Topping Up

So you’ve bought your Oyster card and used up your initial credit.  What now?  TfL provide a wide range of methods to top up the balance on your card.  Which you use depends largely on your circumstances.

Auto Top-Up

For regular travellers this is probably the best option.  Once set up you will never need to worry about running out of credit again.  You can choose to add either £20 or £40 every time the balance on your card falls below £10.  Whenever you start a journey and the balance is below £10 you will hear an extra few beeps as you touch in and your balance will be increased by your selected amount.  This even happens on buses and trams.  When the oyster reader transfers its transactions to the central system your credit or debit card is debited with the amount.  This is what you need to do to set it up:

  1. If you haven’t already done so, you need to create an account on the Oyster website.  Then you need to associate the card with that account.
  2. Select “Add/renew/top-up ticket” from the card menu.
  3. Choose “Pay as you go with auto top-up” and select an amount to top-up immediately (between £10 and £50 in £5 multiples) and the amount to auto top-up later (either £20 or £40).
  4. Click on “Continue” and select a station to activate the order from.  This can be any tube, national rail, overground or DLR station or a tramstop.  You can’t activate auto top-up on a bus, but once activated the actual top-up can be triggered on a bus.
  5. Click on “Continue” again and enter your credit or debit card details.
  6. If you complete this process before 11pm then your order will be available from the next day, otherwise it will be the day after.  It remains available for 8 days.  If you don’t collect (activate) the order within that time then the initial top-up charge will be refunded and you’ll have to start again.
  7. You will receive an email confirming your order and another when it is available at your selected station.
  8. Simply touch in as the start of a normal journey at that station.  The immediate top-up will be added to your card and auto top-up will be activated.  Unless the station was a tram stop you must remember to touch out again at the end of the journey.

Manual Top-Up

If you don’t want to use auto top-up for whatever reason, especially if you use your card infrequently, then there are a number of places to manually add credit.

  • Oyster ticket stop shops.
  • Tube, Overground, DLR and some National Rail stations*.
  • Online at the Oyster website.  Follow the same steps 1-8 above, but only select an amount to top-up (you can also add just £5 if not adding auto top-up).

* At most National Rail stations you may find that you can top-up at the ticket machine but not at the ticket office itself.

If you top-up at a ticket machine then you need to remember that it is a two stage process.  First place your card on the reader which will confirm the balance and any tickets held.  Then select add top-up and either insert the money or pay on a credit/debit card.  Finally place the card on the reader again so that the top-up can be added to the card.  After the second touch you will get any change returned or a receipt if paid by card.

If you pay by card then the transaction will be authorised after you enter your PIN.  If you forget to touch again to get the top-up added then this authorisation will remain and may appear as if the money has been taken.  It hasn’t, and the authorisation will drop off 2-3 business days later when TfL will have failed to charge the debit to your bank.

742 Responses

  1. my daughter has 16+ oyster
    I want to do auto top up for her, but she uses it for bus mainly. The list of stations on website for activating top up does not include dartford which is our closest oyster station.

  2. Hi Alice,

    I’m confused. I’ve just tried to order auto top-up on one of my cards and Dartford [National Rail] appears as an option in the list of stations. However, you cannot pick up the order without making a journey. Fortunately the off-peak fare to Crayford is almost the same as the bus fare (80p versus 75p).

  3. My local corner shop charged my daughter 80p to top up her PAYG Oyster card. Are they allowed to do that?

  4. Hi John,

    They might be if she used a credit card, but I’d be surprised if they were allowed to do it for cash. I’d call the helpdesk tomorrow and complain.

  5. Thanks for the reply Mike. I have seen discussions about retailers passing on charges that banks levy for small transactions on cards but this was a £20 top-up with a £20 note!

    I assume the shopkeeper takes a cut from TFL but charging extra seems a bit cheeky. But then, I’m not a small shopkeeper. 😉

  6. Hi John,

    I’ve checked with the helpdesk and that is definitely not allowed. If you or your daughter can contact them either by phone (options 2, 6) or email with as much detail as possible then they’ll pass it onto the department to deal with.

  7. “If you complete this process before 11pm then your order will be available from the next day, otherwise it will be the day after.”

    So in true last century style, instead of activating your request immediately, TfL’s computer system updates customer data in an overnight batch job (which evidently runs at 11pm. Slow… hand…. clap.

    What I also love is getting the emails telling me there’s a refund pending on my card, but I have to go to some random station I hardly ever use to collect it. Another… slow…. hand… clap.

  8. Hi Richard,

    You’re being a little unfair. The technology behind Oyster (which was just about last century) required that no central communication could take place while touching in or out. The Oyster card is the master data storage unit so all transactions must be made with that present. So yes, online purchases/refunds are sent to a specific station in an overnight batch because the station is the only server that can carry out the transaction and know that it’s been successful.

    The next phase of Oyster is being worked on and will switch the processing and storage to the back office. The Oyster card will act like a contactless payment card simply identifying itself to the reader. It’s obviously quite a complex transition and they need to be absolutely sure they’ve got it right before putting it live.

