DestinationsAsiaChinaHow to Travel by Train in China: A Complete Guide
How to Travel by Train in China: A Complete Guide

How to Travel by Train in China: A Complete Guide

Have you ever dreamed of traveling by train in China, the world’s most populous and diverse country? If so, you are not alone. Millions of travelers from all over the world choose to explore China by train every year and for good reasons. Train travel in China is not only fast, convenient, and affordable, but also scenic, cultural, and historical. You can experience the world’s largest high-speed train system, the breathtaking scenery along the routes, and the diverse culture and history of China by taking a train. In this article, we will show you how to travel by train in China, including how to book your train tickets, how to arrive at the station, how to get on a train, and how to deal with your luggage. We will also share some tips and tricks to make your train travel in China more enjoyable and memorable.

Travel by Train in China

If traveling in the inner city, subways and buses are the ideal means of transportation, while for traveling between provinces, trains are the right choice. Despite being developed later than some other countries, China’s railway system now boasts the world’s leading speed, length, reasonable fare, and variety, catering to the needs of people with low to high incomes.

For example, if you’re traveling the same distance from Kunming to Guangzhou, you’ll find more than 20 train options and 60 train ticket options available on the same day. The cheapest ticket class for this route is about 26 USD (190 CNY), with a travel time of 27 hours. On the other hand, the highest ticket class is priced at 208 USD (1,515 CNY) and takes 7 hours and 50 minutes. If you choose to go by plane, the ticket price ranges from 167 to 333 USD (1,217 to 2,427 CNY).

Another noteworthy example is the Beijing – Shanghai leg, which covers a distance of 1,200 km. The high-speed train covers this distance in about 5 hours and costs around 83 USD (605 CNY) per person. In contrast, the Shanghai – Suzhou leg, which is 110 km, takes approximately 25 minutes and the ticket price is about 5.5 USD (40 CNY).

While traveling by plane may offer shorter flight times compared to train journeys, it is important to consider the additional time required for airport commutes (which are usually far from the city center), check-in procedures, security checks, and retrieving luggage.

How to Book Train in China

The official website of China Railway is now available in English. It also allows payment with popular international payment cards such as Visa, Master, and JCB. To access the website, you need to register an account and create a password. Registering is easy. You just simply enter your email and personal information exactly as it appears on your passport. No phone number is required.

Once you’ve registered an account, you can input your departure point, arrival point, and departure date. The platform will then display all available trains, ticket classes, and travel times. Next, you choose the desired train and make the payment using an international payment card. The platform then send you a confirmation email with your ticket details. There’s no need to print your ticket. You simply save the email on your phone and present it at the station. The email will include the passenger’s full name, reservation code, fare, train number, car number, seat number, departure point, destination, departure date and time, and check-in information.

The user interface of China Railway official website.

Things to Know When Buying Train Tickets in China

There are two important points to keep in mind when buying tickets. One is that a lot of trains run out of tickets right after they go on sale, so buy as soon as possible. Usually, these websites open to sell tickets 14 days before departure. Second, when registering an account and buying tickets, it is necessary to enter your real information and that of your companions exactly as it appears in your passport. This is because when you board the train, the staff will check your passport to see if it matches the ticket or not.

If you don’t want to buy on the website, you can also buy train tickets through a third-party app, like 12Go. This application supports different languages with supporting channels for you.

In case you can’t buy a ticket online, you can buy it at the station. Nevertheless, the selection will be much less and the date you want to go may not be available.

Arriving at the Station

Many train stations in China are as large as airports, with some big centers. Indeed, Shanghai Hongqiao railway station is even larger than airports. This is because they have metro stations, inner-city bus stations, long-distance bus stations, and even a civil airport. Additionally, some stations feature amenities such as food courts, supermarkets, and souvenir shops. Passengers can purchase food and drinks to enjoy onboard their journey.

A corner of Shanghai Hongqiao Railway Station
A corner of Shanghai Hongqiao railway station.

The terminal is large, so you will need a lot of time to move, especially when dragging luggage. Therefore, you should aim to be at the station at least 30 minutes before the train’s departure time. In those 30 minutes, you need to complete two procedures:

Step 1

At the entrances of all stations, there are security checkpoints and baggage screenings. Railway regulations are not as strict as aviation. You can still bring food, liquids, and personal items, but you should avoid carrying potentially dangerous items such as cutlery, chemicals, and explosives. There is a list of prohibited items on the train, clearly stated on the railway website. However, if you are only carrying regular luggage, there is no need to worry. It only takes a few minutes to go through security. Then, find the correct check-in gate to board the train.

Step 2

Scan documents at the boarding gate (check-in). You do not need to present any kind of ticket because your ticket is already saved in the system, corresponding to the personal document you used to buy the ticket. Chinese passengers just need to swipe their citizen IDs to board the train. For foreign visitors, there will be a separate gate with staff standing by to assist them. You should give your passport to that person. They will enter the passport number into the machine and then return it to you. Thus, when buying tickets for yourself and your companions, make sure to enter accurate information.

