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Child Fares on London’s Underground, Buses & Public Transport 2016

Author: Bob Handford
Child fares on London\’s Underground and Buses are very complicated and fragmented. Every year on January 2nd ticket regulations and prices are reviewed and normally the authorities tinker around to a lesser or greater degree with the child travel concessions.

This piece tries to explain as simply as possible the situation for your child, some workarounds to get around some of the restrictions and if you still don\’t understand an opportunity to discuss and perhaps add to this piece.

At one extreme your child may travel free everywhere, at the other end of the spectrum if unprepared you may end up paying adult fare – so its worthwhile making sure you understand the following:

Free & Reduced Child Fares Entitlement By Ageband


Children under five can travel free at any time on the Tube (underground), DLR, buses and trams in London as long as they are accompanied by an adult with a valid ticket. Simple

Children 5-10

Under-11s can travel free at any time on buses and trams. Simple

They can also travel free at any time on the Tube and DLR (Docklands Light railway) when they are traveling with an adult who has a valid ticket. Up to 4 children under 11 years old accompanied by a paying adult travel free on the London Underground. Simple

Unaccompanied children between 5 and 10 must have a valid Oyster Photocard for free travel. (Ah yes, the Photocard we\’ll come back to these)

Children 11-15

Children aged 11 to 15 years must get an 11-15 Oyster photocard to travel free on buses and trams and at child-rate on Tube, DLR and London Overground services.

(Simple? – its the two words Oyster Photocard that creates the problems for visitors – see below.)

But wait! – if you are only visiting London for 2 weeks or less and have a child between 11 and 15 there is a scheme aimed squarely at you and its called the Young Visitor Discount. which enables you to skip the need for an Oyster ID card.
If you are visiting London for up to 14 days and have a child between 11 and 15, do read the Young Visitor Discount section below..

Children 16-17

In the UK you become an adult when you are 16. However in London it is possible to get child fares by getting an Oyster 16+ Oyster ID Card.

It is very similar to 11-15 Oyster Photocards, but you cannot use it to buy 1 Day Travelcards.

Simple? – again, its the two words Oyster Photocard that creates the problems for visitors – see below.

Student 18+

If you are studying at a recognised educational establishment in London that is registered for the scheme and you are residing in London you can apply for a Student card

This enables you to get 30% discount off bus and Travelcards of 7 days or longer

Only for students studying and residing in London, first step is to check with your educational place to see if they are registered.

The Young Visitor Discount - For Children Between 11 & 15 In London < 15 days

The Oyster ID Card required by children between 11 and 15 to get child rate fares on Oyster is for most short-term visitors not a realistic proposition. The cost, hassle and time to process the ID card is just not worth the effort for most visitors.. The Young Visitor Discount scheme has been created as the answer for short term visitors who have children between 11 and 15.

If you are visiting London and traveling with children aged 11 to 15 that haven\’t got an Oyster photocard; and are in town less than 2 weeks then the Young Persons Discount is probably your solution. The Young Persons Discount loaded onto an adult Oyster Card gives you  half adult rate Oyster fares and caps for up to 14 days.

The official rules read.
The Young Visitor discount can only be set onto Oyster Cards and Visitor Oyster Cards at:
– Any Underground station – note manned ticket offices are closing fast, the last ones are due to close by April 2016.  Members of staff will be available in the ticket hall with the ticket machines – make contact with a member of staff to have the Young Persons Discount loaded onto the Oyster.
– TfL Rail station ticket offices
– Visitor or Travel Information Centres (Gatwick & Heathrow Airports, Liverpool Street, Euston, Paddington and Kings Cross Railway Stations and Piccadilly Circus Underground Station)
– Victoria Station National Railways Ticket office

To get the Young Visitor discount::
You and your child must be together at the ticket office when asking for it to be set
No proof of age or identity is required, but you might be asked to confirm the child’s age. One adult can get the Young Visitor discount set for up to four children

The Young Visitor discount gives half adult rate pay as you go fares on bus, Tube, tram, DLR, London Overground and most National Rail services for up to 14 days and also gives your child a daily cap half that of an adult.
After 14 days the discount will expire and the Oyster card will charge full adult rate fares.
The discount can be set on both regular Oyster Cards and Visitor Oyster cards.

