Buying a NYC MetroCard for the subway isn’t brain surgery. But sometimes it feels like it. In fact, some travelers find buying a MetroCard one of the most stressful activities in the city. Find out how to buy a MetroCard, how to refill your MetroCard and what type of MetroCard you should buy in New York City.
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Welcome to the NYC MetroCard Machine!
If this is your first time buying a NYC MetroCard, congratulations! You are about to enter a mysterious world, available only to a select few. The world of the NYC subway is both glorious and fulfilling.
But seriously. Congrats for buying the MetroCard. For some reason, these machines really freak people out. You’re going above and beyond to learn something new today. And I’m going to help ease you through this process, so you know what to expect.
Where Can I Go on the New York City Subway?
You can go virtually anywhere that the subways go in New York City. You can reach all five boroughs by subway (though you’ll need to take a bus or the ferry to reach Staten Island!). You can even use your MetroCard on the Roosevelt Island tram if you want to take a trip to Roosevelt Island. Check out the New York City subway map to see the entire system and see exactly where you can go.
Can I Use My MetroCard on the Bus?
Yes! You can use your MetroCard on the New York City buses too. This is especially helpful if you buy an unlimited ride card (see below).
Can’t I Just Buy a MetroCard at the Desk?
You could. But I wouldn’t recommend it. The lines get long. They only accept cash at the desk. Long lines make it so people who have actual, valid questions can’t get the help they need. Just go to the machine. Please.
How to Buy a NYC MetroCard
Start your journey by pressing the “Start” button, like so. Choose your language of choice.
If you’re refilling your card, please kindly skip to the below header that says, “Refill Your Card”. If you’re buying a card for the first time, click “Get New Card”. (Yes, you get charged $1 for every new card you buy, so don’t lose it or throw it away!) On the screen where it says, “Please select MetroCard type,” choose “MetroCard”.
Should I Buy a Single Ride Ticket?
But what if…?
No, no. Nonononononono.
Should I Buy an Unlimited MetroCard?
Does each person in your party plan on using the subway 12 or more times during your stay? Then, yes! Just know that you can’t share unlimited MetroCards (see below).
Do I need to Buy a Separate MetroCard for Every Person in My Party?
That depends. If you’re buying the unlimited card, every person needs a separate card because the unlimited cards cannot be shared. (If they could, the subway would lose lots of money.)
If you’re putting a dollar amount on the card, you can share one card for up to five people.
How to Add Money to Your MetroCard
If you’re not buying the unlimited card, press “Regular MetroCard”. Then press the dollar amount that you want (if you want a $5, $10, $20, $25, or $40 card). If you don’t see your desired amount, press “Other Amount” and enter the amount you’d like to load onto your card. Each ride costs $2.75, so plan accordingly!
Choose how you want to pay (credit card, ATM card, or cash).
How to Refill a NYC MetroCard
Press “Refill Your Card”. You’ll hear a mechanical click. Insert your card in the yellow-color coded section on the right-hand side of the machine as shown. The black strip should be facing up. After you hear the mechanical click, and you insert your card, the machine should suck it inside. Woot.
Paying for Your MetroCard by Credit Card or ATM Card
Slide your card in the card reader at the bottom left-hand side of the machine (the blue section) when directed to do so. Your chip should be facing into the machine, and the magnetic strip should be facing down. Slide the card in, and immediately pull it back out. The way the MTA describes this is “dipping” your card into the reader.
This part is kind of important. You can’t slide the card in, leave it in for a sec, and pull it back out. You’ll need to keep repeating this over and over again until you get the “dip” right. Just insert in—and pull out.
If you live in America, enter your zip code. If you don’t live in America, press, “99999” (9 five times). Press “OK”. Your MetroCard will pop out of the slot on the yellow color-coded section of the machine.
Paying for Your MetroCard by Cash
Insert coins in the coin slot and cash in the cash slot. If the cash slot keeps spitting your cash out, you might need to smooth it out a bit or try inserting it with the head facing different directions.
It’s important to tell you that if you are expecting change, your change will come in the form of dollar coins. For some, that will be a lot of coins.
Change and Receipts
The screen will ask if you want a receipt. If yes, it will pop out in the red color-coded section of the machine. This is also where your change will be dispensed.
Using Your MetroCard
When you want to use your card, simply walk up to the turnstile. Have your card out and ready. New Yorkers absolutely hate it when you block the turnstile and you don’t have your card ready. If you need some time to find your card, simply step to the side for a moment while you get yourself together.
Place the card in the reader as shown in the photo. The Black strip should be facing you. Swipe the card in the machine. You might need to play around with the speed a little. Watch how others do it first. If you go too slow or too fast, you’ll need to swipe your card again.
You’ll hear a beep, and you can pass through the turnstile.
What If I Have a Stroller?
As you can probably tell, you won’t be able to fit that stroller through the subway turnstile. Simply remove your child from the stroller, and leave the stroller near the emergency exit gate. Once you and your child have passed through the turnstile, open the emergency exit gate and claim your stroller. This trick also works relatively well for large luggage, too.
Congrats! You’ve made it into the New York City subway system! Need more help riding the subway? Check out my Beginner’s Guide to Riding the Subway. Have any additional questions? Ask them in the comments below!
Feel like buying a MetroCard is just too stressful? No worries, I’ve got you covered. Just order one of my NYC Survival Kits to skip the entire process!