I assume I can also get a quick refund of the £3 deposit and any unused credit on the "normal" Oyster Card at the end of my stay?
I'm just wondering why, if buying the normal Oyster Card is so easy (i.e. no registration, easily available, etc), would a tourist bother with the Vistors Oyster Card? There are not many outlets selling the VOC in UK, and if I order it online, I'd incur a £3 shipping fee!" -- K
An Oyster card is certainly the option for everyone using London tube, trains, and buses as the cash fares are much higher.
Transport for London tell me a Visitor Oyster card would be good for someone visiting for a couple of days, or someone who visits for the occasional day.
Both cards can be given to someone else to use and I remember our previous Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, saying how he wanted visitors to pass on their Oyster cards to friends and family so they became a reusable piece of the travel kit you would bring to London.
The Visitor Oyster card costs £2 plus it can only be credited with a minimum of £10. It can be credited with more money when this runs out and you can get a refund from a Tube station if the balance is under £5. If the remaining balance is over £5 you have to fill in a form and get sent a cheque in the post. That sounds like a huge waste of money as a Sterling cheque will incur bank charges in any overseas bank!
If you have time, it may be best to order your Oystercard from the TfL online shop: visitorshop.tfl.gov.uk which details to the delivery times before you place an order. The alternative is to wait in line when you arrive at the tube station. A Pay As You Go Oyster card costs £3 but that deposit is easily refundable – well, you have to queue up at a tube station at the end of your stay but it is quick once you get to the front of the line. To get the £2 refundable deposit for the Visitor Oyster card you would have to queue as well so there's no benefit there.
The Pay As You Go Oyster card can be credited with any amount of money and accepts 7 day (or longer) travelcards if you have a longer stay in London. The Visitor Oystercard comes with £10 credit and cannot accept 7 day (or longer) travelcards.
After considering all the factors I think Pay As You Go Oyster cards looks like the right option for visitors and Londoners alike!
Thank you very much for raising this interesting dilemma. It has certainly been worthwhile for me looking into all the options.