Child Rate Oyster Cards & Oyster Photo ID Cards

In Bob\’s day you became an adult when you were 16. If you were 18 but looked 14, many asked for a child fare got a knowing look but got a child ticket. If you were 14 and looked 18 you made sure you had some documentation on you that proved you were entitled to child fares.

Today with Oyster Cards, age bands, automated ticket barriers and such like much stricter controls are needed to avoid fraud.

The system is no real problem if you are a London resident with a young child. Take a little time for the initial registration process to get your Oyster Photocard and thats your passport to free and half price public transport until you are an adult. When you want a child travel product, just produce your Oyster Photoard. If a ticket inspector see\’s you are using a child Oyster and you look a little old for it, the Oyster Photocard is demanded as proof.

For visitors its a hassle you can do without and often its too late when you do find out the hoops you have to jump through to get child fares via the Oyster Photocard.

First of all, the recurrent question from visitors – my child has got a passport with his/her age on it, isn\’t that good enough as ID?.

I\’m afraid the answer is no, you need London\’s unique Oyster Photocard, nothing else.

How Do I Get An Oyster Photocard?

If you are a resident of London, its quite straight forward. Get a form from your local Post Office and fill it in, then return to the Post Office with the fee, a passport size photo plus birth certificate or passport and you should get it in 2 weeks.

If you are resident in the UK then you have to do the process on-line, you\’ll get the Photocard within 4 weeks.

Now the aspects of Oyster Photocard that works against visitors from overseas. The Oyster Photocard costs between £10-£20 per child and you need to order the Oyster Photocard at least 3 weeks ahead on-line.

It won’t be sent to your home address, you have to collect it from a small number of visitor centres in London, (Heathrow Airport or Liverpool Street, Victoria, Kings Cross or Euston Stations)

The application web page is: https://photocard.tfl.gov.uk/tfl/gotoApply.do?type=under18&res=false&from=home

Can I Get Around The Child Oyster Photocard Requirement

There are four main ways of getting around the need for an Oyster Photocard to get half price child fares if your child is under 16 and isn\’t entitled to free travel.

1) Use the Young Persons Discount facility (see section above) loaded onto an Oyster card.

2) The first is to buy a 1 day child Travelcard, (it doesn\’t need Oyster Photocard), but a 7 day child Travelcard does.

3) The second is to buy Travelcards from a railway (not Underground) ticket office. The railways have their own ticketing system but sell Travelcards at their Central London stations. Perhaps bizarely the railways issue their photo id cards free of charge, but they can only be used to buy tickets sold from a railway ticket office. So for a 7 day Travelcard you can walk up to a railway ticket office with a passport size photo of your child, buy a 7 day child Travelcard and a railway photo id will be issued on the spot. Note: only railway stations in Central London sell Travelcards (e.g. Paddington, Euston, Kings Cross, St Pancras, Liverpool Street, London Bridge, Charing Cross, Waterloo and Victora), they do not sell Travelcards at the railway station ticket offices of London\’s airports.

Another minor complication is that at railway ticket offices adults need a photo id card to buy adult 7 day Travelcards, whereas this is not a requrement at TFL outlets like Underground Stations.

The other bonus with buying Travelcards from a railway station is that it qualifies you for the railways 2 for 1 sightseeing promotion.

4) The third work around is that you can buy 7 Day Child Travelcards without any photo id on-line from the TFL / Visit Britain on-line shop and have them delivered to your home, including overseas. There is a delivery charge.

TFL / Visit Britain On-Line Shop

5) Use the Young Visitor Discount applied on Oyster Cards. This gives you up to 14 days half price travel on an Oyster Card for 11-15 year olds who do not have an Oyster ID card. Its not the golden bullet solution the headline suggests, so read the section above this carefully.

Free Travel - How Do I Get my Child Through the Ticket Barriers Without A Ticket?

If your child is entitled to free travel, you do not obtain a ticket

London\’s buses are ticketless, so no problem there.

On the Underground and DLR and suburban railways you have to pass through a ticket barrier where you need to insert a valid ticket for verification before the barrier is raised. If your child is entitled to free travel you do not get a ticket that costs nothing, instead you need to get a member of staff to let your child through the manned barrier onto the platforms.

