Oyster Card: Detailed Guide For Students!

Oyster card

Public transportation is highly recommended for exploring a city like London, UK, and having a travel card is essential for accessing the tube, buses, and trains. If you’re heading to London for your further studies, an Oyster Card is one of the best options to help you explore the city at an affordable price and with ease. 

This article will help you gain the necessary knowledge before purchasing. It will cover different card options, where and how to obtain them, and commonly asked questions about the Oyster Travel Card.

What Is An Oyster Card?

An Oyster card is a convenient smart card enabling users to make pay-as-you-go payments for various transportation services in London effortlessly. It allows seamless travel on:

  • Buses
  • Tubes
  • Trams
  • DLR (Docklands Light Railway)
  • London Overground
  • Selected Elizabeth line routes
  • IFS Cloud Cable Car
  • Thames Clippers River Bus services
  • Numerous National Rail services within and outside of London

Additionally, users have the option to:

  • Add a Travelcard
  • Add a Bus & Tram Pass
  • Avail of various discounts

Please note: The Elizabeth line stations between Reading and Iver do not accept Oyster cards.

This smart card is used for paying fares on London Transport, which includes:

  • The iconic Victorian tube network
  • The charming red London buses

It’s almost impossible to claim you’ve truly experienced London without trying out both of these transportation modes. The convenience of this card lies in the following:

  • Its ability to be easily topped up and ready for immediate use
  • Saving time compared to purchasing separate tickets
  • Offering significant cost savings

In fact, certain Oyster card charges for the London Underground can be less than half the price of individual tickets, resulting in substantial savings.

Types Of Oyster Cards

Two primary types of Oyster cards are available: Regular Oyster cards and Visitor Oyster cards. Both types of Oyster cards allow users to preload them with pay-as-you-go credit.

  • Residents commonly purchase regular Oyster cards.
  • Visitor Oyster cards are designed specifically for visitors to pay for travel on London’s public transport system conveniently. They can be pre-ordered and delivered to your home prior to your arrival or purchased at London airports and stations. This credit can be easily topped up whenever needed, and the best part is that it never expires.

Benefits Of Oyster Card For London Public Transport

London oyster card prices are relatively affordable for all. Students can travel around the area with the help of the student Oyster cards without worrying about stopping ticket queues. Some more benefits are mentioned below: 

  • Convenience and Cost Savings: With an Oyster card, say goodbye to the hassle of buying tickets every time you use public transport. It offers a more convenient and stress-free experience than one-off tickets, which are pricier.
  • Versatility and Affordability: Oyster cards can be used across various modes of transportation in London, including buses, trains, tubes, and trams. They are not only easy to use but also budget-friendly.
  • Non-Expiring Credit: The credit loaded onto your Oyster card never expires, allowing you to utilise it whenever you’re in town without worrying about time constraints.
  • Pay-As-You-Go and Travel Card Combination: Oyster cards allow you to combine Pay-as-you-go with Travel cards, giving you more options to suit your travel needs and preferences.
  • Free or Discounted Rides for Children: Families with children under 11 years old can enjoy free or discounted rides when using the appropriate Oyster cards, making it a family-friendly transportation solution.
  • Oyster Card Refund Option: If you have unused credit on your Oyster card, you have the opportunity to request a refund, ensuring that your money is not left idle.
  • Daily Cap for Cost Control: Oyster cards feature a cap price unique to each zone. Once this cap price is reached, any subsequent rides within the same day become free, providing cost-effective travel.

How To Buy An Oyster Card?

An Oyster Card can be purchased online, in person, or as part of the London Pass. The buying standards and visitor cards differ, as explained below. If visitors wish to have a pass before arriving in the UK, it is recommended that they plan and consider purchasing the visitor’s card online in advance.

Step 1: Choose Your Card

When it comes to Oyster cards, you have two options: the Regular Oyster card or the Visitor Oyster card. Both can be easily obtained from underground stations in London or at airports.

Step 2: Look For Convenient Purchase Locations

You can purchase Oyster cards from select newsagents or staffed ticket offices, as well as stations and airports. However, ticket machines are the most common and hassle-free way to obtain them.

Step 3: Pre-order Online

If you’re not currently in the United Kingdom and want to buy an Oyster card in advance, you can conveniently purchase them online and have them delivered to your location. This saves you the trouble of searching for a card once you arrive in London.

