Take the Train: Rail Passes Around the World

The Flam Railway enters a tunnel in Norway's Fjordland. Janis Turk photo.
The Flam Railway enters a tunnel in Norway’s Fjordland. Janis Turk photo.

Which Rail Pass is Best for You?

By Megan Mentuck and Aysia Reed
Updated 2021

You’ve earned or wangled several weeks off work, and you’ve picked out a dream trip –sightseeing an entire region up close.

An unlimited mileage rail pass is usually the best way to accomplish this, whether that region is Europe, the US, Japan, or India. A rail pass doesn’t lock you into a set itinerary and is usually cheaper than point-to-point separate tickets.

Not all countries have railroads, so with a few exceptions, you will be limited to the developed world. It takes a lot of money to build infrastructure and the countries with the most comprehensive railway systems are usually wealthy, developed countries, or countries with a colonial history. Of the countries with railroads, only the most touristed offer rail passes. Most rail passes must be purchased in your home country, prior to travel.

Types of Rail Passes

The variety of rail passes is complex — some are country-specific, while others cover an entire region. Some are good for multiple consecutive days, while others are for a specific number of flexible days within a set period. Passes in Europe and North America can even combine rail travel with car rental or flying.

Costs
Discounts are available for students and seniors. Sleeper trains require advance reservations and supplementary fees, but it is cheaper than paying for a night in a hotel, and by traveling at night you have more time to see the sights.

How Rail passes Work

Every country has its own system for pricing and selling passes (follow the links below), but all rail passes work essentially the same way. You buy it at home and carry it with you or pick it up at your destination. Reserve a seat at the train station, but if you don’t have time, board a marked “Unreserved” car.

Write the date on your pass, if necessary, take a seat, and wait for the conductor. If you are in the wrong place, he’ll straighten you right out, not to worry.

Important! Don’t lose it!

Don’t lose your rail pass! Keep it with your money and passport, or buy insurance for it, if that is available from the seller.

COUNTRY-SPECIFIC RAILPASSES AND INFORMATION

The Americas

USA Railpass

Amtrak’s 15, 30, or 45 day pass is available to anyone. With over 500 destinations, you’re sure to enjoy the options afforded by the USA rail pass. This pass is available to US citizens with a valid driver’s license or US passport.

15-Day pass 30-Day Pass 45-Day Pass
$459 – Adults

$229.50 – Children (2-12)

$689 – Adults

$344.50 – Children (2-12)

$899 – Adults

$449.50 – Children (2-12)

California Railpass

The California Railpass is good for 7 days of travel on Amtrak trains and buses within a consecutive 21-day period. It is not valid on long-distance trains to points beyond California. This pass is available to US citizens with a valid driver’s license or US passport.

$159 – Adults $79.50 – Children (2-12)

Canrailpass

With the Canrailpass, you can choose between 6, 12, and unlimited travel credits which translate to one-way trips. You also have flexibility when it comes to a validity period with options ranging from 15, 30, or 60 days.

15-Day pass 30-Day Pass 60-Day Pass
$649 – 6 Credits

$714 – 12 Credits

$821 – Unlimited Credits

$779 – 6 Credits

$1090 – 12 Credits

$1,308 – Unlimited Credits

$974 – 6 Credits

$1,266 – 12 Credits

$1,519 – Unlimited Credits

Corridorpass

A 10-ride 60-day pass is a great option for anyone looking to explore Canada’s Quebec City-Windsor corridor. This ticket is valid for ten one-way trips over a sixty-day period. There is also a monthly ticket for someone who may be visiting the area for a while. You must have a valid photo ID in order to use one of these passes.

The prices of the corridor pass vary greatly depending on which stops you wish to include. The best way to figure out the pricing is to visit their website and put in your unique travel itinerary.

Mexico, Central, and South America

Mexico has railways, but no rail passes, as buses are much more popular with tourists. South America has relatively few railways, and rumors of rail passes are unsubstantiated.

Asia

Japan

There are two different types of Japan rail passes—passes for green cars and passes for standard cars. You must have Temporary Visitor status in order to buy a Japan Rail Pass. This status is usually only given to foreign tourists visiting the country for sightseeing.

Green Pass

7-Day Pass 14-Day Pass 21-Day Pass
$410.25 – Adults

$205.08 – Children (6-11)

$662.02 – Adults

$330.97- Children (6-11)

$839.27 – Adults

$419.59 – Children (6-11)

Ordinary Pass

7-Day Pass 14-Day Pass 21-Day Pass
$307.91 – Adults

$153.81 – Children (6-11)

$484.87 – Adults

$242.43 – Children (6-11)

$606.08 – Adults

$303.04 – Children (6-11)

Indrail Pass

The Indrail Pass can be purchased within India, but only by foreigners. It is not necessarily a financial bargain but does guarantee a seat on sold-out trains. Tourists can use the International Tourist Bureaus located in Delhi, Varanasi, and Jodhpur train stations for assistance and information. The prices of the passes vary greatly depending on which lines you want to use, so to figure out the prices of your tickets, check out their website and the lines you want to ride.

Pacific

Australpass

There are three different kinds of rail passes offered: the Discovery Pass, the Queensland Explorer Pass, and the Queensland Coastal Pass. Read more about the different perks offered by them here and choose which one is right for you.

Discovery Pass Queensland Coastal  Queensland Explorer 
Adults – $163

Children – Free (under 4)

Adults – $147

Children – Free (under 4)

Adults – $210

Children – Free (under 4)