What exactly is an Oyster Card?
First of all lets clarify, an Oyster Card isn't a picture of an Oyster on a bit of card sadly, it's a smartcard used for transportation services across all areas of London and areas surrounding it. These transportation services include the Tube, Tram, DLR, TFL Rail and the Emirates Air Line. The world is literally your oyster with an Oyster Card. These Oyster Cards can hold a digital balance whether you're travelling Pay As You Go (PAYG) or whether you have a specific travelcard such as Zones 1-2 on the Tube for a week.
How much does an Oyster Card cost?
Wherever you buy an Oyster card it will cost you the grand sum of £5. To buy an Oyster Card, which can either be bought online (https://tfl.gov.uk/fares/contactless-and-oyster-account) or can be bought at a range of different locations around London. These locations include Tube, London Underground and TFL Rail stations as well as newsagents (these newsagents may have a Oyster symbol in their window or around the shop to let customers know they sell and top up Oyster Cards). However, some payment methods such as if you buy an Oyster Card online you will have to pay a preloaded amount of credit onto the card. For example, if I wanted to buy an Oyster Card online I would have to pay the initial £5 and then I can choose how much I want to preload onto my Oyster Card such as £10. So I would pay £15 and in a few days my Oyster Card would arrive with £10 credit on it.
If you're visiting London and only want an Oyster Card for a specific amount of time then there is an option to buy a Visitor Oyster Card. The same principle applies to that of a regular Oyster Card regarding how to buy it but as far as I know it can only be purchased online only. It also has to be preloaded with credit which ranges from £10-£50 which can be calculated depending on your stay in London. There is also an added fee for postage depending on what country you reside in. For example, if I wanted to buy a Visit Oyster Card online I would pay the initial £5 (activation fee) and then I can choose how much I want to preload onto my Oyster Card such as £10. The delivery fee to a country such as Spain would be £5.50 (untracked) so in total I would end up paying £17.90 for an Oyster Card that would come with £10 credit. The £5 activation fee doesn't contribute towards the credit on an Oyster Card. The best thing about a Visitor Oyster Card is that at the end of your stay in London you can get refunded up to £10 from your Oyster Card in the form of cash. This is only available if you have any form of credit left on your Oyster Card, you cannot receive the money you originally paid for the Oyster Card back (£5).
How do I use an Oyster Card?
London has one of the easiest forms of travel in the world whether this be the actual travel process or paying for travel. The reason being is that on transport services such as the Tube you simply uploaded money onto your Oyster Card (which ranges depending on where you're going) and then tap it on the yellow reader at the start of your journey. The barriers to the Tube will then open and you can carry on your journey to your destination, at your final destination you'll find yourself on the other side of the barrier to which you'll have to tap out again to complete your journey. At this stage in your journey the screen above the barrier will show you how much you have left on your Oyster Card. This can also be checked by going to an ticket machine and simply tapping your Oyster Card onto it. From here you can check your balance, top up your Oyster Card and see your recent journeys as well as the price they cost.
If you're using an Oyster Card on a bus the process is a little different. When getting onto a bus tap your Oyster Card onto the yellow reader, buses don't accept cash payments anymore, to which you'll see a green light flash and a beep. This signals you have enough money on your Oyster Card to go forth with your journey, if the red light flashes then this signifies you may need to top up your Oyster Card before making another journey.
The best thing about an Oyster Card is that your fare will always be cheaper when compared to the payment method of cash to buy a ticket. It also reduces the hassle of having to buy a ticket for every journey you want to make as with an Oyster Card you can simply top it up whenever you want. Some methods of transport such as buses don't take cash anymore meaning they only accept Oyster Cards or bank cards (contactless). More in-depth information regarding pricing and the different transport methods in London can be found by reading my blog post Travelling Around London.
If you travelled between Zone 1 (between London Bridge and Southwark) with an Oyster Card then it would cost you £2.40 but if you was paying with cash and had a ticket then it would cost over twice as much at £4.90. If you travelled between Zones 2 and 6 (Bermondsey to Upminster) with an Oyster Card then it would cost you £2.90 but if you was paying with cash and had a ticket then it would cost you £5.90. Both of these prices are adult rate fares and representative of off-peak pricing.
If you're travelling by bus then the Oyster Card allows users to take as many journeys as they want within the hour for the price of one journey (£1.50). This fare is called the 'Hopper Fare' and is used by many people commuting to work as well as tourists exploring London. Even if you don't use the Hopper Fare then there is a daily cap of £4.50 (3 bus journeys) so if you were planning to spend a day in London then using a bus would be the cheapest and most efficient form of transport. With an Oyster Card you can also purchase specific travelcards for different modes of transport. If using the Tube these travelcards range in price depending on what zones you'll be travelling through. As a member of my family lives in Zone 1 but works in Zone 2 they purchase a weekly travelcard priced at £34.10. This allows them to make unlimited journeys throughout these zones throughout the week, which saves the hassle of topping up their Oyster Card every time they make a journey as well as allowing them the peace of mind when travelling to and from work.
Tips and tricks for what to do in London as well as travelling around it.