Step 4: Check The Delivery Options

While the Regular Oyster card can only be shipped to a UK address for free when ordered online, the Visitor Oyster card can be delivered anywhere worldwide, ensuring accessibility for international travellers.

Step 5: London Pass Bundle

Enhance your London experience by purchasing your Oyster card as part of a London Pass order. This cost-effective option allows you to enjoy discounted entry to popular tourist centres in London. Please note that this arrangement can only be made online.

Step 6: Make the Payment

You can conveniently pay for your card using cash, a debit card, or a credit card, providing flexibility and ease of transaction.

Oyster Card Prices 

Visitor Oyster cards cost approximately £5, including postage, while Regular Oyster cards cost £5 but offer the option of refunding the primary deposit. When using Oyster cards, you have the flexibility to choose between pay-as-you-go or a travel pass option or even combine both. The fare for each trip may vary. 

The prices for using an Oyster Card in London vary based on factors such as peak/off-peak travel, zones travelled, and the type of card used. The following table provides detailed information on the cost of using an Oyster Card for various modes of transport and zones:

Travel TypePeak Oyster Card RatesOff-Peak Oyster Card Rates
Single Fares
Tube (Zone 1)£2.80£2.70
Rail (Zone 1-5)£6.30£4.20
Daily CapsPeakOff-Peak
Zone 1-2£8.50£8.50
Zone 1-3£10.00£10.00
Zone 1-4£12.30£12.30
Zone 1-5£14.60£15.90
Zone 1-6£15.60£15.90
Weekly Oyster Card Fees
Zone 1-2£42.70
Zone 1-3£50.20
Zone 1-4£61.40
Zone 1-5£73.00
Zone 1-6£78.00
Special Caps
Bus Only£5.25
Children’s Oyster Caps
Off-Peak (Zones 1-9)£1.80
PeakApprox. Half of adult cap

You can conveniently check online to determine the cost of your journey from your starting point to your desired destination. As you continue using the card throughout the day, subsequent trips become more affordable until the daily cap is reached.

It’s worth noting that the pricing structure can also be influenced by the time of day. Commuting during peak hours, typically between 6:30-9:30 am and 4-7 pm on weekdays, may result in higher fares compared to other times.

Using Oyster Cards In London’s Transport System

Imagine having a reusable ticket that grants you access to various modes of transportation, just like a movie ticket. That’s precisely what Oyster cards offer – a convenient way to navigate London’s extensive transport network. In simple terms, Oyster cards can be likened to electronic purses explicitly designed for paying for public transport services. Here is how you can use them: 

  • To get started, you need to purchase the card and set up an account. 
  • Using the card is easy. 
  • Look for the distinctive yellow card reader at designated locations, such as ticket barriers in train stations or bus entrances. 
  • Swipe your card against the yellow reader when entering and exiting to ensure a smooth journey. 
  • Remember, if you forget to swipe when you disembark, you may be charged additional fees. 
  • You can easily manually top up the card’s credit or opt for the convenient auto top-up feature.
oyster card

Where Can You Use Oyster Cards In London?

Oyster cards are widely accepted within London’s transportation network, and select rail services are available outside the city, specifically within TfL zones extending to Gatwick. Here are some areas where you can use Oyster cards:

  • Broxbourne, Rye House, St. Margarets, Ware, and Hertford East
  • Epsom
  • Cuffley, Bayford, and Hertford North
  • Merstham, Redhill, Earlswood, Salfords, and Horley
  • Gatwick Airport
  • Ockendon, Chafford Hundred, Purfleet, and Grays
  • Radlett and Potters Bar

Please note that Oyster cards are not accepted on certain train services, including Hull Trains, Virgin Trains, East Midlands Trains, Grand Central, and London North Eastern Railway. However, the Pay-As-You-Go Oyster card can be used on trams, the tube, buses, Emirates Airline, and DLR.

Whether you are a London resident or a visitor to the city, having an Oyster card proves highly beneficial. Despite fluctuating transport policies and prices, the Oyster card remains the most affordable and convenient payment method for London’s public transport.

How To Top Up Your Oyster Card?

