that they can actually get you the tickets. Most travel agencies will tell you this. The agency will have to wait until two weeks before the departure date, then send someone to buy the ticket for you. Any number of crazy things can happen in that time. If you are travelling on a tight time budget during peak season, this is your best option to avoid being stuck in a city or having to buy plane tickets.

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