Visits to Antarctica
Antarctica is a unique environment. It is one of the most heavily protected places on earth and all visitors are required to adhere to strict environmental management requirements, including those set out in the Guidelines for Visitors.
Read the latest FCO Travel Advice on visiting Antarctica.
The number of visitors to Antarctica is increasing. Last year (2006/07), just over 30,000 tourists set foot on the continent, while another 8,000 took part in cruise only visits or over-flights. This compares to a decade ago (1996/97) when just 7,413 landed in Antarctica.
The UK has taken a leading role within the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting, which is the decision making body for all countries which are party to the Antarctic Treaty, to ensure that safety and environmental concerns relating to tourism activities continue to be addressed.
This has included, for example, securing agreement on international regulations that require all tourism activities to have detailed search and rescue, insurance and contingency plans and on the development of Site Guidelines for sites visited by tourists. The UK was also instrumental in securing agreement that vessels carrying more than 500 passengers should not be authorised to make landings in Antarctica. Such vessels should operate cruise only itineraries.
The Antarctic Treaty 1959 preserves Antarctica for peace and science. The UK Government considers tourism to be a legitimate activity, providing it is undertaken safely and in line with the Antarctic Treaty, its Protocol on Environmental Protection 1991, all measures adopted under those instruments, and United Kingdom legislation.
These pages are intended for guidance only, and have no legal status. Anyone planning to visit Antarctica should consult the legislation, and if necessary, seek independent legal advice.
UK Legal Framework
The Antarctic Act 1994 implements the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty 1991 in UK law. It sets out a permitting system for all British activities undertaken in Antarctica. Permits are issued by the Foreign & Commonwealth Office.
Anyone intending to organise, or participate in, an expedition to Antarctica, take a vessel into Antarctic waters, or fly an aircraft to the continent must determine whether they need to apply for a permit from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
Individuals joining a cruise ship are unlikely to need individual permits as tour operators normally apply for one on their behalf, but it is their responsibility to check the position with the company they are travelling with.
Find out more about who needs a permit under the Antarctic Act 1994 and how to apply for one.
Carrying out activities in Antarctica without first obtaining a permit when required by legislation, or in breach of a permit condition, is a criminal offence punishable by up to two years imprisonment and/or an unlimited fine.
Polar Regions Unit
Overseas Territories Directorate
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
London SW1A 2AH
Telephone: 0207 008 1921
Fax: 0207 008 2086
International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO)
We work with the organisation to promote safe and environmentally responsible tourism in Antarctica. In light of the high standards the industry has set itself, the Government restricts access to UK Historic Sites and scientific bases operated by the British Antarctic Survey to IAATO operators.
The FCO encourages all visitors to Antarctica to travel with IAATO affiliated companies.