Understanding the Sydney Opal Card System – A Guide for Visitors

Adult Opal Card
Sydney has an extensive public transport system that includes trains, buses, ferries and light rail. Recently a new electronic ticketing system called Opal has been introduced to provide one ticket to use across all these types of transport. The Opal card is used for travel on all trains and ferries and soon all buses. It is not yet able to be used on Light rail however this is in the planning stage.

What follows is my attempt to simplify all the Opal information out there and answer some basic questions I have been asked to date.  I have been using the card since April this year and this is my understanding of the system and how it works. I will update this page regularly should I find out anything new. I am married to a NSW Bus driver so have been constantly bombarding him with questions and as a result I am pretty confident that I have covered all the basics a visitor to Sydney will need to know.  This is not meant to provide comprehensive information for local users with complex questions.  In these cases I suggest you consult the official Opal website.  However if you are on a short trip to Sydney read on…. this should cover enough of the basics to get you sorted.

Sydney Opal card 101

Opal is a ‘pay-as-you-go’ system so you only pay when you catch a train or bus or ferry. There are rewards for frequent travel and daily caps on fare that can save regular users and even visitors on short trips some $$$

Opal Discounts

  • Pay for only 8 trips per week – Opal offers a “travel reward” for frequent travel, with all travel after 8 “journeys” per week free**
  • Daily Travel Cap* – Pay no more than $15 per day for adults and $7.50 a day for child to travel anywhere in the network
  • Sunday Travel Cap* – Pay no more than $2.50 for as much travel as you want on Sunday.
  • Weekly Travel Cap* – Pay no more than $60 a week when travelling on all modes of Opal enabled transport from Monday to Sunday

 *Travel caps do not include access to airport terminal stations.

Where can I buy and top up an Opal card?

Opal cards must be purchased from retail outlets or online.  You can find a full list of these here.

The main locations for visitors to purchase cards include:

Sydney Airport – You can purchase Opal cards at Newslink or WH Smith book shops at either terminal. There is talk of selling them at the Airport stations but this has not happened yet as far as I know.

Near City Train stations – You cannot buy or load credit on to your cards at train stations although most will have a newsagent or convenience store nearby where you can.

  • Circular Quay – Quay Newsagency 10 Alfred St CIRCULAR QUAY,
  • Town Hall – Woolworths Town Hall 2 – George Street Sydney
  • Central Station – Newslink kiosks around the station – there are at least  5
  • Wynyard Station – Newslink Wynyard Station – The Concourse, Wynyard

Newsagents and convenience Stores – Many newsagencies and many convenience stores such as 7Eleven and EzyMart located around the city and suburbs also sell the cards.  You will see an Opal sticker in the window of places who provide cards or top ups.

How much do Opal cards cost?

The Opal card the card is free when you load a minimum amount of onto the card.  The minimum cost is $10 for adult cards, $5 for child cards (other types are not available yet). There is no fee for the card itself; all of the minimum top-up is available for travel. Subsequent top-ups can be made in $10 increments. If you choose to buy your card online the minimum credit is $40.  You can set up auto top-ups for cards registered online.

Do I have to register my card?

You don’t have to register your card if you buy it from a retailer.  If you buy your card online then it is registered at the time you order it. If you buy your card from a retailer you can also log in and register your card on the opal website if you wish to.  Registering you card means that your travel is recorded however it means you can keep track of your balance and trips online.  Another benefit is that if you lose your card you can have it cancelled and the credit replaced.  It really just depends how comfortable you are sharing your privacy.

Who can buy discount tickets?

Sydney’s public transport is free for children under 4 years of age.  Students aged 4-15 can buy a half-fare ticket as can people aged 16 and over who are residents of Australia and full-time students.  If you are over 16 years and a student in another country you must buy an adult ticket.

Opal cards for Australian seniors or Centrelink pension concession holders are not yet available.  Paper tickets may be purchased or an adult Opal card must be used.

Can international students get a discount on public transport?

In New South Wales, international students are not entitled to a student concession on public transport unless they purchase a quarterly ticket through their institution.
If you are found to be travelling with the wrong ticket you will be fined $200.

