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When travelling around London, I usually follow the standing advice and use an Oyster pay-as-you-go card for my tube/bus/train/dlr journeys. It works well, as I can load some cash on every so often, quickly breeze through turnstiles / onto buses, and I know that after a few journeys in a day my costs will be capped and all subsequent journeys will be effectively "free".

Historically, when in Paris, I've tended to just buy a carnet of 10 metro/bus tickets, often from the shop on-board the Eurostar on the way. However, I've noticed recently that almost everyone else is using Navigo cards for their travel, rather than the paper metro tickets. Is it possible to get an equivalent to an Oyster pay-as-you-go for Paris as an occasional tourist? (Let's say 2-5 journeys in a typical day)

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up vote 9 down vote accepted

No, Paris has no such thing. It's probably going to happen one day, but at the moment, Navigo cards are only for commuter passes (one calendar week or longer). You see a lot of them because most locals have one (whether they live in Paris or only work there). For infrequent visitors, you'll need paper tickets: typically a “ticket T” (good for one trip in the Metro + RER within Paris, or (not both) for one bus + tram trip (excluding some buses outside the city limits, in particular the airport express buses)), which is markedly cheaper if you buy 10 of them (a carnet, pronounced carney). (These tickets are not nominative and have no preemption date, so you can buy 10 and spread them around multiple trips and over the whole party.)

There are also day passes (Mobilis) and tourist passes as well as the youth week-end ticket. You have to make up your mind at the beginning of your trip whether you'll go for a pass or not, there's nothing like London's automatic cap when you reach the day ticket rate. Beware that Paris's day passes exclude the airport express services.

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Good to mention: you can get carnets for all journeys, even for the airports. It's ~30% discount and the tickets are valid for ages (I know people using tickets more than 15 years old). – yo' Nov 3 '14 at 16:57
@tohecz True, but for most occasional visitors it's not worth getting a carnet for point-to-point tickets. Beware that these tickets are magnetic and employees are not as accommodating as they used to be when a ticket becomes demagnetized. I think the rules have changed and the ticket is now officially invalid if it has become demagnetized. – Gilles Nov 3 '14 at 19:37

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