Oyster cards and travelcards in London

Whether you're making a one-off trip or you're a regular visitor, using an Oyster travel smartcard is the easiest way to get around on the public transport network in London.
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Person holding a blue London transport Oyster card with a London Underground train arriving at a Tube platform in the background.
A London transport Oyster card. Image courtesy of Shutterstock.
  • Oyster cards are electronic smartcards that are used to pay for public transport in London.
  • Visitor Oyster cards, Oyster cards and contactless payment cards are the cheapest way to travel in London.
  • To use an Oyster card, touch the card on the yellow reader at the gates as you enter and end your journey. You don't need to touch out at the end of your journey on buses and trams.
  • You can buy a Visitor Oyster card online before you arrive in London, or an Oyster card at TfL Visitor Centres, stations and Oyster ticket shops.

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Visitor Oyster cards* and Oyster cards are electronic smartcards that you can top up with credit to spend on travel on the Tube, buses, Docklands Light Railway, Uber Boat by Thames Clippers river bus service, London Overground, Elizabeth line and most National Rail services in London.

How do I use Oyster, Visitor Oyster, contactless payment cards and travelcards?

It's easy to use a Visitor Oyster card, Oyster card or contactless payment card on London's transport network. Simply touch your card on the yellow card reader at the gates when you start and end your journey. Touching in and out will ensure you pay the correct fare. If you don't, you may get charged a penalty fare. If you need help, ask station staff.

You only need to touch the yellow card reader at the start of your journey on buses and trams. You do not need to touch out.

Day Travelcards are paper tickets that can be used at the gates at Tube, DLR, London Overground, Elizabeth line and National Rail stations, or shown to the driver on buses and tram services.

Travelcards are not valid on river bus services, but Uber Boat by Thames Clippers and most river tour companies offer a 1/3 discount when you show a valid Travelcard.

Why should I buy a Visitor Oyster card?

Young black woman boarding a London bus.

A Visitor Oyster card* is one of the cheapest ways to pay for single journeys on the bus, Tube, DLR, tram, Uber Boat by Thames Clippers river bus service, London Overground and most National Rail services in London.

  • Save time – your card is delivered to your home address and ready to use as soon as you arrive in London.
  • A Visitor Oyster card is cheaper to buy (£5) than a regular Oyster card (£7).
  • It’s more than 50% cheaper than buying a paper Travelcard with cash.
  • Oyster cards have a daily price cap – once you reach this limit, you won't pay for any additional journeys (excluding Thames Clippers River Bus where there is no capping).
  • Get discounted fares on Uber Boat by Thames Clippers and the Emirates Air Line cable car.

Where do I buy a Visitor Oyster card?

Buy a Visitor Oyster card online before you visit London and get it delivered to your home address. A card costs £5 (non-refundable) plus postage. You can choose how much credit to add to your card. 

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You can also buy a Visitor Oyster card from Gatwick Express ticket offices at Gatwick Airport station and on board Eurostar trains travelling to London.

Alternatively, you can use a contactless payment card to pay for your travel around London.

Can I buy a Visitor Oyster card in my own currency?

You can pay for your Visitor Oyster card using a different currency. The Visit Britain Shop* is available in a number of different languages and currencies. 

How do I add credit to my Oyster card?

If you run out of credit on your Visitor Oyster card or Oyster card, you can top it up at the following locations:

Oyster card users can also top up on the TfL Oyster app.

What is the difference between Oyster and Visitor Oyster cards? 

Non-UK residents can buy Visitor Oyster cards* before arriving in London, and they are ready to use immediately, so you save time. Standard Oyster cards cost £5 (refundable) and can be purchased on arrival and loaded with credit.

Where do I buy an Oyster card?

If you live in the UK, you can buy an Oyster card* and have it delivered to your home address before you travel to London.

If you do not live in the UK, you can buy a Visitor Oyster card* before you leave home, or buy an Oyster card once you arrive in London at TfL Visitor Centres, transport stations and Oyster ticket stops

What is the difference between an Oyster card and a travelcard?

