Antarctica is a continent unto itself and is not a part of any country. The Great White Continent is governed under a series of recognised guidelines and agreements called the Antarctic Treaty System. Twelve countries signed the Antarctic Treaty in 1959 and the agreement currently has 54 signatories.

Although Antarctica has never had an indigenous population, seven nations have claimed parts of the continent – New Zealand, Australia, France, Norway, the United Kingdom, Chile and Argentina. Some of these territories overlap. The United States, Russia and Brazil all have a permanent presence in Antarctica, but haven't currently claimed territory. Most of these ten countries have established scientific research centres, where around 4000 people work and live in Antarctica over summer, with numbers reducing to around 1000 in winter. The vast majority of the population are scientists; some are operational staff, like ships' crews and service workers. 

What are the 12 countries in Antarctica?

  • France (Adélie Land)
  • United Kingdom (British Antarctic Territory)
  • New Zealand (Ross Dependency)
  • Norway (Peter I Island and Queen Maud Land)
  • Australia (Australian Antarctic Territory)
  • Chile (Chilean Antarctic Territory)
  • Argentina (Argentine Antarctica)
  • Australia
  • Belgium
  • Japan
  • South Africa
  • USA
  • Russia

So, how do you get to Antarctica?

Antarctica's closest access point is in South America. Ushuaia in Argentina is the major thoroughfare for Antarctic expeditions. From here, you can visit the Antarctic Peninsula as well as the sub-Antarctic islands such as South Georgia and the Falkland Islands.

Punta Arenas in Chile is another gateway for cruises to the Antarctic Peninsula. From there, travellers may take a flight to the South Shetland Islands to board their vessel – perfect for those looking to cruise in the Antarctic but avoid the Drake Passage.

Antarctica can be reached via Australia (Hobart) and the South Island of New Zealand, although this takes significantly longer than the journey from South America and the route offers less in terms of wildlife encounters and shore landings. Most, if not all, tourist expeditions to Antarctica depart from South America.

No visas are required to visit the Antarctic continent or its offshore islands. However, you will need to have your passport with you on the ship, as port authorities will inspect passports on departure and also again at the end of your voyage. As most tours depart from Argentina, the majority of travellers will need to follow that country's visa rules. If travelling to the Falkland Islands, different entrance and visa rules may apply. Please speak to your booking agent for more information on obtaining visas for the Antarctic region.

Where is Antarctica?

Click here to read more Antarctica FAQs

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