I recently figured out a method to buy domestic Mongolian train tickets online without going through a travel agency. I am fairly sure that this information is not anywhere else on the internet, so I wanted to share it for the benefit of Wander Simply readers and other travelers. I have tested it for train travel from Zamiin-Ude to Ulaanbaatar and can confirm it works.
The first step is to go to the Mongolian railways official website at eticket.ubtz.mn. You will then have to register and create an account. There is an English version of the website (click the flag at the top), but it only translates about half of the content. Even so, I would recommend using it since it is just as functional as the websites in Mongolian and Russian. After registering, you will get an email in your inbox, and you will have to click the link to activate your account. If the link doesn’t work (which happened to me), then you will need to go to the website and click the “forgot my password” option to get a password reset link, which also activates your account apparently.
After successfully activating and signing into your account, you will be able to search schedules between cities (the names are in cyrillic, Уланбаатар = Ulaanbaatar, Замын-Ууд = Zamiin-Uud, Сухбаатар = Sukhbaatar), find which dates have available tickets, and see which classes are available. You will also see the prices for each class, in MNT (as of writing, 1 USD = 2500 MNT). You may be surprised how cheap the tickets are. For instance, the most expensive ticket in the country (for a 14 hour train ride from Zamiin-Uud to Ulaanbaatar) in the most expensive class, with all the add-ons included (linens, tea, etc) is under 40,000 MNT or 16 USD.
After selecting your train and class, you can select your seat (or bed). After another click or two you are presented a screen to enter your information (I left my “registration number” blank, I think this field is for Mongolians only).
Now, the hardest part- payment. For some reason, most western bank cards will not work on the website. There is a drop down menu for selecting the bank to process the payment. Select the option for “голомт банк”. The other two options did not work for me. Even when selecting “голомт банк”, I had to use my Capital One Mastercard since my Visa credit card was rejected. And even when using my Mastercard, it still got flagged for fraud and did not work the first time around. I had to confirm that it was not fraud when Capital One sent me an email, and then try again. The second time around, it was a success!
After the payment successfully processes, you will be redirected back to the Mongolian Railways website and you will be given a link to download a PDF for your e-ticket. Be sure to download it and save it to your phone, because they do not email you the PDF! It should have a field called “Цахим тасалбарын дугаар” or “e ticket number” somewhere, mine was in the upper left corner. This number seemed important to the train attendants.
Huzzah, you are done! The great thing about e-tickets is that you do not have to wait in line to purchase a ticket at the train station, and you do not have to arrive more than 15-30 minutes before the train departs. You can just got directly to your platform and board.
When boarding the train, go to the car you reserved and show your PDF file (on your phone, etc) to the attendant, and she will let you board. Since most folks seem to board with printed tickets, the attendants may not know what to do with the e-ticket. If you have any problems, tell them to scan the QR code on your e-ticket with their machine, and it will print a receipt that they keep. If they don’t scan it when you board, they will probably come around and scan it later.
One last thing: e-tickets can only be reserved online more than 24 hours before departure. After this time, you will have to go to the station to buy your ticket! So don’t wait until the last minute.
Anyway I hope this information is helpful to those who plan to travel by train in Mongolia and want to ensure they have a spot reserved, or really anyone who does not want to arrive at the station early and wait in line to buy a ticket.