Some of the most convenient ways to add credit or top up your Oyster cards are as follows –

  1. Increase the credit on your Oyster card effortlessly by using the ticket machines available at London Overground, London Underground Tube, or TfL Rail stations. Simply hold your card against the yellow reader to check your balance, select ‘add top-up,’ and complete the transaction using cash or a credit/debit card.
  2. Visit Oyster ticket shops, visitor centres, or stations to add credit to your Oyster card. The helpful staff at the ticket desks will assist you in topping up your card conveniently.
  3. If you have an existing Oyster account, you can utilise the Oyster website to add credit. Log in to your account, where you can set up the Auto top-up feature or choose the ‘Top-up or buy season tickets’ option to reload your Oyster card quickly.
  4. Experience the simplicity of adding credit to your Oyster card using the TfL Oyster app. Like the website, the app allows you to conveniently top up your card and easily manage your account.

One of the great advantages of the Oyster card system is the ability to request a refund for any remaining credit on your card. You can initiate the refund process by post, at Underground Tube station Oyster machines, or at a TfL centre, provided that at least 48 hours have passed since the first use of your Oyster card.

Checking Your Oyster Card Balance

You can save yourself the hassle of checking your Oyster card balance at ticket machines by utilising the user-friendly options available online. Registered Oyster cardholders with a fully functioning account can conveniently check their balance and manage their card through the Oyster website. 

The TfL app provides a seamless alternative for online balance checking for those without an account. The TfL app offers a range of benefits, including easy access via your smartphone, the ability to add credit to your Oyster card, access to your travel history for the past eight weeks, low balance alerts, and the convenience of requesting refunds for unfinished journeys. 

Here is an overview of checking the Oyster card balance

  • Using a Ticket Machine: Touch your Oyster card on the yellow reader of any ticket machine.
  • Exiting the Tube: Check your balance every time you exit the tube. Once you tap out, look for it on the exit window screen.
  • Ask at a Shop: Visit a shop with Oyster card reading equipment. Give them your card, and they will inform you of your balance.
  • Online Methods: Create a contactless Oyster account and add your Oyster card to check your balance online.

These methods provide convenient ways to check your Oyster card balance, ensuring you have sufficient funds for your journeys on London’s public transport system.

How To Add A Travel Card?

If you have a standard Oyster Card, you can add travel cards if you prefer to pre-pay for your journeys. This is especially useful if you are a student and plan to purchase a 7-day travel card. You can add these cards to ticket machines in the Tube, DLR, London Overground, TfL Rail, and National Rail stations, or the ticket offices in London Overground and London visitor centres. You can also add travel cards online if you have registered your standard card.

Oyster Card Refund Process

When you leave London, you can obtain an Oyster card refund for any unused credit on your Oyster Card. The credit on the card does not expire so you can keep the card for future visits. 

  • For visitor cards, the activation fee of £7 is non-refundable, so it might be more beneficial to keep the card for a potential return trip to London. 
  • However, for standard cards, the £7 deposit is added as credit to your card one year after activation, so it’s advisable to hold onto the card for future use. The credit is automatically added when you journey between one year and eighteen months after purchasing the card.
  • If your card has less than £10 credit remaining, you can request a refund at any Underground Tube Station’s Oyster machine. 
  • Follow the on-screen instructions to complete the process. To be eligible for a refund, 48 hours must have passed since the first use of the card. 
  • If you receive a refund from an Oyster machine at a station, your card will be cancelled, and you will lose the £5 activation fee for visitor cards. 

If you anticipate returning to London, it’s advisable to obtain refunds at a TfL visitor centre. They can refund the credit on your card while returning the card to you in working condition, allowing you to reuse it without paying another activation fee on your next visit. If possible, it’s recommended to avoid applying for a refund by post, as it involves sending a letter to TfL Customer Services in London, and refunds are issued in the form of a GBP cheque, which can be challenging to cash for non-UK visitors. Getting a refund at a visitor centre is a better option if feasible.


Q1. How do you get an Oyster Card for free?

Ans: If you are over 60, you can get an Oyster Card for free. Anyone below 60 must pay a non-refundable activation fee of £7.

Q2. How do you get your Oyster Card?

Ans: You can purchase it online if you live in the UK or at tube stations, London Overground stations, DLR stations, Visitor centres, and the Croydon Tramlink Shop.

Q3. Can a foreigner get an Oyster Card?

Ans: Yes, if you are a foreigner, you can get your card from one of the stations in London or have it delivered to a friend or family member’s address in the UK. 

Q4. How much is a 3-day Oyster Card?

Ans: The 3-day Visitors Oyster Card costs around £20, and it can be very cost-effective if you visit London for a few days.

PS: If there’s anything more you want us to know about. Add it to the comments section!

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