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How to book tickets for China's high-speed rail?

With tips for navigating 12306

· 4 min read

China's high-speed rail network is renowned for its efficiency, speed, and connectivity, making it a popular choice for travelers who are looking to travel between multiple Chinese cities. However, the booking process for the bullet train could prove to be rather intimidating, especially if you can't speak (or read) the language. If you are planning a trip to China and trying to book your train tickets in advance, this guide will help you figure out what your options are!

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Source: Tyg728

How to check train schedules?

You will be able to check the train schedules directly from the official China Railway site. Alternatively, the train schedules will also be available on the other sites that sell train tickets.

When looking for train schedules and deciding on your route, make sure to have a few back-up and alternatives. Train tickets do get sold out quickly - especially on popular routes, or if you are traveling during major holidays in China - so you will want to keep your itinerary flexible and options open.

How far in advance can you book train tickets?

Generally, the train tickets officially go on sale 2 weeks in advance, and you will be able to buy tickets up to 35 minutes before the train departure on the day itself.

Some websites allow you to book your train tickets ahead of the 2 weeks window. But, it is important to note that while those tickets allow you to make a 'reservation' ahead of the 2 weeks, it doesn't necessarily mean your tickets are confirmed. It is always good to check back nearer to the date to confirm that your tickets have been secured.

If you will be traveling during the peak travel season or near major Chinese holidays, it is recommended to check for changes in booking windows. When approaching major holiday season, there are usually additional trains being scheduled, and booking windows may open earlier.

What documents do I need to purchase train tickets?

Train tickets for China's high-speed rail are “real-name tickets”, meaning that the tickets are tied to each individual. At the point of ticketing, you will need to provide a valid ID document or passport. Only you will be able to use that purchased ticket with your name; ID verifications will be conducted at the station.

If you will be buying tickets on behalf of other people, you will need their ID documents to verify the tickets. Take note that one valid ID can only buy one ticket for the same train on the same date of travel.

Where can I book my train tickets?

There are a few ways you can book your train tickets.

Through 12306 (Official Website)

You can buy your train tickets online via the official website (12306). While the website has an English interface available, it isn't always easy buying tickets through the website. More often than not, you might encounter an error that states that the system is busy when trying to book your tickets.

If you are planning to buy your tickets via the website, it is recommended that you create and verify your account ahead of time. For account verification, you will need to submit a copy of your passport and a photo of yourself.

Through Online Travel Agencies

An easier way for international travelers to get their train tickets would be to go through third-party OTA platforms. There are also various OTAs that can buy tickets on your behalf. Of these platforms, is one of the most popular and established platforms to buy your train tickets.

Booking your tickets through the OTAs require a much less stringent verification, though you will still need to provide your passport and identity details.

Unfortunately, booking through these OTAs usually come with a processing and transaction fee, which makes your overall ticket more expensive. If you are planning to buy your tickets via the OTAs, remember to always check back when tickets officially open to ensure that your tickets are secured and confirmed.

Through mini apps on WeChat and AliPay

If you have already downloaded WeChat and AliPay for your trip to China, you would have noticed that these apps are more than social or payment apps. They are a lifestyle app which includes a lot of smaller apps and microservices that you can leverage to help you on your trip to China.

If you navigate to the Services section of the app, you will also be able to find a mini app that allows you to book train tickets. Leverage those to help you make your bookings!

Offline at the train stations

Alternatively, you can also purchase your tickets offline at the train stations. However, this could be a little difficult if you can't speak the language. Do also take note that if you are buying same-day tickets, you run the risk of the train tickets being sold out.

Taking the high-speed rail from China to Hong Kong

If you are planning to take the high-speed rail from Hong Kong to China (or vice versa), you can buy your tickets through the same platforms.

Additionally, high-speed rail tickets from Hong Kong to major destinations in China can also be purchased on Klook. If you will be traveling from Hong Kong, getting your tickets through Klook might be a much better option — it is a much simpler process than if you were to get your tickets through 12306, and there isn't an additional ticketing fee that would otherwise charge.

Just note that for departures from Hong Kong West Kowloon, ticket sales close 45 minutes before departure.

Tips and tricks for booking through 12306

If you, like many others, are also struggling with booking your tickets through 12306, here are some tips and tricks that you could try:

  • If you are facing errors with the site, try to get a VPN to Hong Kong or China.
  • Try to register your account using a browser (PC or mobile). Once your account is successfully registered and verified, switch over to use the mobile app for subsequent transactions.
  • If you are using the English site, you just need to verify your account by uploading a photo of your passport, and a photo of yourself holding your passport. You do not need to go through phone number verification.
  • While searching for tickets on the app, you might sometimes encounter a white screen. Although it might look like the app isn't working, you might want to consider just giving it a minute or two for the data to load.