I am coming to Beijing in April, want I plan to stay there for some days. Then, Sunday March 30th, I want to take the fastest train possible to Shanghai (and as early as possible sunday morning). By doing this I can experience both cities, and try a fast railway which I really look forward to.

  • What is the best way to buy these tickets? Can I buy them beforehand online?
  • Do these tickets get sold out? Are the trains crowded?

I am a foreigner from Europe

  • Are the tickets usually difficult to test? - I don't understand what this means.
    – Karlson
    Commented Feb 27, 2014 at 22:34
  • 2
    @Karlson and that's why you shouldn't read Stackoverflow.com, while posting here ;-) Thanks - just made an edit Commented Feb 27, 2014 at 22:36

4 Answers 4


For train travel stuff your best first resource is Seat61.com, here's the relevant part for Beijing to Shanghai.

From the info there (How to buy tickets) it seems you cannot book on-line directly, but you can go through a travel agent to have them book the tickets in advance.

The trains do sell out, but you don't need to book months in advance (unless you want to). Passengers are allocated seats and although the train will likely be full it'll not be packed, the amount of people / space will depend which class you're travelling in (there's pictures and more info on the link).

I can't define the best way to buy the tickets, the cheapest would be to get them at Beijing station a week or so in advance. Anything else will involve paying a cut to an agent. However it sounds like you're not there for that long so I'd use one of the agency websites on the page I linked above.

One other option is to contact your hotel / hostel and ask if they can arrange tickets for you and have them ready for when you arrive.

As the site says large stations will have English speaking staff, plus you can get your hotel to write down the details in Chinese for you. In my experience if a place doesn't have English speaking stuff, but has a lot of tourists, there are normal people hanging around willing to help you translate for a small tip (although be careful about being scammed, etc).


The bullet trains from Beijing to Shanghai are very comfortable (like business class on a big plane) and not at all overcrowded (cheaper/slower trains will be very crowded and will take days to get there), but you should try to book in advance. They only allow purchasing of tickets a maximum of 7 days in advance so you have to time it correctly.

Tickets aren't too expensive considering the distance you're travelling.

You have to go to a travel agent or to the station ticket office with your passport to book the tickets as they need the ID number to print on the ticket itself. Obviously your passport you should take with you to identify yourself as the ticket holder on the day.

As @SpaceDog mentions, you can normally get good services from your hostel/hotel. Most local Chinese on the street cannot speak English. Although university students should be able to speak a small amount as it is part of university entrance examinations, they will be shy to use it for fear of misspeaking.

Don't expect people at the ticket box office to be happy to help. They will see your inability to speak Chinese as a time consuming exercise for them. I currently live in Beijing and speak with personal experience.

  • Are the people at the ticket box really not happy to help? I read somewhere else that many people jump at the opportunity to practice their English with a "real" foreigner.
    – Mike Braun
    Commented Mar 11, 2014 at 17:47

There's usually at least one counter at the train station that has English speaking staff for foreigners. As @Richard Fong says, don't expect them to be overjoyed to help, but I've never had too much trouble with them (way better than the bad old days). I know what train number, class and the destination I want in advance.

Don't bother trying the automated machines, they require a PRC ID card to work, and you'll need to use your passport. I've stayed away from getting hotels and agents to get tickets after being overcharged and having promised tickets not arrive, but I suspect things are better now.


Its pretty convenient if you speak basic Chinese to go to a 窗口 window and buy one. These are found in random places, but may be near a travel agent, police station, university campus, the corner hangout, etc. You tell the employee what you want, point on the screen and out comes the ticket once you pay (bring your passport!) There may be a fee 手续费 of like 5 RMB but thats a fraction of the price to get a ticket in hand before your departure date出票. And you know it won't be sold out. And you can pay cash..perfect

I don't advise standing in line on the day of the trip at the main counter at the train station (it seems all the cool Chinese peeps do this tho) cause its a long hassle.

Also, if you buy your tix online like 12306 (its a real app) you still have to 取票 pick up the ticket by standing in that massively long line I just described. You would also need a credit card or UnionPay or Alibaba or some Chinese friend to pay for you. You would also need a working cell phone to receive a text from 10086 as a verification code of your payment method. And as mentioned, you can not use the automated machines (at the train station) cause we have passports and not PRC IDs 身份证. Bout time China because more int'l around here...

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