London's Urban Railways

The National Railways in the UK as well as running inter-city trains into London also operate many of the  commuter lines of London, especially south of the river.
For visitors  it can be very confusing as the national railways only offer free child travel to children under 5 years.
The London Underground and the DLR (Docklands Light railway) use the TFL ticketing rules where children under 11 travel free without a ticket.
Rail services designated as the Overground or TFL Rail also use TFL ticketing rules.
The rest of the train services are run by the railways where only children under 5 travel free. To complicate things further, in the last few years many lines have transfered from railways operated to the Overground or TFL Rail networks.
The good news is that a simple map has been produced depicted which suburban lines a child under 11 can travel free and which do not.
Map Of Suburban Railways Offering Free Travel For Those Between 5 and 11 Years Old

London Underground – Fares, ticketing and how to use


Travelcards – Full details including prices


Public Transport Passes – Travelcard or Oyster Card?


Still Confused - Discuss With Bob

If you are still confused about child ticketing in London just make a comment below and I\’ll normally get back to you within 24 hours
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  • Lostintravel

    First let me say thank you for this site. I feel I have a puzzle to solve and the solution requires an oyster phd. We will be traveling to London on December 21st to Heathrow then departing on the 28th. We have 4 kids 10-17. The complex part comes in with a planned flight to Paris from Luton during our stay. Do you have a recommendation on which Oyster cards to get for the duration and thus the cheapest way to get to Luton round trip? Again, any help is appreciated.

    • Bob

      Where are you staying in London.

      Seems an odd choice to fly from Luton if you can take the Eurostar train from the centre of London to the centre of Paris

      • Lostintravel

        We are staying near Olympic park.

        We have not purchased tickets to Paris yet but via another site the flight and hotel for a night seemed to be coming in cheaper than Eurostar.

        Unless I have been missing something on the pricing.

        • Bob

          You need to factor in the cost of transfers from London to Luton and CDG To Paris in your price comparison. These fares are sugnificant as a proprtion of the total journey, probably around £40 or more per person more than if you took Eurostar

          Headline prices on easyJet do not include things like luggage in the hold.
          Invisible costs are basically flying is so much slower than taking the train and less stressful.

          In London kids under 11 travel free on the Underground , DLR and local buses.
          Adults are classified as anyone over 15 years old, 16 being the age you can legally join the army, drink alcohol etc in the UK

          You should buy an adult Oyster Card at Heathrow Underground Station for every person over 10 years
          For those between 11 and 15 years old get a member of staff to load Young Persons Discounts for half price adult fares.

          The crude rules is if you travel 6 or more days in any 7 on London’s public transport its worth buying/loading a 7 day Travelcard zone 1-2 onto your Oyster.

          However the Uk is essentially closed down Dec 25th with everything shut and no transport bar taxi’s who charge a large premium.
          On Dec 26th normally only the buses and Underground offer a service, no trains
          Many attractions will be closed 24th and/or 26th December so you may not travel as much those days

          • Lostintravel

            Thank you Bob. I went with the Eurostar option.

  • joannespacey@yahoo.co.uk

    We are travelling to London for the day in half term, Two adults with contactless, one free 8 year old and an 11 year old, we have no oyster cards, We will be driving to Stanmore and getting the train from there to central London. What is our best option for our 11 year old, would we be able to get an Oyster card at Stanmore with a childs discount and how much is it going to cost us?

    • Bob

      Buy an Oyster from a ticket machine at Stanmore and ask a member of staff to load a young persons discount for half price adult Oyster fares
      You’ll pay £5 deposit which is refunded when you cancel the Oyster at the the machines at the end

      The adult Oyster/Contactless fare between Stanmore and Central London is Monday to Friday from 0630 to 0930 and 16:00 to 19:00.is £4.70 and £3.10 at other times
      Once you get into London each Underground fare is £2.40 and each bus fare £1.50
      Once your fares get to £11.00 in a calendar day travel after that is free



    Another family related question.

    2 adults & 1 x 10yo & 1 x 12yo
    Travel pretty much zone 1 tube only
    No current oyster cards
    Both adults have contactless
    1 family and friends railcard
    In london from monday to thursday

    Any suggestions on best option?



