How to use an Opal card in Sydney Light Rail in Sydney

How to Use an Opal Card in Sydney: Amazingly Simple Travel in 2023

Are you wondering how to use an Opal card in Sydney?

Well, you’ve come to the right place because I live in Sydney, and I travel in and out of the city every day for work – in fact, I take the light rail to my daughter’s preschool and then the bus to work – so I’m a bit of an expert at hopping on and off public transport in Sydney with my Opal card and I know all the tips and tricks to get the most out of it!

Whether you are planning to visit Sydney as a tourist, backpacking on a Working Holiday Visa or are moving to Sydney permanently, you will want to know how to use an Opal Card in Sydney, as it is the most cost-effective and simplest way to get around the city.

Sydney has an ever-growing public transport system that consists of trains, buses, ferries and light rail. The Opal Card is an electronic ticketing system that allows users to use one ticket across all these types of transport. I have created the below guide on how to use an Opal Card in Sydney, to help you plan your visit to Sydney. 

Please note, this guide is for visitors/ new residents to Sydney and is not intended to provide comprehensive information for local users with complex questions,  I would suggest consulting the official Opal website in this instance.

How Does an Opal Card Work?  

If you are moving from the UK to Australia, then the Opal card is Sydney’s version of the Oyster card, commonly used in London.  

Opal is a pay-as-you-go system, so you only pay for your journey when you catch the bus, train etc. You will need to preload money onto the card at least 30 minutes before your journey.  

How to use an Opal card in Sydney is very simple and is a case of taping on and off when you travel. You will need to tap on at the Opal touchpads located at the entrance gates of train stations, ferry terminals and at the exits on buses and light rail services. When you have arrived at your destination, you need to remember to tap off to pay the correct fare. You will normally hear a chiming noise when it has worked correctly.  The Opal card system will automatically deduct the fare amount from your card when the journey is completed.  

Always make sure you tap on before you start your journey on Sydney’s public transport, even if the gate is open at the train station and you can just walk in. If you forget or just chose not to tap on, you will be classed as travelling without a ticket. The fines for getting caught without a ticket can be expensive, so better not to risk it and play by the rules.  

If you forget to tap off, you will be charged the maximum fare for that journey. If this happens you can call Opal and tell them what happened, they may reverse this charge for you.  

What if you are changing busses, ferries or trains?  

You need to tap off when exiting train stations however, you do not need to tap off when you are changing trains. So for example, if you are going from Circular Quay to Bondi Junction. You would tap on at Circular Quay, change trains at Town Hall (no taping on/off required because you are not leaving the train station). When you arrive at Bondi Junction you will tap off as this is where your journey ends.  

For ferries, it’s relatively the same process. You will tap on when you arrive at the wharf and tap off when you leave.

For buses, you will be taping on and off each bus you get onto. The Opal Card network knows that you are changing buses if you do so within 60 minutes and therefore will calculate your trip as one journey instead of two trips.  

Getting Around Sydney: Where Can I Use an Opal card in NSW? 

The Opal card can be used widely in the Sydney central business district area (city centre) and the metropolitan area on all public transport.  It can be used on Trains, Buses, Light Rail and Ferries. 

Can you use the Opal Card for areas outside Sydney? 

The Blue Mountains, Central Coast, Hunter, Southern Highlands and Illawarra are areas outside of Sydney Metropolitan Transport for which you can use your Opal Card in NSW.   

Where do you get an Opal card in Sydney?  

You can buy an Opal card in Sydney either from retail outlets or online. There are over 2000 retailers that sell Opal cards.  

Opal cards are not available to purchase directly on the bus. Additionally, Opal machines at train stations and ferry wharves only sell single-use tickets.  

The primary locations for visitors to purchase Opal cards include:  

Sydney Airport: You can buy an Opal card at WH Smith or Newslink at either terminal in Sydney Airport. This is convenient if you are considering using the train to get to the city when you first arrive. Just be aware that there is a Sydney Airport Station Access Fee of $15.13 for adults ($13.54 for child/youth Opal Card holders). You will need to load up your card to cover this fee plus the cost of your journey. 

Near City Train Stations: If you are thinking they must sell Opal cards at the train station, think again! The only train stations that sell Opal cards are the two Sydney Airport Stations. However, most train stations have a convenience store either inside or nearby the train station where you can buy a card. 

