Buying Train Tickets in China is a pain in the ass.

I know there has to be an easy way of buying train tickets in China as a foreigner, but I never experienced such luxury.
So this post is half Complaining and half What To Expect.

First off, let me say if you don’t have your passport with you no one is selling you a ticket.
So always bring that with you to the train station.

Secondly, the train system is China is some of the best in the world.
Their long distance trains are on par with Japan.
The train stations themselves are also quite nice.
Most of them are set up like terminals in airports.
So they’re very easy to navigate.

Buying train tickets in China. Outside entrance at Beijing Train Station.

The pain in the ass part occurs when you arrive at the station and have to buy your ticket for the actual train.

Here’s what I experienced most of the time:

The train tickets are sold in a separate building from the train terminals.
Usually the building was not marked.
So I just looked for a bunch of people entering a building and followed them.

2. There’d be 20+ windows available for selling tickets, but only 5 would be open.
So each line had about 70 people in them.
On average it would take about 40 minutes to get up to the window.

3. As you stand in line people are constantly cutting in front of each other.
Some of them skip the line all together.
They’ll just walk right to the window in front of EVERY single person and ask for their ticket there.

4. If someone cuts directly in front of you here’s what to do:
Tap them on the shoulder, say NO, and cut right back in front of them.
I also had someone attempt to cut in front of me when I was AT the window buying my tickets.
The best way to stop this is to put your arms up on both sides of the window to block people.
If they try to cut just thrust on elbow near their face and they’ll get the hint.

5. Nothing is in English, so just stand in a line and hope for the best.
The reason I say “hope for the best” is because some of the lines only sell tickets for trains going in one direction.

I didn’t know this until I was trying to get a ticket for a train going West, but was in a line for trains going East.
Through the struggle of hand signs, broken English, and trying to piece everything together I realized I needed to be a few lines over.
So I had to stand in another line for about 30 minutes and hope for the best.
That only happened to me once, so I don’t think it’s very common.
I believe most lines you stand in sell tickets for every direction.

6. Once you buy your ticket you can finally go to the main building.
With your ticket in hand you’ll notice not much of it is in English.
Here’s what your ticket is trying to tell you:

When buying train tickets in China you'll notice a lot of the ticket is not in English. Here's what all those characters mean.

7. When you get to the main building you’ll have to go through security.
Then have your luggage x-rayed, and your passport scanned.

8. Once you’re in the station it’s pretty easy.
The train terminals are just like an airport.
Simply match the terminal number to the one on your ticket and wait for your train.

Train departure display board inside Beijing Train Station.

9. As you sit at your terminal you’ll notice most people are waiting in line to push and shove their way on to the train.
This is funny and completely unnecessary because all the seats are assigned.
So everyone is rushing onto the train for a seat that is going to be there no matter what.
I’d literally wait until everyone was onto the train before I even got out of my seat.
Then I’d just walk right on and WOULD YOU BELIEVE IT, my assigned seat was there waiting for me.

People standing in line waiting to board a train.

The Struggle Is Real.

So that was usually what I dealt with when buying train tickets in China.
Needless to say it wasn’t one of my Highlights of traveling through the country.

Buying Tickets Online.

You can buy tickets online, but you still have to wait in line at a ticket window to pick up your ticket.
That reduces some of the hassle, but not all of it.
If you buy online you can have the tickets delivered to your accommodation for an additional fee.
So that’s really up to you.

Trip.com(formally C-Trip) is the best site for this.

Traveling China by train is a wonderful experience.
Hopefully they can make purchasing tickets just as wonderful.

Have you been to China?
How were your Train Ticket buying experiences?

Let me know in the comments below.

Jeremiah Cooper

Welcome to Live Life Extreme, a travel blog about thrill-seeking travel through some of the largest cities to off the beaten path getaways.

My name is Jeremiah and I'm a photographer from Arizona.
I'm always in search of picturesque landscapes and adrenaline pumping adventure.
Follow me as I show you What and What Not to do when visiting new places in search of Cheap Travel and Cheap Thrills.
Jeremiah Cooper

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