All stations have English signs. During the above two steps, you do not need to communicate with the station staff unless there is an issue with your luggage or ticket.

Getting on a Train in China

On most trains, no one will check your ticket. Passengers find the correct carriage and seat number and settle into their seats before the train departs. When compared to trains in other countries such as Europe, Japan, Korea, India, or Southeast Asian countries, trains in China are the most spacious, modern, and clean. Each seat is approximately 50 cm wide, providing ample room for comfort. The legroom is wide enough for individuals up to 1.90 meters tall to sit comfortably. The aisle between the two rows of seats is more than half a meter wide, allowing passengers to easily move about the train. It is also convenient for carrying large luggage. Most seats are equipped with power sockets, dining tables, and storage compartments. Additionally, every car is equipped with clean and comfortable toilets, free hot and cold water dispensers, and multiple electronic screens that display important information such as the departure and arrival stations, train speed, and outdoor temperature in both Chinese and English.

Passengers are waiting before getting on the train at Nanjing Railway Station in China
Passengers are waiting before getting on the train at Nanjing Railway Station in China.

On the train, there are often staff pushing food carts to sell to passengers at reasonable prices. You can also pre-purchase a wide selection at the station. Please clean your table and seats after eating; there are trash cans and sinks available in every car.

The train ran very smoothly; a full glass of water was placed on the dining table and not a drop was spilled during the 5-hour journey. On the train, there is almost no smell, and no one plays loud music or talks loudly.

Read more: Top 10 Fastest High-speed Trains in the World: A Speedy Guide

Handling the Luggage

The general regulation of China Railways for luggage is not to exceed 10 kg per child and 20 kg for an adult. The sum of the dimensions should not exceed 160 cm. Wheelchairs for people with disabilities are charged separately. At the station, there are almost no scales and tight gauges like at the airport. However, you should not bring too many things, leading to difficulty in moving and the risk of delay due to baggage problems.

For large suitcases, put them in the luggage compartment at the front of each car, and small bags in the tray above the seats. Trains in China are civilized and safe, but you should still carry your passport, wallet, and phone with you wherever you go. If you need assistance, you should ask the station and train staff. They are professional and friendly.

Final Thoughts on Train Travel in China

Train travel in China is a wonderful way to discover the beauty and diversity of this amazing country. By following our guide, you can plan and prepare for your train travel in China with ease and confidence. You can also enjoy your journey onboard with comfort and convenience. Whether you are looking for speed, scenery, or culture, you can find it all by traveling by train in China. So, what are you waiting for? Book your train tickets now and get ready for an unforgettable adventure!

This post contains affiliate links from which I can earn commissions if you use services or buy products from the blog’s partners. If you love the blog, please use the services or buy the products. In that way, you give me support for the blog’s maintenance and development. I appreciate it a lot and thank you for that!

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how to travel by train in china - the broad life pinterest board
how to travel in china by train - the broad life pinterest board

Khoi Nguyen builds The Broad Life with a desire to inspire people go exploring the world and live a more interesting, experience, and adventurous life. This blog shares the stories, pictures, and experiences at destinations where he has traveled to.


  • Kimb

    This is a great blog post, because I love traveling, and I love to do it affordably. I am from Europe, and we use the train all the time, even for international travel. I have always dreamed of visiting China one day. I would love to visit Beijing and Shanghai. Thanks for sharing these tips.

    • Khoi Nguyen

      China is truly a great place to visit with so many attractions. And traveling around the country by train is one of the best choices.

  • bright loveland snow

    This is one simplest guide to travel around china. so simple and well understanding. thanks

  • Rosey

    How wonderful that they have a bathroom. Our commute trains here do not unless you’re traveling for a long trip.

  • Nyxie

    No doubt a very helpful guide to anyone traveling around China in a train. I can’t see this ever being me but still found it interesting to read.

    • Khoi Nguyen

      Thanks for your comment! What are you favorite means of transportation when traveling?

  • Claudia

    China has one of the most extensive rail networks in the world. They also have huge stations like beijing, so it cna be overwhelming and pretty hard to take trains. thank you for your comprehensive guide.

  • Debbie

    This is an amazing resource for Traveling by Train in China. Your guide is perfect for visitors!

  • luna s

    Great information! I think visiting China would be a great adventure, and this information is quite helpful to know for exploring.

  • Monidipa

    Your guide on traveling by train in China is incredibly comprehensive! From booking tickets to navigating stations, you’ve covered it all. The tips and insights you provide make train travel in China seem much less daunting. Thanks for sharing your expertise in such a reader-friendly way!

  • Ntensibe Edgar

    Oh wow….thank you for this guidance on using the train service in china. it’s so helpful that they’ve got the directions in the english language now. I will definitely try it out when i am there.

    • Khoi Nguyen

      China is a good place to visit so you can come anytime and experience the trains.

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