Visitor Oyster Cards – How to buy, and use one

Visitor Oyster cards: What are they?  Where can you buy them?  How do you use them?

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What is a Visitor Oyster card?

Visitor Oyster CardA Visitor Oyster Card is aimed primarily at tourists, but you don’t have to be a tourist to use one. UK visitors can use them as well (even Londoners). Just think of it as a regular Oyster Card with a picture on the front.

A London Oyster card Normal Oyster cards are always blue, but Visitor Oyster cards have a picture on the front to advertise a particular London event. But don’t worry if your card looks different to the one shown above, because this picture changes all the time.

The other important difference between Visitor Oyster cards and blue Oyster cards is that the Visitor ones already come with some credit pre-loaded on to them (to save you the hassle of loading it on yourself). You can choose how much credit you want when you buy it: either £10, £15, £20, £25, £30, £35, £40 or £50. On top of this will come an extra £3 admin fee. This admin fee is non-refundable, and cannot be used for fares. So if you want £20 credit then you’ll end up spending a total of £23.

Visitor Oyster discount vouchers

Visitor Oyster cards also come bundled with a leaflet full of discounts. These discounts are constantly changing all the time, so we can’t tell you what they are right now, but they might include something like 10% off a boat ride, 10% of some souvenirs in a particular gift shop, or 20% off a meal in a particular restaurant.

The rules are different for each venue, but most of the time all you have to do is show your Visitor Oyster card to the staff when you pay the bill, and they will apply the discount.

Which is better: Visitor Oyster card or regular Oyster card?

When it comes to comparing Visitor Oyster card vs normal Oyster card there’s not much difference. Visitor Oyster cards work in exactly the same way as regular pay-as-you-go Oyster cards, and if it wasn’t for the picture on the front you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference.

Visitor passes do come with a leaflet of discount vouchers, I suppose – but their £3 admin fee is non-refundable (whereas you can claim back the £5 deposit on a normal Oyster card). The only other differences are not likely to bother a tourist. You can’t register them on the TFL website, for example. And if you’re planning on loading a travelcard onto it then you will have to get a normal Oyster, because Visitor Oyster cards do not allow that.

But if you are a foreign visitor then don’t worry: either type will do, because they are basically both the same.

Where can you use Visitor Oyster cards?

Visitor Oyster cards can be used on the London Underground, the London Overground, the DLR (Docklands Light Railway), London’s bus network, and some National Rail trains within zones 1-9. (The exceptions are East Midlands, Grand Central, Hull Trains and Virgin Trains.)

You can also use them out to Watford Junction (for the Harry Potter Experience), trains to Gatwick airport (Thameslink, Southern Trains and Gatwick Express), Thames Clippers boats, and the Emirates Air Line cable car that runs between the ExCel Centre and O2 Arena.

You can find a handy coverage map of which stations are within the Oyster zones on the TFL website.

Note: You cannot use Visitor Oysters on the Heathrow Express or Heathrow Connect train service (although you can use them on the Piccadilly line from Heathrow airport). And they are not valid out to Stansted or Luton airport either, as they are both too far away.

Visitor Oyster card fares

When it comes to paying bus and train fares, regular Oyster cards and Visitor Oyster cards are exactly the same. There is no difference whatsoever.

> Visitor Oyster bus fares (adult)

> Visitor Oyster train fares (adult)

And here are the child prices:

> Visitor Oyster bus fares (children)

> Visitor Oyster train fares (children)

Visitor Oyster daily price cap

Using a Visitor Oyster card is cheaper than buying a one day travelcard because it has a daily cap. The daily cap is the maximum amount that will be taken from your card in any one day (it actually runs from 4.30 AM to 4.29 AM the next day). Regardless of how many buses or trains you ride in one day, the total amount of money taken from your card will never exceed the daily cap – and the daily cap is always lower than the price of 1-day travelcard.

Each zone on the London underground map has a different cap, so the price you pay will vary depending on where you go. If you avoid the trains and just stick with the buses all day then the cap will be a little bit lower (and buses don’t have zones, so it remains the same price wherever you go). We have listed all of the daily caps on our London bus fares and London train fares pages. If you need to check which zone each underground station is in then here’s a list of London tube stations.

Note: Journeys to Gatwick airport do not count towards the cap. They are always charged separately to your card. Journeys on a Thames Clipper boat and Emirates cable car don’t count towards the cap either.

Another note: Once you’ve reached the daily cap you still need to tap your card down on the Oyster card reader every time you board a train or bus. But don’t worry: the computer will recognise that your card has reached the cap and won’t charge it any more money.

One final note: Bear in mind that you also have to pay a £3 admin fee when you buy it. So if you are just planning on using the card for one day then you’ll need to cover the daily cap, plus an extra three quid on top.

