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What Are Oyster Cards? A Guide

oyster card guide

Exploring the city using public transportation is highly recommended, and having a travel card is essential for accessing the tube, buses, and trains. If you’re considering a visit to the UK, 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 equip you with the necessary knowledge before making a purchase, covering different card options, where and how to obtain them, and addressing commonly asked questions about the Oyster Travel Card.

Oyster Card

What Is An Oyster Card?

An Oyster Card is a compact card similar in size to a credit card. It serves as a smart card for paying fares on London Transport, which includes the iconic Victorian tube network and 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 its ability to be easily topped up and ready for immediate use. This not only saves you time compared to purchasing separate tickets but also offers significant cost savings. In fact, certain fares for the London Underground when using this card can be less than half the price of individual tickets, resulting in substantial savings.

Types Of Oyster Cards: Standard, Visitors & Children’s Card

When determining which travel card is appropriate for your needs, it’s advisable to familiarise yourself with the available options for Oyster Cards. In the UK, there are primarily two types of cards. The standard version is typically used by residents, while the Visitors Card is designed specifically for tourists. Additionally, there is a card for children, which offers a significant discount on travel expenses.

Both the standard and visitor Oyster Travel Card prices require an initial purchase and activation fee of £5. It’s important to note that the key distinction lies in the fact that a regular card can be loaded with a London travel card, whereas a visitor card does not have this feature. Furthermore, postage fees are applicable for a visitor card.

If you plan on an extended stay, opting for a travel card could result in cost savings. For instance, a 7-day travel card offers excellent value for money if you anticipate extensive travel during your week-long visit. 

What Are The Benefits Of An Oyster Travel Card?

The Oyster Card is versatile and can be utilised for various modes of transportation, including tubes, buses, the DLR, trams, most overground trains, the rapid transit Elizabeth Line, Thames Clipper boats, and even the IFS Cloud cablecar. Furthermore, the card can be used to pay for train trips connecting Gatwick Airport and the city, as well as for tube travel between the city and Heathrow Airport.

For those unfamiliar with the British capital, it’s important to note that the city is divided into zones, and travel fares are determined based on these zones. A Visitors Card can be used across all 9 zones, although many residents and tourists tend to primarily explore the central areas. A clever aspect of the card is its ability to calculate the lowest available fare for each journey you undertake.

How To Buy An Oyster Card?

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


The standard card can be bought online; however, it can only be shipped to an address in the UK with free shipping. On the other hand, the visitor’s card can be purchased online and shipped worldwide. If you anticipate visiting numerous attractions and museums in London, it may be worth considering the London Pass option mentioned below.


Upon arrival in London, you can purchase a standard card. They are available for sale at various locations throughout London, including major tourist arrivals points like Heathrow Airport and Gatwick Airport. They can be purchased from Underground ticket machines, Oyster ticket stops which are found at various businesses across London, the London Overground ticket offices, train station ticket offices, and London Transport Visitor Centres. Visitor cards can also be purchased in person, but not once you are already in London unless you have a London Pass. Overseas travel agencies and some UK visitor centres also offer them for sale. They are also available on Eurostar trains travelling to London and at Gatwick & Stansted airports.

Part Of The London Pass

Another option is to purchase the card as part of a London Pass, which allows you to save money on London attractions. When you buy a London Pass, you have the opportunity to add a visitors card to your purchase. The card comes preloaded with a specific amount of credit based on the duration of your chosen London Pass. You can subsequently top it up with additional credit as needed. The London Pass with a Visitors Oyster Card can only be purchased online. 

How To Top Up Your Oyster Card?

There are multiple ways to add credit or top up your card, allowing you to recharge or reload it with more travel credit. The most convenient method is to visit London Underground Tube, London Overground, or TfL Rail stations, where ticket machines are available for topping up your card.

Simply tap your card on the yellow reader at these machines and follow the onscreen instructions. After the process, make sure to touch your card on the reader again to verify that the top-up has been successfully applied.

Alternatively, you can add credit in person at a ticket desk in a station, Visitor Centre, or at an Oyster Ticket Stop within the city. Another option is to register your card online and top it up using a credit or debit card. In the past, this option was only available to individuals with a UK address, but now the system also accepts international addresses.

How To Add A Travel Card?

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

How To Get A Refund On An Oyster Card?

When you leave London, you have the option to obtain a 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 take a journey between one year and eighteen months after purchasing the card.

If there is less than £10 credit remaining on your card, you can request a refund at any Underground Tube Station’s Oyster machine. You can follow the on-screen instructions to complete the process. It’s important to note that 48 hours must have passed since the first use of the card in order to be eligible for a refund. 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. If feasible, getting a refund in person at a visitor centre is a better option.


How to get an Oyster Card for free?

You can get an Oyster Card for free if you are over 60 years old. Anybody below the age of 60 has to pay an activation fee of £7, which is a non-refundable fee.

How do you get your Oyster Card?

The Oyster Card can be purchased online if you live in the UK, at the tube stations, London Overground station, DLR stations, Visitor centres and the Croydon Tramlink Shop.

Can a foreigner get an Oyster Card?

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

How much is a 3-day Oyster Card?

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

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

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What Are Oyster Cards? A Guide