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Using an Oyster Card in London

Oyster cards (also referred to as “Travelcards”) are plastic cards that can be used in place of paper tickets for the Tube, Buses, some National Rail services and the Docklands Light Railway. Worthwhile if your stay in London is a week or longer, Oyster automatically works out the cheapest fare for all your journeys.

Buying and using the Oyster Card might seem a bit confusing at first, so here are some instructions to help simplify the process.

Buying an Oyster Card

You can order an Oyster Card online to be sent to you before you even arrive in London, or purchase one locally in an Oyster Ticket Stop or at a wide variety of transport stations.

Tube (or Underground) stations are the most popular purchasing locations, especially for tourists.

In Tube stations, beside the regular ticket-purchasing kiosks you’ll find separate kiosks for Oyster Cards. You can use cash, credit or debit card to purchase an Oyster Card from one of these kiosks.

For most visitors, a 2-zone, 7-day pass will be the best option. If you’ll be staying less than a week, load £10-20 worth of credit. The card itself requires an additional £3 deposit; when you’re done with the card, go to any window attendant at any Tube station to be refunded this deposit.

Adding more credit to the card (or “topping up”) is fast and easy. If you’ve mastered the use of an Oyster Card kiosk, simply return to one and add credit with cash, credit or a debit card. Or, approach a Tube station window attendant or cashier at an Oyster Ticket Stop (generally, tobacco shops and news stands around town), hand them your card and the amount of money you’d like to add, and they’ll adjust your balance and return your card to you.

Using an Oyster Card in the Underground and Docklands Light Railway

Wave or hold the card just above or on the large yellow circle on the entry gate. The system will automatically record the beginning of your journey, open the turnstile, and flash your current balance on the small screen near the gate.

Remember to also scan the card when you leave the Underground or DLR station. This will record the number of zones you’ve traveled and deduct the appropriate amount from your balance. If you just slip out a gate behind someone else without using the card again you will be charged for a 6-zone fare, which is much higher than the 1 or 2-zone rides most tourists will be taking.

Here’s what the Oyster Card will save you on the Tube:

Zones Adult
single fare
Oyster Pre Pay Peak* Oyster saving Oyster Pre Pay
off peak
Oyster savings

One Zone 1 £4.00 £1.80 £2.20 £1.80 £2.20
2, 3, 4, 5 or 6 £3.50 £1.30 £2.20 £1.30 £2.20
More than
1 zone
1-2 £4.00 £2.30 £1.70 £1.80 £2.20
1-4 £4.00 £3.10 £0.90 £2.40 £1.60
1-6 £4.50 £4.20 £0.30 £2.40 £2.10
2-6 £3.50 £2.20 £1.30 £1.30 £2.20

Using an Oyster Card on the Bus

Buses feature entry ticket readers with the same yellow circle you’ll find on a Tube entry gate. When boarding, hold your Oyster Card to this circle, wait for the beep, and take your seat.

With an Oyster Card, buses are £1.20 per journey rather than the usual £2.

Ticket inspectors make random bus visits and keep track of Oyster Card usage on hand-held computers. If you board without touching your card to the circle and waiting for the beep, your journey will not be recorded; you can be fined £10.

Using your Oyster Card on the River Bus

Passengers boarding a river bus must present their Oyster card to the on-board ticket inspector, who carries a hand-held card reader; the fare will be deducted from your pay-as-you-go balance.

Using your Oyster Card on National Rail

As with Underground and DLR journeys, Oyster users on National Rail must touch their card to the big yellow circle at the entry gate, both at the start and end of the journey. Many large National Rail stations in London have Oystercard-compatible barriers. At other smaller stations, users must touch the card on a standalone validator.