Plan A for Short Trips - How to Buy Train Ticket
Going on a trip? Taking the train is one of the most common ways to get around. The comfort on today's railroad stands shoulder to shoulder with airplanes, and for those going on short trips, the train is even more advantageous for benefits such as higher departure frequency, lower costs and more convenient ticketing and boarding procedures. At the same time, the train also trumps the car for reasons such as faster speed and more comfort. Thus, the railroad has become the premier choice of transport for short excursions. So, how should a foreign national go about buying himself or herself a train ticket?
To purchase a train ticket, the first thing we need is a valid personal identification document such as the passport. Other than the passport, China Railway also accepts 24 other types of documents, which are listed on the official website here: https://kyfw.12306.cn/otn/gonggao/ticketWindow.html
At present, there are four methods through which railway ticket may be purchased: Telephone ticketing, automated ticketing machine, online purchase and on-site at the ticketing windows. For those who have a decent mastery of Chinese, I recommend buying your ticket online because it is the most convenient; for those who are not that good with the Chinese language, then purchasing tickets on-site at the ticketing windows is the best option.
Online Ticket Purchase
There are primarily two ways to buy your ticket online: Open up China Railway's official website "12306" (www.12306.cn) or use China Railway's official "12306" mobile app.
Step one: Register your account
Use a valid personal identification document such as the passport to register your account. When registering, be sure to fill in authentic and valid personal identity information. When filling in your name, the family name goes before the given name, and do not leave any space in between, so for instance if you are Jack Johnson, you should fill in "JohnsonJack". In addition, when inputting "." or "•" they should be exactly identical to your passport, while any "," in your name needs to be replaced by a space instead.
Tips: For names longer than 30 characters (one Chinese character is considered two characters in length), or those that include special symbols such as “-” or “/” it would be better to use the on-site ticketing window.
Step two: Verify your account
After registration, if personal identity information is shown as "approved," "please verify" or "pre-approved," then the user may begin to buy ticket; if "please verify" is shown, after user buys the ticket, the user needs to bring the document used for account registration and have his or her account verified at the on-site ticketing window before being given the purchased ticket; if "not approved" is shown, the user needs to confirm that all personal identity information filled in on the 12306.cn website are completely identical to the same information on the personal identification document, make any necessary amendments and then submit for approval again.
Step three: Add frequent contact
After account has been registered and verified, frequent contact could be added via the website or mobile app. When adding a frequent contact, fill in his or her real personal identification information and contact info. Further, the frequent contact also needs to be verified before you are allowed to purchase ticket on his or her behalf.
Step four: Choose train
We may choose our train based on the planned starting location, destination and date to search for trains. Between the starting location and the destination there are many different trains available. Take for instance, between Chengdu and Xi'an there are trains such as G90, T8 and K1364. The letter in front of each train has different meaning:
Under most circumstances, trains starting with the letters G, D, C, Z and T are usually faster, while those that begin with K or L or has no letter in the prefix are usually slower. Take for instance trains traveling from Chengdu to Xi'an, the fastest option available is the G90, which takes only three hours 15 minutes, but the slowest train K1364 requires about 17 hours. On the G, D and C series of trains, the different cabins from the most comfortable to the least comfortable are business class, first class and second class; on the Z, T, K and L series of trains, the different cabins from the most comfortable to the least comfortable are soft bed, hard bed, soft seat, hard seat and no seat. Choose the train and the cabin that suit your needs.
Step five: Submit order and pay
Select train and seat that meet your needs, then add passenger from list of frequent contacts, and finally submit order and pay to conclude the ticket purchase process. For online ticket purchases, after submission of order, payment for the ticket needs to be completed within the payment deadline indicated by the system, and payment methods include online banking, UnionPay online payment, UnionPay express payment or Alipay.
Step six: Retrieve ticket on-site
When purchasing ticket via the online method, if the personal identification document used is passport, Hong Kong-Macao-Taiwan resident permit or other documents that is not a second-generation Chinese citizen ID card, the purchased ticket may only be retrieved through the on-site ticketing window at a station's ticketing hall. In most cases, the ticketing hall would be located near the entrance to the station. When retrieving ticket, one needs to provide the personal identification document used for the ticket purchase as well as the ticket order number ("E"+one letter+18 numbers).
On-site Ticketing Window
We may also bring our passport and proceed to an on-site ticketing window inside a station's ticketing hall to buy a ticket. When purchasing a ticket, just tell the staff the starting location, destination and departure date. At an on-site ticketing window, ticket fee may be paid using a variety of methods including cash, WeChat Wallet, Alipay, bank card accepted by the POS machine or bank card with UnionPay logo.
Tips: One may purchase train ticket 30 days ahead of departure date via the online channel, and may purchase train ticket 28 days ahead of departure date at an on-site ticketing window. After retrieving the train ticket, be sure to double-check whether all information are correct in case of errors.
In 2019, the competent railroad organ will unveil an electronic passenger ticketing system, at which time physical ticket would no longer be required, instead passengers may use a QR code for entry into station and boarding.
After completing this process and buying a train ticket that fits your plan, it's time to pack your bags, go to the station, board the train and begin your journey~