Royal Wedding Trip Diaries: Getting an Oyster Card and the Lack of Support You Get

If you’re traveling to London, one of the best ways to make your trip easier is to buy an Oyster Card. For those that don’t know, an Oyster Card is an electronic card that allows you to travel freely on the Tube without having to pay for tickets indivdually.

Why bother with getting the card when you can just buy tickets at the station?

Well, the Oyster card gives you a substantial discount on a Tube fare. For example, a standard Tube ticket in Zone 1 costs £4 – while using an Oyster Card that same ticket would only costs £1.90 – quite a savings. And that savings really adds up if you make multiple journeys in a day (the fare is capped so you never exceed the day fare).

You can buy Oyster Cards from Visit Britain Direct or you can buy them directly from Transport for London.

This post, though, is about the lack of support you get using this card if you’re not British.

I got an Oyster several trips ago and when I was preparing for my Royal Wedding Trip – I wanted to refill the card so I had plenty of travel on it when I was there. The only problem is that you can’t.

TFL does not allow you to refill the card if you’re not in Britain. Even if you have an online account with them, it won’t accept an American Credit Card or address. I only learned this after multiple tries.

This was very frustrating.

No big deal – the simple solution is to just refill the card at any Tube station. An extra step but easy enough.

However, I was very annoyed that the problem existed at all so I called TFL Oyster Support (From the USA) and left a message. They never got back to me. After following a million prompts on their website, I was able to submit a support ticket.

I did not hear anything from them – that is until a month and a half AFTER I returned from my trip.

Here’s what Transport for London had to say:

Dear Mr Jonathan Thomas

Thank you for your email to the Oyster Card Helpdesk. I’m sorry for the delay in replying to you.

Our website is currently setup to only accept United Kingdom (UK) registered addresses and payment cards. This was introduced as a means of combating fraud. Although this may change in the future, you won’t be able to make use of the online account feature at the moment. You can top-up at any staffed London Underground station, Oyster Ticket Stops or Travel Information Centre, when you’re next in London.

You can search for Oyster Ticket Stops and Travel Information Centres on the Transport for London website. You can therefore plan beforehand where will be most convenient for you to top up according to the area/postcode that you are going to be in:

Oyster Ticket Stops:

Travel Information Center locations and opening times:

So, there you have the reason why frequent travelers to London can’t refill their Oyster Cards. Very annoying. I really wish that they would think again about this – especially as there is a big push for tourists to start using Oyster Cards instead of buying day passess or tickets.

Still, despite this total lack of support for foreign travelers – I still recommend getting an Oyster Card.

Read More at Anglotopia


  1. avatarLisa TroxlerI says

    Yes I purchased mine 2 yrs ago before going over with $ on it. Once there I topped it off before running out. I came home with $ on it for the next trip.

    Just like you, I had emailed 2 depts about the same thing saying I tried to register the card so that I could view my balance on the Oyster app on my Iphone.

    Just like you, I got a vey delayed response that I”M USA resident and they do not accept credit cards??????????? Well, in the tube station when I topped off they did whats the difference? Yes I’m American and plan on visiting.

    So make sure when you purchase you have $ already on it just in case you want to run to the hotel and drop everything. Add $ before you leave the tube station/airport if you’re considering going back over and you’ll be ready and one less thing to worry about.

    Its much better than the passes I had used back in 99 (first trip). I’m all for the OYSTER and maybe in another 10 yrs if enough of us complain, they’ll resolve their issue.

  2. avatarMatt says

    Don’t worry, it’s not just overseas visitors that have problems, I have problems and I live in South London. When topping up on the TFL website in the UK, I have to nominate a Tube, Tram or Rail station 2 days before, in order for the card to be topped up. This means I have to plan in advance which station I am going to use, so that when I touch in or out of that station, the card gets topped up. As I cycle to work, my Oyster card does not get used often. The card cannot be topped up on buses.

    Also I have tried a few times to set up Auto Top-up which means that when the balance gets below £5, the card is automatically topped up by the amount you pre-selected. Again to complete this set up, I have to nominate a Tube, Tram or Rail station (but this only needs to be done once). I am not sure this is available to overseas visitors. However when I try to set up the auto top-up, it fails. Given up hoping TFL resolve all these hiccups after a year of trying. When the card needs topping up I go to the local shop.

  3. avatar says

    I’m glad you posted about this! I’d read about Oyster cards in Rick Steves’ guide to England and intended to get one, and this post could help avoid some headaches.

    Keep Calm and Carry On,

  4. avatarMaureen says

    Jonathan , what is wrong with topping it off when you get into Heathrow? That is what I do every time. I then hop on the tube which takes 4 pounds for the trip into Central London. It takes an hour but is way cheaper than the Heathrow Express to Paddington. Hop off at Green Park, grab a cab for a short hop to any of the hotels in that area and you are ready for yet another wonderful London visit. Loved your wedding photos but you missed me! I was in the Mall just outside those media cubes between there and the Victoria monument. What a scene and what a great festive day!


  5. avatarAndrew Ulavicius says

    What’s the problem, everybody? Apart from the airport and the tube stations, just pop into virtually any local grocery shop, newsagents, mini-supermarket, etc., while you’re there and top it up! I’ve never bothered topping-up mine online ever. Except for the last 3 years living just outside Lincoln, I’m a Londoner, born and bred, by the way. I still have an Oyster Card, though, for when I go back to visit. Don’t forget, there’s no time limit for using the credit you have on it. You can’t ever lose that money. And if you make more than 3 separate journeys in a day – you’re laughing! Because it’ll never deduct, daily, a total more than the cost of a One-Day Travelcard.


    • avatar says

      The problem is that many people (I’m not the only one) didn’t know it was that easy. The goal of this post was to explain how easy it is.

  6. avatarJanet says

    I have a visitor Oyster card. I don’t like the idea of having to use a nominated station to activate the top up because I don’t always travel from the same station when I first arrive in London. I just top up at the first station I use with my debit card.

    • avatarDebra says

      What is the difference between a 7 day travel card (not sure where you get those) and an Oyster? If one hopes to be there for about 7 days?