If you got your Oyster card before 23 February 2020, you can get your 5 refunded when you don't need your card anymore. If you got your Oyster card on or after this date, your 5 will be refunded automatically as pay as you go credit after one year, when you make a journey with your card. You must collect your refund within six months or you won't be eligible to receive it.
A Travelcard, in the zones it's valid for, gives you unlimited travel at any time on bus, Tube, Tram, DLR, London Overground, Elizabeth line and National Rail services in London. You can use it on all buses, and if valid in zones 3, 4, 5 or 6, on all trams. Travelcards can start on any day.
London is one of the top travel destinations in the world, but navigating this large city can be overwhelming for a first time visitor. Using an Oyster card, a credit card sized transport smartcard, is an easy way to save time and money if you are planning to use public transportation in London.
An Oyster card can be used on just about every form of transport within London including public bus, tram, and rail services within the city. Our goal is help you decide if an Oyster card is a good fit for you and to help you effectively use your card on public transportation in London.
An Oyster card is a credit card sized card that can be used to electronically pay for travel on London transport. All you have to do is load the card with credit, and then you can use it for nearly all your public transport needs around London without having to buy individual tickets.
The best reason to get an Oyster card is cost savings and convenience! It is significantly cheaper to travel in London using an Oyster card than it is to purchase individual tickets for each trip. The only reason you would want to just buy individual tickets is if you are only using public transportation once or twice during your stay.
Oyster cards also have a capping system, which can save you even more money. There is a maximum amount that you can be charged on a daily basis (days run from 4.30am to 4.29am the next day) for traveling in different zones. After you exceed that amount in one day, your travel is free for the rest of the day.
As of September 2021, Oyster cards also have a weekly cap. This runs from Monday to Sunday, and means you will never pay more than the weekly cap for travel. For Zones 1 & 2, the weekly cap is 38.40 (as of February 2023). So you will never pay more than that for public transport in Zones 1 & 2 from a Monday to the following Sunday.
The standard Oyster card is a credit card sized piece of blue plastic. The Visitor Oyster card is the same format, but is more elaborately visual, with an artistic design. Other than external appearance, the standard and Visitor Oyster cards offer the same functionality in terms of transport options and are used in the same way.
They can both be recharged (topped up) and are designed to be a transport card that you can keep and use for a prolonged period of time. Both cards also allow you to obtain a refund for any unused balance (see more on obtaining refunds later in the post).
Fees. First, in terms of fees, the blue standard Oyster card has a 7 deposit. Until 2020 you could claim this back when you were done with the card. From 2020, this 7 is added to the card as credit one year after activation and can no longer be refunded. The Visitor Oyster card has a non-refundable 5 activation fee.
Travelcards. The standard Oyster card allows visitors to add travelcards and bus and tram passes onto the card and the Visitor Oyster card does not. This is unlikely to matter for those staying for only a short time in London, but if you are staying a week or more in London, you may want to consider loading a 7-day London Travelcard onto a standard Oyster card. These are useful if you are visiting London for a week or more and are planning on doing a lot of travel, as these allow you to travel for an unlimited number of journeys within certain zones for a fixed price.
For example, a 7 day zone 1 & 2 travelcard will cost you 38.4 at current prices (prices as of February 2023). If you consider that the fare cap price for daily use in these zones is 7.70, then a week of travel hitting that cap every day would cost you 53.90. In that scenario, a travelcard could save you 15.50.
Note you can purchase travelcards without having an Oyster Card if you purchase them in advance. So if you are staying for 7 days or more you might consider them as it will avoid the Oyster Card deposit or fee.
The Visitor Oyster card does not support travelcards, presumably because most visitors are in London for a shorter period of time, and the added complexity of choice that the travelcard system adds outweighs the potential benefits for most visitors.
