I recently started a Facebook group full of kickass people who love traveling in India or are planning a trip to India. One common problem kept getting asked about, one that doesn’t have an easy answer: people wanted to know how to book a train in India as a foreigner without an Indian bank card. Why is this the thing that trips people up? I’ll explain and also share the easy way to book a ticket.
In India, when you try to pay online for things, websites will often decline foreign bank cards. That includes PayTM (kind of like PayPal), IRCTC (Indian Rails), Redbus (for bus bookings), and websites to top up your SIM card. One reason for this is that the websites don’t want to pay the card fees which can be higher with international cards but in general India is slow to let anything foreign in. In India you’ll even find that things are so far behind that you’ll have to do wire transfers to pay for a hotel instead of just putting in your card details.
How to Book a Train in India as a Foreigner Without an Indian Bank Card
I am updating this post as of July 3rd, 2020, to say that there is a NEW, even better way to book trains in India (thank god, finally!). It is 12go.asia and myself, my friends, and members of the Facebook group have been using it with great success for both trains and buses. I have trialed them for nearly 6 months now before introducing them to make sure it works okay.
What you used to have to do…
Previously, this blog post was a step by step way to set up an IRCTC account, how to link it to your Cleatrip account, and then how to book a train. Setting up an IRCTC account required wiring money to the Indian rail system, sending them a copy of your passport, getting a code texted to you if they ever saw your email in a queue of 1000’s, and using that code to log in. That “code” arrived only 50% of the time and it was a disaster of a system. I got 100’s of emails a month of people frustrated by trying to set up the IRCTC and book a train in India. I do still have the instructions at the end of this email, but I no longer recommend going through all that hassle.
Note these important points:
- You cannot pay for a train ticket on IRCTC with a foreign card
- You had to link your IRCTC account to Cleartrip or similar
- Cleatrip charges the same fee as 12goasia (a couple dollars per booking)
There is literally no reason to follow the steps in option 2 anymore because both Cleartrip and 12g.oasia charge a fee BUT 12go.asia does NOT require you to set up an IRCTC account. They have a relationship with IRCTC, so you book through them and pay them – they then book with IRCTC like normal, and email you the ticket.
Option 1: The Easy New Way to Book Trains in India Using 12go.Asia
What is 12go.asia and how does it work?
12go.asia acts as a travel agent in the same way that agents do in the little shops in India. In India when you want to book a ticket, you either go to the station and book it or you go to a little shop where someone goes online (an agent who has an IRCTC account) and they will book the ticket for you for a small fee. Before 12go.asia, one had to make their own IRCTC account and book their tickets themselves to get them online before coming to India – which was a hassle for foreigners since cards were blocked. So, now it’s all made easy in these steps:
- Go to 12go.asia.
- Search your route for train or bus travel.
- Choose your selection for seat option (class) and exact station.
4. The checkout page will come up.
5. Fill out: how many people in your party (if you change it to multiple people, it will refresh to let you put in passenger details for multiple people), phone number, email, passport number, and other details as pictured below.
6. Click if you are flexible on your booking or not (aka if your class sells out, are you okay with them booking a lower class, if you are flexible on the date by two days, or would you just like a refund). This is the best part of this!
7. Pay by bank card or PayPal. As you can see the fee on a first class ticket is under $2!
8. 12go.asia will send you your booking confirmation.
9. They will then go to IRCTC and book your ticket.
10. You will get your actual train ticket emailed to you. Take it with you to the station!
When you search for your route, you can choose either for example “Mumbai to Goa” or if you know in Goa you want to be at Thivim station and not Margao, then you can search “Mumbai to Thivim Station”. You can be as broad or as specific as you want.
The flexible part is my favorite. What is on the screen might be sold out by the time they go and try to book it. To save on having to email back and forth with them, you can just select that you are flexible on class and okay to do 3AC instead of 2AC for example.
