This article was last updated on March 17th 2015.
This article summarises the process of booking Indian rail tickets from abroad. It takes into account major changes that took place in early 2012 and is aimed at the experienced India hand as well as the novice traveller. WARNING Things have a habit of changing with little or no notice. Keep up to date on IndiaMike. Acknowledgements are due to the countless IM-ers who have added to the pool of knowledge on this subject over the years. If you spot any errors or ways to improve this post please respond.
If you want to take a relatively short trip on a long distance train you may find that only a few seats are available as most are reserved for longer trips. If you have definite plans it is best to book as early as possible.
A few trains cannot be advance booked even in India. Most trains have a choice of class of accommodation. In general terms, the more you pay the more space you get. Detail of various types of accommodation is dealt with in this Guide to the India Railway System and the Indian Train on India Mike or article about classes at Seat61 If you want a slightly wackier take on Indian Trains try this thread.
A frequently asked question is whether or not it is necessary to book in advance. There are a variety of points of view on this. A lot depends on how tight your schedule is. If you don't have much time to spare or have commitments on specific dates this writer strongly advises booking ahead.
Timetables and Fares
The following sites can be used to check traintimes and fares. You cannot book directly on any of these sites.
- www.indianrail.gov.in - the official site. Slow, clumsy and afflicted by pop up adverts
There is a thread on how to use the indiarailinfo site here
Current availability of accommodation on a specific train on any date within the the ARP can also be checked on these sites. If availability shows a number next WL or Regret then the train is already fully booked for the journey that you are looking at.
Seniors and Children
Men 60 or over and women 58 or over qualify for seniors discount which must be claimed as part of the booking process. You will be asked to produce proof of age when you travel (passport). Children aged 5-11 get half fare and their own seat/berth. Children 0-4 travel free but must be included on the booking. They do not get their own seat/berth. Again proof of age may be asked for. Ages apply at the time of travel rather than booking.
Booking railway tickets online from abroad
To book tickets for Indian Railways online from abroad, you have some options.
A. IRCTC (Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation Ltd)
This is the Government Agency responsible for the sale of train tickets. The only non-Indian credit card currently accepted is American Express. They do not accept non-Indian debit cards. Make sure that you notify Amex that you plan to use the card for transactions in India before you start or you may fall foul of their anti-fraud measures. Amex have started to introduce an enhanced security feature called "Safe Key" for users in selected countries. IRCTC may require you to use this feature.
Update 6th December 2013. It has been reported that IRCTC will only accept Amex cards that have the SafeKey enhanced security feature. Currently this is not available to US and Canadian customers amongst others. See more on this thread http://www.indiamike.com/india/indian-railways-f10/problems-using-us-ame... Latest news (June 2014) You can only use your Amex card on the IRCTC site if it was issued in one of the following countries. Australia, China, Cyprus, France, Germany,Greece ,Hong Kong,India,Italy ,Japan,Malaysia, Netherlands, Russia, Singapore ,Spain ,Switzerland ,Turkey ,United Kingdom ,Vietnam. You need to have Safekey active for your account.
When you have successfully made a booking you print your own ticket, either at the time that you make the booking or later.
If you need to cancel a booking that can be done on line. There is a cost involved and the refund will be made to your card account a few days later. There is a limit of 10 bookings per month. A booking is a single journey for up to 6 people. If you need more than ten trips in a month you should probably look at an Indrail Pass (see below).
To use the site, which lists all bookable trains, it is necessary to sign-up at the Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation Ltd site. You can register using the process described step by step on the Seat61 website. This is an independent website that is regularly updated and IM-ers regularly report that the process recommended there works. Alternatively you can follow the opening steps of Ramy's Step by step guide mentioned below.
In late 2013 Indian Railways started to |introduce special Premium trains between major citieswith airline style 'dynamic pricing'. These trains can only be booked online via the IRCTC site.
