How to Use the London Tube Without an Oyster Card

Visiting London and want to explore its vast transport network without the conventional Oyster card? You’re in luck. Let’s journey through alternative payment methods that are not only convenient but also ensure you make the most of your travels in this bustling metropolis.

How to Pay on the London Underground Without an Oyster Card

While the Oyster card has long been a staple for travel within London, modern advancements offer additional flexibility. The London Underground now supports contactless credit cards and payment-enabled smartphones as valid payment methods. This was made possible by the integration of platforms like Apple Pay for iPhone users and Android NFC payment apps for several banks.

  • Apple Pay: Add your supported payment card and use your iPhone or Apple Watch to make quick payments. Remember, your smartphone becomes your tube ticket!
  • Contactless Credit/Debit Cards: Simply tap at the barriers and you’re good to go. The fare is charged the next day, ensuring you never overpay thanks to the daily cap.
  • Overseas Visitors: Do note that if your card is issued outside the UK, check for possible overseas transaction fees.
  • Card Clash Alert: Always use the same card for your entire journey to avoid being charged twice, and ensure other contactless cards aren’t too close to the reader.


If you prefer planning ahead, consider Travelcards. They offer unlimited journeys across many transport services in London. With options like Day Travelcards or Group Day Travelcards, you can choose what best suits your itinerary. Remember, for Zones 1-9, daily capping on a contactless payment is often cheaper than a Day Travelcard.

Traveling with Children

London is family-friendly! Children under five travel free with an adult. Those under 11, can enjoy free rides on various services if they’re with an adult holding a valid ticket. There are also discounted Travelcards for children available for purchase.

How to Use a Contactless Card on London Transport?

Contactless cards provide a seamless experience similar to the Oyster card but with added convenience. Here’s how:

  • Simply tap in and out at tube or train station barriers using the contactless card. On buses, tap the yellow card reader upon boarding.
  • Unlike the Oyster card which requires top-ups, contactless card fares are charged directly to your bank the following day.
  • Every traveler must have their own individual contactless card. Sharing one card for multiple passengers is not permitted.

Oyster v Contactless Cards – Summary of the Differences

AspectOyster CardContactless Card
Fare StructureCharges immediately with each journey.Total cost calculated at end of the day; charged as a single amount.
CappingOffers a daily cap.Offers both daily and 7-day caps (Monday to Sunday).
Initial CostsNon-refundable £5 activation fee for Visitor Oyster cards. £7 refundable fee for newly issued ones.No additional charges or activation fees.
DiscountsSupports discount entitlements.Does not support discount entitlements.


With a plethora of options now available for travelers, using the London Underground has never been easier. Whether you opt for the traditional Oyster card or embrace the modern convenience of contactless payments, your journey through London promises to be smooth and efficient. So, tap away and enjoy all the sights and sounds that London has to offer!

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Can I use my phone instead of an Oyster card?

Yes, you can! Modern iPhone models, specifically the 6, 6 Plus, 6s, or 6s Plus configured with Apple Pay, or even a linked Apple Watch, can be used. This is especially useful for American Express cardholders directly issued by American Express Australia.

Smartphone as an Oyster card: how, where it works

Unlike Australia, where specific cards are needed for different transport systems, Transport for London (TfL) is more flexible. TfL accepts fare payments from not just Oyster cards but also contactless credit cards on various services, including the Tube/Underground, London Overground, TfL Rail, Docklands Light Railway (DLR), most National Rail services, city buses, trams, and even the ‘Emirates Air Line’ cable car. Before boarding, ensure your phone is ready for payment. Apple users can double-click the iPhone’s ‘home’ button while the phone is locked.

2. Is it cheaper to use Oyster or contactless?

The costs are similar since both cards use the Pay As You Go system and are compatible with the TfL Oyster & Contactless app. Tourists might find value in getting an Oyster Card with the London Pass, as Visitor Oyster Card holders may also have access to exclusive deals. The fare cap works similarly for both. Always touch in using the same card or device to avoid maximum fare charges due to inaccurate capping by TfL.

3. What is the cheapest way to get around London?

There are several ways to navigate London without emptying your wallet:

WalkingThe most cost-effective way and allows you to see the city at your own pace.
Oyster CardOffers discounted fares compared to regular tickets.
Avoid Peak HoursTravel during off-peak times (typically outside 7 am to 9 am and 4 pm to 6 pm on weekdays) for cheaper fares and less crowded transports.
CyclingUse schemes like Santander Cycles for just £2 to unlock unlimited 30-minute rides within 24 hours.

And remember, no matter how you choose to traverse the sprawling city of London, there’s always an adventure waiting at every corner!


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