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How to Use Oyster Card in London: A Quick Guide

As a frequent traveler in London, I can attest to the convenience of using an Oyster card. It’s the key to unlocking the city’s transportation network, including the buses, trams, London Overground, National Rail, and more.

Knowing how to use an Oyster card made my visits stress-free and enjoyable while also saving me money.

Understanding Oyster Card in London

Before your trip, obtaining a Visitor Oyster card is beneficial, which will be delivered to your home address and ready for use upon your arrival in London.

To use your Oyster card, simply touch it on the yellow card reader at the beginning and end of your journey on the various transportation services.

Fingers using a visitor oyster card in London

For buses and trams, touch the card reader as you board. Remember to check for any transportation updates, route changes, or temporary service suspensions throughout your journey.

By staying informed, you can adjust your travel plans accordingly and continue to make the most of your time in the city.

Oyster Cards vs. Visitor Oyster Cards

When traveling around London, your main options are Oyster cards or Visitor Oyster cards. Oyster cards are rechargeable smart cards that can be used on public transport services like buses, trams, the London Underground, and local train services.

double decker bus in london

The Visitor Oyster card, on the other hand, is designed specifically for tourists, and it can be purchased before arriving in London and delivered to your home address.

The primary difference between the two is that Visitor Oyster cards offer additional discounts, such as up to 26% off on cable cars and up to 19% off on Uber Boat single journeys.

Standard Oyster Card vs. Travelcard

Another option to consider is the Travelcard, which allows unlimited travel within certain zones of London for a fixed price. Here are some key differences between a standard Oyster card and a Travelcard:

  • Oyster Card: Pay-as-you-go system, with fares depending on the time and distance traveled. You need to top-up its balance before use.
  • Travelcard: Unlimited travel within selected zones and time periods (daily, weekly, or monthly). It can be purchased as a standalone ticket or added to an Oyster card.

Consider your travel plans and duration of stay to determine which option suits you best.

Contactless Payment Card

An alternative to using the Oyster card system is to utilize contactless payment cards, such as a contactless debit or credit card. Most contactless payment cards issued outside the UK are accepted in London’s public transport services.

Keep in mind that using a contactless payment card might be slightly more expensive than using an Oyster card in some cases.

Westminster underground station sign for Oyster Card

Getting an Oyster Card

Oyster cards offer a convenient and cost-effective way to travel around London using public transport.

In this section, you’ll learn how to obtain an Oyster card through various methods, including online registration and in-person at ticket offices and Oyster ticket shops.

Online Registration

To purchase an Oyster card online, you can visit the Visitor Oyster card website and follow the instructions. You’ll need to provide your home address and choose a credit amount (starting from £10) to preload on your card.

The website charges a £5 fee, plus postage costs, for the Visitor Oyster card. Once your order is completed, your card will be mailed to your home address, and you can start using it as soon as you arrive in London.

Already in London? Stay online to view the Oyster card website with an internet travel sim!

In-Person at Ticket Offices

You can also obtain an Oyster card in person by visiting a London Underground ticket office. Many ticket offices throughout London sell Oyster cards, and you can add credit or set up a Travelcard at the time of purchase.

The standard blue Oyster card requires a £7 deposit, which can be claimed back when you’re done with the card. Use Transport for London’s online station search to find your nearest ticket office.

Oyster Card Ticket Shops

Get your Oyster card at select Oyster Ticket Shops near train stations and convenience stores. They offer top-up services and helpful advice. Find your nearest shop using the Transport for London website.

Enjoy convenient and affordable travel on London’s public transport with your Oyster card.

Remember to top up your card when needed, and always touch in and touch out at the yellow readers when entering and exiting stations. You can also stay near train stations to make traveling convenient!

Using Oyster Card on Transportation

London Underground

To use your Oyster card on the London Underground, simply touch the card on the yellow card reader at the gates when you enter and exit the station. The appropriate fare will automatically be deducted from the card balance.

London Underground that you can ride with an Oyster Card

You can top up your Oyster card at any Tube station, online, or at many corner shops and information centers to ensure you have sufficient credit.

Buses and Trams

When using an Oyster card on buses and trams, you only need to tap the card on the yellow card reader upon boarding the bus or tram.

Unlike the London Underground, you don’t need to touch out on buses and trams at the end of your journey.

National Rail Services

You can also use your Oyster card on most National Rail services within London and some services outside of the city tfl.gov.uk.

Simply touch in and out at the yellow card readers as you would on the London Underground. Remember that not all National Rail stations have these readers, so check before traveling.

