Oyster FAQs: the basics

There are a number of convenient and easy ways to pay for your journey when travelling on the London transport network. Learn the basics to help you explore London.

Read our top frequently asked questions about how to travel around London to make sure you pay the right fare.

What is a Visitor Oyster card?

A Visitor Oyster card is a travel smartcard, and one of the cheapest ways to pay for single journeys on bus, Tube, DLR, tram, MBNA Thames Clippers river bus service, London Overground and most National Rail services in London. Buy a Visitor Oyster card before you travel to London and it will be delivered to your home address. It costs £3 to buy a card (non-refundable) plus postage.

Enjoy special travel discounts and offers with your Visitor Oyster card at leading London restaurants, shops and entertainment venues. You also get 25% off the Emirates Air Line cable car and 10% off most MBNA Thames Clippers river buses.

What is an Oyster card?

An Oyster card is also a travel smartcard which you can use for travel on public transport in London

If you’re a UK resident you can buy an Oyster card before you travel to London. You can get an Oyster card by paying a £5 refundable deposit. Transport for London will post the card to your home address.

If you don’t live in the UK, you can't buy an Oyster card until you arrive in London. We therefore recommend that you buy a Visitor Oyster card instead before you leave home.

What is pay-as-you-go?

"Pay-as-you-go" means you can put money (credit) on your Visitor Oyster card or Oyster card and then use it to pay for single journeys on London’s transport system. The credit never expires – it stays there until you use it, so you can save your card for future visits to London or lend your card to family and friends to use. Once you’ve used up your credit, you can top it up again.

What is contactless payment?

Contactless payment cards are debit, credit, charge or pre-paid cards which can be used to make quick, easy and secure payments for everyday purchases under £30. You can use a contactless payment card to pay for bus, Tube, tram, DLR, London Overground, MBNA Thames Clippers river bus services and most National Rail services in London. Therefore, pay-as-you-go capping does not apply when using Oyster or Visitor Oyster card to pay.

Your contactless payment card works in the same way as a Visitor Oyster card - there's no need for a PIN or a signature. 

Like a Visitor Oyster card or Oyster card, you need to touch your contactless payment card on the yellow card reader when you start and end your journey on Tube, DLR, London Overground and most National Rail services. You only need to touch your card on the reader at the start of your journey on a bus or tram.

It is important to touch in and out correctly otherwise you may be charged a maximum fare. Remember to only touch one card on the reader. If you need help, ask a member of staff.

If your contactless payment card has been issued outside the UK, please check the Transport for London website for more details. International transaction fees may apply so please check with your card issuer first.

What are "cash free" buses?

You can no longer pay for your London bus fare with cash. Instead, you can pay for your bus fare with a Visitor Oyster card, Oyster card, Travelcard or contactless payment card

If you pay with a Visitor Oyster card, Oyster card or contactless payment card, a single adult fare is £1.50.

If you have a paper Travelcard, just show your ticket to the driver.

If you have a Travelcard on your Oyster card, touch your card on the yellow card reader when you board the bus.

What are London’s transport zones?

London is divided up into nine travel zones. Zone 1 is in Central London. As you travel away from the centre, you pass through zones 2 to 9. Find Free London Travel Maps.

What areas of London can I access with my Visitor Oyster card?

While most tourist attractions and hotels are in Zones 1 and 2, the following attractions are only a short journey away using your Visitor Oyster card or Oyster card:

What and when is Peak and Off-Peak travel?

Different travel fares apply depending on which transport services you use, what day of the week and what time of day you travel. On the Tube, DLR, London Overground and most National Rail services in London, peak fares apply Monday to Friday (not on public holidays) from 06:30 to 09:30 and 16:00 to 19:00. Off-peak fares apply at all other times. It is cheaper to travel at off-peak travel times.

The fare for single journeys on bus and trams is the same at all times, regardless of when you travel.