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Travel to Antarctica during Covid--19: What you need to know before you go

CNN logo CNN 12/29/2021 CNN Staff
a penguin in the snow: Luckily the penguins have remained covid-free. © Peter Fretwell/BAS Luckily the penguins have remained covid-free.

If you're planning to travel to Antarctica, here's what you'll need to know and expect if you want to visit during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The basics

Antarctica reported its first cases of Covid-19 in late December 2020. While scientists who observed strict quarantine rules sailed to the continent from the UK in November 2020, tourism remains severely restricted, with many cruise companies canceling their operations for the brief summer season.

What's on offer

A remote icy wilderness at the end of the world, trips to Antarctica have grown in popularity in recent years, with travelers sailing across the Drake Passage from South America to catch a glimpse of sprawling penguin colonies, breaching whales and rare seabirds.

Who can go

Because Antarctica is a scientific preserve, special teams have been able to restart research work on the continent from the end of 2020. While tourism isn't banned, the fact that most visitors can only arrive via ship means it's almost impossible to go right now, as many cruises are not running at this time.

What are the restrictions?

Antarctica's unique position as an internationally administered region means that it isn't subject to Covid restrictions. However, because tourists access the continent from Chile and Argentina, they are subject to the entry rules of those countries.

Fully vaccinated travelers have been permitted to enter the country since November 1. They must submit a negative PCR test taken no earlier than 72 hours before travel on arrival, as well as a negative antigen test seven days after entering.

Meanwhile, entry to Chile is currently open to fully vaccinated international travelers, as well as nationals. Visitors are required to fill in a Travelers Affidavit and submit a negative PCR test three days before their arrival. All travelers must apply for a Chilean "Pase de Movilidad" (Mobility pass) on the Chilean government's MeVacuno website in order to enter the country and take a second PCR test on arrival. Those with a Mobility pass must quarantine for five days, while those without one will be subject to a seven-day quarantine. From November 1, travelers are permitted to leave isolation once they've received their negative result (provided it's negative).

Non-resident foreign nationals who have visited South Africa, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini and Mozambique during the past two weeks are currently banned from entering Antarctica.

While Chilean nationals who have spent time in the above countries are permitted to enter, they must take a PCR test on arrival and go into quarantine for seven days.

Video: How do Ghanaians feel about travel restrictions? Hear from public health expert (CNN)


All visitors must have travel insurance to cover the cost of Covid-related health care up to $30,000.

Argentina's borders are currently open to travelers who meet certain requirements. Fully vaccinated visitors must provide evidence of their vaccination status via "a document from a national or state-level public health body."

Travelers are also required to complete an electronic "sworn statement" within 48 hours of their trip and provide a negative PCR test taken in the last 72 hours or proof that they have recently recovered from Covid-19.

All non-resident foreign nationals must also have medical insurance with "comprehensive cover" for Covid-19.

Those who have spent time in Africa in the 14 days prior to their arrival in Argentina must also take an antigen test on arrival, in addition to the requirements listed above, self-isolate for 10 days and take another PCR test at the end of the quarantine period.

Non-vaccinated visitors must present a negative PCR test taken within 72 hours of travel, fill in the electronic "sworn statement" form, take a Covid-19 test on arrival and self-isolate for seven days. In order to leave quarantine, they must take a PCR test on day seven and receive a negative result. Children are not required to self isolate.

Exemptions may be granted to residents of Argentina or family members of Argentine nationals.

While all major cruise companies canceled operations for the 2020/21 season, Antarctica's 2021/2022 summer season has gone ahead.

What's the Covid-19 situation?

The first cases of Covid on Antarctica were reported on December 22, with 36 researchers and military personnel testing positive at a Chilean research base. Only a small number of full scientific expeditions to Antarctica have gone ahead since the pandemic began.

On January 8, a Spanish research ship headed to the continent from Spain was diverted after a coronavirus outbreak on board.

In March, 49 people stationed at a Chilean base in Antarctica received the Covid-19 vaccine as part of the South American country's immunization program, and over 50 more were administered with their first dose in the following weeks.

In October, several boxes of the AstraZeneca Covid vaccine were flown into the Antarctic in order to vaccinate 23 staff members at the British Rothera research station.

What can visitors expect?

Any ships that do make it to Antarctica will find the waters far quieter than usual. If you're on a ship that allows disembarkation, expect there to be strict protocols about handling equipment and protective gear.

Useful links

Chilean Government entry affidavit

Argentina's official Covid-19 guidance

Our latest coverage

CNN Travel answers some commonly asked questions about Antarctica, and looks at what the future may hold for the world's least understood continent. Back in May, the world's largest iceberg calved from Antarctica, while in February, an iceberg bigger than New York City broke off near a UK base in the continent. In December 2020, Antarctica became the final continent to be reached by the Covid-19 pandemic, when 36 people tested positive on a Chilean research base. Before that, CNN Travel had reported on what it's like to live on the continent virus-free, despite the pandemic.


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