Guidance

Visiting Antarctica

This guide sets out who has to apply for a permit, how to apply and explains the other rules covering travel to Antarctica.

Requirements for visiting Antarctica

The Antarctic Treaty signed in Washington on 1 December 1959 preserves the Antarctic continent for peaceful and scientific use.

The Antarctic Treaty’s Protocol on Environmental Protection, signed in 1991, is the only international agreement designed to protect an entire continent. It ensures that all human activity in Antarctica is carefully planned and managed. It enables a range of human activity to take place in Antarctica including scientific research, well-managed, environmentally sensitive tourism, and exploration. Crucially, the Protocol prohibits commercial mining and protects vulnerable areas, animals and plants.

The Antarctic Treaty does not prevent tourists, military personnel or scientific researchers from being present in Antarctica - but they do require an appropriate permit from a Treaty Party.

Permit criteria

Anyone on a British expedition to Antarctica or taking a British vessel or aircraft into Antarctica will need to apply for a permit from the Polar Regions Department of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO).

A British expedition is one organised in the UK, or one where the last place of departure for Antarctica is the UK, a British overseas territory, or a Crown Dependency. ‘Expedition’ consists of a single person or group, undertaking a tour or journey of any purpose, including activities such as landing ashore, skiing, kayaking, small boat activities, climbing, diving or any related activity.

You do not need a permit for:

  • ships or aircraft travelling to an immediate destination outside Antarctica
  • fishing vessels, unless they are carrying out functions related to an expedition
  • expeditions organised in and authorised in writing by another contracting party (country) to the Environmental Protocol to the Antarctic Treaty

It is also unlikely that you will need a permit if you are a passenger on an organised visit to Antarctica, as your tour operator would usually arrange this. However you should confirm this with them before travelling. Contact the Polar Regions Department if you are still unsure.

Applying for a permit

You should submit applications for permits as far in advance as possible. This should be at least 4 months for a new or unusual application, or at least 2 months before the date of your departure if you have previously obtained a permit for summer activities.

Organisers must demonstrate that they are sufficiently prepared for a visit to Antarctica. You should discuss your plans informally with the Polar Regions Department before you begin completing the permit application. This is especially important if your expedition involves specialist activities such as extreme sports, extended trips or multiple transport options.

Application forms and guidance

For a land or vessel based expedition you can download the permit application form and guidance below. For further information please contact the Polar Regions Department. Before completing either application form,

Expedition Permit Application Form (MS Word Document, 77.3KB)

Expedition Permit Application Guidance Notes (PDF, 950KB, 16 pages)

If you plan to undertake more specialist activities in Antarctic (such as wildlife monitoring or scientific research) it is likely you will need a separate permit. For further information please contact the Polar Regions Department.

Specialist Permit Application Form (MS Word Document, 65.3KB)

Specialist Permit Application Guidance Notes (PDF, 970KB, 12 pages)

Historic Site and Monument Application Form (MS Word Document, 59.7KB)

Once the expedition is complete, you will need to complete a Post Visit Report. Permit holders who are members of the International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators (IAATO) need only to provide the Polar Regions Department of the Post Visit Report prepared by IAATO.

Post Visit Report: Expedition, Vessel and/or Aircraft (MS Word Document, 59.1KB)

Post Visit Report: Specialist Activities (MS Word Document, 56.2KB)

How to contact the Polar Regions Department

Telephone: 020 7008 1500

Email: polarregions@fco.gov.uk

Address:

Polar Regions Department
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
Room K 2.55
King Charles Street
London
SW1A 2AH

Publishing application details

Applicants should be aware that within 10 days from the Polar Regions Department confirming receipt of any permit applications, the FCO will openly publish information relating to these applications on this website. This will include application type, applicant name, duration of visit, proposed itinerary and the contact details of the applicant.

Please also see our privacy notice

UK Antarctic enforcement policy and procedures

The FCO is responsible for ensuring that the UK’s Antarctic legislation is fully complied with. See our UK Antarctic Enforcement Policy and Procedures page for further details.

Comprehensive Environmental Evaluations (CEEs) received for activity in Antarctica

Name Company Purpose and location Date received and CEE
BAS Environment Office information@bas.ac.uk British Antarctic Survey Replacement of Rothera Wharf and stabilisation of the area around the runway at Rothera Station January 2018 - available at www.bas.ac.uk

Initial Environmental Evaluations (IEEs) received for activity in Antarctica 2018 to 2019

No applications have yet been received.

Applications received for expeditions from the 2018 to 2019 season

Permit applicant Vessel/Aircraft name Purpose and date of visit Brief itinerary
George Horsington George.horsington@macswitzerland.ch SA Agulhas II Weddell Sea Exhibition 2019 28 December 2018 to 28 February 2019 Weddell Sea area including Larsen C Ice Shelf
Robert Dougall McCallum rob@eyos-expeditions.com DSSV Pressure Drop Scientific research 1 January 2019 to 30 January 2019 Lander deployment, South Sandwich Trench
Published 16 May 2013
Last updated 13 June 2018 + show all updates
  1. Additional text explaining the requirements for visiting Antarctica, updated forms and guidance and revised Post Visit Reports.
  2. Comprehensive Environmental Evaluation Added
  3. Additional permit application
  4. Additional permit application added
  5. Additional permit application
  6. permit application added
  7. Additional permit applications
  8. Additional applications
  9. Additional permit applications
  10. Addition of further permit applications
  11. Updated permit applications for season 2017-18
  12. Initial Environmental Evaluation added and permit applications updated
  13. Added new applications for expeditions in the 2017 to 2018 season
  14. page updated.
  15. updated applications received for 2016 to 2017 expedition season
  16. Revised formatting of permit applications
  17. Additional Application form and Guidance
  18. First published.