A Day Travelcard is a paper ticket which allows you to travel as much as you like for one day. You can use a Day Travelcard on the bus, Tube, DLR, tram, London Overground and most National Rail services within London.

Travelcards are not valid on riverboat services, but Uber Boat by Thames Clippers and most river tour companies offer a 1/3 discount when you show a valid Travelcard. You can also get a 25% discount on fares for the Emirates Air Line cable car.

You can buy Travelcards for a single zone or a combination of Zones 1 to 9.

Day Travelcards have two timing options:

  • Use Anytime Day Travelcards at any time on the day of validity, any day of the week for journeys until 4.30am the following day.
  • Use Off-Peak Day Travelcards after 9.30am Monday to Friday and all day on Saturday and Sunday.

Generally, using an Oyster card is better value than buying a Day Travelcard. Oyster cards have daily and weekly spending caps which are the same as the cost of a Travelcard.

7 Day Travelcards

If you want to buy a 7 Day Travelcard, this ticket is only available on an Oyster card, not as a paper ticket. This means you will need to buy an Oyster card and get a 7 Day Travelcard loaded onto it.

If you live in the UK, you can buy an Oyster card before you arrive in London. If you do not live in the UK, you can only buy an Oyster card when you arrive in London. 

What is the difference between Oyster cards and contactless payment cards?

Young black woman smiling and looking at her phone while travelling on a London Underground train.

Contactless payment cards are debit, credit or pre-paid cards which can be used to make quick, easy and secure payments for everyday purchases. You do not need to use a PIN or a signature.

If you are using a contactless payment card to travel around London, touch your card on the yellow card reader in the same way as Oyster cards at the start and end of your journey.

The major benefits for using contactless payment cards are:

  • You won't run out of credit.
  • If you use the same card for all your journeys, your fares will be automatically capped daily and weekly (Monday to Sunday) so that you always pay the cheapest fare. Pay-as-you-go capping also applies when using Oyster or Visitor Oyster card.

For contactless payment cards issued outside the UK, check with your bank to see whether transaction fees or bank charges apply.

Find out more about contactless card payments on London's transport network.

Which ticket should I buy to travel around London?

Deciding which ticket to buy – a Visitor Oyster card*, Oyster card or Travelcard – or whether to use a contactless payment card depends on how long you're staying in London and how frequently you'll be using public transport.

If you plan to make two to four journeys a day for a couple of days, or if you want to travel to the outskirts of the city, then a Visitor Oyster card*, Oyster card or contactless payment card is the cheapest option.

If you are visiting London for a month or longer and plan to make at least three journeys per day, then a Monthly Travelcard may be the most cost-effective option. 

Do I need my own Oyster card if I'm travelling in a group?

Yes, each person travelling needs their own Oyster card, Travelcard or contactless payment card. If you are coming to London in a group of 10 or more people who plan to travel around the capital together, you can buy a Group Day Travelcard*.

Do kids need Oyster cards?

Children under 11 travel free on most of London's public transport services when accompanied by a fare-paying adult, or with a 5-10 Zip Oyster Photocard

Children aged 11 to 15 years old can get free or discounted travel with a Zip Oyster Photocard or a Young Visitor discount.

16 and 17-year-olds pay half the adult rate on Tube, DLR and London Overground journeys with a 16+ Oyster photocard.

 
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Tube, London Overground and zones overview

London's public transport network is divided up into nine travel zones. Zone 1 covers central London and zones 6 to 9 are on the outskirts of the city. You can download a Tube map that shows stations in each zone with these free London travel maps

London transport ticket prices

The cost of your journey will vary depending on the type of transport you use, the zones you travel through, the day you travel and the time you travel.

More expensive peak travel fares are in effect between 6.30am to 9.30am and 4pm to 7pm Monday to Friday. For example, a single off-peak journey on the Tube from Zone 1 to Zone 2 costs £2.60 but increases to £3.20 during peak hours. 

Visit the TfL website for more information on fares.

More questions about Visitor Oyster cards and Oyster cards?

Still not sure which travel ticket you need to buy? Unclear on how to use your Visitor Oyster card? Read our Oyster FAQs pages for the answer to these and other Oyster card-related questions.

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