DLR transportation for an Oyster Card

Thames Clippers River Bus

Your Oyster card can also be used on Thames Clippers River Bus services. Simply touch in on the yellow card reader as you board the River Bus, and don’t forget to touch out at the end of your journey.

Emirates Air Line Cable Car

You can also pay with your Oyster card for journeys on the Emirates Air Line Cable Car. Again, remember to touch in and out with your Oyster card at the yellow card readers.

Make the most of your time in London by taking advantage of these fares and discounts, and enjoy exploring the city with ease and affordability. Use convenient travel shoes for your city adventures too!

Loading and Recharging Oyster Card

Pay-as-You-Go Credit

To start using your Oyster card, you’ll need to load it with credit. You can top up your card with a Pay-as-You-Go balance at any Tube station, online, and even at many convenience stores and information centers in London.

Simply choose the amount you want to add to your card and pay using cash, debit, or credit.

Oyster Card Daily Cap Calculation

One of the advantages of using Oyster pay-as-you-go is the daily cap feature. This calculates the maximum amount you’ll be charged daily based on your travel within London. The cap varies depending on the zones you travel through and the time of day.

Remember that the cap only applies to tube, bus, tram, DLR, London Overground, and Thames Clippers River Bus services, and you need to touch in and out on the yellow card readers for the cap to be applied correctly.

Adding Travelcards

If you plan to travel extensively within London, you might want to add a Travelcard to your Oyster card. Travelcards allow you to travel unlimited within certain zones for a specified period of time, such as 7 days, 1 month, or more.

To add a Travelcard, simply visit any Tube, London Overground station, or Oyster Ticket Stop and follow the instructions on the ticket machine.

You must also touch your Oyster card on the yellow card readers when starting and ending your journey to ensure the correct fare is deducted and your Travelcard is valid for that trip.

Fares and Discounts

Single Fare Finder

To help you find the exact fare for your journey, you can use the Single Fare Finder. Just enter your starting point and destination, which will give you the cost of a single fare for your chosen route.

Travel Zones and Fares

London’s public transport network is divided into six travel zones, with Zone 1 being the most central and Zone 6 being the furthest out. You can view a map of the travel zones to help you plan your journey.

Fares vary depending on the zones you travel through and are cheaper during off-peak hours.

Zone 1-3:

  • Peak: £3.30
  • Off-Peak: £2.40

Zone 1-4:

  • Peak: £3.90
  • Off-Peak: £2.40

Zone 1-6:

  • Peak: £5.10
  • Off-Peak: £3.10

Note: Type zone 1-2 to 4-6 peak and off-peak details instead of only sample rows from table show. they can go to the link if they want more information than what is shown in the table.

Daily capping ensures that you never pay more than the cost of a one-day Travelcard, so you can travel as much as you like in a single day for a set price. The cap varies depending on the zones and hours of travel, but you can find information on the TFL website.

Children and Young Visitor Discount

Children under 11 years old can travel for FREE on London transport with an adult who has a valid Oyster card. For children aged 11-15, you can get a Young Visitor Discount added to an Oyster card.

This will provide cheaper fare rates for up to 14 days. To apply for this discount, follow the instructions on the TFL website.

Using Oyster Card on River Services

Thames Clippers

When traveling in London, you can use your Oyster card on Thames Clippers river bus services. This provides a convenient and fast mode of transportation while enjoying scenic views of London’s famous landmarks.

The Oyster card saves up to 22% on the fare, making it an economical way to explore the city via its waterways.

To use your Oyster card, simply touch it on the card reader at the pier before boarding the river bus. Keep in mind that you cannot top up your Oyster card at River Bus piers, and your journeys on the river services are not included in the daily or weekly capping.


Your Oyster card can also be used on various London riverboat services, allowing you to travel along the Thames and glimpse London’s history and architecture from a unique perspective.

Riverboat service prices start from FREE for children four and under and go up to £23.50 for an adult River Roamer ticket.

For River Tours, you cannot use the pay-as-you-go feature of your Oyster card. However, you can use the Oyster credit to buy a paper ticket from pier ticket offices for Thames River Services and the Circular Cruise.

In addition to river buses and riverboats, your Oyster card can be used on various other transport services in London, such as:

  • London Underground (the Tube)
  • Bus
  • Tram
  • Docklands Light Railway (DLR)
  • London Overground
  • Most National Rail train services
  • Elizabeth line (when available)

Using your Oyster card on these transport options allows you to navigate the city while enjoying the scenic river services easily.

