Boarding Trains in China Just Got a Lot Easier for Foreigners

By Bridget O'Donnell, December 3, 2019

1 1

Good news for frequent train travelers in China: You no longer need paper tickets at select train stations across the country!

High-speed train stations are beginning to eliminate paper tickets as China’s massive railway network transfers to a digital ticketing system.

The new e-ticket exclusive program was launched in two phases late last month at nearly 100 stations around the Yangtze River Delta, including major transportation hub Shanghai Hongqiao Railway Station. Electronic ticketing service is also being offered at select intercity lines, including the Beijing-Shanghai route. The Guangzhou-Shenzhen route now also operates its own separate paperless ticketing.

READ MORE: Here’s How to Travel Ticket-Free on the Guangzhou-Shenzhen Train

Xinhua reports that the paperless system is currently being piloted and will gradually be rolled out nationwide. According to the Shanghai Railway Bureau, the plan is to cover all high-speed rail lines and EMU train stops at stations within the region by mid-December 2019. Trial runs started on the Shanghai-Nanjing high-speed train in July, and nearly 19 million e-tickets were sold by the end of October. The program was also piloted in Hainan starting in 2018.

The new system aims to reduce ticket fraud and enhance the overall quality of service. No doubt it will also save tons of time when you’re on a tight schedule and can’t afford to wait in the ticket pick-up line. Likewise, it cuts down on problems created by losing or forgetting your ticket.

Blue Tickets
Zaijian, blue tickets. Image via Gucheng

Currently, the paperless ticketing system is only available for high-speed trains (G, D). The old ticketing system still applies for regular trains (Z, T, K).

Hop aboard our step-by-step guide to taking the bullet train on the new paperless ticketing system...

Step 1: Book Your Train Tickets

To get started, book train tickets like you normally do. We recommend the official China Railway website (12306.cn) or the English-language Trip.com. Both platforms also offer mobile apps.

Other third-party apps, such as train booking Mini Programs offered on Alipay and WeChat, also work. You can also book seats directly at the train station’s main ticketing windows.

E-ticket information will be linked to your original valid ID used at purchase.

Optional: Get Your E-Ticket QR Code on 12306

You can use the 12306 mobile app to get an e-ticket QR code sent straight to your phone. To register, download the 12306 app and complete the facial recognition verification step, which should take around two to three business days to confirm. To complete this step, you’ll need to upload two photos: a clear photo of your ID, and another photo of you holding the ID (full face included).

12306 app
To verify your identity, go to 我的 > 认证核验 and then upload your photos. Screengrab by That’s 

If you’re registering for a 12306 account for the first time, you’ll also need to enter in your standard ID information (for Chinese mainland, Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan citizens) or passport info (foreigners), along with your local phone number.

Once your 12306 account is confirmed and your identity verified, the 12306 app will generate a QR code for each booked journey. You can use this QR code for ticket checks or for entering the station and passing through the Manual Channel (more on that in Step 3). You can also use it to print out your own physical copy of the ticket for personal records.

For foreigners, this step isn’t really necessary, as the only machines that accept e-ticket QR codes for boarding trains also accept passports.

Note that both the 12306 website and app are only available in Chinese.

Step 2: Enter the Train Station

Once your train tickets are booked, head to the station’s main entrance and present your passport or valid ID at the identity check desk. Then you’ll pass through security before making your way to the platform.

If you’d still like to pick up a ticket stub for reimbursement purposes, or to have on hand just in case, you can do that at the ticketing windows. The physical tickets will no longer list your seat number, and instead you will receive a separate paper receipt with trip info.

Receipt
Image via The Paper

Note that the above process only applies to stations that have implemented the digital-only ticketing system. Other stations may have temporary entrance and ticket collection procedures in place while the system is rolled out nationwide. Ticket collection procedures may vary by station; contact railway staff for more information.

Step 3: Board the Train

Ticket gate
The new ticketing gates at Shanghai Hongqiao station. Image by Bridget O’Donnell/That’s

When it comes time to board, show up to the platform gate to scan your ID. Foreign passport holders and residents of Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan with Chinese mainland travel permits will be directed to a Manual Channel (人工通道) to have their identification scanned by a railway staffer.

Manual channel

Passport reader
Images by Bridget O’Donnell/That’s

Chinese citizens, foreign permanent residents and Hong Kong/Macao/Taiwan residence permit holders can use the Self-Service Channel (自助通道). Here, you’ll simply scan your ID card at the turnstile to automatically enter the platform. 

Self Service Gate
Image by Bridget O’Donnell/That’s

At railway stations using the digital-only ticketing system, you’ll no longer be able to insert paper tickets into the platform turnstiles. The machines have been sealed off and no longer accept them.

