In London you can buy an Oyster card from many different places, such as tube & train stations and many newsagents. If you're planning a trip to London in the future, you can also get a Visitor Oyster card ahead of time for delivery to your home. Read below to find out where to buy Oyster cards, and read about a disadvantage of Visitor Oyster cards.
Where to Buy an Oyster Card in London
There are a number of ways to obtain an Oyster card. In London you can get a card in person (e.g., from a station or newsagent) and you don't need to open an Oyster account to do so (although you can later on, if you'd like). You can also buy an Oyster card online, but to do so you'll need to open an Oyster account. Benefits of having an online account include the ability to set up automatic top ups when your balance is running low. Regardless of how you obtain your Oyster card, you'll need to pay a £5 deposit for it.
|Where Can You Buy an Oyster Card in London?||Oyster Account Required?|
|Online (only if you live in the UK)||Yes!|
|At 4000+ Oyster Ticket Stops in many London newsagents||No|
|At all Tube, London Overground and TfL Rail stations||No|
|Some DLR and National Rail stations||No|
|At Visitor Centres||No|
|At the Tramlink Shop in Croydon||No|
Note, if you'll be taking a bus then you'll need to buy an Oyster card before you get to the bus stop—you can no longer pay with cash and you can't buy on Oyster card from a buy driver. That said, another way to pay for bus rides is using a contactless debit or credit card if you don't have an Oyster card.
How to Buy a Visitor Oyster Card Ahead of Time
Visitors to London can buy a Visitor Oyster Card online from the Transport to London (TfL) site to use immediately on public transportation upon arrival. The benefit of getting your card ahead of time is that you won't need to search for a place to buy an Oyster card or queue when you arrive, but can instead head straight out to see the sites. Each person in your group needs their own Visitor Oyster card.
A Visitor Oyster card can be used to pay for trips around London on the bus, Tube, tram, DLR, London Overground, TfL Rail, River Bus and most National Rail services. A Visitor Oyster card can also be used to pay for travel on trains to/from Gatwick Airport, including Gatwick Express, and the Picadilly line for travelling to/from Heathrow Airport. To learn more, visit the TfL's Visitor Oyster card page.
Costs and Topping Up
In terms of cost, Oyster fares are cheaper than you'd pay with a paper single ticket or fares on a One Day Travelcard. This is because there's a daily cap on charges that depends on where and the times of day you travel. For example, a full day of sightseeing in central London (zones 1 and 2) using the Tube, DLR and bus will cost at most £6.50.
A Visitor Oyster card costs £5 (plus postage) to buy, plus you can pre-load it with pay as you go credit in the following amounts: £10, £15, £20, £25, £30, £35, £40 or £50. For reference, TfL recommends starting with £15 on your card for a 2-day stay. (You'd pay £20 to put a £15 credit on your card, including the £5 administrative fee.) If you run out of credit and need more, you can top up at:
One Disadvantage of the Visitor Oyster card
You can't top up a Visitor Oyster card online (they're not linked to online Oyster accounts), which means you could inconveniently run out of credit—for example while rushing to catch a bus to a museum before it closes.
A good alternative to getting a Visitor Oyster card may be using a contactless credit or debit card. That way you won't ever need to top up your card or run out of credit. Pay as you go fares and daily caps are the same as Oyster, so using contactless can end up cheaper in the end as you don't need to pay the £5 administration fee to obtain your Oyster card.
That said, if you'd rather not pull out your debit or credit card each time you travel then an Oyster card my be preferable. In addition, you may not want to use a contactless card as foreign transaction fees may apply (these vary from card to card). If that's the case, then an Oyster card could be the cheaper option for you.
Oyster cards are not just useful for travel around London; you can also use an Oyster card on trains between central London and Gatwick Airport.