Oyster Card & Travelcard
You can pay each time for a paper ticket to ride on London’s public transport system except the red buses. Better options are the prepaid Oyster Card, Visitor Oyster Card or Travelcard. If you have one, you can also use your contactless credit/debit card or iPhone enabled with ApplePay. The options offer convenience as well as great savings than paper tickets especially if you are planning on multiple trips. They are valid for use on London’s public transport system including the red local buses, London Underground and London Overground trains, Docklands Light Railway (DLR), trams and selected National Rail services in Greater London.
London's Fare Zones
The public transport system in London comprises of several zones that spread out from the centre of the city. Most of London’s popular attractions are in the central zone (Zone 1). For visitors to London, most of their travels on public transport are in Zones 1 and 2. London City Airport is in Zone 3, Heathrow Airport is in Zone 6 and the outermost zone is Zone 9. Most services operate in Zones 1-6 but the Underground and Overground trains as well as National Rail, in addition, operate in Zones 7 to 9.
The prepaid Oyster Card is an electronic smartcard whereby the user swipes the card onto the reader before and after boarding. The fare is automatically calculated and deducted when you swipe the card onto the reader. The fare using the Oyster Card is much less than purchasing a single journey ticket. There is a £5 deposit when you purchase an Oyster Card in London. The deposit and any unused amount are refundable if you no longer intend to use the Oyster Card.
Visitor Oyster Card
The Visitor Oyster Card is similar to the Oyster Card for use on the public transport system and the fare is the same. You can also reload your Visitor Oyster Card like the Oyster Card. The difference is the Visitor Oyster Card is for those living outside of London and plan to purchase the prepaid card before leaving their home. You can purchase the card online from the Transport for London website and have it delivered to your home. Unlike the Oyster Card, the £5 deposit for the Visitor Oyster Card is non-refundable.
Ticket gate at a London Underground station by James Petts
The Travelcard is a prepaid ticket allowing unlimited travel and the price determined by the zones you want to cover - the more zones you cover, the higher the fare. Therefore, make sure the Travelcard is valid for every zone you cover. However, the red local buses do not have zones and if the Travelcard is valid for Zones 1 and 2, you can travel to Zones 3 to 9 on the buses. You can purchase Travelcards valid for 1 day, 7 days, 1 month and even a year.
Purchase and Reload
You can purchase the Oyster Card and Travelcard from the ticket machines at the Underground, Overground and DLR stations as well as from the Tfl Visitor Centres and numerous agents including newsagents, small shops and convenience stores in London. You can also reload or top-up your Oyster Card and Visitor Oyster Card at the places mentioned. A few places outside of London sell the Oyster Card and Travelcard.
Oyster Card ticket machine by Sebastian Ballard
Contactless Payment Cards
You can use your contactless credit or debit card (such as Visa payWave and MasterCard PayPass) anywhere the Oyster Card is accepted. Contactless cards have an embedded contactless chip and have a contactless symbol on it. The fare for the contactless card is the same as the Oyster Card with the added advantage you do not have to reload and leave any money like the Oyster Card at the end of the trip. However, if you are using a non-UK issued card your issuing bank will charge a fee for foreign exchange transactions.
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