**Some Opal Terminology

When working out how quickly you will earn your 8 journey travel reward the following definitions, taken directly from the Opal website might help.

  • A trip is travel on one route, one mode (e.g. a single bus trip). When you transfer to another route or service, you are commencing a new trip
  • A journey consists of one or more trips on eligible services where transfers between services occur within 60 minutes*
  • A transfer occurs at the end of a single trip. It is a change of transport mode or route, to another service or route, to continue a journey. Transfers made within a standard transfer time of 60 minutes* combine trips into a single journey

*60 minutes applies to all services except the Sydney Ferries Manly service where the standard transfer time is 130 minutes from tap on.

Watch for future posts in coming weeks on various Opal scenarios for tourists using Opal in Sydney

So readers, have you used the Opal card yet?  Do you like it?

 

29 Comments

  1. Two questions please: As an infrequent user who lives on the Central Coast, where can I buy an Opal card locally and does it have an expiry date?
    Do overseas visitors get a rebate on their card as it will only be used once?
    Thank you

    • Hi Jan,

      You can search for your nearest retailer here https://www.retailers.opal.com.au/ For the Central coast it seems to be mainly a mix of 7-Eleven stores, newsagents and a few petrol stations. There are at least 20 outlets in the area from Woy Woy to Wyong.

      As for rebates there is no rebate for overseas visitors however unlike the cards used in a lot of cities there is no upfront cost for an Opal card. Whatever you spend it loaded as credit with the minimim being $10 on an adult card. You can apply for a refund of any credit left on the card but it is paid to an Australia bank account so not ideal for visitors. If a visitor is in Sydney for 1-3 days I would load $10 or $20 depending on your itinerary. A ferry ride and a couple of train trips off peak would use up most of that.

      There are an assortment of apps being released to help people track their spend. Most seem to carry a charge but I will be reviewing them in upcoming weeks so keep an eye out for that.

  2. Thanks Paula.
    I am about to travel to Sydney for a five day stay and came across your blog when I was trying to work out public transport options. I appreciate this clear information about the Opal card, which answered my questions. Will check out the rest of your blog now 🙂
    Cheers
    Fi

  3. Hello,

    We are visiting Sydney for the weekend. We will be flying up and staying in the city. We are a family of 4 two children. I am just wondering would it be worth buying the opal tickets or just pay as we go?

    Thank you for your help

    Deb

    • Hi Deb,

      It depends on what you plan to do once you are here. You would need a card for each person and the minimum credit you could place on them is $10 for the adults and $5 for the kids. If you are planning a ferry ride and were to do it on a Sunday, under the opal ticketing you would pay a maximum of $2.50 each for the whole day. An individual ticket for that day for say a trip to Manly will cost you $7.40 for an adult and $3.70 for a child.

      If you don’t plan on taking public transport other than from the airport to the city and back it is probably not worth getting one. It is really hard to say without knowing your plans.

  4. I only travel on trains about once. I was advised by the Opal Card reps at my local station that it is not worth getting a card. She said that paper tickets were still available. Is that correct?

    • Hi Anne,

      Paper tickets are still available for single journeys. There is no off peak discount anymore so for example a fare from say Chatswood to the city will cost $4.60 without an opal OR
      $4.10 in peak and $2.87 off-peak with an Opal card. There is no longer any access to off-peak discounts without an Opal card so it really depends how often you travel as to whether it’s worth it to get a card. The credit you place on the card will not expire for 9 years and there is no cost to get one so even if it’s only once a week it might be worth it to have one in the long term.

  5. If stay in bondi junction, travelling to places like manly, taronga zoo, darling harbour, circular quay, martin place, how much should load the opal card upfront for 5 day stay? Or Mymulti is more worth getting than opal

    • Hi
      My Multi tickets ticket may work out cheaper but if you want to go to Manly you will need a My Multi 3 and I think in this case the Opal ticket would be better. With Opal after 8 trips your travel is free and travel on Sundays is a maximum of $2.50 per day. If you arrange your itinerary to take the shorter (cheaper) trips at the beginning of the week you may spend less overall if you take more than 8 trips.

