How to travel from Almaty to Urumqi by Bus

How to travel from Almaty in Kazakhstan to Urumqi in China without flying. Taking the Almaty to Urumqi bus is the easiest option. I have made this journey many times and detail below all you need to know.

How often is there a bus from Almaty to Urumqi?

Buses go from Almaty to Urumqi every day at 07:00 am.

How much does a bus ticket cost from Almaty to Urumqi?

A ticket for the Almaty to Urumqi bus costs 16,000 tenge ($42)

How long is the journey from Almaty to Urumqi?

The journey takes around 20 hours depending on time spent crossing the border.

How long does the border crossing take?

The border crossing usually takes around 3 hours.

Almaty to Urumqi – Bus or Train?

There are two ways to get from Almaty in Kazakhstan to Urumqi in China without flying; train or bus. By far the easiest, cheapest and quickest is to take the bus.

Unless you are desperate to take the train, there really is no point at all in doing so. It is 3 times the price of the bus, a longer journey and there are only 1 or 2 trains per week, as opposed to the daily buses.

Almaty to Urumqi Train

Details are sketchy about the train service and it’s not possible to book online. The best advice is to go to Almaty 2 Station and enquire at the ticket office there (it will help if you speak Russian).

Train 53 (K9796 in China) departs Almaty 2 Station every Tuesday (in summer there may be an additional train).

The total distance is 1,359km (651 miles) and the trip duration is approximately 25 hours.

The ticket costs around $120 and must be booked through a travel agent or at the station in Almaty.

Almaty to Urumqi Bus

You can buy a ticket for the Almaty to Urumqi bus at Sayran Bus Station on Ulitsa Tole Bi (Tole Bi Street). Tickets to China can be bought at window 3 and cost 16,000 Tenge ($42). There is a daily bus that departs at 07:00 and it’s best to buy your ticket a day in advance.

The bus is a sleeper bus with approximately 30 beds which are comfortable enough. The journey takes approximately 20 hours depending on how long you spend at the border (usually around 3 hours) and stops every few hours for toilet and rest breaks (there is no toilet on board).

Almaty to Urumqi – The Journey

Things to do in Almaty
Almaty, Kazakhstan

After leaving Almaty the bus takes the newly paved E 012 road all the way to Khorgas. It used to stop in Zharkent for lunch, but now due to the shorter journey on paved highway, lunch stop is in China. The journey time to the border is around 5 hours.

When you reach the border between Central Asia and China the bus will stop before entering the customs zone and you will need to get off the bus and line up outside with your passport (you can leave everything on the bus for now).

Kazakhstan Border

Border guards will check that you have a Chinese VISA before letting you back on the bus. The bus will then pull up to the main entrance of the new customs building and here you must take everything off the bus including stowed baggage.

Ensure you have your Kazakhstan entry card and passport ready for inspection and line up at one of the booths. I guard with a docile German Shepherd will do the rounds making sure no one has anything they shouldn’t have.

The guards may question you about where you have been but this usually seems pretty conversational rather than any sort of interrogation.

I can say that on my many crossings to and from Kazakhstan the officials have always been extremely friendly, helpful and inquisitive. Unfortunately the same can’t be said of their Chinese counterparts a couple of kilometres away.

There are clean toilets and a small shop located in the new customs building so it’s a good opportunity to pick up some snacks and water for the journey ahead.

Once everyone is through wait outside for the bus to reappear and then get back on for the short hop over to the Chinese side. Again, leave the bus with all your belongings.

China Border

Once you reach the vast edifice that represents Chinese customs you must first go through a large x-ray machine along with all your bags. On my last trip however only the bags went through, but on 3 or 4 previous occasions everyone had to pass through the machine.

Pick up a Chinese entry card and fill in your details (name, passport and VISA number, address in China and signature). It’s always useful to have a pen handy when crossing a land border!


Before getting to the border, ensure you delete any pictures you don’t want the Chinese officials to see as they now go through your phone in great depth (delete any references you may have to Tibet, the Dalai Lama, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Tiananmen Square or anything sensitive)

While queuing you will likely be questioned by a border guard about your travel plans in China. After passport control anyone non-Chinese will be directed to an enclosed seating area and made to hand over your phone for inspection.