ClearTrip.com is still the simplest way to book Indian train tickets in advance from outside India but it is not as simple as it was before February 2012. It is now necessary to synchronise a Cleartrip account with an IRCTC account. This is best done by starting from scratch rather than trying to revive old accounts. IM member Remy has put together an excellent illustrated guide to this process which can be accessed via this link.http://www.indiamike.com/india-articles/setting-up-your-irctc-and-cleartrip-accounts-for-buying-indian-railways-tickets-from-abroad
Cleartrip does not list all bookable trains and it is best to check that the trains you need are on their system in advance of the ARP opening. They charge a small fee in addition to the official Indian Railways booking fee. They will also pass on any currency transaction fees. Cleartrip accepts Visa and Mastercard credit cards but not AMEX. You need to have the enhanced security activated (ie Verified by Visa or SecureCode). You should notify your card provider in advance that you will be buying from an Indian site.Cleartrip's website FAQs suggest that they only accept a few non-Indian Debit Cards.
When you have successfully made a booking you print your own ticket, either at the time that you make the booking or later. Bookings can be cancelled on line. Cancellation cost is a little higher through Cleartrip as their fees are non-refundable. The refund is credited to your card account a few days later. Recently the Cleartrip site has become subject to a daily close-down between 08.00 and 12.00 IST.
C. Indrail Passes.
If you plan a lot of rail travel or are travelling as a large group these passes might help. They can be bought by tourists in advance through agents in some countries including the UK, Germany, UAE, Nepal and Sri Lanka. There is more detail on this Indian Railways government website for international tourists. Even with a valid Indrail Pass you need reservations for the trains that you plan to travel on. users of Indrail passes can book up to 360 days before the date of travel but this has to be done via an authorised agent if you are outside India. The agent may charge for this.
This thread on India Mike might help you decide if Indrail is for you. It has been reported on this site that the UK agent needs at least 2 months lead in time if you wish to book using an Indrail pass.
D. Other Sites will not work
Sites such as Yatra, MakeMytrip and Thomas Cook India cannot accept non Indian Credit or debit cards for rail ticket bookings. It may be possible to use these sites from outside India for hotels, planes and other services. Despite the above, which is the official position, certain non-Indian cards will work on MakeMyTrip. there have been several reports of successful booking on this site by holders of US Visa cards. Some UK cards also seem to work, but by no means all. See this thread on using MakeMyTrip.com for Rail Bookings on India Mike. You still need to synch a Makemytrip account with IRCTC.
E. In Indiaunderstand Indian Railways reservation forms.
There is also something called the Foreign Tourist Quota (FTQ). This is available on a limited number of trains that are deemed likely to be used by tourists. The quotas are small – typically 2 or 4 berths and may be restricted to one or two classes of accommodation. You can check whether a train has FTQ by using one of the sites listed near the top of the page. Just be aware that somebody else might book these seats before you get to India. There is no additional charge for FTQ tickets. FTQ seats/berths can only be booked in person at one of a limited number of special reservations desks set aside for the purpose. These counters are in the main cities and some key tourist centres. Kolkata, Chennai, Bangalore, Ahmeddabad, Secunderabad, Jaipur, Jodhpur, Varanasi, New Delhi, Agra-Cantt and Mumbai are listed on the Indian Railways site.
India Mikers have also reported that FTQ tickets are available at the following stations Dehra Dun, Madgaon (Goa), Ernakulam Jn (Kochi), Lucknow Charbagh, Bodh Gaya. There is no longer an Indian Railways International counter at Delhi IGI airport. You need to be able to prove your tourist status (passport and visa). Payment can be made in US dollars, £ sterling, Euros or Indian rupees. If the latter you need to prove that you have exchanged foreign currency into rupees in order to make the purchase. An ATM receipt will cover this.
There is a more comprehensive piece on FTQ here http://www.indiamike.com/india/indian-railways-f10/foreign-tourist-quota...
Don't Give Up
Train travel is a great way to see India. The booking system does work but it can be slow and frustrating at times. I have used both IRCTC and Cleartrip without any srious problems. If you don't succeed and can see no obvious reason for the failure of the booking try again later. Check that you are not trying to book during the daily closure or the morning rush. I have booked quite a few tickets from the UK and usually found that things we quite smoothly at around 07.00 GMT. I was able to solve a problem with my IRCTC account by calling their customer care helpline in India. 0091 11-39340000 from the UK. I have also called Cleartrip on the phone but found them to be particularly unhelpful. Make sure that you are using the right card for the right site.