Where to buy Visitor Oyster cards

Buy a Visitor Oyster Card online:
Buy a Visitor Oyster Card  (TFL website)London Oyster Card
Buy an Oyster card + London Pass

Here is a list of all the places you can buy a Visitor Oyster card:

Order a Visitor Oyster card online: Travellers can order Visitor Oyster cards online from: UK delivery typically takes between 2-4 days, whilst overseas delivery can be as long as 1-2 weeks.

From an airport: Overseas visitors can also buy them from the Gatwick Express and Stansted Express ticket offices at both airports, plus the National Express coach office inside Gatwick, Stansted and Luton airport.

From Eurostar: You can also purchase them onboard a Eurostar train.

From an overseas travel agent: Visitor Oyster cards can be purchased from lots of overseas agents. Here is list of them:

…but NOT in London! For some bizarre reason it is not possible to buy a Visitor Oyster card once you arrive in central London. And, yes, we know that sounds totally ridiculous – but it’s true. You have to purchase one before you arrive in the city. If you forget to buy a Visitor Oyster card before you arrive then you’ll have to buy a normal pay-as-you-go Oyster card instead (which is basically the same thing anyway, so it hardly makes a difference).

Note: If none of these places are any use to you, then why not just buy a regular Oyster card instead? You can buy them from the train stations in London.

London Pass and Oyster card

Buy a London Pass online:
Buy a London Pass + Oyster card

London Pass and Oyster cardBefore you spend money on a Visitor Oyster card, you might want to check out the London Pass.

The London Pass enables you to get free or discounted entry into lots of popular London attractions, and you can also buy them with an Oyster card included – saving you the hassle of having to order a Visitor Oyster card separately.

Young Visitor Discount

Children between the ages of 11 and 15 are entitled to cheap fares on the Underground (under 11s travel for free). The usual way of doing it is to buy them an Oyster photocard, but this is too much hassle for a tourist – so what are you supposed to do? Well don’t worry… because all you have to do is buy them a normal Visitor Oyster card (exactly the same kind that you would buy for an adult), and then apply the Young Visitor Discount to it.

The Young Visitor Discount entitles them to 50% off the adult Oyster price.

Once you’ve bought them a Visitor Oyster card all you have to do is ask a member of staff to apply the ‘Young Visitor Discount’ to it. You can do this at a London Underground station, a National Rail station (within London), or a London Travel Information Centre. Note: Your child must be present when you do it (up to a maximum of four children per adult).

Bear in mind that it only works for fourteen consecutive days. Once the fourteen days are over any remaining credit will still be there, but the pass will revert back to charging adult fares again.

How much credit do I need?

Remembering that you have to pay an extra £3 admin fee on top when you buy the pass, how much credit will you need during your stay?

This will obviously depend on how long you’re staying for, and where you’re planning to travel to. Most tourists will spend their entire holiday inside inside zone 1 (the touristy bit), but it’s possible they could enter zone 2 for places like Camden, Canary Wharf and Greenwich. If you’re flying into Heathrow airport then you will also need to cover zone 6.

Once you’ve worked out which zones you will be travelling through then it’s easy, because each zone has something called a ‘daily cap’. This is the maximum amount of money that will be taken from your Oyster card each day – regardless of how many journeys you make. You can jump on and off the buses and trains all day, making as many journeys as you like, but the maximum amount you’ll pay will never rise above the daily cap for that zone.

So all you have to do is look up the relevant daily cap for your zone, for each day, and then add on that £3 admin fee. And that’s how much credit you ’ll need. Easy!

Topping up Visitor Oyster cards

Visitor Oyster cards come loaded with some credit on already, but the maximum amount you can get is just £50. So what happens if you need more than £50? Luckily you can top up Visitor Oysters in exactly the same way that you top up normal Oyster cards.

Topping up at a train station: The simplest way to top them up is at a self-service ticket machine in a train station. All you have to do is wave your card in front of the big round yellow reader and select ‘top up’ on the touch-screen.

Top up Oyster cards at a train station

You can pay by cash, debit or credit card (bear in mind that some ticket machines are only set up to take cards – so remember to check before you press any buttons).

The maximum amount of money that your Visitor Oyster card can hold is £90 – it is not possible to go above that.

At an Oyster Ticket Stop: Another easy way of topping up your card is at an ‘Oyster Ticket Stop’. These are just high-street shops (usually newsagents) which are showing the blue Oyster card symbol in the window. All you have to do is go up to the counter and give them your card, and then tell them how much credit you want to add on.

…but NOT online! Unlike a regular Oyster card, it’s not possible to register a Visitor Oyster card on the TFL website, so it’s not possible to top it up online.

Using Visitor Oyster on the bus

Using Visitor Oyster cards on the bus

Using a Visitor Oyster card on the bus is easy. All you have to do is wave it in front of the big round yellow reader in front of the bus driver. Some designs of bus also have an Oyster card reader by the middle door and the back door (but not all buses do – so you might want to stick with the front door to be safe). If the card registers correctly then you should see a little green light appear next to the reader. If the little light turns red then it didn’t work, so try holding it flat against the reader again. If that doesn’t work then you are probably out of credit – check what it says on the little LCD screen next to the reader.

