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Child fares on London's Underground and buses are very complicated and fragmented.
Every year on January 2, ticket regulations and prices are reviewed and regularly child fare rules and options are tinkered around with as well as the adjustments to prices.
This page tries to explain as simply as possible the situation for your child, together with some workarounds to get around some of the restrictions. If you still don't understand there is an opportunity to discuss at the foot of the page.
At one extreme your child may travel free everywhere, at the other end of the spectrum if unprepared you may end up paying adult fares – so it's worthwhile making sure you understand the subject.
Children under five can travel free at any time on all public transport without a ticket as long as they are accompanied by an adult with a valid ticket.
Under-11s can travel free at any time on London's buses and trams without a ticket.
They can also travel free at any time on the Tube, London Overground and DLR (Docklands Light Railway) when they are travelling 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.
Unaccompanied children between 5 and 10 must have a valid 5-10 Zip Oyster Photocard for free travel. (Ah yes, the Photocard we'll come back to these further down the page).
On trains in the London area run by the national railways children between 5 and 15 need a child ticket. Most visitors do not use train services run by the national rail companies as they are essentially commuter services from the suburbs.
Which trains within London are are run by national rail companies
To the visitor it is becoming increasingly difficult to explain which surface rail lines within London are run by the national rail companies and which offer free travel to 5-10 year olds.
Very crudely speaking, if your surface train (not Underground train) runs from Paddington, Marylebone, Fenchurch Street, London Bridge, Blackfriars, Charing Cross, Waterloo or Victoria it will almost certainly be a national railways train.
For visitors the most popular trains used within London that are national rail run are Waterloo to Hampton Court and Waterloo or Paddington to Windsor.
Unaccompanied children aged 11 to 15 years must get an 11-15 Zip Oyster Photo card to travel free on buses and trams and at child rate on Tube, DLR and London Overground services using an Oyster card (see Oyster Photocard section below).
You can buy child rate Travelcards and single one-way child tickets on the Underground, railways and DLR, but not the buses.
For most visitors staying in London for 2 weeks or less with children between 11 and 15 the ticket of choice is an adult Oyster card loaded with a Young Persons Discount.
The Young Persons Discount has its own section further down the page.
In the UK you become an adult when you are 16. However in London it is possible to get child fares by getting a 16+ Zip Oyster photocard.
It is very similar to 11-15 Oyster Photocards, but you cannot use it to buy 1 Day Travelcards.
For short-term visitors, for most it is not a realistic option because of the expense and time required to obtain an Oyster ID Card - you'll just have to accept your child is an adult while in the UK.
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 18+ Oyster ID card.
This enables you to get 30% discount off bus and Travelcards of 7 days or longer.
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. The Young Visitor Discount scheme has been created as the answer for short-term visitors who have children between 11 and 15.
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 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.
The Young Visitor Discount can only be set onto Oyster Cards and Visitor Oyster Cards at:
To get the Young Visitor Discount:
The Oyster ID Card 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 that's 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 Photocard.
For visitors it's a lot of hassle and expense to procure an Oyster ID Card and often it's too late when you do find out the hoops you have to jump through to get child fares via the Oyster Photocard.
If you are a short-term visitor the probable solution is the Young Visitor Discount detailed in the section above or one of the work around solutions detailed in the section below.
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.
If you are a resident of London, it's quite straightforward. 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 online, you'll get the Photocard within 4 weeks.
If you live outside the UK you must apply at least four weeks before the date you want to collect the Zip Oyster Photocard and select which London Visitor Centre you want to collect it from (it's not sent to your home address). You can apply up to three months in advance of your chosen collection date.
Oyster ID Cards cost between £10 and £20 depending on the ID card required.
Other ways of obtaining child fares other than Oyster ID Cards and the Young Visitor Discount are:
If there is an aspect of child fares you need clarifying we're happy to provide guidance and clarification. Normally, Bob, our resident expert and author of this page will reply within 24 hours.