  9. Hi,
    I have an Oyster card from a previous trip to London and I am trying to register it online to top it up in advance of my next visit. However, I live abroad and the registering page does not allow foreign address and telephone numbers. Can you please advise if I can still register and top up the card online?
    Thank you

  10. Hi Helen,

    This is an issue which I hear from time to time. I don’t think you can register an Oyster card to a non-UK address. Do you have a friend or family member in the UK whose address you could borrow?

  11. It appears that, like so many other facets of life in UK these days, you cannot use any kind of top up if your credit card was issued outside the UK (which, unsurprisingly, is true of the vast majority of credit cards).

  12. Hi Paul,

    I have heard that foreign issued credit cards cannot be used for online purchases, but I’m sure they can be used at ticket machines. I’d also wager that the vast majority of credit cards used to top up Oyster are issued in the UK.

    This doesn’t mean that I agree that they should prevent online usage of foreign credit cards. I’d be interested to know what they say if someone complains in writing (or by email).

  13. Hi,
    I’m new to oyster card, I only ever use the bus but need to top up. If I top up online do I still need to goto my local rail station to activate the balance or do I just continue to use the bus & it still updates automatically!!?

  14. Hi Gd,

    Sadly you can’t use a bus to activate online top-up.

  15. Hi Mike,
    Something you may or may not know the answer to.
    From January 2nd 5-10 Oyster card holders travel for free on National Rail within zones 1-6 – which is fantastic news.
    However, I can’t find out how to get a refund back on the PAYG credit on my daughters 5-10 Oyster as from January she won’t need it!
    TfL said I can log into my online account and transfer the product to another Oyster but when I tried this it isn’t available for the 5-10 Oyster Card so a bit of dud information there.
    I can’t be the only person in this situation so wondering if you knew what the best solution would be? :)

  16. Hi Chris,

    Ha! I hadn’t thought of that. I’ve just gone onto my account and tried to transfer the credit from one of my kids zip cards and it tells me that I can do it, but it will cancel the card at the same time. That’s not what is required of course. I’ve now just called the helpdesk and they say that over the phone they would need to do the same thing. However, at a tube station they can refund credit without cancelling the card. If that is true then it’s a solution, but not ideal where someone rarely goes anywhere near a tube station. You can also leave the credit on there and it will be transferred when you apply for a zip 11-15 card for the same child. Again, a solution, but maybe not ideal if the child is nearer 5 than 10.

    I think this is a scenario that hasn’t been thought through properly, and I’ve asked the helpdesk to feed the issue back to the relevant department.

  17. Hi Mike,
    As the fares are going up on 2nd january 2016 & with all the tube station ticket offices now shut on the network i was at a loss as to how to renew my annual bus oyster pass but having spoken to the oyster helpdesk yesterday they did inform me that most of the tfl ticket stop shops were issuing the yearly bus passes to the oyster cards however as i pointed out there is no information clearly visible on there site of what people need to do they said it was an issue they are aware of & they are still working on it to make the public aware??!!.
    So fortunately my local newsagent that does oyster was able to help me with my annual bus pass renewal but be warned most make a charge if using debit/credit cards.

  18. Thanks for the update, Moth.

    It is somewhat concerning that people might be charged extra for using debit/credit cards as a result of the tube ticket office closures.

  19. Hi
    Hopefully you can help. My daughter got a new Oystercard today and topped it up for monthly travel using her debit card. She had it stolen from her coat pocket shortly after. Oyster are telling her there is nothing they can do without the number on the card (the receipt was with the card and also stolen) and the bank cant help either.. Any suggestions please,she is devastated as she doesnt have any spare cash to replace it.. Thank you..

  20. Hi Mandy,

    Sadly there really isn’t anything they can do without the Oyster card number. This is why they strongly recommend registering Oyster cards.

  21. My daughter got sold student monthly bus and tram rather than monthly tube. TFL have refused to re credit unless oyster gets stopped. This doesn’t help as she needs student card to get to placement for next 8 weeks. Also as at uni does not receive post as easily as home. Can she re top up oyster for month tube and overground? Is this available online? And is there any chance of any refund at end of the 8 weeks. Many thanks in advance

  22. Hi Nicki,

    Personally I would go back to the place that sold the wrong ticket and ask them to resolve the issue. Yes she can put a travelcard on the Oyster as well, but I’m not convinced that they will refund the bus one after 8 weeks. Having said that, I’m surprised they say that the card has to be cancelled. I would try to escalate that issue within TfL because that’s a serious financial penalty if it really is an error that she didn’t make.

  23. can i still make a journey with my oyster card from zone 3 to zone one with £1.30

  24. Hi Stephen,

    I’m not sure what you are actually asking here. There are no single fares including zone 1 for £1.30 unless you are a child. The absolute minimum balance required to make a journey (where you haven’t already capped) is the cheapest single fare from that station. I’m not aware of anywhere within zones 1-9 with an adult single fare below £1.40. If you don’t have enough money to make the whole journey your card will be left with a negative balance when you touch out and this will need to be cleared before you can use the card again.