Classes that 12go.asia sells are 1AC, 2AC, 3AC, SL, and EC/CC. To learn more about what these classes mean, check out my blog posts on train classes. I recommend 2AC, 1AC, and 3AC in that order (beds, blankets, pillows, A/C). SL is a basic sleeper class and EC/CC are air conditioned chairs.
If you want to book a bus, they use the Redbus system which is what I’ve always recommended. Redbus also doesn’t accept foreign cards and you had to make an Amazon pay account to book with them, so this is way better.
12go.asia does not offer general seats to book online at they are usually priced at $1 – $2, are bought at the station and are never sold out. General seats are just seats in the basic class where you don’t have a seat assignment and could be standing in an aisle.
12go.asia does not offer tatkal bookings (the lottery system for the Indian railways) and does not offer foreign tourist quote (kind of similar to a lottery system).
Read More About Train Travel in India:
- A guide to trains in India: which class to book, the Tatkal and foreign tourist quotas, waitlisting, and safety tips
- Safety tips for traveling on trains and buses in India
Option 2: Setting Up an IRCTC Account
Below are the old instructions for getting an IRCTC account to book trains. I was going to delete it because it’s really not necessary anymore – but on IRCTC you can book general and Tatkal tickets. 12goAsia, as mentioned does not. They also recently added foreign tourist quota tickets with an extra fee, but I’ve heard mixed results about the success of booking those. You can book only six tickets online per month. Keep in mind, the website is slow, so be patient once you try to book.
You do not have to buy Indian rail tickets online at all, you can book them as you go in India. I did not even travel with a smartphone when I first backpacked India. Though now millions of people are travelling throughout India per day so tickets do sell out. You can book tickets from little shops in all tourist towns or at the station itself. This online process is just to save hassle and so you can book well in advance, which is good to do especially in Dec/Jan (peak season). Again, the steps below are a pain in the butt and I do not recommend them anymore.
Step 1: Get a Cleartrip account
Go to this website and set up a login.
Step 2: Set up the IRCTC account
Go to this link: and click on the non-Indian resident’s section at #1 (which should take you here).
You have TWO options here:
- You could do as they say in their instructions which is to enter a “dummy phone number” that is 10 digits long. You have to put a number that’s not been used. This is the “old way”. I went ahead and filled out the form and took screenshots to show you. If you are IN India with an INDIAN number, you have to do this way as it will not let you put in an Indian number as a foreigner without also putting in Aadhaar card information. I had to do this way, unfortunately, which is harder and meant many follow up emails.
- *Best way* Use your real true foreign number from whatever country you are from. In this scenario, you will get the OTP code sent to you and you will then have to pay a fee to IRCTC for the cost of that text message. An OTP is a code to login and verify your account. This is the “new way”. If you are OUTSIDE India and have a FOREIGN number (not +91) then do this way. If you noticed, the key here as a foreigner is to set up this account BEFORE coming to India, on your foreign cell phone.
When you hit “submit form”, it will tell you that you need to verify and pay fees if you are a foreigner. Hit okay and submit the form. Once you hit submit and it’s done, it will say you have submitted. If it does not look like it has, then check the form as it will have something wrong on it. For example, the password needs a capital letter and number, the phone number cannot have been used by anyone else. It took me a few times to get it right. Once you do, you should get an email confirmation right away.
Step 3: Send IRCTC more information
Now, if you did the “new” way which was step two above, which is what I recommend (but could not do myself as I am in India with only an Indian number), then you will get an “OTP” code sent to your foreign phone. This code is what you need to go back to the login back and properly login, which at the same time verifies your account.
If you did not use a foreign (non-Indian) number and get an OTP texted to you, then just making an account is not enough, you need to “send a scanned copy of your passport from your registered email id and mention the username in the email to email@example.com”. You need to use the email that you used in the form as well as the username (that is where I typed in arachel003 in the photo above).
Basically, what is happening here, is that if an Indian were to fill this form out, they would have an Aadhaar card (personal identity information) which we left blank. They would then be sent a code via SMS (text). When you go to login with your username and password you chose, you have to put in a captcha and the OTP code that is sent via SMS (text). Now, they have recently allowed non-Indians to get IRCTC with the OTP code via text message rather than having to email over your passport for verification, but it comes with the attachment that they won’t send the text with the OTP code for free – they’ll send it, but then you need to pay a fee around $3 for the cost of the text message.
