Oyster card

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The Oyster Card is the most recommended option for use to travel on London´s public transport. It is what Londoners tend to use on a daily basis for commuting, and it is normally the cheapest way for tourists to get around London.

In this article we will explain what the Oyster card actually is, how it works and how to decide if it is the right option for you if you are planning a trip to London. Paying for your travel in London with an oyster card is much cheaper than paying for single tickets, but we will tell you how this works in detail in this article.

Index:
> What is a London Oyster Card
> How does the London Oyster Card work
> How to top up a London Oyster Card
> What is a London Visitor Oyster Card
> Fares when using an oyster card
> Where to buy an oyster card
> How to return an oyster card

What is the London Oyster Card?

The Oyster Card is a reusable pay-as-you-go plastic magnetic card, of the size of a credit card which can be topped up with cash. You can use an oyster card to travel on the London underground and buses, as well as other transport methods such as overground, DLR (docklands light rail), TFL rail, some trains within London transport zones and boats on the Thames.
ONE OYSTER CARD PER PERSON: You need an oyster card for each person, it is not possible for several people to use the same oyster card for travelling around London.

How does the oyster card work?

When you get a London Oyster Card you will have to pay a £5 deposit. If you return your oyster card you will get your £5 deposit back. bail can be recovered by returning it as explained below in this article. After paying the £5 deposit, you will need to top up your oyster card with cash in order to be able to start using it. Top top up, you just need to use of the machines at a ticket office, you can use cash or card to top up your oyster card and you simply follow the instructions on the screen. When you don´t have enough cash in the oyster card to pay the minimum fare you simply won´t be able to get through the barriers to enter London underground.

Using the oyster card on London Underground, Overground and DLR:

To use the oyster card for travelling on the London Underground, Overground, DLR or trains you simply have to touch the yellow card reader with your oyster card that is located to your right at the barriers. The barriers will open as soon as you touch the yellow reader if there is enough balance on the oyster card. Once you have completed your journey you will need to touch the yellow reader again with your oyster card for the barriers to open.

The fare that you pay using an oyster card will be calculated at the time you touch the yellow reader at the exit barriers. The fare will depend on the travel zones that you have travelled to and from, and the time of the day that you have travelled, as there are peak and off peak fares. This is why one oyster card is needed for each person. If you fail to touch the reader with your oyster card when you enter or you exit you will pay the maximum fare possible as a fine, so if you get to the station and you find that the barriers are open make sure you use your oyster card to touch the reader anyway to make sure you pay the right fare.

Using the oyster card on the bus:

To use the oyster card for getting around London on the bus, you only have to touch the yellow reader with your oyster card when you enter the bus. There is a reader next to the driver, and another one by the back door on the new double decker buses. You don´t need to touch the reader again when you leave the bus.

Remaining Balance

Every time you touch the yellow reader with your oyster card when you enter any form of transport the screen will let you know what the remaining balance of your oyster card is. Every time you touch the yellow reader with your oyster card when you exit any form of transport, the screen will let you know what the remaining balance of your oyster card is and what fee you have paid for the journey you have just finished.

How to top up your oyster card

You will find self-service machines at each underground, overground, TFL rail and DLR stations  where you will be able to top up your oyster card. In order to do so, you just need to tap your oyster card on the yellow card reader and follow the instructions.

You can top up your oyster card with cash or you can choose to add a travelcard onto your oyster card. Travelcards entitle you to unlimited travel for the zones and number of days chosen. Normally, if you are going to be spending more than 5 days in London then a 7 day travelcard is probably advisable, but if you are going to be in London less than 5 days then we would recommend that you just use your oyster card with pay as you go, and top it up when necessary.

You can use a debit / credit card or cash (coins and/or notes) to top up or add travelcards to your oyster card.  Once you have paid for your top up, you need to confirm the transaction by tapping the yellow reader again with your oyster card. If you don’t do this, your oyster card will not be topped up.

Do not forget that you must tap the yellow reader with your oyster card twice: at the beginning and at the end.

Where can I buy an Oyster Card or a Visitor Oyster Card?

> STATIONS
You can buy a London oyster card at any underground, overground, DLR or TFL rail station in London. At these stations you will be able to buy an oyster card at the ticket office or at one of the self-service machines. You can also buy the oyster card at the Heathrow airport underground station and you can also buy a Visitor Oyster Card at Gatwick airport train station.

> OYSTER TICKET SHOPS
It is also possible to buy the London oyster card in some shops in central London, these shops will have a sticker displayed on their door or window with the words “Oyster Ticket Shop”.

> ONLINE
You can also buy a Visitor Oyster Card online at Visit Britain shop.

Returning your oyster card

When you no longer need your oyster card, you can return it at any self-service machine at any underground station and you will get your £5 deposit back as well as the remaining balance, as long as the remaining balance does not exceed £10 and you bought your oyster card more than 48 hours ago.

To return your oyster card, you just need to tap the yellow reader with your oyster card and choose refund or return oyster card. If the remaining balance exceeds £10 you should go to a ticket office.

So for example, if you buy an oyster card and top it up with £10, you will have to pay £15 (£5 deposit + £10 top up balance). If you have a remaining balance of £2.80 when you want to return your oyster card, you will get a total of £7.80 (£5 deposit + £2.80).