I was caught out and called over to explain a couple of memes that were a little critical of Chinese policy. They made me delete them after the official went away to seek advice on what to do with me!

After the Chinese officials have finished snooping on your phone, and possibly installing spyware on it, you will then go to a second x-ray machine to have your bags checked again.

Once through, you will usually have to wait a while for the bus to get through and this takes a lot longer than on the Kazakh side. Useful to have water and sunscreen as there isn’t much shade.

Once the bus returns you can get back on with all your belongings and then you will drive to the small bus station in Khorgas (with one or two police checkpoints to go through first). Here you will stop for 40 minutes to an hour for lunch/dinner depending on the time.

Urumqi, China

Khorgas Town

There is a row of restaurants behind the bus station, a few small shops and a bank across the street where you can withdraw Chinese Yuan if you don’t already have any. Sometimes there will be black market traders around the bus station with rates around 54 Tenge to the Yuan.

After leaving Khorgas the bus will take the G30 Gouzigou Expressway to Urumqi. Keep your eyes peeled as you pass Sayram Lake as the scenery here is beyond stunning. In winter the frozen water reflects the brooding mountains onto the lake and in summer it gleams alongside the green sloping hills which are dotted with yurts.

The bus will stop a few times during the night and you should arrive at Urumqi Railway Station at around 05:00 or 06:00 the following morning.

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Dunhuang, Gobi Desert, China

About the author:

Steve Rohan is a writer from Essex, England. He has travelled to over 60 countries, lived in China and Hong Kong, and is now living the digital nomad life on the road.

Steve prefers “slow travel” and has covered much of Europe and Asia by train, bus and boat.

Where I am now: Yerevan, Armenia 🇦🇲

33 thoughts on “How to travel from Almaty to Urumqi by Bus

    • steve says:

      Hi David, the bus is not currently running. I had a friend in Almaty call the bus station last week and this was confirmed. Although Kazakhstan is now open for tourism, all China’s land borders will likely remain closed until at least 2023.

  1. jiju says:

    is the bus line open now again in 2023, planning a trip in march. my country has free visum to kazakhstan so i only need a visa for china, is there anything else i need to be aware of that i may require?


    • steve says:

      Hi Jiju,

      China is not open for tourism yet so I doubt the bus is running. If you have a work/family visa you may be able to enter China. I will contact my friend in Almaty and ask him if he can find out when the bus will restart. Best, Steve

      • Jack says:

        Hi Steve,

        Did you find out anything more about the bus service or the train servie between Almaty and Urumqi? I am currently planning a trip this summer. Thank you!

        Best regards,

        • steve says:

          Hi Jack, no positive news at the moment I’m afraid. The route will likely open once China starts issuing tourist visas again, but no clear news on when that will be yet. Best, Steve

  2. Me, myself, and I says:

    I called the bus station Sayran in Almaty, they said they are considering opening a route to China within a month. Fingers crossed.

  3. Helen says:

    Hi Steve , if visa not required country passport hold it , 30 days free in China , do i need visa from Kazakhstan to China , and can i cross the border by bus now?

    • steve says:

      Hi Helen, regarding visa, it’s best to check with your nearest Chinese embassy. The bus is not operational right now, but it may start again with a month (see below comment).

  4. Shannon says:

    Hi Steve, when you are intending to travel by bus from Almaty to Urumqi how do apply for a Chinese tourist visa?

    Is it possible to book the bus tickets six months in advance – and then train tickets from Urumqi to Chengdu? Are train bookings accepted for tourist visas?

    • steve says:

      Hi Shannon, you must apply for a Chinese visa in your home country before you leave. Unfortunately the bus tickets can only be bought at the bus station in Almaty. You can book the train from Urumqi to Chengdu in advance online with (I think you’ll need to change trains though). You don’t need a visa to book trains, just your passport details. Hope this helps. Best, Steve

      • Shannon says:

        Thanks for replying Steve, I thought you had to have proof of all your journeys and your accommodation to apply for a visa – do you know if we can apply for a visa without buying the bus or train ticket from Almaty to Urumqi?

