A Complete Guide To Oyster Card (Prices, Benefits, Types, How)

Are you planning a trip to London? Or have you recently relocated there?

If yes, you’ll need to know about one of the most convenient ways to pay for public transport – The Oyster card.

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The Oyster Card is a contactless smartcard that is used as a payment method for public transport in London, UK. It is the easiest and most affordable way to pay for public transport.

Oyster cards were introduced in 2003 to replace paper tickets and though they have their origin in London, their use has been expanded to other cities in the UK.

Using an Oyster card grants you access to travel on the London Underground, buses, trams, Docklands Light Railway, and London Overground networks.

Why Is It Called an Oyster Card?

While the name of the card does not have an obvious link to London or transportation, it has become an iconic name in the London transportation system.

The Oyster card was named by Andrew McCrum, who chose the name for a variety of reasons.

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Some of which are:

  • An Oyster’s secure bivalve shell symbolizes security while the pearl it conceals represents value
  • The Oyster card is similar to Hong Kong’s Octopus card, which was conceived and put into effect before the Oyster card. The name ‘Oyster’seemed to fit an unspoken ‘sea’ theme and was therefore appropriate.
  • The name Oyster goes well with the popular saying ‘The world is your oyster’. This saying typically means you can do whatever you want and go wherever you want. With an Oyster card, you can go anywhere you want in London!
  • The River Thames, which is the longest river in London, has been used as a transport route since prehistoric times. It is also home to many oysters, making the name Oyster card quite fitting.

How Does an Oyster Card Work?

Can you imagine buying a movie ticket that can be reused several times? That would be cool, wouldn’t it? Oyster cards are similar but instead of giving you access to movie theatres; they offer access to the best of London’s diverse transport system. A simple way to put it would be that Oyster cards are electronic purses that are used to pay for public transport.

You can start using your Oyster card once you’ve purchased the card and created an account.

The cards are simple to use. Depending on where you want to use the card, keep an eye out for the yellow card reader below.

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You’ll find the reader at the ticket barrier inside train stations, and the entrance of buses.

Make sure you swipe against the yellow reader at the entrance. You’ll have to swipe the card before and after your trip. If you forget to swipe when you get off, you can be charged extra. You can regularly top-up the credit or opt for the auto top-up option.

Benefits of an Oyster Card

  1. With an Oyster card, you no longer have to buy tickets every time you use public transport. Using an Oyster card is much more convenient than one-off tickets which can be stressful to purchase and use and are also significantly more expensive.
  1. Oyster cards are easy to use and quite affordable.
  1. Oyster cards can be used almost throughout London. They are accepted on buses, trains, tubes, trams, and other means of public transport.
  1. The credit on your Oyster card does not expire. This means you get to use it whenever you’re back in town.
  1. Oyster cards enable you to combine Pay-as-you-go with Travel cards.
  1. Children (less than 11 years) moving around with adults can get free or discounted rides with the appropriate oyster cards.
  1. If you have an oyster card with credit lying idle, you can get a refund.
  1. There is a cap price on how much you can spend on rides. The cap price is unique to each zone. Once the cap price is exceeded, the subsequent rides are free for the rest of the day.

Types of Oyster Cards

There are two main types of oyster cards. These are Regular Oyster cards and Visitor Oyster cards.

Regular Oyster Cards: These are the standard oyster cards often purchased by residents.

Visitor Oyster Cards: These are Oyster cards that are used by visitors to pay for travel on London public transport. They can be pre-ordered and delivered to your home before your arrival. Visitor Oyster cards can also be purchased at all London airports and stations.

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You can preload the card with a pay-as-you-go credit. The fares are similar to those on regular oyster cards. Credit can be preloaded on it and if you run out of credit, you can easily top up and the credit never expires.

How to Buy an Oyster Card

You can buy the Regular Oyster card or the Visitor Oyster card. You can get them from underground stations in London or at airports.

You can also purchase them from a few newsagents or some staffed ticket offices. However, most of the time, they are usually obtained easily from a ticket machine.

If you’re not present in the United Kingdom and want to buy Oyster cards before arriving, the cards can be purchased online and delivered to you. This way, you won’t need to search for the card once you get to London.

This doesn’t mean you cannot obtain the Standard Oyster card online. However, if you use this method, it can only be shipped to a U.K address for free. The Visitor Oyster card can be delivered anywhere in the world.

You can also buy your oyster card as part of a London Pass order which allows you to spend less on visiting tourist centers in London. However, you can only make this arrangement online.

Payment for your oyster card can be made with cash, a debit card, or a credit card.

How Much Does an Oyster Card Cost?

Visitor Oyster cards go for about £5, (this includes postage). Regular oyster cards also cost £5 but the primary deposit can be refunded.

Oyster Card Charges

With oyster cards, you can opt for pay-as-you-go or a travel pass option or you can combine both. The amount for each trip differs.

You can check online for how much a trip costs from your location to your chosen destination. With increased usage, subsequent trips are cheaper till the daily cap is reached.

