London Oyster card FAQs: the basics

It's easy and convenient to pay for your journey when travelling on the London transport network. Learn the basics to help you explore London.
Close-up of a London transport Visitor Oyster Card with a yellow Oyster Card reader in the background.
You can buy a Visitor Oyster card before you arrive in London. Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

Content contains affiliate links – marked with asterisks. If you click through and make a purchase, Visit London receives a commission which is put back into our work promoting London.

Learn about the different modes of transport to travel around London and read on to see the answers to the most frequently asked questions about London travel with an Oyster card.

What does an Oyster card do?

An Oyster card or a Visitor Oyster card* is a travel smartcard which you can use to pay for journeys on public transport in London, including the bus, Tube, Docklands Light Railway (DLR), tram, Uber Boat by Thames Clippers river bus, London Overground and most National Rail services in London.

How can I get an Oyster card?

Travellers from outside the UK can buy a Visitor Oyster card* before arriving in London, and it will be delivered to your home address. It costs £5 to buy a card (non-refundable) plus postage. With a Visitor Oyster card, you can get up to 26% off the fare for the IFS Cloud Cable Car cable car and up to 19% off single journeys on the Uber Boat by Thames Clippers river buses. Visitor Oyster cards are cheaper to buy than a regular Oyster card.

If you’re a UK resident, you can buy an Oyster card before you travel to London by paying a £7 refundable deposit. Transport for London posts the card to your home address.

What is pay as you go?

You can add a travelcard to your Oyster or use pay as you go.

"Pay as you go" means you top up (put credit on) your Visitor Oyster card* or Oyster card and then use it to pay for journeys on London’s transport system. The credit never expires. It stays there until you use it, so you can save your Oyster card for future visits to London or lend your card to family and friends to use. Once you’ve used up your credit, you can top up your Oyster card again.

What is contactless payment?

Contactless payment cards are debit, credit, charge or pre-paid cards which can be used to make quick, easy and secure payments for everyday purchases. You can use a contactless payment card to pay for the bus, Tube, tram, DLR, London Overground, Uber Boat by Thames Clippers river bus services and some National Rail services within London.

Your contactless payment card works like an Oyster card or Visitor Oyster card*, and you do not need to sign or enter your PIN.

Touch your contactless payment card on the yellow card reader when you start and end your journey on Tube, DLR, London Overground and most National Rail services. You only need to touch your card on the reader at the start of your journey on a bus or tram.

It is important to touch in and out correctly, or you could be charged a higher fare. Remember to only touch one card on the reader.

If your contactless payment card has been issued outside the UK, check with your bank to see whether international transaction fees apply.

Young Black woman boarding a London bus.

How do you pay for the bus in London?

You can pay for your London bus fare with a Visitor Oyster card*, Oyster card, Travelcard or contactless payment card. You cannot pay for the bus fare with cash.

If you pay with a Visitor Oyster card, Oyster card or contactless payment card, a single adult fare is £1.65.

If you have a paper Travelcard, just show your ticket to the driver. If you have a Travelcard on your Oyster card, touch your card on the yellow card reader when you board the bus.

What areas of London can I see with my Visitor Oyster card?

London is divided into nine travel zones. Zone 1 covers central London, and as you travel away from the centre, you pass through zones 2 to 9. Download free London travel maps before you go to see what zone you're starting from and what zone that you want to visit. While most tourist attractions and hotels are in Zones 1 and 2, the following attractions are only a short journey from central London using your Visitor Oyster card* or Oyster card:

What is peak and off-peak travel?

Different travel fares apply depending on which transport services you use, what day of the week and what time of day you travel. On the Tube, DLR, London Overground and most National Rail services in London, peak fares apply from Monday to Friday (except on public holidays) from 6.30am to 9.30am and 4pm to 7pm. Off-peak fares apply at all other times. It is cheaper to travel at off-peak times.

The fare for single journeys on buses and trams is the same at all times, regardless of when you travel.