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How to Buy Train Tickets Online

Friday, January 6, 2012 | By:

Buying train tickets in China can be a painful experience: jostling crowds, impatient clerks and, worst of all, the nightmare possibility of discovering your train is sold out after hours waiting in line. This, to the chagrin of homeward-bound travelers, is a common occurrence during the Spring Festival travel rush (春运), known as the largest annual human migration in the world.

In response to this need, near the end of 2011 China’s Rail Ministry expanded an experimental website called 12306.cn, where passengers could purchase train tickets online. According to user complaints, the new system still has plenty of glitches—but for office workers who are locked all day to their computers, the website is a godsend. Here’s how you use it:

Getting Started

Log on to www.12306.cn and click “购票” (Purchase Tickets) at the top of the left-hand column. This should automatically transfer you to a log-in page—however, if you’re using Firefox, you may see the alert message, “此连接是不受信任的” (This connection is not secure). Your first option is to risk it by selecting the bottom-most option, “我已充分了解可能的风险” (I fully understand the possible risks) and then “添加列外” (Add this to my list of approved sites) to proceed to the website. Otherwise, you can install the required security certificate by going to “Latest News” (最新动态) on the homepage and finding the notice that reads, “为保障您顺畅购票,请下载安装根证书” (To ensure that you can buy tickets smoothly, please download and install root certificate). Click on it and install the security certificate to your computer.).

Registering an Account

1. If you haven’t set up an account yet, click the “Register” (注册) button in the yellow box below “New user registration” (新用户注册). On the next page click “同意” to accept the user agreement.

2. The next page features three sections asking for personal information. From top to bottom, the first section, “Basic Information” (基本信息), asks for:

用户名: Username

密码: Password

密码确认: Confirm password

语音查询密码: Voice inquiry password (a six-digit password you will be asked for if you call to check information)

语音查询密码确认: Confirm voice inquiry password,

密码提示问题: Security question

密码提示答案: Security question answer

验证码: Verification code

3. Next up is 详细信息 (Detailed information):

姓名: Name

性别: Gender

出生日期: DOB

国家或地区: Nationality

证件类型: Type of identifications (foreigners should select 护照, or passport, and enter their passport number in the box below it)

4. For “Contact Information” (联系方式), provide your cell phone number (手机号码) and email address (电子邮件).

5. Under “Additional Information” (附加信息), simply choose from the category of adults, kids, students and disabled veterans. Click “Submit registration information” and you’ll shortly receive an email requiring you to activate your account. Click the link to complete registration.

Buying Tickets

1. Return to the homepage and click “Purchase tickets” again. In the log-in page, enter your username (or email address) and password to log in to the ticket-booking page. You can book a ticket as early as 12 days before your departure date, and cancel it as late as two hours before the departure time (however you’ll need to pay a cancelation fee 5% of the ticket price).

2. Click “Book tickets” (车票预订) and choose either one-way (单程) or roundtrip (往返), along with your departure city (出发地). (If, for example, your departure city is Shanghai, you can simply type “SH” and a list of stations in Shanghai will appear in a drop-down box.) Finally, fill in your destination (目的地) and date of departure (出发日期).

3. Click “Check” (查询) to view the result, which will include train number, departure station/time, arrival station/time, duration and number of tickets for different kinds of seats. These include business seat (商务座), special-class seat (特等座), first-class seat (一等座), second-class seat (二等座), luxury soft sleeper (高级软卧), soft sleeper (软卧), hard sleeper (硬卧), soft seat (软座), hard seat (硬座) and standing ticket (无座). If tickets are available, you’ll see a “有” in green; otherwise, there will be a “无” (unavailable) in grey, meaning that the tickets have sold out.

4. When you find the ticket you want, click “Book” (预订) and select your seat and ticket type (adult, child, etc.). Then enter your name, ID type, ID number, cell phone number and verification code. Before you submit your order, a dialog box will pop up asking you to confirm your information. Double check that everything is correct, then click “Confirm” (确定).

5. The next step is to “Pay online” (网上支付). Make sure you have all your information ready to go—if you don’t complete payment within 30 minutes of submitting your order, you’ll need to re-book. On the payment page, click “Pay by online bank” (网银支付) and select your online bank (it must be a Chinese bank and make sure your account supports online transactions). Enter your card number, expiration date and security code. The system will then send you a one-time password by text message. Enter the password in the box provided and confirm your purchase.