READ MORE: High-Speed Trains Now Have Food Delivery, Here’s How to Order

Step 4: Arrive at Your Destination

Upon exiting the platform at your arrival station, your ID will be scanned at a second checkpoint. To exit, head to the Manual Channel or Self-Service Channel and scan your passport or identification card.


E-Ticket Train Stations

Here are the 45 first-phase stations currently offering digital-only ticketing:

  • Nanjing South

  • Quanjiao

  • Hefei

  • Lu’an

  • Jinzhai

  • Bengbu South

  • Huainan East

  • Shuijia Lake

  • Hefei Beicheng

  • Hefei South

  • Changlin River

  • Chaohu East

  • Wuwei

  • Tongling North

  • Nanling

  • Qu County

  • Jingde

  • Jixi North

  • Shexian North

  • Huangshan North

  • Jiangning

  • Jurong West

  • Lishui

  • Wawushan

  • Liyang

  • Yixing

  • Changxing

  • Huzhou

  • Deqing 

  • Anqing

  • Chizhou

  • Tongling

  • Fanchang West

  • Qujiang

  • Wuhu

  • Dangtu East

  • Ma’an Shandong

  • Jiangning West

  • Hangzhou East

  • Fuyang

  • Tonglu

  • Jiande

  • Qiandao Lake

  • Sanyang

  • Hangzhou

And here are the 48 second-phase stations currently offering digital-only ticketing:

  • Ningbo

  • Fenghua

  • Ninghai

  • Sanmen County

  • Linhai

  • Taizhou

  • Wenling

  • Yandangshan

  • Shenfang

  • Yueqing

  • Yongjia

  • Wenzhou South

  • Rui’an

  • Pingyang

  • Cangnan

  • Shanghai Hongqiao

  • Songjiang South

  • Jinshan North

  • Jiashan South

  • Jiaxing South

  • Tongxiang

  • Haining West

  • Yuhang

  • Shaoxing North

  • Shaoxing East

  • Yuyao North

  • Zhuangqiao

  • Zhuji

  • Yiwu

  • Jinhua

  • Longyou

  • Yinzhou

  • Jiangshan

  • Jinhua South

  • Wuyi North

  • Yongkang South

  • Jinyun West

  • Lishui

  • Qingtian

  • Yancheng North

  • Sheyang

  • Funing East

  • Binhai Port

  • Xiangshui County

  • Lianyungang

  • Ganyu

  • Huaibei

  • Huaibei North

A selection of other stations that are piloting or have implemented the system:

  • Beijing South

  • Tianjin West

  • Tianjin South

  • Langfang

  • Cangzhou West

  • Dezhou East

  • Wuxi

  • Wuxi East

  • Zhengzhou

  • Zhengzhou East

  • Xi’an North

  • Weinan North

  • Dali

  • Kunming

  • Lijiang

Here are the intercity lines currently trialing a paperless ticketing system:

  • Guangzhou–Shenzhen

  • Beijing South–Shanghai Hongqiao

  • Beijing–Xiong’an

  • Chengdu–Chongqing

  • Guangzhou–Zhuhai (Zhanjiang West Line)

  • Kunming–Dali–Lijiang

  • Hainan Roundabout Railway

The list of participating stations and lines will constantly change as the paperless ticketing system is implemented nationally. Stay tuned to Thatsmags.com for the latest updates.

[Cover image via Enzo Jiang/Flickr]


Last updated December 5, 2019

more news

Train Tickets Now on Sale for China’s CNY Travel Rush

If you are planning to ride the rails over Spring Festival, we strongly encourage you get your tickets ASAP!

This City Has the Fastest Internet Download Speed in China

In short, if you’re looking to improve your internet speed, move to Shanghai and link up with China Unicom. There you go.

Several High-Fashion Brands Under Fire Over Major T-Shirt Errors

Versace, Coach and Givenchy all went viral on Weibo after releasing similar T-shirts with offensive design errors that undermine the ‘One China’ policy.

Beijing Extends Hours of Public Transportation

Looks like your nights might get a little bit longer, Beijingers.

This Week in History: Train Robbing Bandits and the Lincheng Outrage

The capture of famed foreigners and journalists made this a major international event in China's history.

Explainer: How High Can a Mosquito Fly?

You might not like the answer.

Brew Review: Living the Hangzhou High Life at Midtown Brewery

That's columnist Chris Foste is a bearded beer fanatic whose frothy pint glass of knowledge flows over with wisdom on the wetting of one's whistle.

1 User Comments

    In Case You Missed It…

    We're on WeChat!

    Scan our QR Code at right or follow us at ThatsBeijing for events, guides, giveaways and much more!

    7 Days in Beijing With thatsmags.com

    Weekly updates to your email inbox every Wednesday

    Subscribe

    Download previous issues

    Never miss an issue of That's Beijing!

    Visit the archives

    Get the App. Your essential China city companion.