DESCRIPTION: Antarctica is the coldest, driest, windiest, and most isolated continent on Earth. The extreme climate limits the presence and activities of humans in Antarctica. The persistent cold (even during the austral summer), the limited precipitation (which qualifies much of the continent as frozen desert), the frequent overcast skies, the severe winds, and the succession of storms over the ocean and coastal areas help explain why Antarctica is the only continent that has never had a native human population.
Although seven countries (Argentina, Australia, Chile, France, New Zealand, Norway, and the United Kingdom) maintain claims to territory in Antarctica, the United States and most other countries do not recognize those claims. Governance of the continent is managed through the Antarctic Treaty (signed in Washington, DC, in 1959) and its associated instruments, such as the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty. The continent is reserved for peaceful purposes and science and most of those who stay there for limited periods of time are associated with national Antarctic science programs. The 50 Treaty Parties, one of which is the United States, meet annually at the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting to discuss cooperation.
Antarctica’s popularity as a tourist destination is growing. More than one-third of all ship-borne tourists visiting Antarctica
are U.S. citizens and almost half of all Antarctic tourist expeditions are subject to U.S. regulation because they are organized
in or proceed from the United States. The Department of State is responsible for informing other Treaty Parties of non-governmental
expeditions to Antarctica organized in or proceeding from the United States.
ENTRY / EXIT REQUIREMENTS: While there are no visa requirements for visiting Antarctica, the Antarctic Treaty and the Environmental Protocol do establish certain obligations on the Treaty Parties with regard to expeditions to the Antarctic Treaty area (i.e., the area south of 60° South Latitude, including all ice shelves). Article VII(5)(a) of the Treaty obliges each Party to give advance notification of all expeditions to and within Antarctica, on the part of its ships or nationals, and all expeditions to Antarctica organized in or proceeding from its territory. U.S. tourists who have booked passage to Antarctica on a commercial cruise regulated by an Antarctic Treaty Party would be covered by the vessel operator’s and/or tour company’s advance notification. All U.S. nationals organizing private expeditions or charters to Antarctica in the United States, or proceeding to Antarctica from the United States, should complete a DS-4131 ADVANCE NOTIFICATION FORM – TOURIST AND OTHER NON-GOVERNMENTAL ACTIVITIES IN THE ANTARCTIC TREATY AREA and submit it to the Department of State’s Office of Ocean and Polar Affairs at least three months prior to the intended travel to the Antarctic Treaty area. The Department of State, in consultation with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Science Foundation (NSF), will then determine whether the expedition is subject to U.S. jurisdiction. If we determine that your expedition falls under U.S. jurisdiction, we will give you information on how to proceed with the EPA and NSF documentation processes which are mandatory under U.S. law. In accordance with longstanding U.S. Policy on Private Expeditions to Antarctica, the U.S. Government is not able to offer support or other service to private expeditions, U.S. or foreign, in Antarctica.
CONSULAR SERVICES: The United States does not maintain an embassy or consulate in Antarctica. If you lose your passport or require other consular services while there, contact the U.S. embassy or consulate nearest to your planned itinerary for assistance. For your convenience, links to those embassies and consulates most commonly called upon to provide services are below:
THREATS TO SAFETY AND SECURITY: The greatest threats to travelers to Antarctica are environmental hazards posed by the severe elements and changeable weather. Among the more common threats are frostbite, dehydration, eye damage from reflected glare, overexposure to the sun, and maritime accidents.
Dangerous Confrontations Related to Whaling Activities: U.S. citizens should be aware that, in recent years, dangerous confrontations have occurred involving Japanese whaling vessels
and private vessels in the waters off the coast of East Antarctica near the Ross Sea. United States law prohibits certain
conduct that endangers the safety of navigation, including on the high seas. Some of the activities undertaken by these vessels
and their crew could violate U.S. law or the laws of foreign countries and could also be inconsistent with applicable international
law. U.S. citizens are urged to avoid involvement in activities that violate the law or put themselves or others at risk.
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MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION: Antarctica has no public hospitals, pharmacies, or doctor’s offices. Although cruise ships have the capacity to deal with
minor ailments, medical emergencies require evacuation to a country with modern medical facilities. Travelers to Antarctica
should obtain adequate medical evacuation and travel insurance before leaving home.
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MEDICAL INSURANCE: You can’t assume your insurance will go with you when you travel. It’s very important to find out BEFORE you leave whether or not your medical insurance will cover you in another country. You need to ask your insurance company two questions:
In many places, doctors and hospitals still expect payment in cash at the time of service. Your regular U.S. health insurance may not cover doctor and hospital visits in other countries. If your policy doesn’t go with you when you travel, it’s a very good idea to take out another one for your trip. For more information, please see our medical insurance overseas page.
At their meeting in 2004, the Antarctic Treaty Parties adopted Measure 4 - Insurance and Contingency Planning for Tourism and Non-Governmental Activities in the Antarctic Treaty Area. Measure 4 (2004) calls on Parties to require those under their jurisdiction organizing or conducting tourist or other non-governmental activities in the Antarctic Treaty Area to demonstrate that appropriate contingency plans and sufficient arrangements for health and safety, search and rescue (SAR), and medical care and evacuation have been drawn up and are in place prior to the start of the activity. Measure 4 (2004) further requires that such plans and arrangements not be reliant on support from other operators or national programs without their express written agreement; and that adequate insurance or other arrangements are in place to cover any costs associated with search and rescue and medical care and evacuation. Although Measure 4 (2004) has yet to enter into force, members of the International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators (IAATO) voluntarily follow it. Private expedition organizers should also ensure that they have adequate insurance coverage for their activities.
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This replaces the Specific Information for Antarctica dated December 9, 2011, to add a section regarding Consular Services.