How To Use a UK Railcard (and why you need one!)

Whether you are moving to the UK on a working visa, or coming here for university, you must get a railcard! Here’s everything you need to know.

First up: what is a railcard?

UK Railcards allow you to save money on most train fares, including discounts on Advance Purchase tickets. You pay for the year (or sometimes have the option for multi-year tickets) and then you can receive discounts.

If you travel at all frequently on the train, they will save you money. I just wish someone told me about them sooner!

The official retailer of railcards by National Rail and there are a variety of different railcards and regional railcards available.

Everything you need to know about UK railcards

Expat tip: Each railcard has its own conditions – such as when you can get discounts on which time of day, how many people can travel, etc. I’ll give you a basic rundown on each railcard and leave all the links so you can check the details for the card that best suits you.

Types of Railcards

16-17 Saver

The 16-17 Saver gives 50% off Standard Anytime, Advance, Off-Peak and Season tickets (excluding travel on ScotRail and Caledonian Sleeper services). To be eligible for the 16-17 Saver, you only need to meet the age requirement. This rail card is valid for one year or until your 18th birthday, whichever comes first.

If you’re looking to move to the UK, it’s likely that you’ll be older than 17 so this card might not be applicable. Thankfully, there’s many more railcards to choose from.

16-25 Railcard

A 16-25 Railcard gives 1/3 off rail fares throughout Great Britain for a whole year, including Standard and First Class Advance fares. To be eligible, you must be 16 to 25 years old, or a mature student (26 years or older and in full-time study)

This railcard is either £30 for 1 year or £70 for 3 years. If you’re likely going to be in the UK for 3 years, it’s definitely worth getting the 3-year card. If not, it’s best to be safe with the 1 year card.

26-30 Railcard

A 26-30 Railcard gives 1/3 off rail fares throughout Great Britain for the whole year, including Standard and First Class Advance Fares. To be eligible for the 26-30 Railcard, you only have to meet the age requirements.

The great thing about this railcard is you can buy it any time before your 31st birthday and keep using it for a whole year, until its expiry date.

The 26-30 Railcard is available to buy online, in digital format only – this is actually the card I have and I’ve definitely found it worthwhile.

This railcard is £30 for the year and it’s estimated that you can save an average of £251 a year. If you travel by train often, you’ll definitely get your money worth.

Disabled Person’s Railcard

A Disabled Person’s Railcard gives the cardholder and an adult companion 1/3 off Standard and First Class rail fares throughout Great Britain for a whole year, so you can save money for a friend or a family member when they travel with you.

You may qualify for a Disabled Persons Railcard if you have: a visual impairment, a hearing impairment, epilepsy, or are in receipt of a disability-related benefit. For more details, make sure to check out the Disabled Persons Railcard eligibility criteria.

This railcard is a bit cheaper at £20 for 1 year or £54 for 3 years.

Family & Friends Railcard

A Family & Friends Railcard gives 1/3 off rail fares for up to 4 adults and 60% off for up to 4 children aged 5 to 15 years. Plus, you can have two adults named on one card, so when one cardholder isn’t using it the other can, as long as they are travelling with at least one child aged 5 to 15 years.

One of the limitations of this railcard is that it’s not valid when travelling during morning peak period, Monday to Friday (excluding public holidays) when journeys are made wholly within the London and South East area.

You can get this railcard for £30 for 1 year or £70 for 3 years.

Network Railcard

A Network Railcard gives 1/3 off Standard Class rail fares throughout the Network Railcard area for a whole year for up to 4 Adults and 4 children when travelling together.

One condition to be aware of is that a minimum fare of £13 applies for all tickets Monday to Friday (excluding public holidays). The minimum discounted child fare payable is £1 at all times.

Similar to many of the other railcards, the Network railcard is £30 a year.

Two Together Railcard

To be eligible for a Two Together Railcard you’ll need to be aged 16 years or over. You don’t need to be in a couple so you can get one with a best friend, or one of the family and together you can save on everyday journeys, fun day trips or exciting weekend breaks.

One limitation of this railcard is that the discount does not apply before 9:30am Monday to Friday excluding public holidays.

At £30 a year, it’s very easy to make your money back while using this railcard with a friend or family member.

Can visitors to Britain buy a Railcard online?

YES! Visitors or expats to the UK can buy a railcard and the process is actually very simple.

Once you know a railcard that you are eligible for (typically based on age requirements) simply click ‘Buy Now on the website homepage and follow the instructions on the screen.

Please note that for some railcards, like the 26-30 Railcard, you will need to provide a valid passport or UK driving licence or National Identity Card number (Machine readable cards from the European Economic Area only) to prove your date of birth and a digital passport-style photo.

If you’re living in London: Can I use my Railcard for tickets for travel on the London Underground?

You can get your Railcard discount loaded onto your Oyster card to save 1/3 on single off-peak pay as you go fares on London Underground and Docklands Light Railway services in London. You will need to have registered your Oyster in your name to do this.

Simply take your Oyster card and valid Railcard to a London Underground station and ask a member of staff to set the discount for you. You can also get the discount set at Oyster Ticket Shops and Visitor Centres

How to use a UK railcard in London

How do you use a railcard?

As an expat living in the UK, this is how my railcard works for me:

  1. When I search for train tickets, either on my laptop or on my mobile via a travel app, as part of the search parameters, I include 1 railcard (and select which one I have)
  2. When it shows me tickets, it automatically includes any relevant discounts (however, you don’t always get discounts. If there are any, they’re automatically included)
  3. Then I purchase my tickets for collection at the station
  4. When you use your paper ticket through the barrier, you don’t need to also prove your railcard. However, sometimes there are ticket agents on the train who will ask for your ticket to make sure you actually have one. On my ticket it will show that it was purchased with a railcard and sometimes they ask to see proof (although it’s pretty rare)
  5. Because I have the 26-30 Year Old Railcard, it’s digital on my mobile so I simply show them on my phone. I use a train app called TrainLine which keeps my railcard details stored
  6. And that’s it!

How do you buy a UK railcard?

Once you have found a railcard that suits you and your needs, simply head over to their website and click “Buy Now.” The railcard application will require some few basic questions, and possibly some photo ID and payment, and then you’re good to go!

Expat tip: if you’re going to be travelling with Southeastern Rail in the South East of England, definitely check out their electronic Key smart card for storing your tickets.