Because I am in India with an Indian number, I had to do the “dummy number” as the system would not allow me to put in foreign information and an Indian cell – such an archaic system!
I have to say, the best way for this is to go ahead and sign up with your real foreign phone number and pay for the text OTP code to be sent. Some readers have said that they had to “request OTP” many times before a text message actually came through.
Step 4: Verify your profile on IRCTC
For those of you who get the OTP texted, you pay the fee (they take foreign cards), then you can go back tot he login page and properly log in. Now your account is verified.
For those of you who had to email for the OTP, once you get the email from them approving your account, you take that “code” they send and log in on the IRCTC website just to make sure it works. If not, you’ll need to email them again (hopefully that will not be the case). By logging in with the “OTP” you then have verified your account. This step sounds like the most simple, but it is the hardest as you will likely have to email the “care” email MANY times before they finally get back to you with this code.
Step 5: Link account in Cleartrip
Now, you’ll have to make sure the IRCTC account is linked to Cleartrip. So, go to Cleartrip’s website and log in. Now, they say you can click “trains” and then the IRCTC is there, but I don’t see it, so if you don’t either, click here. Now, at the bottom where it says “Already have an IRCTC account?” Click on “Enter your username here”.
Once you’ve linked your IRCTC, you can book trains through Cleartrip. As I mentioned, the app is great, so I recommend adding that app to your phone and booking all your trains from there. It is SUCH a pain in the ass to get the IRCTC set up and there isn’t one way to go about it as you saw above.
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Hi Rachel, Thanks for this. Did this last night. All worked fine. But it didn’t ask me at any time to submit passport scan or further documents? It appears I can just log in and book and e-ticket?
Good! I think the passport should be only if you do the other option where you use a “dummy number” and they email you OTP.
Also you can easily buy ticket from platform!
Yes definitely, this is for people who want to book online before coming to India as many do.
Thank you for your help! Of all the sites I looked, yours was the most helpful and specific. Including the screen shot was great and helped me be reassured that I was on the right track. I skipped the clear trip and went straight to the IRCTC website. I used my US cell phone number. The only snag is that we had to run through a couple of cards before we found one the system would accept (didn’t take American Express or our MasterCard and Visa with a US bank). Thanks again. I’ll be using your site for other tips too! Cheers!
I am so glad that it helped! Yes, I totally should have written that – all over India it’s mostly Visa card accepted, them sometimes Mastercard – but almost never Amex
I am in the UK but I am thinking of moving to Goa permanently when I retire, which is not that far away. How much is the rent on a two-bedroom house or apartment there? I saw some pictures you have on your blog of your house — the interior and also outside pics with a swimming pool. So what would be the rent on something like that? Also how much would it cost to purchase something similar outright? I am in touch with an Indian real estate agent. But I am not sure if I am being quoted the true price or the foreigner price.
Hey Billy I have a post about renting that would help with prices in in rent a house in Goa and to buy, it’s a lot more than you think maybe a few thousand + completely illegal for foreigners to buy land in India (it didn’t always used to be, but it is now)
My Boyfriend was trying to book a train for us when I remembered this article. He worked on it for over an hour. Finally, I sat down next to him with my laptop reading to him from this article. Happily, after a few minutes we were booked! I’ve been doing some research on India for our upcoming trip next month and you have been so helpful! Thank You many times over!
Hey Danelle – awesome! Thank you & glad that it helped :)
Thank you for your help! I just have some questions though.
Me and my friend are going to India’s Golden Triangle for Holi 2018.
We would like to know if it is a must to book train tickets in advance?
We are planning to book train tickets for these trips:
New Delhi to Mathura Junction
Mathura Junction to Agra Cantt
Agra Cantt to Jaipur
Jaipur to Udaipur
Udaipur to Jaipur
We are thinking that since New Delhi to Mathura Junction & Mathura Junction to Agra Cantt trips are not that far, we won’t book tickets in advance.