If everything goes smoothly, you will receive a confirmation email as well as a text message containing an order number starting with E. Before or on your departure day, you can exchange this for a paper ticket at the station by showing your passport and the order number.

But there are two shortcomings of the still-new online booking system. Netizens have complained that the website breaks down when there are too many users logging on. So try early in the morning or late in the evening to avoid system paralysis. The website also doesn’t have an English version yet, so if your Chinese reading is a bit shaky, it’s best to keep a fluent friend nearby for help.

 

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17 Responses to How to Buy Train Tickets Online

  1. Peter says:

    Hi,
    thanks a lot for the useful post. I tried to follow your instructions, but it seems the system doesn’t accept foreign phone numbers. Do I really need to have a chinese cell phone?

    Regards,
    Peter

  2. Keoni Everington (华武杰) says:

    Yeah, I’m afraid you need a Chinese cell phone to register because once you successfully book the ticket, the system will automatically send you a short message summarizing the train information you have just booked. I don’t think it could send the short message to a foreign phone number.

  3. Casimir says:

    On the Book Ticket sreen, I don’t have this options, but :
    查询日期类型 / 起始日期 / 结束日期 /订单号/车次/乘客姓名

    I don’t see any screen where I can input the cities I want to travel

    • Keoni Everington (华武杰) says:

      I’m not sure what you’re doing wrong Casimir, I allowed my IE browser to display blocked content and then I went through the trouble of filling out all the account details. After I created my account, I clicked on the tab on the far upper left hand side called 车票预订 (reserve a ticket). Once you click on that tab, you’ll see 出发地 (departure city) and 目的地 (destination city) clearly marked with red asterisks. Maybe try a few different browsers and lower the security settings temporarily.

  4. Casimir says:

    Thank you for this very helpfull website !

    You should also add that it is necessary to have a chinese credit card in a chinese bank (BOC, ICBC, ABC, etc.)

    • Keoni Everington (华武杰) says:

      You’re welcome. Done!

      • Yin2Yu4 says:

        Hi,
        Do you know if I can present the forwarded SMS when collecting the train ticket at the counter?
        I am thinking to “borrow” my friend’s mobile no to register for receiving the confirmation message and forward to my foreign phone no.

        What do you think?
        Regards,
        YY

  5. Yin2Yu4 says:

    Hi,
    Thanks for the useful post. It is my first time buying China train ticket online.
    I am wondering if I could use my friend’s hp no in China to receive the SMS and forwarded to me upon success payment?
    Based on the description above, I only need to present confirmation email (which deliver to my mailbox) as well as a text message containing an order number starting with E (so it doesn’t matter if it is a forwarded SMS, isn’t it?)
    My last problem is payment. Do you know if i can pay by the Chinese credit card that I applied outside China?

    Hope you could help.

    Regards,
    YY

    • Keoni Everington (华武杰) says:

      Yes, you can use your friend’s cell phone number to receive the SMS. What really matters is the passenger’s information (ensure passenger name, train number is correct).

      I haven’t tried a Chinese credit card applied outside China. But I think as long as the user activates his online bank, he can pay successfully.

  6. Zein Iqbal says:

    Hey i know its silly to ask but is it a necessity that that email confirming my purchase be exchanged with a physical ticket… and secondly i am wanting to book a ticket from saudi arabia and i do have an ICBC union pay card so can i book the ticket and thirdly is it safe to book from this website

    Thanks
    Zein

  7. moh wy says:

    Hi

    I have problem when come to payment via credit card.
    how ?

    • Keoni Everington (华武杰) says:

      Moh, see step 5 under Buying Tickets listed above.

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  11. Tim says:

    Hallo,
    thanks for these helpful tips.
    I have set up my account successfully and can manage to find trains and go through the booking process.
    Now I wish to add another person who is Chinese citizen. I add the name in Chinese characters, the Chinese ID number (double checked the correctness)and telephone number. When entering the captcha I get the message under the ID number: 非法的港澳通行证号码 which means something like “invalid permit number”. Everything is entered correctly. What is wrong here ? I myself am laowai and my account is set up as this. Maybe this is the reason ? Thanks for help.

    • Keoni Everington (华武杰) says:

      The error message is saying that it’s not a valid Hong Kong or Macau ID number. Is your friend from the Chinese Mainland or from Hong Kong or Macau? Secondly, if your friend is Chinese, why not have them buy the tickets in the first place and you reimburse them later?