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Do not confuse Oyster with Contactless, they are two different methods of payments. Read about Contactless here.

Oyster is a system of pre-paid electronic ticketing that has been used in London since early 2003. The name was chosen in part due to London's connection with Oyster beds in the Thames estuary and the already well know phrase, 'The Worlds Your Oyster'.
This is both a payment system and type of payment in itself. A payment system using RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) which means you just pass it close to an electronic reader (the range of the system is around 10cm) and the system that debits your card the appropriate fare or logs your point of entry in order to calculate the fare when you touch out of the fare zone (as on the tube network).
Oyster is also a means of payment since paying with an oyster card gives you cheaper fares than if you paid with cash. It can also be loaded with our payment options such as travelcards and used exactly as though you was paying with that travelcard. Oyster pre pay is for use on the tube, bus, DLR, tram many River Bus services and most national rail services within the London fare zone areas of 1-9. You can obtain oyster cards at tube station tickets offices, online, oyster ticket shops and London information centres.
Once you obtain your Oyster card you keep that card for life. When its loaded fares run out you simply top up the card again.

You can reload it at:
tube stations (using the touchscreen ticketing machines)
shops displaying the Oyster logo
online >>>here
by phone 24 hours 0870 849 9999

Auto top-up
By registering for auto top-up you will never have to worry about adding credit. Using this system whenever your balance falls below £8 credit will automatically be charged to your registered credit/debit card to the value of £20 or £40.

You also buy Oyster cards from Gatwick express and National express ticket offices (airports) and on board the EuroStar trains.

In 2009 pink Oyster route valuators were introduced. When you touch your Oyster card on a pink card reader it ensures that the Oyster single fare charged is calculated via that route, rather than a potentially more expensive route. You must still touch in on a yellow card reader at the start of your journey and touch out at the end. You can't touch in on a pink card reader to record the start or end of a journey.

Main Benefits to Transport for London:
Cheaper than paper ticketing
Allows for more efficient flows of passengers
Oyster cards have capped fares which means there's a limit on how much will debited from the card on any one days travel. Currently this is at the same level as the one day Travelcard option. So each time you use the card the single fare is debited until the point its at the level of the 1 day Travelcard rate and then you will not be charged for any more travel on that day. For the capping to apply make sure you touch in and touch out at the start and end of any journey you make. On buses and trams, you must touch in at the start of each journey.
Auto-top up. This means you can set your card to automatically load more credit when the stored credit goes below £5.

Its not just for loading a set amount of money. You can also load your travelcards (7 days or more) and bus pass options onto it. In fact you can have 4 different season tickets on the Oyster card at the same time.

A visitor Oyster Card is a simplified form of the full oyster card.
The visitor card comes with a preloaded amount of credit £10 or £15 (you can still top up but its ready to use the moment you buy it), the full normal card doesn't come pre-loaded.
The visitor card is at the adult rates only while normal card can be used for child rates.
The Visitor card costs £3 on top of the preloaded amount while the normal card costs an initial £5 but that is refunded when you are finished with the card. The visitor cost of £3 is non-refundable.
The visitor card can't be loaded with a travelcard like you can with the normal Oyster card.

Beware that when you claim for refunds on unused amounts anything over £5 is refunded as a sterling cheque which may be awkward to cash in another country or attract charges in dong so.
The visitor Oyster card is unregistered so this means if lost or stolen you do not get a refund for the amounts loaded on it.
>>>buy a visitor oyster card online

Deposits and Refund of Unused Amounts
There is a refundable initial deposit of £5 payable when you obtain your first Oyster Card no matter how long the card is for (used to be for 7 days or under). There is an initial charge of £2 when you obtain a visitors Oyster card but this is NOT refundable (you still get a refund for unused amounts loaded on the visitor card).
If you have less than £5 loaded on the card then you can get a refund at a Tube station ticket office, and they will cancel the card. If you have MORE than £5 still loaded then the station ticket office will give you give you a form to complete and you will then receive your refund as a sterling (British pounds) cheque.
There is another way to get a refund which avoids the nuisance of queuing for the form and then having to fill it out when you may be short for time and that is to send the card back to the Oyster helpline (0845 330 9876).

Benefits of registering your Oyster card
Registered cards can still be shared by more than one adult no matter whose name its registered to.
If you report lost a stolen or misused registered card you maybe be able to obtain a refund of the value left on the card at the time.