Though we are going to Mathura for Holi (March 2), do you think tickets will still be available if we will just buy them there instead of booking in advance?
While trips from Agra – Jaipur – Udaipur trips are atleast 4 to 5 hours trips, we must book tickets in advance.
Do you think this is a good idea? Appreciate all your help. Thank you.
Hi Rachel, I greatly appreciate your advice but I am still having problems…sigh. The text did not show up on my phone and I have not been able to complete the process because I don’t have the verification number. The only issue I can think of is that I did not use a country code, it would only allow me to type in 10 numbers and that wasn’t enough for me to type the 1 for the US. Any thoughts on how to fix this issue? I thought about setting up a new account but it would be the same problem. I’m starting to lose it, this site is so frustrating!!
Ugh, it’s the worst. If you can’t verify with a number and email them they will tell you to make a whole new account from scratch. I remember being able to put in the country code in a separate box than the phone number. Maybe you missed it?
Hi Rachel, thank you so much for this blog post. I just managed to set up my Cleartrip and IRCTC accounts within 24 hours and minimal problems yay! Looks like I got it lucky compared to some people. I am just a little unsure if I have linked my IRCTC to my Cleartrip correctly, is it possible for you to post a screenshot of what we should see when we click on “trains” under Cleartrip? Thank you so much!
Cleartrip has taken my money three times now (hopefully they will refund it as they say, but takes 20 days!). The steps are fine if everything works smoothly which I haven’t experienced in the past 2 weeks that I have been trying to book a single train trip in India.
The OTP never came through either with 5 different phone numbers I tried from Australia and Argentina. Nothing. Then I used my brother’s IRCTC account which he had to generate while he was in India some years ago. After accepting the payment (obviously) when opening the IRCTC website, at the point when it asks for a password and a captcha, the “Submit” button was unavailable. Incredible, after all the hassle, the button was not possible to be pressed! Never happened in my life, and no explanation whatsoever. There is a phone number on the Cleartrip website you can call but obviously its not the right one because once you call the answering machine tells you there is an updated one, which you call and when it asks for a trip id, it will not do anything after you ve dialed.
Honestly, this trip to India has tested my patience to its limits. One thing is for sure, to charge you there is no fuss apparently.
Hey Juan, I feel your pain – it’s a mess of a system and very rare that all steps go smoothly. I’ve also had buttons disappear. Some people were saying to use Internet Explorer when trying to do this as maybe it’s a better browser? Once you get the IRCTC properly set up, and connected to Cleatrip – then I find Cleatrip is easy to use and I book trains without issue.
Well my story with this website: I went through most of the process including payment of 100 Rs and then stuck with issue with verifying phone and email with OTP. Just entered the damn OTP few time unable to verify phone or email and I see myself signed in. Did I do a mistake like entering my country code as 61 instead of 0061? Anybody please advice and much appreciate your time and help. Indian IT guys we see everywhere but how poor and un-user-friendly can a website be?
Cleartrip didn’t work for me when I tried twice, but I found a way to do it directly through the IRCTC website, after trying multiple times with my credit card. The problem was that the international credit card option didn’t show up for me. To solve it, if you’re having the same problem: once you log in to IRCTC, go to My Account, My Profile, and Preferred Banks. From there, you should be able to add the “International Credit Card (powered by Atom)” option…it’ll automatically show up. Once I had that figured out, it was a cinch to book my other trips
Hi Corey, once you have IRCTC set up you should be able to link to cleartrip but you can also just do all your bookings direct through IRCTC.
I am from Bangladesh. I can not complete IRCTC account as a foreigner. I have made 100 RS payment through credit card. Yet to receive OTP number in my registered my local mobile number. With out OTP number my mobile verification is still incomplete. Repeatedly communicate with IRCTC but yet to solve the issue.