    • Bob

      Children under 11 travel free without a ticket on London’s buses and Underground

      For the 12 year old see the answer to the post below

  • Katie Davies

    Hi Bob
    Will be in London for 3 days in Nov with husband and 11 yr old daughter. We have a family railcard and 2 visitors oyster cards. I plan to travel with d’ter while husband goes off on 2 of the days and probably all 3 travel together on 3rd day. Can I buy a travel card for daughter using family railcard discount (considering 7 day travel card as cheaper than 3 x 1 day) if my husband and I use the oyster cards. Or is it cheaper to buy her a young visitors discount card?

    • Bob

      For the 11 year olds your Family and Friends Card entitles you to cheap off-peak 1 day Travelcards which are cheaper than Oyster Cards if your travel is at any time on weekends, public holidays and after 09:30 on Monday to Friday.

      The Oyster fare with the young persons discount has a maximum fare for 11-15 year olds of £3.25 daily in the centre of London (zones 1-2) but you can travel any time, the off-peak Travelcard zone 1-6 is £2.30


      • Katie Davies

        Thanks for this. Would it be cheaper for me to buy a one day travel card too (one for my 11 yr old and 1 for me per day) with the railcard and for my husband to use the oyster card the 2 days he’ll be travelling alone? We will just be going around zone 1 and 2. Also am I right that travel cards can be used on buses too? All travel can be during off peak times.

  • James

    Hi Bob,

    Please could you give me some advice? We are travelling to London by train to Euston with a family railcard on 22nd October for 4 days & 3 nights. We are 2 adults one 17 year old and an 11 & 13 year old. I’ve read all the information and was going to buy 5 visitor Oyster cards with two of them on a Young Persons Discount, Is this is the best way to do it and can I get the cards from Euston Station?

    Thanks in Advance.

    • Bob

      For the 11 and 13 year olds your Family and Friends Card entitles you to cheap off-peak 1 day Travelcards which are cheaper than Oyster Cards if your travel is at any time on weekends, public holidays and after 09:30 on Monday to Friday.

      The Oyster fare with the young persons discount has a maximum fare for 11-15 year olds of £.25 daily in the centre of London (zones 1-2) but you can travel any time

      For the Oysters, buy standard Oyster Cards from the ticket machines in Euston Underground Station.
      You will pay £5 deposit per card which will be refunded when you cancel them at the end of the trip at a ticket machine plus any cash left on the Oyster

      You can buy Visitors Oyster Card on-line from the TFL Visitor Shop but for 4 days these work out slightly more expensive.
      The Visitor Oyster fares are exactly the same as standard Oyster but you pay a non-refundable £3 “admin” charge per card plus delivery charges to your home address

      Your return train tickets to Euston also qualify you for 2 for 1 in London whilst in London, but if you want to take advantage of these do not go through the automatic ticket barriers exiting the platforms at Euston as they retain your outward tickets

  • Lorna

    Hi Bob,

    Could you give us some advice too? We are travelling to London by train with a family railcard on 22nd Oct for 3 days and 2 nights of sightseeing, staying in SW1 with 2 teens, one turned 16 in September, and one is 15. We have 2 old Oyster cards with a little credit on them. On the tfl site it tells me the photocards for 11-15 year olds can include 16 year olds with birthdays after 31st August. Do the ordinary Oyster cards with the Young Person’s discount also allow this? The day tickets available with the F and F railcard discount would require us to be all together, would they?

    The two adults and two teens might split up some of the time, and we two adults would like a Sunday visit to Kew Gardens. The teens might like a trip on the river. We may visit museums and galleries, and maybe the odd historic site like the tower.

    • Bob

      Children aged 5-15 can buy an Off-Peak Zones 1-9 Day Travelcard for £2.30 if the adult traveling with them has a valid Family and Friends Railcard

      They are available from Tube, London Overground, TfL Rail and National Rail stations and Visitor Centres.

      Alternatively buy an adult Oyster Card and ask a member of staff to load a Young Persons Discount
      onto the Oyster for half price Oyster fares. The most such a child could
      spend on fares in a day using this is £3.25 in the centre of London
      zones 1-2

      Oyster ID cards are not worthwhile for visitors children as the cost of them is more than you would spend on fares in a couple of days

      The 16 year old counts as an adult

      For the adults just use an Oyster each or if you each have credit or debit cards that support contactless payment use them as Oyster Cards

      • Lorna

        Thanks very much Bob. This clears things up for me. We will probably get a 1 day Travelcard the first day for the 15 year old for when we will be together, and also get another Oyster card with a discount and use one contactless card!

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