Oyster Card and Contactless Payment Controls

Touching In and Out

To use your Oyster card or contactless payment method on public transport in London, you will need to touch in and out at the yellow card readers located on gates or standalone readers.

This applies to buses, Tube, tram, DLR, London Overground, Elizabeth Line, and some National Rail services in and outside London.

When you enter a station or board a bus, simply place your Oyster card or contactless payment card onto the yellow reader. Wait for a green light and a single beep for confirmation. Repeat the same process when you leave the station or alight from the bus.

Remember the following tips while touching in and out:

  • Always use the same card or device for your entire journey.
  • Ensure you have sufficient credit on your Oyster card or funds in your contactless account.
  • Avoid card clashes by keeping other contactless cards or smart devices away from the yellow reader while touching in and out.

Avoiding Penalty Fares

Failing to touch in and out correctly could result in being charged the maximum fare for your journey or receiving a penalty fare. To avoid this, follow these steps:

  • Make sure you touch in and out at the beginning and end of your journey.
  • Touch in and out even if the gates are open.
  • If you forget to touch out, you can correct the incomplete journey online within 48 hours.

If you receive a penalty fare notice or have been charged the maximum fare, you can appeal the decision by providing evidence of your Oyster card or contactless payment records. Ensure you keep track of your journey and payment history to avoid any discrepancies.

Managing Oyster Card Account

Checking and Managing Balance

To check and manage your Oyster card balance, you can register your card to an Oyster Online account. Once registered, you can view your journey history, check fares, and receive notifications when your balance gets low.

Remember to top up your Oyster pay-as-you-go balance at any Tube station, online, or at many corner shops and information centers.

Card Replacements

If your Oyster card is lost, stolen, or damaged, promptly report it to the Transport for London (TfL) team. They can help to transfer your remaining balance and travel history to a new card.

In case of a malfunctioning card, visit a TfL visitor center for help with a replacement card that maintains your account information.

Getting a Refund on Your Oyster Card

You may be eligible for a refund on your Oyster card for several reasons: unused pay-as-you-go balance, Travelcard, or a Deposit. To apply for a refund, log in to your Oyster account and follow the instructions.

If you are at a Tube station, you can get a refund of up to £10 at a ticket machine by selecting the ‘refund’ option. For higher amounts or further assistance, contact TfL customer service or visit a TfL visitor centre.

Additional Benefits of Oyster Card

Discounted Travel Offers

One of the fantastic benefits of using an Oyster card during your London visit is the access to discounted travel offers. With an Oyster Card, you not only save money on your daily commute but also enjoy discounts on various travel services, such as:

  • National Rail Services in London
  • Thames Clippers River Bus services
  • IFS Cloud Cable Car

Moreover, using an Oyster card is often cheaper than buying paper tickets, especially when you’re crossing multiple travel zones. You can also book a ticket to St. Pancras station here.

Savings at Restaurants and Shops

Another great advantage of using an Oyster card is the opportunity to save at various restaurants and shops throughout London. By showcasing your Oyster card at participating establishments, you can:

  • Get discounts on meals at selected restaurants
  • Enjoy special offers and promotions at participating shops
  • Save money on souvenirs and other purchases

To get the most out of your Oyster card, always be on the lookout for establishments displaying the Oyster card logo, and don’t hesitate to ask if they offer any Oyster card promotions.

Does the Card Include a Travel Insurance?

The Oyster card in London does not include travel insurance. To ensure comprehensive coverage for your trip, consider purchasing travel insurance from Heymondo.

They offer reliable and tailored insurance plans that can provide you with peace of mind during your travels in London and beyond.

Are Oyster Cards Still Worth It?

In conclusion, using an Oyster card provides a convenient way to pay for your transportation needs in London and enhances your travel experience by offering discounts and savings at various establishments.

So, when planning your trip to London, be sure to consider getting an Oyster card and enjoy the additional benefits it offers to make your visit more enjoyable and cost-effective.

Plan Your Trip to London

Last Updated on 6 September, 2023 by Veronica

Disclosure: Some of the links on this post are affiliate links, meaning at no additional cost to you, I may earn a small commission if you click through and make a purchase.

Author: Veronica

Vero, a seasoned traveler, has explored 25 countries and lived in five, gaining a rich perspective and fostering an infectious passion for travel. With a heart full of wanderlust, Vero uncovers the world’s hidden gems and shares insights, tips, and planning advice to inspire and assist fellow adventurers. Join Vero and let the shared passion for travel create unforgettable memories.


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