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How do you buy an Oyster card?

By Lee Emmett

​Oyster cards are reusable electronic tickets that can be topped up with cash to be used on different forms of public transport across London; the card can work on a pay as you go basis. Not only are Oyster cards convenient, but they are more than half the price of a journey when paying in cash.

The other recommended options are using your contactless bank card or buying a London Travelcard pass.

So, how do you buy an Oyster card and where can it be used?

How and where do I buy an Oyster card?

The most convenient places to buy an Oyster card are Underground stations across London, including Heathrow airport. You can buy one using either cash or your credit/debit card. Although there are a few manned ticket offices in London, the likelihood is that you will buy an Oyster card from a ticket machine. You can also buy them in a few newsagents, which will clearly display a sign in their window.

If you’d prefer to buy an Oyster card before arriving in the UK, you can purchase a Visitor Oyster card online, which will be delivered to your home overseas. There are a few differences between an Oyster card and a Visitor Oyster card; the main ones are:

  • You pay an activation fee of £5 for Visitor Oyster cards, which is non-refundable

  • You can’t register a Visitor Oyster card, meaning that if it gets lost or stolen, you cannot request a refund of cash left on it

  • You can’t load 7-day Travelcards on Visitor Oyster cards

How do I use my Oyster card?

You can use your Oyster card via the ‘Pay As You Go’ mode, where you purchase an amount to be loaded onto the card, and then every time you make a journey the appropriate fair is deducted automatically. Alternatively, you can buy Travelcards and electronically load them onto your Oyster (but, as previously mentioned, this is not possible on a Visitor Oyster card), which gives you a fixed cost for unlimited travel for a set period.

Tapping your Oyster card in and out

When entering the station through the barriers, make sure that you tap the Oyster card against the yellow card reader on your way in and then tap out when you reach your destination, even if the barrier is open. If you don’t, this will be seen by Transport for London (TfL) as an incomplete journey and they will charge you more.

Where can I use my Oyster card?

You can use your card on the following:

  • London Underground network

  • London red local bus network

  • Railway network in Greater London

  • Docklands Light Railway (DLR), TfL Rail Services and Overground Railway

  • Heathrow Express and the TFL Heathrow Airport train

  • Train services between London and Gatwick Airport

  • 3% discount on many scheduled river services

Read more about moving to the UK or find out more about London public transport.