  5. Ryan says:

    Hey all, I’m planning to cross the border in mid-August this year. Is there any official confirmation of the line re-opening now that China’s open for tourism? Would like some rock-solid certainty so we won’t have to hedge our bets when arriving in Almaty. Thanks!

    • steve says:

      Hi Ryan,

      As China has just reopened to tourism I’m not sure the land borders are open just yet. I’m going to ask my friend to call the bus station in Almaty to see if they know when and I’ll update the article. I’d imagine by August everything will be back to normal, but after living in China for six years, nothing comes with rock-solid certainty 😉

      All the best, Steve

      • Ryan says:

        Hey Steve, sorry to bother. Thank you very much for offering to get in touch with your friend, we were wondering if you have any new news concerning the bus route? Coming from China myself I know how uncertain things are usually haha

  6. Tharo says:

    Hey Steve and thanks for your great blogpost. I looked for this special kind of infomation for an long time!
    As many here I wonder how I could apply for a Tourist visa without having the Tickets.

    So I ask here also the other readers – Had you successfull conficted the goverment that you will leave the country as soon as you are done? And how did it went?

  7. Vicky says:

    Hi thank you for a great post, most informative article I’ve come across regarding this route. Do you know if the buses are running again yet? Thank you

    • steve says:

      Hi Vicky, thanks for your kind words. Unfortunately the bus doesn’t seem to be running yet (I know someone who tried to cross last week). Apparently it’s possible to cross the border if you can flag a lift with someone going over. Best, Steve

  8. Shannon says:

    How can you get a visa if you are planning to try and flag a lift into China?

    I am trying so hard not to fly and this seems to be the one impossible part of my whole trip to visit my sister who I haven’t seen since I gave up flying 21 years ago…

    • steve says:

      I’m having exactly the same problem trying to get back. The only way to do it is to book a refundable flight to get the visa and then cancel it. It’s a ridiculous rule, but there is no other way around it.

      • Shannon says:

        Do you think we would be able to get across the border at Khorgos then Steve? We will definitely try if there’s a chance of not flying…

        • steve says:

          The border is definitely open and I know people who have crossed it in the last few weeks, so as long you have a Chinese visa, you can try getting a lift across with someone. I suggest sharing your plans on Facebook groups like Asia Overland or Every Passport Stamp if you can.

      • petra says:

        Hi Steve! Thank you for your blog! I would like to apply for a Chinese visa and need to provide my travel history. Since I don’t fly, I’m looking for a train or a bus from Uruqi to Almaty. The international trains from China don’t seem to be running yet…. Do you have any more detailed information? Because if that’s true, I can’t state that in my visa application… Thank you in advance for your help!

        • steve says:

          Hi Petra, as far as I’m aware the buses and trains between Almaty and Urumqi are not running still. It also doesn’t matter if you deviate from what is in your visa applicatiom. You can simply put Shanghai and Beijing, and still travel and exit wherever you like. I also understand that in order to obtain a Chinese visa you must show a flight (even if you don’t fly, you still need to show one). This is certianly true for British passport holders, and is what is currently stopping me from returning. Best wishes, Steve

    • steve says:

      Hi Rick, I haven’t seen any reports of the bus running again, but that’s not to say it isn’t. If you’ll be in Almaty best thing is to go to Sayram bus station and ask. Best wishes, STeve

  9. Eevi says:

    Hi Steve, thank you for this helpful blog post! I’m afraid of heights and I’m wondering if there are any dangerous mountain passes (with narrow lanes, steep drops without adequate fencing, etc) on this journey.
    Also, what would be the best time of year for this bus trip?

    • steve says:

      Hi Eevi, I understand completely as I’m also afraid of heights. No, the route is pretty flat and across desert plains in Kazakhstan and then rolling hills through Xinjiang. I’ve done the trip in all seasons. I’d say Spring or Autumn (fall) is best as the temperates are not extreme and the scenery more beautiful. Best wishes, Steve

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