  25. Hi

    I am wanting to top up online and then activate at the first station I use. I will be arriving into st Pancras and then walking through st pancras to the underground and will be travelling via tube to Vauxhall. When selecting the station to activate top up do I choose Kings Cross (London underground / National Rail) or St Pancras (National Rail)? It’s very confusing.


  26. Hi Nick,

    The Underground station is called Kings Cross St Pancras so I’d choose Kings Cross.

  27. Hello, i was topping the oyster up, actually i was topping up monthly travel card, i inserted the bank pin code and i touched the yellow thing to finish my transaction but i didn’t pay too much of attention on this so i kinda didn’t finished the transaction, so however i haven’t topped up my oyster but bank took the money out. What should i do now? Its still saying its pending on the bank acc. Could someone after me touch the yellow thing and top up with my money?


  28. Hi Edvinas,

    No-one else can top up with your money. The amount won’t actually be claimed by TfL, but the authorisation will remain for up to a week, depending on how long your bank keeps them. As long as you haven’t exceeded your limit you can try again to add the travelcard.

  29. As of mid November 2015, non Chip and Pin cards won’t be accepted at most Tube ticket machines.

    See for details

  30. Hi

    I’ve just tried to top up via pay as you go machine. I thought I’d tapped the second time after inputting my debit card PIN. I got to the barriers and it hadn’t topped up. Could the person behind me have placed their card on the reader and claimed the money as i I’d authorised the payment. Or does the machine recognise the tap in card to begin top up differs from the card tapped at the end.

    I’m worried I’ve been charged twice!


  31. Hi Carly,

    Don’t worry. The machine won’t add your credit to the next card – it does check that it is the same card as before. It also won’t charge you, but the authorisation will remain on your account for about a week.

  32. andrea.gargiulo

    Hello Mike,

    I have toped up my card using Pay as you go and chose Victoria Station as a pick up location. How can I change the station to Hanger Lane? I will not go to Victoria until I leave London, which is in two weeks. I cannot top up my card online as its waiting for me to go to Victoria and activate the payment.

    Thank you for you time


  33. Hi Andrea,

    I don’t think there is a way to pull the top up back from Victoria before the 8-day pick up window expires. At that time it will be refunded. You probably need to top up manually at a ticket machine or shop in the meantime.

  34. andrea.gargiulo

    Alright, thank you.

  35. Mike – A question for you:

    Similar to others above, I have a son who only uses his oyster card for bus journeys, therefore very difficult to set up auto-top up (or make any top-up at all via the internet).

    However, the question is: If I do manage to set up auto-top-up on an occasion when he is using the train/tube (and therefore makes a journey to activate it), will the *subsequent* auto-top-up work if he is only using the buses????

    Thanks, David

  36. Hi David,

    Yes it will. Once auto top-up is activated on the card starting any journey with a balance under £10 will trigger the next top-up. This is added to the card straight away and the request for funds from the bank occurs the next day.

  37. I will be arriving in London at Euston station and have topped up my card to be activated at Euston underground, however I start my journey from Euston Square. Can I activate my top up at a ticket machine at Euston underground or will it automatically top up when I start my journey from Euston Square.

  38. Hi Glyn,

    Sadly neither will work. You need to start a journey from Euston itself. Can you take the Victoria or Northern (City) lines to Kings Cross and then change to the Circle/Met/HamCity there?

  39. Hi Mike,
    I have auto-top up on 3 Oyster Cards and today I noticed on my online bank statement there was a charge for a £20 auto top up. I thought it was a bit unusual as I’ve got a Travelcard on my Oyster with more than £10 credit still on it and the wife hasn’t been anywhere. I then checked my e-mails to find that this auto top up apparently applies to a journey on route B11 on 27/11/15!. Even worse I can’t check to see if they took the funds for this in November last year as my online banking only goes back 2 months :(.
    It just seems an extremely excessive amount of time for an Auto Top Up to be applied – It’s usually within 2 or 3 days after the card used has dropped below the £10 threshold.
    It also concerns me that if it’s genuine then they should at least apologise and e-mail and say sorry we didn’t take the £20 initially, we’ll debit it in a few days time – as it has been over 2 months!!!

  40. Hi Chris,

    I’m sure that your bank could provide details of any transactions if you ask them. I’m surprised you only get access to two months though – mine is over a year.

    Anyway, it doesn’t surprise me that the top up related to a bus. You aren’t the first person who has had a delayed transaction from a bus, though it doesn’t usually take this long. As to an apology, that would be nice, but I don’t think they should have to give you any more notice. They’ve already given you 2 months free credit :)

  41. Hi Mike,
    I am a visitor in London & I have a an oyster card for a whole month. However I may have need to top up for another 2 or 3 the weeks. How do I do not that paying cash. Does your machine accept cash.

  42. Hi,

    Ticket machines accept cash and cards.

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