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 29 November 2020
Please note the prices in the article are valid 1 November 2020
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 use public transport almost every day, 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 fares 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 $8.05 for as much travel as you want on Saturdays and 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
- 30% fare discount when travelling on weekends, public holidays and outside of the peak times**.
*Travel caps do not include access to airport terminal stations.
**Peak hour 6.30am-10am and 3pm-7pm
Can I use my credit or debit card instead of buying an Opal card?
Yes, you can! That is what I do, but if you do need to be careful to use the same card every trip if you want to get weekly or daily cap benefits. You will need to use a different card for each traveller.
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.
Children or concession cardholders will still need an Opal card to access reduced fares.
If you are an Overseas traveller you may be charged foreign transaction fees by your bank, so an Opal card might still be the best idea if you are taking more than a couple of trips.
How are Opal fares charged when you use your credit card
The fares are calculated the same way as regular Opal fares so the card does not appear on your credit card until the end of the day. When you tap on for the first time you are charged a $1 pre-authorisation (it will show as pending on your bank account balance).
At the end of the day, you will see a charge for the total of your travel that day. So if you take 1 trip or reach your cap there will only be one charge (and only one foreign transaction fee per day if applicable). The date the payment, when processed, will likely be different to the actual date of travel and will appear as TransportforNSW on your statement.
Find out more about contactless payments here.
Where can I buy 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.
Where can I top up or recharge an Opal card
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.
From Monday 18 November 2019, the minimum top-up amounts will double to $20 for adult and $10 for child/concession cards when topped up in shops or via station machines.
You will still be able to top up to the lower amount via the Opal App.
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.
Why you should register your card
Registering your card means that your travel is recorded which some people are no comfortable with; 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 four years and over needs their own card. For children 4-15 you can buy a child’s Opal. Children under four years of age travel free.
How can I check the balance on my Opal card?
The quickest way to check your Opal balance is on the official Opal App. The app is available for iPhone or Android users.
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
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.
Can you get a refund of your unused Opal Card balance?
You can only get a refund to an Australian bank account and it’s not an easy process so I would suggest using the app to keep an eye on your balance and only top up when you need to.
If your Opal card is registered you can also transfer the balance to another card.
If there is any credit left on the card perhaps hand it to another traveller or local who I am sure would be happy to accept it!
Who can buy child and student discount tickets?
Sydney’s public transport is free for children under four years of age. Kids aged 4-15 can buy a child’s Opal card.
Full-time students aged 16 and over who are residents of Australia must apply for a student Opal via their educational institution.
If you are over 16 years and a student in another country you must still 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 seniors get a Gold Opal card?
No, only Australia’s are eligible for concession seniors Opal card.
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
Now you have mastered Opal it’s time to learn more about the options using Sydney Public Transport
- Five of the best Sydney Ferry Rides
- Sydney Beaches by Public Transport
- Exploring Eastside Sydney by bus
- Barangaroo to Watsons Bay by Bus
- Our Ex-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!