Supermarkets/ Newsagents/ Convenience stores: Many news agencies and convenience stores such as 7Eleven, which are heavily located around the city and suburbs sell Opal cards. Look for the Opal card sticker in shop windows for an easy way to identify if they sell Opal cards or provide top-ups.  You can buy Opal cards at Woolworths also, which is a great place to top-up.  

Be aware that many retailers have credit card fees for purchases under a certain amount, this is common in Australia. To avoid these extra fee’s you should top-up your Opal card above the amount.  

How Much Does an Opal Card Cost? 

The Opal card is a free public transport card that you pre-load money onto it so you can travel on all transport systems (bus, trains, ferries, light rail) within Sydney in a convenient way.  

So, the card itself is free, however, you need to load a minimum amount onto it in this first instance. The minimum cost is $20 for adult Opal cards and $10 for child/ concession cards. Top-up amounts of $10 for adults and $5 for children or concessions are available when you top up your card online.  

TIP: If you are visiting Sydney for a few days and are looking to see lots of sights, we recommend starting with a balance of $35, which will be enough for a couple of days’ travel when you take into account the Opal daily spending cap (explained in detail below). 

What are the different types of Opal Cards? Best Opal Card for Visitors? 

There are five different types of Opal Cards in Sydney. The most common type of card is the Adult Opal Card, which is generally used by anyone aged 16 and over.  

Adult Opal Card –anyone 16 years of age and older. 

Child/Youth Opal Card – For children 5-15 inclusive. It is 50% of the adult fare.  

School Opal Card – This is designed specifically for NSW School children who are eligible for free travel/ subsidized travel on public transport.  

Gold Senior/ Pensioner Opal Card – To be eligible for this Opal Card you must have either an NSW Seniors Card, Pensioners Concession Card or an NSW War Widow Card.  This is not a suitable card for overseas visitors. 

Concession Opal Card – Only full-time NSW university/ college students are eligible for the Opal card. They pay a reduced rate of 50% of an adult fare. Please note that this card is only available to students who study in NSW and thus international students must get the Adult Opal Card.  

Everyone over the age of 4 years old will need their own Opal card to travel. Children under four years of age travel for free on public transport. You cannot use an Opal card for more than one person at any one time due to the nature of tapping on and off of transport.  

The only other type of Opal card you may encounter is the Opal single trip ticket and as the name implies, it is to be used on one single tap on/tap off journey. They are valid on the day of purchase only. As a visitor to Sydney you are not going to get much use out of single tip tickets, likewise, if you are a local so you are better off getting set up with an Opal card.  

Opal Card Travel Discounts: Why getting an Opal Card is the Cheapest Way to Travel! 

I always recommend that anyone coming to Sydney should get an Opal card as it is the cheapest, most convenient way to travel. Plus, there are discounts you will benefit from by using an Opal card.   

Daily, Weekly and Weekend Caps 

With an adult Opal card, you can travel around Sydney as much as you want on the train, metro, bus, ferry and light rail services. The fares are capped at maximum amounts you will pay, and therefore you will never pay more than the following: 

Daily CapWeekly CapWeekends & Public Holiday Cap
Adult Opal Card$16.30$50$8.15
Child/ concession Opal Card$8.10$25$4.05

Therefore, if you reach your cap you are essentially travelling for free thereafter. Great for anyone wanting to see all the sights around Sydney, or those who have a daily commute to work. Whilst $16.30 does seem like a lot for public transport, you would be surprised how easy it is to reach this limit, especially if you are a tourist in Sydney.  

Please note, the Sydney Airport Station access fee is not included in the above caps. 

Weekly Travel Reward 

A great benefit of the Opal Card is that when you complete 8 Journeys in a week (Monday – Sunday), your fare for the remainder of the week will be half price. The only exception is Sydney Airport, which isn’t included in the Opal weekly travel reward programme.  

Opal Trip Advantage 

If you are visiting Sydney as a tourist, then you are probably going to be heading from one side of the city to the other; luckily when you use your Opal card on a single mode of transport and make multiple changes within 60 minutes of your last tap off, it will all be counted as a single journey (rather than multiple small trips) and so you will be only charged one fare. (Manly Ferry is the only exception to the Opal Trip Advantage).  

How to Reload and Check Your Opal Card Balance? 