- Amex only for IRCTC
- Visa/Mastercard only for Cleartrip
Notify your card provider in advance and activate any enhanced security features offered by the card. Cleartrip require you to have “Verified by Visa” or “SecureCode” active – for their protection, not yours. Amex have started to introduce a similar scheme (Safe Key) in some countries including the UK.
Don't leave things until the last minute.
Open your account a few weeks before you actually need to book your first trip. You might want to try booking a low value ticket to test that your account works and see what outcome you should expect. A 2S ticket from DLI to GZB should cost less than Rs 100/- including booking fees. This can be cancelled later for a partial refund. If you encounter problems registering with IRCTC or Cleartrip consult this thread on solving problems with IRCTC/Cleartrip registration If you really get stuck you can always post a question on IndiaMike by using the "Post Reply" button below!
Latest comments for Booking Indian Rail Tickets from Abroad
Next, I tried to actually book the ticket but kept getting an "invalid mobile phone" message. The phone number as it appeared on the webpage was correct. I kept trying to book for 2 weeks but no success. I contacted customer service several times also to no avail.
In the end I paid a small fee to an Indian agent and he sent me the ticket in pdf format within a day. Was very pleased and relieved.
Not sure what the problem is with the IRCTC overseas booking system, but it sure isn't working properly and you may have to use an agent in the end.
- Join Date:
- Oct 2009
Maybe there was some "miss-match" between the country code and the "nationality"? Gosh, who knows?
It is so typical that a direct appeal to Indian Railways by email is of zero use, but a paid "Agent" can sort it for you by return!
It might be of help if you could share the contact details of the Agent that you used, or at least say how to find a reliable one, and the scale of their fee?
Glad you got it sorted in the end, have a good trip!
- Join Date:
- Oct 2004
- Chennai, India
The system has improved a lot over the last ten years, but why this organisation cannot produce something as slick and easy as any online shopping system in the world remains a complete mystery. India is hardly short of IT staff --- I guess that IRCTC must rank fairly low on the employer-desirability list of good developers?
Life gets aadhar every day.
- Join Date:
- Oct 2009
They score high on not having the smooth transaction, but given the ease with which "agents" can produce tickets upon payment of fees, the fraud prevention side is less effective. Yes, I do realise it is India...
Glad to post the details of the agent who got me the ticket, as I was very happy with his service.
His name is Raj from Train Ticket Please. Just search under that name and his website comes up.
As at September 2017 he charged US $4 per journey for one person, US $6.50 for two or more people.
After my numerous failed attempts to book and pay for tickets on the IRCTC website I emailed Raj Yadav (firstname.lastname@example.org), and he very quickly replied. He is going to book my tickets for me, so problem solved!
I checked out the reviews, all good, so emailed Raj, seems like a nice man, knows the railways well, understands different station and booking quotas, replies quickly to emails, and his charges are reasonable.
$4 per ticket for single person
$6.5 per ticket when 2-6 passengers
even cheaper if booking 4 or more tickets. ($2.5 per ticket for single person, $4.5 per ticket when 2-6 passengers on each ticket)
He will also charge less if the journey is short (<3 hours) and not in highest classes.
He requires 50% of total to be paid upfront, the rest when you receive the tickets.
He accepts payment via PayPal or TransferWise (very easy & cheap), Paypal payments need an extra 5% of total added as that's what PayPal charges him, TransferWise charges $1.6 USD per transaction (and gives fantastic exchange rates)
Raj buys mainly confirmed and RAC tickets, but will purchase waitlisted tickets if waitlist number is certain to get confirmed.
Raj can cancel tickets and return money to your account, but Indian Railways has cancellation charges, so you will receive less back than you paid.
He also has both an Australian and a Canadian Representative, you can telephone them for piece of mind, email Raj for details.
- Join Date:
- Oct 2009
Chennai to Chidambram !
Then there was the payment problem too. I think the postcode 123456 (or whatever it was I entered) was rejected my my HSBC card so I used a prepaid Mastercard (EastFX). Sorted!
If the card hadn't worked, I would have just got one of the Indian tour companies I'm using, to book the tickets instead.
...and not long long