Assuming that it worked okay, the correct fare will be automatically deducted from your card by the computer, and your remaining credit will be shown on the screen. Do remember to look at the screen, because it’s a handy way to check your card balance.

There is no need to do anything when you leave the bus. You don’t have to touch it down again to get out – you only have to do that for the trains.

Using Visitor Oyster on the train

How to use Visitor Oyster cards on the train

Using a Visitor Oyster card on the train is easy. If the station has some entry barriers (which most of the stations in central London do) then all you have to do is wave your card in front of the big round yellow reader on top of the gate, and wait for the green light to appear. The computer will then deduct the correct fare from your card and the gate will spring open.

If it doesn’t work then don’t worry. Just get your card out of your wallet and hold it flat against the reader. If it still doesn’t work then check what it says on the little LCD screen – you are most likely out of credit.

If the station doesn’t have any entry barriers (which is quite common for suburban stations), then you will most likely find the Oyster card reader by the stairs leading up to the platform. It is very important that you remember to touch it with your card, otherwise you might get told off by the ticket inspector for dodging your fare.

When you get off the train at the other end of your journey you need to repeat the whole process again, either by touching it against the gate, or against the Oyster card reader by the stairs. Don’t worry about being charged twice: the computer needs to work out which zones you travelled through, so if you forget to touch down as you exit then it won’t know where you went, and you will instead be charged whatever the maximum journey was on that line (ouch!).

Can two people share a Visitor Oyster card?

Sharing an Oyster card is only allowed if you are travelling at totally different times.

You are not allowed to pass the card between each other if you are travelling at the same time, because it’s not possible to pay two fares with just one card. (Lots of people assume that if they tap down twice, then two fares will be deducted – but the system doesn’t work like that. The first time you tap down the computer will think that you are entering the station, and the second time you tap down it will think that you are leaving the station. Only one fare will be deducted in total.)

Can you load a travelcard onto a Visitor Oyster card?

No. You can only do that with normal Oyster cards.

Visitor Oyster card refunds

Refund at a train station: If you still have some credit leftover on your Oyster Visitor card and you want to claim it back before you leave, then all you have to do is go up to a self-service ticket machine at a London Underground station. Touch the Visitor Oyster card against the big round yellow reader and select ‘Oyster Refund’ on the touch-screen, and then follow the on-screen instructions. The cash will come out of the slot. This only works up to a maximum of £10, though – and only if 48 hours have passed since you first used it.

Claiming a refund from TFL: If you need a refund of more than £10 then it’s a bit more difficult, because you’ll have to send it to Transport for London with a covering letter explaining that you want a refund. The address is: TFL Customer Services, 14 Pier Walk, 4th Floor, London SE10 0ES. Bear in mind that they can only send you a check in £pounds sterling, which isn’t much use if you’re a foreign visitor who lives abroad, so luckily there’s another way…

From a Visitor Centre: The third way to get a refund is by handing it in to a Visitor Centre. There are seven of them in London: Euston station, King’s Cross station, Liverpool Street station, Paddington station, Piccadilly Circus station, Victoria station and Heathrow airport (there are actually two at Heathrow: one inside Terminals 2-3, and another one inside the Underground station). Note: There is also one at Gatwick airport, but it’s not possible to get a refund from there.

Keeping the credit: If you can’t be bothered to get a refund then it’s still worth keeping hold of the Visitor Oyster card, because your remaining credit never expires. Oyster cards do not have an expiry date, and the credit remains valid forever. So you can carry on using it the next time you come to London.

Important note: It is not possible to claim back the £3 admin fee you paid when you bought the Visitor Oyster card – that money is gone. You can only claim back your remaining credit.

Questions about Visitor Oyster cards?

> Ask questions about Visitor Oyster cards

  • Admin – “Hi. No, it's not. We've listed all the places you can get it on our Visitor Oyster card page -- .. -Cards.php. But you can get a normal Oyster card at Heathrow, which is basically the same thing”
  •  Guest – “Dear, I’m a belgian university student who will work for an internship from Feb'17, during 9 weeks. (With a residence in London) as I will have lots of costs, can I apply for a student 18+ Oystercard ?, I see this is cheaper than the visitors Oyster card, but are we eligible? Which one do you suggest and can we order it online from belgium to be shipped to home? Many thanks for your reply, astrid, belgium”
  • Admin – “You might be eligible.. Check out the page below to see if you qualify. It says you will need to be living in London (at the time - not now), and either enrolled with a school, college or university that's registered on the TFL scheme, on a mandatory work placement, or attending an eligible full-time or part-time course.. Amongst other things. It's best to read through the details on this page: TFL.Gov.Uk/fares-and-payments/adult-dis .. 18-student. A Visitor Oyster card would be no problem, because they can send them to belgium”

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