How much does each journey cost when you use an oyster card?

The fare of each journey will depend on two things when you use an oyster card:
  • London Travel Zones: the fare that you pay will depend on the travel zones that you travel to and from. See more about London Travel Zones here: London Travel Zones.
  • Time of the day: The fares will depend on the time that you are travelling, as there are peak time fares and off-peak fares.  Peak times are considered 6.30 am – 9.30 am and 4 pm – 7 pm Monday – Friday (excluding bank holidays. If you travel during off-peak times the journey will normally be a little cheaper.
Take a look at these examples where we have compared fares for different journeys using an oyster card vs buying single tickets (prices 2018):
  • Travelling from zone 1 to zone 1 on London Underground > Single ticket: £4.90. With oyster £2.40.
  • Travelling from zone 1 to zone 2 on London Underground > Single ticket:  £4.90. With oyster £2.40 (off-peak) and £2.90 (peak time).
  • Travelling from zone 1 to zone 3 on London Underground > Single ticket: £4.90. With oyster £2.80 (off-peak) and £3.30 (peak time).
  • Travelling from zone 1 to zone 2 on London Underground > Single ticket:  £5.90. With oyster £2.80 (off-peak) and £3.90 (peak time).
It is also important to bear in mind daily capping applies to journeys on public transport in London when using an oyster card. This maximum daily cap will depend on the travel zones that you have travelled on the day. Once you have reached the maximum day fare for the travel zones that you have travelled through, you will be able to travel on public transport for the same travel zones using your oyster card for free. You still need to use your oyster card as you would normally do, but you won´t be charged.
This maximum daily cap is what makes using an oyster card cheaper than a 1 day travelcard – as the daily cap on oyster is less than what a daily travelcard costs.

Visitor Oyster Card: The London oyster card for tourists

The Visitor Oyster Card is an Oyster Card designed for tourists. It works exactly like a normal oyster card, with pay as you go credit that you can top up and it applies the same fares. The main difference is that it normally has a picture of London and it will also entitle you to discounts and offers in different shops or restaurants in London. The visitor oyster card can be bought online and it will be sent to you by post before you travel or at visitor centres in London.  The only downside is that you cannot return a visitor oyster card, so you won´t get the deposit back, but you can ask for the remaining balance as long as it´s less than £10 and you have had the visitor oyster card for more than 48 hours.

Visitor Oyster Card Discounts

Certain shops and restaurants in London will apply a discount or entitle you to a special offer when you show the Visitor Oyster Card. Some of these discounts are the following (but there are many more):
  • Bon Vivant Restaurant in Bloomsbury: Free Prosecco or fizzy drink per person.
  • Brasserie Blanc Restaurant: 20% discount.
  • Ice Bar London: 10% discount on admission and on drinks or products from the store.
  • Confectionery Paul: Free croissant when ordering a hot drink before 11 am.
  • Planet Hollywood: 20% discount on food and beverages.
  • Skylon: 10% discount on food and drink.
  • London Transport Museum: 15% discount on food and drink from the museum cafeteria.
  • Kew Gardens: 10% discount in store and hot drinks in the cafeteria.
  • London Bridge Experience: 2 for 1 tickets available when visitor oyster card presented at the ticket office.
  • Foyles Bookstores: 15% discount.
  • Beatles Store: Free souvenir bag from the Beatles store when you make a purchase of over £5.
  • M&M’s store: 15% discount on all products in the store.

Some of these offers are subject to change.

More information on using Public Transport in London

Using contactless

It is possible to use a contactless debit or credit card to pay for public transport in London. To do this, you simply need to touch in and out on the yellow reader when using it for travel on the underground or overground and trains or DLR, or just touching in when you get on a bus. One contactless card is needed for each person.

The rates that apply when using contactless card are exactly the same as when using oyster card, with the same daily capping.

The only drawback is that if you are not a UK citizen your bank may charge you commission, and this could actually make travelling in London much more expensive than using an oyster card.

Travelling in London with kids

Generally, children under the age of 11 travel free when using London’s public transport, but we have written an entire article to explain how and when they can travel free and what transport passes they can get if they are older than 11.

⇒ More information: Travelling in London with kids

London Travelcard: The other London transport card

The travelcard is the other transport pass available for use to travelling in London. You can buy 1 day, 7 day, monthly or annual travelcards for specific transport zones in London.

Generally speaking, a daily travelcard is more expensive than the daily capping applied to an oyster card, so we don’t normally recommend daily travelcards. The 7 day travelcard is useful if you are going to spend more than 5 days in London, as for anything else I would normally still recommend that you used oyster card pay as you go.

Hello! We moved to London (Yes, the best city in the world) in 2010, and since then we have been discovering everything that this fantastic city has to offer. We regularly plan our friends’ trips to London, so we thought we would create PlanTripLondon.com and share our suggestions with the world for everyone to be able to plan the perfect trip to London!

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Hello! We moved to London (Yes, the best city in the world) in 2010, and since then we have been discovering everything that this fantastic city has to offer. We regularly plan our friends' trips to London, so we thought we would create PlanTripLondon.com and share our suggestions with the world for everyone to be able to plan the perfect trip to London!

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