This article is a detailed guide of the multiple possibilities that exist for purchasing train tickets for the Trans-Siberian, Trans-Mongolian and/or the Trans-Manchurian railways.
If you’re looking for detailed information on traveling along the Trans-Siberian railway, you can check out our guide here.
Before getting started
One of the common mistakes made by people starting to plan a trip on the Trans-Siberian Railway is thinking that it has a single ticket similar to that of the Eurail system. The Trans-Siberian is more than just a train: it’s a railway network that connects Moscow with Vladivostok or Beijing. Because of this, to buy tickets, you first have to know the dates that you want to travel and the stops that you’re going to make, as each route must be purchased separately.
Buying tickets online or directly at the station
While a few years ago, buying tickets at train stations was a possibility that allowed you to organize your trip on the go, this has become increasingly difficult, especially in China
The reason is very simple: the majority of trains fill up days or even weeks before their departure. Unless you want to spend 48 hours sitting in a regional train seat or wait a week in Moscow to take your train, I recommend that you purchase tickets at least 15 days in advance, and 20-30 days in advance in the case of China.
It’s also possible to buy tickets by going to your local travel agency, but why would you want to pay their abusive commissions when you can purchase them easily online?
If I have convinced you that the best option for buying tickets is online, keep reading to find out the available options that we recommend for buying tickets as well as their advantages and disadvantages.
Buying train tickets for Russia
To buy tickets for Russian trains, we recommend one of the two options below:
- The official Russian railroad website: The official Russian railroad website doesn’t charge administrative commissions and it is easy to pay with Visa or MasterCard. The disadvantages of using the official website is that you won’t get any presale or after-sale service and tickets can’t be purchased more than 45 days in advance. To buy tickets, your first have to sign up on the website and then select the train and seat that you would like to book.
- Russian Train: In our experience, this is one of the best platforms for booking Russian and international train tickets. They offer professional service with a low administrative commission (much less than other platforms). Plus, they have the advantage that you can book tickets long in advance so that you don’t have to worry about checking on the day that the tickets go up for sale; they take care of everything. With your early booking, you’ll be able to receive good discounts.
The majority of Russian trains accept electronic tickets, so you can get on the train by simply presenting your printed ticket and passport. Even so, there do exist some tickets that have to be exchanged in advance for a physical ticket. Because of this, when you get your booking confirmation, it’s important to check if it’s an electronic ticket or not.
Buying train tickets for Mongolia
As far as I know, in Mongolia there is no official website where foreigners can purchase train tickets.
While nowadays, it’s possible to find certain travel agencies located in Mongolia that can obtain train tickets for you, I recommend using specialized Russian or Chinese travel agencies, such as Russian Train or China Highlights, two trustworthy agencies with a great deal of experience and reasonable prices.
Buying train tickets for China
In China, the official website for booking train tickets can only be used if you live in the country. To make a booking on this website, you need an online bank account and a telephone number from the country. In addition, the website is only available in Chinese. Nonetheless, other options exist:
- ChinaHighlights.com is probably the easiest way to purchase Chinese train tickets. The website is in English and Spanish, and you can pay with credit card (MasterCard or Visa) or PayPal. Plus, you can book tickets whenever you want (you don’t have to wait until 20-30 days before your departure).
- Trip.com has a website in English and Spanish. It’s possible to pay by credit card and you can book 2 months in advance. While its commission is a little less, its after-sale service is practically nonexistent. While this might seem to be a minor problem, it can turn into a disaster if there’s a problem with your booking, like if the number that appears in your passport doesn’t coincide exactly with your booking (somewhat frequent in China).
In China, electronic tickets don’t exist, which means that train ticket bookings must be exchanged for physical tickets at the ticket counters of stations or train ticket sales offices that are found in different places in Chinese cities. There is also the possibility of having them sent to you by mail.
Buying international train tickets
International train tickets, in other words, tickets for trains that cross the border (Russia, Mongolia, China) can’t be purchased directly on official booking websites and are only available at stations or through specialized agencies. To purchase these tickets, we mainly recommend Russian Train, although certain routes that originate in China are also available on the website China Highlights.
Types and classes of trains
When purchasing tickets, the price will depend on the type of train and the class that you choose. Below are links to the guides that we have written on this subject.
Looking for more…
For some people, the Trans-Siberian isn’t enough, and they continue their trip in Southeast Asia. If this is your case, we recommend two platforms for purchasing tickets, which in our opinion are the best for this region of Asia:
- Baolau: Vietnamese platform that lets you book train, bus, ferry and plane tickets in Vietnam, Thailand, Laos and Cambodia. Because the company is set up in Vietnam, it’s highly recommended if you want to find the best prices for moving around in this country.
- 12go.asia: Thai platform that lets you book train, bus, ferry and plane tickets in Thailand, Vietnam, the Philippines, Cambodia, Singapore, Malaysia and Myanmar. Just like for Baolau, 12go.asia is recommended, especially for finding the cheapest way to get around in Thailand, although it’s also a very good platform for other countries in the region.
[Photo Credits (Creative Commons CC2.0): www.flickr.com/photos/mikechu/]