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. 

General Information

 ooty train By chennaivasi
With the exception of local and unreserved trains Indian Rail tickets are valid for a specific seat on a specific train on a specific date. Each train is referred to by a unique 5 digit number. Most Indian trains can be booked 120 days before the date of travel. With effect from 1st May 2013 this changed to 60 days. With effect from 1st April 2015 this reverts to 120 days. This period is known as the ARP (Advance Reservation Period). A few trains have a 30, 15 or 10 day ARP. Be aware that some trains only run on certain days of the week. Some trains can get fully booked very quickly for a variety of reasons including holiday periods and limited ticket quotas.

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

 On the train By Larry
You can check which trains run, times and days and what accommodation is provided on a number of websites (see below). These all draw their information from the site. This site is notoriously slow and prone to breakdown at times which affects the sites that draw information from it. The whole system has a daily shutdown for about an hour from 23.30 IST (Indian Standard Time) and you will need to try at a different time. Peak period for system usage is 8 - 10 a.m. IST when the new day's allocation becomes available and domestic users try to book. It can be difficult to get a response at this time.

The following sites can be used to check traintimes and fares. You cannot book directly on any of these sites.

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.

See also this article explaining Indian Railways RAC and Waitlists concepts. This search site can be used to work out more complicated journeys involving more than one train.

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 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.

B. Cleartrip 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.

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 for Rail Bookings on India Mike. You still need to synch a Makemytrip account with IRCTC.

E. In India

 The Railway Station By Lou Wilson
Not every train is fully booked ahead. There is nothing to stop you buying tickets at any Indian Railways reservation counter if there is availability on the train. Allow plenty of time for this. You need to complete a booking form. For more information read this post to understand 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

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!