Registration is compulsory if you have a monthly or longer season ticket on the card or its a photocard. However you can still register your card voluntarily to obtain the above benefits.

*note: using your Oyster card is termed 'PAY AND GO' (PAYG), however you cannot pay and go at National rail stations in general other than a few selected stations.

Big Brother is watching:
One concern some have with the oyster card is it keeps a record of your every move on the transport system. This may or may not be a concern to you.

How do you know how much is left on your Oyster card?
You can get a balance read out by using the card reader on a tube station ticket machine. You can also simply ask the staff serving in the ticket office (if manned) what your balance is or by visiting the Oyster Card website.

Oyster Extension Permits - Using National Rail to Destinations Outside your Travelcard Zones
If you want to travel beyond the zones covered by your Travelcard on National Rail services within London you must set an Oyster Extension Permit on your Oyster card before you travel. This means you will use pay as you go once you've gone outside the zone. Please note this is for when your journey starts within your purchased Travelcard zones but ends outside those zones. If you do this the other way round, that is starting a journey outside your Travelcard zones but travelling to a stop within your zones then you only need to use your oyster as pay-as-you-go with the correct fare being deducted when you touch out at your end stop.
* You can set your permit at any Tube or London Overground station ticket office or touchscreen ticket machine, Oyster Ticket Stops, some National Rail ticket offices or self-service ticket machines
* You only need to set an Oyster Extension Permit when you start a journey within the zones covered by your Travelcard and want to travel outside those zones on National Rail
* Only set your permit to your card just before you make your extension journey
* You must have at least £1.50 pay as you go balance on your Oyster card to set one
* A permit stays on your card until you touch out at the end of your journey
* When touching out, the permit will be cleared from your Oyster card and the fare for the extension journey will be deducted from your pay as you go balance

If you travel beyond the zones covered by your Travelcard without an Oyster Extension Permit you may be liable to a penalty fare or prosecution.
Note that for bus journeys all Travelcards cover all zones no matter what zones are covered on the Travelcard.

Oyster PhotoCards for young people are called Zip. They allow for discount rates of travel for under 18's. They are free of charge. This is a separate card to the Oystercard (which has no photo). For a photo card you must make a separate application which can mean a period of 3 weeks between application and receiving the card.

You need an Oyster photocard to:
Travel free on buses and trams
Use Oyster to pay as you go at child rate on Tube, DLR and London Overground services
Get £1 capped pay as you go travel for the whole day in Zones 1 to 6
Get £1 capped pay as you go off-peak travel in Zones 1-9
Buy child-rate 7 Day, monthly or longer-period Travelcards.

A photocard is not needed for single or return tickets bought with cash for the Tube, DLR or London Overground or 1 or 3 Day Travelcards.

Oyster compared to Contactless:
Contactless is using your NFC contactless card or phone or other device as payment. Oyster is a pre-paid top card.
Contactless and Oyster fares are identical except that Contactless has a further Monday to Sunday (7 day) cap that Oyster does not have.
Oyster allows for travel discounts (different to price capping) but Contactless dos not.
Travelcards can be loaded onto an Oyster card, you cannot do that with Contactless.
Read about Contactless here.
Hopper fares:
Make a journey using any form of contactless such as debit and credit card or Oyster on a bus or tram, and if you make another journey on a  bus or tram within one hour the second journey is free. Journey time is calculated from the touch-in times of payment. Make sure you touch-in for the second journey. The second free ride is automatically applied and nothing is else is required.
Using the Tube, DLR, London Overground, TfL Rail, Emirates Air Line, River Bus or National Rail services between the first and second bus or tram journey means you must pay in full for the second journey.
If your Oyster card has a negative pay as you go balance after the first journey you wont get the free ride. However if you clear the negative balance within one hour of touching in, you can still make the second journey for free
You cannot use an Oyster card to change from a tram to a bus at Wimbledon station. For these journeys, an automatic refund for the second fare will be paid to your Oyster card. Tube, DLR and London Overground - Child fares
under 16's charged at child rate when presenting a Oyster Photocard
Under-5s free. Must be accompanied by someone using a valid ticket, Oyster PAYG or has a freedom pass.
5 to 10yrs free, must have a 5-10 Oyster Photocard if unaccompanied
5 to 10yrs free, but maximum of 4 per adult with a valid ticket if the children have no 5-10 Oyster photocard.
11 to 15yrs pay child rate when using an Oyster Photocard