      Using your itinerary I have worked it out as follows:
      Bondi to Darling Harbour and return is 2 trips (Bondi to city train $3.30 or 2.31 offpeak) = 6.60
      Bondi to Circular Quay and return is 2 trips ($3.30 each way on train)= $6.60
      Bondi to Taronga Zoo and return is 2 trips ($5.60 ferry (each way) + $3.30 train (each way) = $17.80 but with Opal max is $15 per day

      If there is less than an hour between catching two forms of transport they are counted as one trip. If you were to have a walk around the city and breakfast before you took the ferry you could get up to 4 trips this day.
      Bondi to Manly and return is 2 trips ($7.00 ferry (each way) + $3.30 train (each way) = $20.60 total but with Opal max is $15 per day
      Travel on the 5th day should be free
      Total Maximum cost using Opal would be $43.20 A My Multi 3 which you need to go to Manly would be $63

      Adult bus fares with an Opal are $2.10 so you could get your free trips by day 3 if you had a couple of bus trips early in your visit.
      I would get an Opal at the airport and use it to take the 400 Bus from the airport to Bondi – I would probably load it with $30 or $40 depending on the order of your days and if any sundays are included and top up if you need to. You can top up as little as $10.

  6. Thank you for this information Paula, it is much easier to understand than the official Opal website, and a lot more comprehensive. I hope you don’t mind if I share it on the social media accounts for my Love Your Trains Campaign! 🙂

    • Go right ahead 🙂 It really frustrates me to hear people bagging out Opal without really getting their head around it. Some people may be slightly worse off under this system but for most of us it’s better and it really encourages the use of public transport on weekend which is a great initiative for the environment.

  7. Hi Paula,

    It is great to find your blog with so many helpful info about Sydney. I am planning to visit Sydney early next Feb on my own. I am considering to buy Opal card for my transportation in Sydney for 2-3 days, including trips in CBD, Manly, and Blue Mountains. I believe it is more convenient and cheaper to use Opal than MyMulti. Please correct me if I am wrong 🙂

    I will also visit my friend in Wollongong. Can I travel from Sydney Airport Int’l Terminal to Wollongong by train with an Opal?

    I am still working on my itineraries in Sydney & Wollong (for 4.5 days in both places) as this will be my first time to Sydney 😀 I feel really lucky to find your blog before my trip. Thank you so much!

    Cheers,
    Vanessa (from Vietnam)

  8. Hi. I’m an ex-serviceman and have an Ex Member of Defence Forces Pass. It’s a paper ticket which entitles me to free public transport in NSW. I live in Canberra where unfortunately it isn’t valid but I will be visiting Sydney shortly where I want to use it. How does this work with the Opal system? Are there card readers that will still accept my card?

    • Hi Bob,

      Sorry for the delay in responding. I am currently overseas and have limited internet access. There are staff at all major stationswho will be able to let you in with your pass if it is valid in NSW. You will not need to use the card readers. Many smaller stations are unstaffed but gates at these stations are opened.

      Enjoy your visit to Sydney.

  9. Hi, I’m an international student. I’m staying in Adelaide now. However, I’m going to Sydney next month for my internship 6 months in there. I want to know how to use opal card. So can you explain how much I have to pay for one way. What kind of Opal card suitable for student? And can you estimate how much i need to pay for each month?

    • Hi Hgoc Thuy

      International students on student visas can buy a discounted My Multi 2 card – you may be entitled to one of these. If not you can buy an adult opal card. The price of tickets depends on the distance travelled. For example I live under 10km from the city and my average weekly spend is about $28. As I travel to the city everyday by Thursday afternoon my travel is free for the rest of the week. You can find the prices for Opal trips on this page https://www.opal.com.au/en/fares-and-benefits/fare_information_train/

  10. in january my wife and i are visiting our daughter in manly.the trip is for three months so we will get an opal card each.is there a max amount you can credit card, with and when we travel on a bus or ferry can we pay for our gradaughter by ticket. we are from scotland.thank you for your help

    • Hi Mick
      For a 3 month visit an Opal card will be worthwhile. You can also get a child opal card for your granddaughter. You do not need to order them in advance unless you specifically want to. They can be bought and topped up at convienence stores, newsagents and even at the airport. You can register them once you recieve them and add a credit card to allow auto top ups when the balance is low if you want to. The other benefit of registering the card is that it can be replaced if you lose it and any outstanding credit moved to the new card.

