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Can I Survive Financially in Antarctica

Many people mention that you don’t work in Antarctica to become rich and that’s definitely true. Antarctica isn’t the Middle East so don’t expect to make six figure incomes or even a solid five figure income. However, that’s not to say that you can’t do fairly well financially working in Antarctica. There are many perks to the job beyond the base pay that can make this experience financially beneficial as well.

Base Pay

The base pay is nothing amazing. Some positions pay about what they would in the US, but others make much less than a similar position in the US would pay. Monthly pay rates are also deceptive as the standard workweek in Antarctica is 54 hours (7:30-5:30 Monday – Saturday). This means you might make the same weekly pay as you would in the US, but your hourly pay may be significantly less. Also; keep in mind that different positions have wildly different pay rates. Those with specialized skill sets are paid roughly what they would make in the US per week, while those without skill sets generally don’t make much.

Cost Savings

The main perk to working in Antarctica is the enormous cost of living savings. Consider how much you spend every month on rent, food, gas, and eating out and imagine how much would be left over from your pay check if you didn’t have those expenses. There are little to no costs when living in Antarctica. Your room and all food is free and there is no commute. The only real cost here in Antarctica is specialty coffee and alcohol and those prices are quite reasonable

Bonus

On top of your base pay, you can bring home a significant contract completion bonus at the end of the year. Work hard and impress your boss and this can really add up.

Free Vacation

A lot of tourists pay upwards of $10,000 just to spend a few days in Antarctica. Consider yourself lucky to get to spend months here for free. In addition on the way to Antarctica you will pass through Christchurch, NZ and have several days of paid vacation. On your way back to the US at the end of your contract you can opt to spend additional time in NZ at a very low cost. The vacation opportunities after working in Antarctica are plentiful and very affordable.

How Can I Get A Job In Antarctica?

All US research stations in Antarctica are operated by the US National Science Foundation (NSF). The NSF handles high level decision making for the US Antarctica Program (USAP), and is in charge of anything involving the actual science taking place in Antarctica. For day to day operations, the NSF has contracted to Raytheon Polar Services Company, a division of Raytheon Technical Services, division of Raytheon. Hopefully those divisions within divisions give you an idea of how big, and sometimes evil, Raytheon can be. On top of Raytheon many positions are also subcontracted to an Alaskan company, NANA.

Raytheon and NANA combined run the stations, and their employees are the majority of the inhabitants at each of the three US research stations. Raytheon handles nearly all station tasks except for those related to food or cleaning. NANA on the other hand only handles tasks related to food and cleaning.

So what job is right for me?

If you don’t have any technical skills, ex. you majored in English or Philosophy, then your best bet is to work for NANA. The two entry level jobs are Dining Assistant (DA) and Janitor. DA is probably the most popular first year job in Antarctica. The DA position involves general food service work such as cleaning, putting out food etc etc, and the fun stuff like washing dishes for 1000 people. The job is bad, the pay is bad, but you get to hang out in Antarctica and the people are great, which makes it worth it.

If you have a specific trade skill such as information technology, electrical, plumbing, or heavy equipment operation, then you’ll most likely want to work for Raytheon. Think of any technical job that a small city would need, and most likely Raytheon hires for that position. The only issue you’ll encounter is many people here come back year after year, and those people get the first chance to apply for their existing position so some positions have no openings year after year.

Where to apply?

There are several methods for getting a job. The first is applying online. This is how I got my position in Antarctica and many other people simply apply online and are hired. For Raytheon you can apply online at www.rayjobs.com. You create an account and state your region of interest. They send you updates every time a new job matches your profile. For NANA you can apply online at jobs.nana.com. I don’t know anything about how this works since I don’t work for NANA, but I would assume it’s a similar process to Raytheon’s. There is also the job fair, which the majority of the entry level workers I have spoken to attended. This helps to put a face to your resume and might be what you need to actually get a job. Raytheon Job Fair Site

My Time In Antarctica

For five months during 2008 and 2009 I lived and worked in Antarctica in what was easily the most amazing experience of my life. I left the US for Antarctica in October of 2008, the beginning of Antarctica’s summer season, and returned to the US in late February of 2009. I lived and worked at McMurdo Station, which is the main US Antarctic research station and logistics hub for all US Antarctic Program activities. While in Antarctica I worked as a PC Technician providing desktop support for the ~1000 scientists and support staff of McMurdo Station.

McMurdo Station from Observation Hill

Why Antarctica? Well why not I guess. It all started with a night of drinking with my sister where she mentioned one of her techie friends was working there doing IT work. It seemed like a fascinating idea at the time, most likely due to night of drinking, but in time the idea grew on me. I kept thinking about it, and then I quasi-committed myself to going over the next year or so. It seemed so far off at the time, but I applied and was accepted. A few months later I was sitting on a military cargo aircraft, wearing an enormous amount of clothing, on my way to the absolute middle of no where.

I created this page to help others that may have heard about the opportunities in Antarctica. There’s lots of information on the Internet already, but I found most of it to be outdated and spread across dozens of sites. My goal is to provide a page that can answer as many questions as possible and help those that are interested experience Antarctica.

Datsun 510 Status

Purchase – Sept 2008

This Datsun project has certainly become more than I thought it would be at first. I was hoping for a car that with minor work could be driven home and slowly worked on from there, but nothing ever turns out how we expect it. The 510 was towed to My Daddy’s Muffler in Vancouver, WA by Loyd, who I purchased the car from in late July. I ordered a new Weber carb and had it shipped to the shop to replace the old Hitachi carb that needed to be rebuilt. My Daddy’s installed a FlowMaster exhaust system in place of the flextube and coffee can setup that was on the car at the time. From there they started work on getting the car running.