When you tap on/off your balance is displayed on the card reader’s screen every time you use your card. However, the most convenient way to check your Opal Card balance and top-up is to download the Opal Travel App, which most people live in Sydney use.  

You can also top-up your opal card online or by phone on 136725.  

The Opal Card Travel App 

The Opal Card Travel App is available on both Android and iOS platforms. I highly recommend downloading it for several reasons: 

  • To check the balance of your Opal Card and Top-Up 
  • It is possible to plan your journey within the app, so you know exactly what bus, train etc. to get on. It also lets you see in real-time where you are on the route and prompts you when to get off.  
  •  Keeps you up to date with any service disruptions. 

What are the Benefits of Registering an Opal Card? 

Opal Cards bought online are registered at the point of purchase however, if you buy your Opal card from a retailer, the card will not be registered.   

If you bought your card from a retailer and wish to register your Card, then you can do so on the Opal website. There is no need to register your card however, you will miss out on some additional benefits if you do not register such as:

Auto Top-Up 

When your balance drops below $10, your Opal card will be automatically topped up. There were so many occasions where I did not have enough money on my Opal card and I had to wait up to 1 hour for the top-up to go through before I could get on any transport, so the option to have automatic top-ups will be so beneficial to some people, especially those who are a bit more dis-organised like me.   

Opal Card Protection

If your card is lost or stolen you can cancel it and get your balance transferred to a new card.

Activity Statment

Access your travel history. Some people don’t feel comfortable having an app logging all your movements on transport and see this as an invasion of privacy so it’s a personal preference. 

Arriving at Sydney Airport and Getting to the City using the Opal Card

There are various ways to get from Sydney Airport to the city, but the most convenient way is by train and it is the option I always take when arriving in Sydney. 

Once you have cleared immigration and customs, follow the signs which will lead you to the train ticket office. Opal cards are available to purchase from the ticket windows at both international and domestic terminals.  

When you enter or exit the train station at Sydney Airport, a station access fee is charged, on top of your train fee. 

Important note: The Opal 60 minute transfer, which counts tap on/offs as one journey, does not apply at the airport. Therefore if you tap off at the airport and tap on again within 60 minutes you will be charged two station access fees as well as two journeys. 

Can I use my Credit or Debit Card Instead of Buying an Opal Card? 

Yes, it is possible to use a credit/debit card instead of an Opal card to get around Sydney. However, you need to be careful and use the same card every time, if you wish to get the same benefits as having an Opal card. Also, just like the Opal card, you can only use one card per traveller.  

This only works for adult fare prices. Children or concession cardholders will still need an Opal card to access reduced fares.  

If you are an overseas traveller, please note that you may be charged an overseas transaction fee by your home bank. Therefore I would always recommend that tourists/visitors to Sydney buy an Opal card.  

Can you get a Refund of your Unused Opal Card Balance? 

Whilst it is possible to get a refund for any unused balance remaining on your Opal card, it is not an easy process. You can only get a refund to an Australian bank account and therefore if you are a tourist/ visitor to Sydney, I would suggest you only top up your card with the amount required for your journey.  

Opal cards are valid for 9 years, so you could even use the remaining balance if you decide to come back to visit Sydney!  

If you don’t think you’ll be back, why not hand it to a fellow traveller or local, a nice random act of kindness to finish your trip!  

What to do if your Opal card is lost/ stolen? 

If your Opal card is registered, you will be able to log into your account online or through the app and lock your card. This ensures that any remaining balance on the card is frozen and you can transfer the balance over to a new card.

Final Thoughts 

Ultimately, if you plan on visiting Sydney or are moving to Sydney permanently, I advise you to get an Opal card as this is what most locals use. Hopefully this guide on how to use an Opal card in Sydney has made you realise that the Opal system is easy to use, convenient and the most cost effective way to travel.

Opal FAQs

Can Two People Use the Same, Opal Card?

No, two people can’t use the same Opal card at the same time, due to the need to tap on/ tap off. 

Do Opal Cards Expire?

Yes, Opal cards will eventually expire, however, you have nine years to use the credit on your card. 

Can the NSW opal card be used in Queensland?

No, the Opal card is exclusive to New South Wales. The travel card in Queensland is called a Go Card. The travel card is called Myki in Victoria, Metrocard in Adelaide, SmartRider in Perth, Greencard in Tasmania and MyWay in Canberra.

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