      • If you decide NOT to register your card don’t put too much money on it upfront until you can assess your likely travel expenditure. Getting a refund for unused travel is not visitor friendly

  11. HI we are going to Sydney in December, (2 adults and a 16years old) for 8 days. We will fly to Sydney and stay in Potts Point, stay in CBD most the time, but intending to go to blue mountain, factory outlet, Manley,. Should I get an Opal card? What is the best way to get to Potts Point? By train? bus? Ir shuttle bus?

    • Hi Iris
      Sounds like an Opal would work for you. After 8 trips in a week the rest of your travel in free for that week. You might not want to walk into the CBD each day so I imagine you will get to 8 trips. There is also a daily limit of $15 so that would kick in on the Blue Mountains day and the Manly ferry day. If you are here on a Sunday the maximum charge is $2.50 per day for unlimited travel. You can buy your card at the airport if you want to before you head to Potts Point.

      If you are coming off a long flight you are probably best to take a taxi or shuttle. You could take a train but would need to change to get to Kings Cross Station and then walk. The fares for 3 of you would only be a little less than the cab fare. If you are on a tight budget the 400 bus from the front of the terminal to Bondi Junction then a train to Kings Cross would be the cheapest way. Shuttle would probably come in next cheapest.
      Have a great visit.

  12. Hi
    I received my seniors Opal card last Tuesday and immediately registered it set up an automatic top-up on my account. By Sunday (just 5 days later) I had received an email telling me that because I had not used my Opal card for 60 days my credit was being refunded. I rarely use public transport because it is so lousy on Sydney’s Northern Beaches (why would I take a bus when it is quicker to drive?) so it seems I am never going to be able to have available credit on my card because I am unlikely to use it within a 60 day period.

    • Hi Helen
      Sounds like an error on their part regarding the cancellation after just 5 days. I suggest you call them. It is a bit confusing at first but as stated on their website you have 9 years to use the credit on your card. It is only if you do not use at least once it within 60 days of receiving your credit is returned. Try calling the helpline, I have found the staff there to be really helpful.

      “Yes, it can expire if you don’t use your Opal card for nine years. However, if you receive a new Opal card that is registered and you have arranged to put value on it, you will need to present it to a card reader within 60 days. Otherwise the balance will simply be reversed and credited back to your nominated credit or debit card account.”

  13. I am travelling to Sydney in October for a month. Would you advise getting an Opal card, as I use all forms of transport whilst there. I see there is a weekly cap of $60 – what happens if I use the $60 before the end of the week? Do I travel ‘free’ thereafter?

    Many thanks – David

    • Hi David, for a trip that long I would get an Opal card. The travel caps mean that once you have spent to the cap the rest of your trips are free. The caps are $15 a day or $60 a week. On Sundays, the cap is $2.50 making this the perfect day for a trip further afield, like the Blue Mountains.

  14. Hello,

    I was glad I found your blog, it helped me lot in figuring out how the public transports works in Sydney. However I would need some more help. Me and my family (2 adults and 3 children under 15) will be staying in Sydney for 5 days then we will take the train to get to Canberra. During our stay in Sydney we will be visiting places such as the Cricket hall of fame, Lolly Swagman, The rocks, Sydney observatory, National Maritime Museum, Bondi beach, fish market, Wentworth falls …. to name some of them. I am still debating on buying the Opal card considering there will be a lot of cards to pay and we can just pay them on the go. Please help me out.

    Thank you very much in advance,
    Anh

    • Hi Anh,
      I would usually recommend you all get Opal cards.The card will save 30% on fares for journeys outside of peak hours and give you access to the $2.50 all day Sunday price. It really depends on where you are staying? If you are in the centre of the city you could walk to some of the places you mentioned.You will need to take a bus to Bondi and they do not accept cash so will need a prepaid ticket or an opal card. You can take the light rail to the fish market – it is possible to walk but a long way. If you are planning on taking the train to the Blue Mountains then definitely get Opal cards. The Cricket Hall of Fame is in Melbourne I think? Do you mean the Bradman Museum in Berrima? This is not such an easy trip by public transport. Will you be driving?

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