Buses and Trams - Child Fares
under 16's free.
Under-5s Must be accompanied by someone using a valid ticket, Oyster PAYG or has a freedom pass.
5 to 10yrs free, do not need to be accompanied, do not need a ticket or Oyster Photocard
11 to 15yrs free when using an Zip Oyster Photocard
Those 16 to 18-year-olds in full-time education or on a work-based learning scheme and live in a London borough can travel free on buses and trams with a 16+ Oyster photocard (also gives 50% discount on adult rate on Tube, DLR and London Overground services and  Travelcard season tickets)
18+ students in full-time education and attending colleges or schools registered with TfL are eligible for 18+ Student Oyster photocards to buy Bus & Tram Pass and Travelcard season tickets at 30% off the adult-rate.

2018 Price comparison
Tube, London Overground and DLR:
Cash single fare is the normal rate when paying
WITHOUT an Oyster Card or Contactless card.
  Oyster/Contactless Single fare Cash Single Fare
Journeys in: Peak Off-Peak
Zone 1 £2.40 £2.40 £4.90
Zones 1-2 £2.90 £2.40 £4.90
Zones 1-3 £3.30 £2.80 £4.90
Zones 1-4 £3.90 £2.80 £5.90
Zones 1-5 £4.70 £3.10 £5.90
Zone 1-6 £5.10 £3.10 £6
Zone 2 £1.70 £1.50 £4.90
Zone 2-3 £1.70 £1.50 £4.90
Zone 2-6 £2.80 £1.50 £5.80

Tube, DLR and London Overground
  Oyster/Contactless Daily Price Cap Day Travelcard
Zones: Peak Off-Peak Monday to Sunday
(contactless only
weekly cap)
*Anytime Off-Peak
Zone 1 £6.60 £6.60 £33 £12.30 £12.30
Zones 1-2 £6.60 £6.60 £33 £12.30 £12.30
Zones 1-3 £7.70 £7.70 £38.70 £12.30 £12.30
Zones 1-4 £9.50 £9.50 £47.30 £12.30 £12.30
Zones 1-5 £11.20 £11.20 £56.20 £17.50 £12.30
Zone 1-6 £12 £12 £60.20 £17.50 £12.30
Zone 2 £6.60 £6.60 £24.70 £12.30 £12.30
Zone 2-3 £7.70 £7.70 £24.70 £12.30 £12.30
Zone 2-6 £12 £12 £41.20 £17.50 £12.30

Child (11-15 years)
Tube, DLR and London Overground
  Oyster/Contactless Daily Price Cap Day Travelcard
Journeys in: Peak Off-Peak *Anytime Off-Peak
Zone 1 £3.30 £1.50 £6.10 £6.10
Zones 1-2 £3.30 £1.50 £6.10 £6.10
Zones 1-3 £3.85 £1.50 £6.10 £6.10
Zones 1-4 £4.75 £1.50 £6.10 £6.10
Zones 1-5 £5.60 £1.50 £8.70 £6.10
Zone 1-6 £6 £1.50 £8.70 £6.10
Zone 2 £3.30 £1.50 £6.10 £6.10
Zone 2-3 £3.85 £1.50 £6.10 £6.10
Zone 2-6 £6 £1.50 £8.70 £6.10

*PEAK: (Monday to Friday from 04:30 till 09:29)
**OFF-PEAK: (Weekends, Public Holidays, Monday to Friday from 09:30 till 04:29 the next day)
Oyster/Contactless/cashless Single Fare Cash Single fare
£1.50 cash not accepted
paper single tickets are available from all ticket machines at tram stops and cost £2.60
Oyster/Contactless Caps
 (the most you will pay in one day paying with an Oyster or Contactless Card)
Bus and Tram only daily use capped at £4.50 for Oyster and Contactless payment
Season Tickets
Bus & Tram Pass - Adult
  1 Day 7 Day Monthly Annual
All London £5 £21.20 £81.50 £848

16-18 Years

You must have a 16+ Oyster photocard to get:
7 Day, Monthly and longer period Travelcards at child rate
Half the adult rate when you pay as you go on Tube, DLR and London Overground
You can also get 34 per cent off the off-peak daily price caps if you also have a 16-25 National Railcard
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