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.
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, 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. I have always advised that you book your trains through Cleartrip and to do so, you do need to set up a IRCTC account through Cleartrip. It’s not straight forward, though, so I want to try and walk you through setting up an account so you can book a train in India as a foreigner without an Indian bank card.
You can do this directly through IRCTC and book trains directly on their site, but I find the Cleartrip app so easy for booking trains and it has a much more user-friendly interface. Another reason is that you can save money on bookings as with an account they’re always emailing you discount codes.
How to Book a Train in India as a Foreigner Without an Indian Bank Card
Step 1: Get a Cleartrip account
Go to this website and set up a login.
Step 2: Set up the IRCTC account
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 login. 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 login on the IRTCT 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. Like 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.
You can book General and Tatkal tickets on here and recently also foreign tourist quota tickets with an extra fee. 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 can show the conductor the ticket from your phone instead of printing it, but they may charge a silly 50 rupee fee to do so. To know more about trains in India and which class you might like, the common prices, and how to stay safe, click here to read my blog post about traveling India by train.
You do not have to buy Indian rail tickets online at all, you can book them as you go. I did not even travel with a smartphone when I first backpacked India. You can book tickets from little shops in all tourist towns or at the station itself. This is just to save hassle, save the small travel agent fee, and so you can book well in advance, which is good to do especially in Dec/Jan (peak season).
There is another way, but it only works if you have an Airtel SIM card. You can go to a shop to top up the Airtel SIM, download their app, then link it PayTM so you can buy train tickets or anything else online in India. You can read about here.
If you’re headed to India, you can also check out my Guide to India which is a 100,000-word ebook with 6 years of travel knowledge – it will make sure you have the most epic trip. Read more about it here.
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