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I'll be in the UK in a few weeks, and will do some train travelling with my wife and two (under 5) children. The kids are free on trains, yay, so we're planning to get a Two Together railcard (As we'll be together the whole time).

As far as I can tell, I can't buy one while I'm in the US - I'll have to buy one in the UK. So:

  • Can I go ahead and buy (ahead of time) train tickets that assume the railcard exists?
  • Is there a particular place I need to go to buy it once I'm in the UK? We'll be landing at Heathrow around noon, staying overnight, then leaving on a train for Edinburgh the next day.
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    It looks like most answers are here. You could buy it now, but would have to have it delivered to your hotel. Otherwise, at any National Rail office.
    – mkennedy
    Sep 10, 2015 at 20:46
  • online purchase has 10% off discount
    – Him
    Sep 11, 2015 at 2:09
  • Also take a look at Family & Friends railcard.
    – A E
    Sep 12, 2015 at 8:40

2 Answers 2

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Yes, you can go ahead and buy the tickets now. As long as you have a railcard by the time you have to show anyone the tickets, you'll be fine.

You can either buy the card online, and have it delivered to a place you are staying (kinda dicey, as the time for delivery can vary a little). This way you get a neat, credit-card style (and size) pass.

Alternatively, you can buy from any station ticket office (there's one at Heathrow, although apparently this does not sell railcards (most other airport ticket offices will however ). Don't forget to bring a passport photo of each of you, and you can speed things up by having already filled out the application form. If you do this, you get a larger, paper railcard in a little passbook.

See this from the Railcard FAQs:

Q:Can visitors to Britain buy a Railcard online?

A: You can only buy online is you are able to give a UK-delivery address. We cannot send Railcards to non-UK addresses. Alternatively, you can buy a Railcard at a staffed rail station ticket office in England, Scotland, or Wales or a National Rail-licensed Travel Agent on arrival. You can also buy a Railcard at Gatwick Airport, Stansted Airport rail stations, Luton Airport Parkway and Manchester Airport – but NOT at London Heathrow Airport.

If you're travelling on trains a large amount though, it may make sense to take a look at Britrail passes.

You can read the rules and general information on railcards from National Rail, and the FAQ on the railcard site is also very useful

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    Heathrow is "special", and doesn't have a full ticket office. Are you sure that the restricted service there is able to issue railcards? (They don't offer ticket collection at least)
    – Gagravarr
    Sep 10, 2015 at 22:10
  • No, not sure - never been there. Just observed that NR says there is a ticket office there.
    – CMaster
    Sep 10, 2015 at 22:13
  • NR says there is a ticket office. The people there seem to pretend they're not a ticket office, just a HEX sales desk. I've had them refuse to sell me tickets beyond Reading, claiming they're not a full NR ticketing office, and also had them refuse to let me collect tickets ordered online. I'd be very reluctant to suggest telling people to try to buy railcards from them without explicitly checking first that they offer them :(
    – Gagravarr
    Sep 11, 2015 at 10:26
  • Britrail is tempting, but it's unclear if it'll save me or not: on the Caledonian, for example, more of the cost is in the berth reservation than the ticket... ends up being $50 a day, which I'm not sure if I'll likely spend that or not. It'll be close. Maybe worth it for the flexibility (as it would be nice not to have to decide for sure to do some of the trips on a particular day, so I don't have to buy ahead for cheaper pricing).
    – Joe
    Sep 11, 2015 at 15:50
  • You can collect the pre-purchased ticket in many ticket machine. Simply plug your card in the machine and type the reference code, and you can get the ticket.
    – Him
    Sep 12, 2015 at 12:51
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Now six years later, there's also the option of digital railcards (smartphone), whit the railcard FAQ updated accordingly:

Can visitors to Britain buy a Railcard online?

Yes, you can.
If your delivery address is outside Britain, please select the digital Railcard option.
You can also buy a Railcard at Gatwick Airport, Stansted Airport rail stations, Luton Airport Parkway and Manchester Airport – but NOT at London Heathrow Airport.

Which would surely be more relaxing than having one more thing to do at arrival.

Seat61 (same link may answer many of your other ticketing questions) has the following tip if it might come in handy:

Tip 1: If system refuses to accept your non-UK postcode the first time you enter your address, no problem, just use this UK one: EC1A 4HD, it makes no difference. At the payment stage you can select your correct nationality then enter the correct postcode for your billing address.

EC1A 4HD is a non-residential postcode in London.

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  • Excellent progress! Does this mean there’s now not a single type of UK rail ticket that cannot be purchased online with zero paper components?
    – JonathanReez
    May 29, 2021 at 16:40
  • @JonathanReez Isn't that an excellent question in itself? May 29, 2021 at 16:54
  • @JonathanReez - afraid not. Regional railcards are paper in person only. Most are rangers/rovers are the same although a handful can be ordered online for collection. There is also plus is which although easily purchasable online are paper only.
    – skifans
    May 29, 2021 at 21:20

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