Oyster Cards Guide for Students

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Samir Badawy

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17 July, 2023

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5 mins read

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Many countries worldwide offer transportation cards to facilitate the transportation process; these cards require you to pre-load them with a balance deducted from every check-in and check-out. Sometimes, transportation cards are directly linked to your bank account and deduct funds with every check-in and check-out. The UK has its transportation card in Greater London called the Oyster Card. In this guide, we’ll present information about Oyster Cards, discounts, how to use them, and how the oyster card balance check works for those asking, “How to check the Oyster Card balance?”.  

What Is an Oyster Card and How to Use It?

An Oyster Card is a smart contactless card that can be used across various transportation modes in London, which include: the tube, buses, national rail services, London overground, and Uber boats by Thames Clippers. 

If you are a visitor, consider buying an Oyster Visitor Card, which is half the price of paper tickets. Oyster cards also have a daily spending cap that doesn’t charge you more once you have exceeded your limit; this applies to all transportation systems except for Uber boats.

To use an oyster card, swipe the yellow card reader on the gate of the transportation system and then touch the yellow card reader again after you board out; this will ensure that the amount will be appropriately calculated. If you use the bus or tram, you’ll only be required to swipe once when you start your trip.

Oyster Card

How to Buy an Oyster Card?

Buying an Oyster Card is straightforward; you can always buy it online and deliver it to your address. If you are still not a resident, you can do the same for Visitor Oyster Cards. You can also buy Oyster Cards from TFL visitor centres or Oyster ticket shops. The standard price of an Oyster Card is 5£-7£.

How to Check Oyster Card Balance?

To do an Oyster card balance check, you can use various ways, which include using underground ticket machines once you place your card on the yellow card reader; this is the easiest and most common way to check.

Other ways to do an Oyster card balance check are through your online account, the Oyster app, available on Android and IOS, or even through underground station ticket barriers, which only apply to some barriers. Usually, ticket barriers show you how much credit you have when you place your card on the yellow card reader, showing you your balance. Once you check out, it will show you your remaining balance and how much was deducted.  

Oyster Card

How to Set Up Your Online Oyster Account?

To set up an online Oyster account, you will need to register with TFL; you will first be required to fill in your personal information and then provide your email address. Once you have submitted your email address, you will have to verify your email address by verifying TFL’s email asking for verification.

Once set up, you can add contactless travel cards and your Oyster card. To add contactless payment cards, you must provide all required billing information, including your card number, CVV, and billing address. Through your new account, you can check your balance, top-up your balance, and see your payment history.

Fees and Transportation Fares

Oyster Fares differ depending on Zone and peak hours; remember that there are also daily caps that will not charge you additional fees once reaching this daily cap. Depending on the Zone where you will commute, prices range from 2.70£ (Zone 1) to £3.60 ( Zone 1-6) for off-peak hours and 2.80£ (Zone 1) to £5.60 ( Zone 1-6). 

Oyster daily caps are the maximum that can be deducted from your credit and start at £8.10 (Zone 1) to £14.90 (Zone 1-6). All the mentioned fees are for Oyster single fares. Buses have cheaper rates compared to other forms of public transportation.

Oyster Card

How to Recharge Oyster Card?

To recharge your Oyster Card, you can use the application or your online Oyster Account for maximum convenience. Alternatively, you can use touchscreen ticket machines, Oyster ticket stops, TFL Visitor centres, and London Overground ticket offices, all of which use credit or cash.

Oyster Card Discounts and Packages

There are various Oyster products available which offer travel discounts to specific segments and for specific usage. These are the best discounts and packages that can benefit students.

18+Student Oyster Photocards

As a student, you can apply for the 18+ Student Oyster Photocard, which allows you to travel at a discounted rate. 

This Photocard can cover your travel for the three years of your study program. This card allows you to save 30% on all travel cards as well as bus and tram passes, as well as offering a 34% discount on off-peak rail fares. To apply for the 18+ Student Oyster Photocard card, check if you’re eligible and if yes, there is a one-time service application fee of 20£ before getting your card. Once obtained, this card will be available for the remainder of your study period.

To apply, you must be at least studying 15 hours a week and studying from Monday to Friday for a minimum of 14 hours per week. This also applies to postgraduate students that study more than 15 hours a week.

Apprenticeship Oyster Photocard

Like the student photocard, the Apprenticeship Oyster Photocard offers a 30% discount on travel cards and bus and tram passes. To qualify, you must be 18 years old, living in London, in your first 12 months of apprenticeship, and you must meet SASE standards (Specification for Apprenticeship Standards in England). Among the requirements are having an active email address, having a ULN (unique learner number), a London borough address, and a digital photo. Once done, you’ll be required to pay a £20 fee.

Bus and Tram Discount Photocard

The Bus and Tram Discount Photocard gives you a 50% discount on adult bus and tram fares. This card is eligible for people between 18-60, residents of London, and who get no other free or discounted products. You must claim one of the following benefits to be eligible:

  • Income/Employment Support and Support Allowance.

  • Jobseeker Support for a minimum of 13 weeks.

  • Universal Credit for 13 weeks or more and not earning more than the defined cap.

At Casita, we urge students to plan their finances before arriving in London, including transportation, accommodation, cost of living, and more. Transportation is also essential as you’ll need to commute, in some cases, to your university or other parts of the city or even throughout the country. With that said an Oyster Card will give you the flexibility to move freely and at a discounted rate.


1. Which Oyster Card is best for students?

The best Oyster card for students is the 18+ Oyster Student Photocard. The 18+ Oyster Student Photocard allows you to get 30% off bus and tram passes.

2. How much is the Oyster Card for students?

Once you have fulfilled all requirements and are eligible for the card, you must pay a one-time administrative fee of 20£.

3. Which Oyster Card is the cheapest?

The Pay-As-You-Go Oyster Card is the cheapest card that is convenient for those visiting London for a short period; it only costs £7 and is more affordable than paying your fare in cash. 

4. Will an Oyster Card save me money?

Oyster Cards are great for saving money, mainly as daily travelling caps apply to them, which limits how much money is deducted daily; once you pass that limit, you will not be charged additionally. Oyster cards are also cheaper than buying tickets and paying in cash. If you are a student, apprentice, or recipient of benefits, you can also use various oyster card discounts.


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