In addition, the prices can be determined by the time of the day. During the week, the cost of commuting during rush hours i.e. 6:30- 9:30 am and 4-7 pm are significantly higher compared to other times of the day.

How to Check Balance on Oyster Card

Sometimes, you’ve just got to know how much you have left on your Oyster card. Usually, your balance gets displayed at the ticket gates.

However, it flashes so quickly that you might not have read what was on the screen before it vanishes. Not to worry, there are easier ways of checking the balance. You can do it at the ticket machines, and you can do it online.

If you’d like to opt for the ticket machines, there’s a yellow oyster card reader. All you have to do is hold your oyster card to the card reader. Then, it shows you your balance.

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If you’d like to save yourself the stress of checking at the ticket machines, there’s also the option of doing it on the Oyster website.

This option applies only to those whose oyster cards have been registered and already have a fully functioning account.

If not, the TfL app is another option for checking your balance online. The app has the following benefits:

  •        You can easily access the TfL oyster app through your smartphone.
  •        It doesn’t just allow you to check your balance but is also useful when you feel the need to add credit to your oyster card.
  •       If you need to look back on your travels, the app also gives you access to the last eight weeks of your travel history.
  •       You get an alert every time your balance is low.
  •       You can receive refunds on unfinished journeys.

How to Top-Up Oyster Cards

You can add more credit to your Oyster card by any of the following means:

  • Using the ticket machines at London Overground, London Underground Tube, or TfL Rail stations. At the ticket machine, hold your card up against the yellow reader to confirm your balance. Then, select ‘add top-up’and pay with cash or a credit/debit card.
  • Visiting a ticket desk at oyster ticket shops, visitor centers, or stations.
  • Using the Oyster website. You can only use this option if you have set up an Oyster account previously. Once you log in, you can set up the Auto top-up feature or use the ‘Top-up or buy season tickets’ option.
  • Using the TfL Oyster app. Using the TfL app is simple and similar to reloading credits from the website.

The best part about topping up your Oyster card is that you can get a refund for any credit you have left.

It can be done by post, at Underground Tube station Oyster machines, or at a TfL center at least 48 hours from the first time you used your Oyster card.

Oyster card stations list

You can only use Oyster cards within London and on some choice rail services outside London. These areas lie only within TfL zones down to Gatwick. Outlined below is a list of places where you can use oyster cards:

  • Broxbourne, Rye House, St. Margarets, Ware, and Hertford East.
  • Epsom
  • Cuffley, Bayford, and Hertford North
  • Merstham, Redhill, Earlswood, Salfords, and Horley
  • Gatwick Airport
  • Ockendon, Chafford Hundred, Purfleet, and Grays
  • Radlett and Potters bar

Your oyster card won’t be accepted on Hull Trains, Virgin Trains, East Midlands Trains, Grand Central, or London North Eastern Railway services. The Pay-As-You-Go Oyster card can be used on the tram, Tube, bus, Emirates Airline, and DLR. 

Whether you’re a resident of London or planning to visit the city, owning an Oyster card will be very useful.

London transport policies and prices often change but you can be sure that the Oyster card will remain the cheapest and most simple way to pay for public transport in London.

Oyster Card FAQs

Can I Buy An Oyster Card In A Shop?

Oyster cards can be purchased at Oyster ticket shops across London. A lot of people find it easier to recharge their cards at ticket outlets. One reason for this is that there are over 3,800 outlets across the city that can be easily accessed by residents and visitors.

Nowadays, oyster cards are issued with receipts at these outlets for advertising purposes since over a third of Oyster users prefer to purchase and top-up cards at the shops.

A lot of ticket users opt for this method to receive vouchers from various businesses.

Can I Add an Oyster Card To My Apple Wallet?

You can add your Oyster card to Apple Pay on an iPhone or Apple Watch. Apple Pay has proven to be valuable on all London transport networks.

You can also use your iPhone or watch to check your travel history. If you tapped into Apple Pay with a particular device, you’d probably want to tap out with the same device or risk paying higher fees.

The Oyster card isn’t the only card you can add to an Apple ID device. As long as you pair your iPhone with the Apple Watch app, you can add a debit or credit card.

What is the Monthly Cost of an Oyster Card?

There is room for daily, weekly and monthly credit with oyster cards. The monthly cost usually ranges from £142.10 to £370.60 depending on the zone range. Zone 1-2 cost: £142.10 while Zone 1-9 cost: £370.60.

Is an Oyster Card Cheaper than other payment methods?

Yes, it is. In London, there are three primary payment methods for public transportation systems. They are cash payments, oyster cards, and contactless credit cards. Out of the three payment methods, the oyster card remains the cheapest.

Cash payment is the least preferred because it is the most expensive and it has limited use. With Oyster cards, there are daily or weekly price caps, after which you don’t have to pay more.

This feature makes the Oyster card the most cost-effective payment method if you’re a frequent user.

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