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
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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