For the first time I am trying to organise an extended individual journey - 6-10 months and 10-14 countries. Although I am intending to be an independent traveller and organising travel arrangements as I go; I need to sort out tickets and visas for the first part of my journey - by train from Cambridge to Northern China.

All the advice I have found so far recommends purchasing the tickets for the Trans-Mongolian train first, and then applying for the visas. There is no guarantee that I will obtain either the visas I want, nor that I will get them for the duration I want.

What is a suitable approach in purchasing tickets and applying for visas; to ensure that in the event of visas being limited or even refused, the money spent on tickets is not lost. I am not sure if one can obtain refundable tickets, or insurance that covers such a situation, or whether there is some other option.

This question does provide some useful information and advice.


Additional information in the light of comments:

  1. I am investigating specialist agencies now.
  2. I am primarily concerned with the Chinese visa. My concerns about this visa are to do with duration and remoteness. I would like to be in China for three months (longer if possible). During this time I want (on only one occasion) to visit the TAR. This requires four special permits; can only be done as part as an organised tour; and involves a specific allocated block of time (of up to 21 days). Even when I am not in the TAR, I will be in remote areas where travel, to and from the nearest PSB office that can issue visa extensions, can take three or four days each way. I understand that Chinese tourist visas now are only for 30 days, with an extension possible to another 30 days.

In the circumstances I am not sure I will be able to get the visa and permits I want; and even if I do that I may not be able to get visas to cover the duration of what I want to do.


In the event I was able to get the visa I wanted - a 90 day tourist visa - so the question of refunds on rail tickets did not arise. None of this experience reduced the usefulness of the answers received on this question.


  • 2
    Have you tried looking for specialist travel agencies who can arrange both visa and train tickets? You'll likely pay a premium for this (if it's even possible to find one), but potentially they could book it all together for you and ensure you get everything you need
    – Gagravarr
    Commented Sep 1, 2011 at 17:23
  • 2
    Can you explain which visa's you think your going to have problems with, is it just the chinese visa? I've been to china several times and received a variety of visa's including tourist/business/double entry/multiple entry e.t.c. What specifically are you worried about?
    – dageshi
    Commented Sep 2, 2011 at 0:07

2 Answers 2


I can't say for all train companies (as I don't know what your route will be), but I can make a guess for the main part of your journey (you will definitely travel using russian trains):

  1. Train tickets for the Trans-Mongolian train are available up to 60 days from departure day. So you can buy the tickets far before documents will be returned to you from embassy.
  2. Train tickets are refundable all the time before departure (but if you refund them in less than 24 hours before departure, you will get some fees for that), and refund cost only 5 EURO (in russian rubles).

So there is no need to worry about lost money - you can get russian and China visas in time. Good luck with your journey.

Update: @Gagravarr's comment about some travel agency is right - you can leave the tech details for the pro.

  • Thank you for this - I was not aware that tickets were refundable. This does make the situation much easier, and removes some of my perceived problem. I am seeking a specialist agency - see the edit to my question. Commented Sep 2, 2011 at 7:51
  • @Chris Walton Well, I don't have much info about Chinese visa, so good luck. I think China train tickets are refundable too.
    – VMAtm
    Commented Sep 2, 2011 at 7:52

Chinese tourist visas are normally for 30 days but they can issue longer if you have a reason for needing longer or you have been to China before. You shouldn't have any problem getting a visa unless you know of some impediment.

You can renew a tourist visa for another 30 days and then again for another 30 days giving you a total of 90 days if you need it. All that is required is a trip to a Public Security Bureau (PSB) aka large police station.

There are PSB offices that can extend your visa in almost any prefecture level city in China. I think it is unlikely that you will be more than a few hours travel from one unless you are hiking out in the deserts of Xinjiang or Inner Mongolia. I can give better advice if you tell me exactly where you plan to go that you think will be 4 days travel from a PSB office.

I'm guessing you are are British, if so, a short trip to Hong Kong can see you get another tourist visa to come back into China again. I've also herd of people getting visas in Korea though not as fast as HK.

For your trip to Tibet, you should apply for the special permit when you get to China via a tourist agency. You will be limited in what places you can travel to within the TAR. Also keep your fingers crossed that the are is open at the time. If the TAR is closed off to tourists during your visit, there is plenty other things to go and see in China so pencil in plans for alternative trips.

  • Thank you. This gives me substantially more information, and confirms what information I have already obtained. I have been to China before; know of no impediment to getting a visa; and am aware of what is needed to get the requisite permits for Tibet. I am thinking of going to Mt Kailash, in the extreme west of China, which is (I believe) more than four days away from a PSB office, and which involves a 21 day trip out from Xining. Commented Sep 27, 2011 at 16:51
  • Since you have been to China before, you might want to ask for a Multi-entry visa. You can then schedule a trip to Hong Kong at the 90 day mark. Entering HK and returning to China will give you a second 90 stretch without the need to visit any visa office in HK. Commented Sep 28, 2011 at 2:19
  • For your trip to Kailash, you'll need to time it to fit with one 30 day block. You should visit a PSB just before hand to have sufficient time put on your visa. I notice some tours to Kailash that finish over the border in Kathmandu. You could then return by air to China from there. Commented Sep 28, 2011 at 2:26

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