How to take the Subway in Beijing and China

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Congratulations! You’ve decided to avoid traffic, go green and take the subway. You might be a little daunted but don’t be, take your time and follow these easy directions and hopefully you’ll get wherever you need to go with ease and aplomb.

Go for the Ticket

Step 1: Buy a Ticket

Now that you’ve found the station, the first thing you need to do is buy a ticket. Luckily, signs are in Chinese and English. In most stations, the ticket area is easy to find, but if not, just look up and follow the signs to the ticket area.

Be aware! Subways are places where pick-pockets hang out. Keep valuables like wallets and cell phones safe.

Step 2: Use the Machine

Queues for the ticket booth (see next step) can be long and uncomfortable with people shoving their way to the front. The machines are easy and quick. First, step up and look at the screen carefully. Don’t be frightened of all that Chinese text, locate the button that says “English” – usually somewhere in the bottom right corner.

After pressing this button, you will likely be presented with a map showing the different lines and stations. Touch the screen or follow the instructions to buy your ticket. Fares are inexpensive (under 5 RMB per trip).

Once you’ve chosen your fare, the machine will issue you a ticket, usually a thin credit-card looking piece of plastic.

Windows for Tickets

Step 3: Approach the Ticket Window

If you completed Step 2, then you can skip to Step 4. If you had trouble with the ticket machine (sometimes they’re all out of order at the same time), then you’ll need to buy your ticket at the window.

Don’t expect a “how can I help you?” from the teller; they might not even look up. Just shout the name of the station to which you’re going and indicate the number of tickets you need. There will be a simple exchange of money and tickets and off you go to the entrance gate.

Step 4: Enter the Ticketed Area

You’ll have to have a ticket to enter the platform. The entry will be marked with signs so follow these to enter the platform. The entry gate will have a scanner over which you’ll pass your ticket or a slot through which you’ll give your ticket (be sure to pick it up when it pops out.

If you’ve got a stroller with you that won’t fit through the gate, find a subway staff member to let you into a gate. If there aren’t any around, just find a gate (they’re usually unlocked) and let yourself through.

Platform to Wait for your Train

Step 5: Go to the Platform

Now follow the escalators or stairs down to the platform. Sometimes there will be an elevator (look for the wheelchair sign) but it’s not likely that there will be one or that it’s functioning.

Get your Train Correctly

Step 6: Get on the Correct Train

Trains will be running on either side of the platform in opposite directions. Locate a map or route indicator (above the doors) to figure out which train you need to board. The following stations are usually indicated by bold signage while passed stations are marked in different colored lettering.

Map of Your Route

Step 7: Wait for the Train

Many stations have handy television screens showing when the next two trains are coming. The top time indicates the next train (1:56 minutes in this photo) and the bottom time indicates the train after that (5:46 minutes in the photo).

Get off the Train

Step 8: Leave the Train

Listen for your station to be announced as you ride the train. It’s best to have a rough idea of how many stops you have to go and, worst case, ask your fellow passengers.

If the train is crowded, it’s best to move close to the doors when your station is nearing as there will be a shove of passengers trying to get on before the ones disembarking manage to make it off the train. You don’t want to get caught in that.

Follow signs to the exit where you’ll insert your ticket into the exit gate (this time it won’t pop out). Many stations have multiple exits. Find a map or exit key on the wall to locate which exit you want to use. If you don’t know, just head upstairs. Once you’re outside you can get your bearings.