Discounts and offers. The Visitor Oyster card is designed for travelers to London and the card can be used to obtain a number of discounts throughout the city on food, shopping, attractions, theatre tickets, and other London experiences. You can see a list of Visitor Oyster Card current discounts at the bottom of this page. The standard Oyster card does not have these perks or discounts.
The decision over the Visitor Oyster card versus the standard Oyster card comes down to the difference in fees, whether or not you want to add a travelcard, if you plan to take advantage of the discounts associated with the Visitor Oyster card, and convenience of purchase (discussed in the next section).
You have a number of options for purchasing an Oyster card for your trip to London, including online, in person, and as part of the London Pass. The ways to purchase the standard Oyster card and the Visitor Oyster card differ and are noted below. Visitors wanting to obtain a pass before they arrive in London should plan ahead and consider buying the Visitor Oyster card online before their trip.
The Visitor Oyster card can be purchased online before you visit London and is available for shipping worldwide. If you are thinking about going to a lot of attractions and museums in London, you may also want to consider the London Pass option below as well.
They are for sale from Underground ticket machines, Oyster ticket stops (a series of businesses around London, see Oyster map here for nearest location), London Overground ticket offices, train station ticket offices, and London Transport Visitor Centres.
When you buy a London Pass, you have the option to add a Visitor Oyster card, which comes preloaded with a set amount of credit depending on the length of London Pass you choose. You can then reload it with credit as needed.
London passes with a Visitor Oyster card can only be purchased online. Note, our image below is of the London Pass when it was a physical product, but it is now only available as a mobile product or as a scannable code you can print out. The Oyster Card that comes with the London Pass is still a physical product which will be mailed to you in advance of your trip.
An Oyster card covers the majority of public transport options in London, including buses, trams, Underground Tube, Docklands Light Railway (DLR), TfL Rail services and London Overground services in Zones 1-9, all suburban national rail services in zones 1-9, Thames Clipper River Bus services, and the Emirates Air Line cablecar service.
This essentially means that almost all tourist attractions and hotels can be easily reached via public transportation with the Oyster card and you can get to all the major rail stations within the city if you are planning a rail journey to another part of the country or to an international destination.
You can currently use the Oyster card to travel to and from Heathrow Airport, Gatwick Airport and London City Airport. The Oyster Card is not currently valid for Stansted Express or services to London Luton airport, Stanstead airport, or London Southend airport.
You can use an Oyster card to travel via Underground from all Heathrow Terminals, which is the most cost effective way of getting from Heathrow Airport into London. You can use your Oyster Card to use train services from Gatwick to central London. You can also use your Oyster card to get to and from London City Airport, via the Docklands Light Railway (DLR).
You can also use the Oyster card for some additional express train services, which include Gatwick Express at Gatwick Airport and Heathrow Express at Heathrow Airport. Note that these services are much more expensive than the other train services so you will want to make sure you have enough Oyster Card credit or use your card for an alternative method of transport.
For the Harry Potter studio tour, you can use your Oyster Card to travel via National Rail train to the Watford Junction station and then you can take the studio tour shuttle (small fee) to the film studios in Leavesden (must have a studio ticket purchased in advance). Or you can just book a tour that includes your ticket and direct transfers from London.
Using an Oyster card is very easy and it is the same whether you have a standard Oyster Card or a Visitor Oyster Card. All the forms of transport that accept an Oyster card have a large circular yellow reader that you just have to touch your card onto. For access to tube stations, this card reader controls the turnstiles or gates.
For most journeys in London, including London Underground Tube, Docklands Light Railway (DLR), rail journeys, and Thames Clippers boats, you have to touch a yellow reader both when entering and exiting the station/dock.
When you touch the Oyster reader, it will show either a green light or a red light. A green light indicates that you have sufficient credit for your journey. At gated stations, this will open the gate or allow you to proceed through the turnstile. If the light is red, this indicates that you do not have enough credit, and you need to purchase more credit before you can continue your journey. If you have enough credit and think there is something wrong with your card, find a staff member to assist you. 59ce067264