Sydney has an extensive public transport system that includes trains, buses, ferries and light rail. An electronic ticketing system called Opal allows you to use one ticket to use across all these types of transport. I hope this simplified guide to using the Opal card helps you to plan your visit to Sydney.
Updated 28 August 2019
Please note the prices in the article is valid from 1 July 2019
Learning how to use Opal cards in Sydney
What follows is my attempt to simplify all the Opal information out there and answer some of the regular questions I am asked. I have been using the card since it was rolled out, and am confident I have a good understanding of how it works. I update this page regularly.
Charles is a Sydney Bus driver, so I often bombard 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 post is not meant to provide comprehensive information for local users with complicated 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 101
Opal is a ‘pay-as-you-go’ system, so you only pay when you catch a train or bus or ferry, including some private ferry operators like Manly Fast 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 travel discounts
- Pay full price for your first eight journeys per week – Opal offers a “travel reward” for frequent travel, with all trips after this at half price *
- Daily Travel Cap* – Pay no more than $16.10 per day for adults and $8.00 a day for a child to travel anywhere in the network
- Sunday Travel Cap* – Pay no more than $2.80 for as much travel as you want on Sunday.
- Weekly Travel Cap* – Pay no more than $50.00 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.
Can I use my credit or debit card instead of buying an Opal card?
If you are planning only to take a couple of trips, you can use your credit or debit card to tap on and off Sydney’s public transport.
Provided you use the same card every day you will get the same benefits as an Opal, i.e. daily or weekly caps or off-peak price reductions.
Overseas travellers may be charged foreign transaction fees by your bank, so you might still prefer an Opal if you are travelling around Sydney on more than a couple of trips.
Where can I buy and top up an Opal card?
You can buy your cards from retail outlets or online. You can find a full list of these here. Cards are not available for purchase on buses or Opal machines at train stations and ferry wharves only sell single-use tickets.
The primary locations for visitors to purchase cards include:
Sydney Airport – You can buy cards at Newslink or WH Smith bookshops at either terminal. You can also buy them at the Airport stations. This post on taking the train from Sydney Airport will help you master this trip like a local.
Near City Train stations – The only train stations that sell Opal cards are the two airport stations. Most regular stations will have a newsagent or convenience store nearby where you can buy a card.
- Circular Quay – Transport shop just outside the entry
- 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 or Woolworths Met Centre.
Supermarkets, newsagents and convenience Stores – Woolworths supermarkets are a great place to top up. Many news agencies 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 that provide cards or top-ups.
How much does an Opal card cost?
The card is free when you load a minimum amount of onto it. The minimum cost is $10 for adult cards, $5 for child cards (other types such as seniors and students cards must be ordered). The only exception to this is if you buy your card at the airport train stations where the minimum top-up is $35.
There is no fee for the card itself; all of the credit is available to use 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 which I do not recommend unless you are here for a very long time.
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 your card means that your travel is recorded; however, it also 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 just depends on how comfortable you are sharing your privacy.
Do I need an Opal card for each person?
Yes, everyone aged five years and over needs their own card. For children 5-15 you can buy a child’s Opal. Children under four years of age travel free.
What time is off-peak for Opal?
When calculating your fare the time of day that you travel is taken into account. Peak times within the Sydney metro area are
- 7 am – 9 am
- 4 pm – 6.30 pm
Intercity trains like those to the Blue Mountains and up and down the coast
- 6 am – 8 am
- 4 pm – 6.30 pm
Off-peak travel is 30% cheaper when using an Opal card. Without an Opal card, you do not get any reduction and pay peak fares all the time.
Do Opal cards expire?
Yes, eventually they do; however, you have nine years to use the credit on your card.
Who can buy discount tickets?
Sydney’s public transport is free for children under four 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.
Access to Opal Gold cards for interstate seniors
Seniors from other states of Australia are eligible to apply for a Gold Opal card. Opal cards for Australian seniors or Centrelink pension concession holders are available. You can order your card in advance via the Opal website. You can buy a Gold Opal over the counter at the Information Centres at Central, and Circular Quay stations. You will need to fill in the form and show them your Pensioner entitlement. You can find out more about Opal cards for seniors here
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 eight 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 the tap on.
How to tap on and off with your Opal Card.
Taping on is as simple as holding your card still over the sensor for a second or two. It’s not so much of a quick physical tap and a hold and remove. The light will go green, and you will hear a beep when it works. Do not swipe. If you forget to tap off, you will be charged the maximum fare for that journey. You can call Opal and let them know, and they will usually reverse this charge.
Now you have sorted all that out why not explore Sydney by public transport. I have written several articles to help you find some great ways to use your card. For starters here are some of the most popular ones
- Five of the best Sydney Ferry Rides
- Sydney Beaches by Public Transport
- Exploring Eastside Sydney by bus
- Barangaroo to Watsons Bay by Bus
- The Prime Ministers Favourite Bus route
Got more questions about using Opal? Need free help planning your trip to Sydney? Join our Sydney Expert Facebook Group, where you can ask questions, stay up to date with what’s happening in Sydney and meet a bunch of friendly locals happy to offer their advice!