I gave up on booking a train. Too bad for my Shimla toy train I was looking forward to so much. This optimistic blog gave me the courage to move on trying for buses. But if I had spend all this time on my own work instead of all these e-mails (cleartrip, makemytrip, irctc, hrtc, redbus), filling out forms, reading instructions, I could now afford a taxidriver for a month in India. Applying for a visa was a walk in the park compared to this. They don’t want foreigners. Weeks of preparation make me feel very uncomfortable with going to India again.
My tip would be to let someone in India arrange it for you, that’s what I am doing now.
Hey Rachel, thanks so so much for writing this article. It helps me a lot after hours of frustrated booking system. But I still have one question, how long does it take to get your ticket on email after you bought it through 12asia.go?
They recommend doing it 48 hours ahead of time to be sure you get the ticket, but most people have said they get their ticket right away. If it doesn’t come in time, you can cancel it and be fully refunded (so their customer service tells me).
Hi Rachel! Thank you very much for this article, it really clearifies things. However, one small question; I am looking at train/bus tickets for next month and a lot seems to be not available anymore! Is this normal and should I have been earlier with booking beforehand, or will some options maybe appear online later? Would love hearing from you!
Hi Julia, how have you solved this issue? I am traveling beginning of February and also don’t see any availability almost. What to do… OMG
Julie, are you looking at 12goasia? remember that they only have a limited selection of seats – so just because they are sold out doesn’t mean the train is. you can also book on IRCTC you just then have to go through the crazy account making issue or wait and book in india
Thank you for your reply Rachel! Julie, I talked to friends and they said going to the station the day before you would want to depart was working out okay. I suppose that will be my way to go!
Is it normal that almost all trains I want to book via 12go.asia in Goa, Hampi, Kerala, Rajasthan for beginning/mid February (we are mid January now) are sold out? Or is this just the website not offering it? Buses are also mostly sold out according to the system.
Alternatively, how can I still travel around in the country, because otherwise my trip is going to be problematic or very expensive by taxi…
Thanks for your feedback and for the helpful posts
Remember that they only have a limited selection of seats as they are a third party supplier – so just because they are sold out doesn’t mean the train is. you can also book on IRCTC you just then have to go through the crazy account making issue or wait and book in india. If not train, then go by tourist bus they are comfortable A/C reclining seats, no need to take a taxi
Hi, do you know if train stations in India allow you to pay for trains on card?
I think the big ones might – but I’ve only ever paid cash. Recommend having the cash as even if they do have a card machine sometimes the WiFi isn’t working and the machine is down
Thank you for an excellent post. Just a quick one to say that we’re currently in India, using redbus and paying no problem with our kiwi debit card. Has also worked on our English card. Maybe they’ve updated their system now
That would be great news, back in two weeks so will have to give it a try!
Hey Rachel just to let you know that you can now book irctc tickets directly on the site using a foreign card if you add ‘international card’ as the card preference on your profile. I bought some the other day, may need to wait until after 6pm (Indian time) though when the site traffic is less
Thanks for your tips. As of September 2019 unfortunately this does not work anymore. They rarely have any trains available on 12go.asia. With an IRCTC account we were also unsuccessful, as they, as well as makemytrip and cleartrip require indian credit cards. Paypal or Amazon Pay also didn’t work for us. So I guess it’s going to the station and hoping they will have tickets.
Hi Rachel, thank you. I also have no problem and easily get it done.
Awesome! thank you so much for this advice. I was trying to create an account for like two hours this morning. This method took like 5 mins. Thanks!
This is helpful, thank you for taking the time to provide good information. I just want to note another caveat. 12go doesn’t appear to include every station in the IR network. I have attempted to book a trip to Ledo, the last railway station, so not frequently visited. The station is not given as an option by 12go. So unless I’m doing something wrong it’s not possible to book a ticket to that station and likely other less frequently traveled destinations.
Hello, I want to travel India next year. I am so confused about transportation in India. I want to go Bombay to Jaipur. What is the cheapest way to transport? If I need to take a AC train how can I book tickets from USA? After Jaipur I want o go Agra and then Golden Temple. I need your advice about hotels and transportation.