Oct 2008 – Sept 2008

The last two months have been slow for the 510 project, as I’ve been out the country working in Antarctica. I tried to get as much ready for my departure as I could, but things never quite work out how you plan them. The 510 is still sitting at My Daddy’s Muffler. In late Sept My Daddy’s discovered the 510 had a blown head gasket even though the previous owner claimed the car worked fine. In November My Daddy’s attempted to repair the head gasket and found the block was cracked as well. Things just get better and better. I searched for a while online to find someone that sold rebuilt engines and I finally found a seller on eBay. I’m currently working on having the engine shipped to My Daddy’s so the new engine can be installed. It’ll be an L16 instead of an L18, but it’ll be completely rebuilt so it should pull harder and stronger than any 30 year old L18 would have. I’ve also been working on getting together parts for a brake upgrade on the 510. I purchased 80s Maxima brakes, EDP brackets, a brake line lock, steel brake lines, and cross drilled / vented brake rotors. This should provide serious stopping power for the 510 and replace the worn out old stock brakes.

Frequently Asked Questions

What do you do for fun?
Believe it or not there’s plenty to do for fun in Antarctica. I can’t speak for Palmer Station of the South Pole station, but McMurdo has plenty of activities. There are two bars to keep you busy with very affordable drinks (one of the only thing you have to spend money on). There are lots of outdoor activities that are available with incredibly low cost rentals of skis/snowboards, mountain bikes, and disc golf sets. There are several places to go cross country skiing and a complete disc golf course on station.

What are the rooms like?
All station housing in Antarctica is dorm style housing fairly similar to housing you would find on your average (low budget) university. Housing quality depends on the number of seasons you’ve worked in Antarctica and the importance of your job. If you show up for your first year as a DA washing dishes you get the worst housing McMurdo has to offer, while a even a first year pilot or doctor gets a single room to themselves in “upper case” (read: much nicer) housing. There are several different styles of rooms. There are rather small 2 person rooms, larger (and nicer) 4 person rooms, and 2 person rooms that share a single bathroom with another 2 person room. I spent my time in the main building on station (building 155) in a 4 person room that has 3 people for the majority of the year. Four people sounded scary at first, but it really wasn’t as bad as you might think.

What is the work week in Antarctica?
Antarctica work days are 7:30 to 5:30 with an hour lunch. The work week is Monday – Saturday for a combined work week of 54 hours.

What to Bring / What to Leave at Home

This was one of the areas that I felt the most confused as a first timer. There is basic information on what items you will need for the duration of your stay in the NSF participants guide, and there’s a lot of information on what items are illegal to traffic through New Zealand. Given that huge amount of information there isn’t really any useful information on items you might want to have with you. Hopefully this section answer some questions for you:

Bring:

Sheets – USAP provides sheets and a single pillowcase to you. The sheets are standard low quality white sheets. A lot of people like to purchase nicer sheets and particularly a second pillowcase since they give you two pillows. Keep in mind the beds are twin extra long, similar to those found in most colleges. Standard twin sheets don’t quite fit, so get the right stuff. Also, there are plenty of used sheets purchased by people in years past available for free. Sometimes you can find some great stuff in there and save the expense of buying / mailing down sheets.

Pillows – The sheets you’ll be given are bad, but the pillows are worse. Consider buying your own pillow and mailing it down. That way you know you’re the only one that’s drooled on it and you can get that perfect fit.
Hard Alcohol – This one might seem a bit odd, but alcohol here on station is like a carton of cigarettes in prison. Starting summer season 2008, hard alcohol can no longer be purchased in the station store, so you have to go to the bar to get your fix. This hasn’t gone over very well for a lot of drinkers. You can’t mail alcohol to yourself. If you do the New Zealand customs will take it, but you can carry hard alcohol down with you. Buy a bottle in Christchurch and bring it on your flight to the ice.

Room Decorations – This may seem like a crazy one, but you’re really going to want items to decorate your room with. The most popular items seem to be Christmas lights, tapestries, and fake plants. Fake plants might seem really cheesy, but you’re going to miss seeing green things here. It’s not a bad idea.

DVD Player or Laptop – USAP provides you with a small TV (tiny) with a built in VCR, but you’re definitely going to want something that can play DVDs. Bring a laptop, or if you don’t have a laptop bring a DVD player with you. It’s a solid investment for entertaining yourself during the down time.

Soap / Shampoo – If you’re at all picky about the soap and shampoo you use then make sure to mail yourself a hefty supply. You can buy both shampoo and soap on station, but

Multivitamins – Living in Antarctica isn’t the kindest thing to do to your body. The majority of people here have a vitamin C deficiency due to the lack of fresh fruits and vegetables. They also have a vitamin D deficiency since we don’t all get outside during the day without sunblock and a hood on. Speaking from personal experience you will feel the effects of vitamin deficiency. Do yourself a favor and get a big bottle for the trip.

 

Leave:

DVDs – There is a very large collection of DVDs on station available for rent, at no cost. Don’t waste room in your luggage bringing DVDs down. There’s a good chance that the station already has them. Check the list of DVDs on station as of Summer 2008 below:
Summer 2008 Station DVDs

Laundry Bag – A bag to put your laundry in so you can haul it to the laundry room seems like a logical item, but it’s definitely not needed. In Christchurch you will be issued one to three orange duffle bags to carry your ECW gear in. These make for perfect laundry bags and save you a pound of weight on the flight down.

Laundry Detergent – There is free laundry detergent available in all the laundry rooms and there’s also laundry detergent for sale in the station store, for those who have a preference for a particular smell.

Iron – There are plenty of irons available in the dorms so don’t bother wasting that much weight on bringing down your own

Sunscreen– The participants guide specifically mentions that you should bring sunscreen with you, but there are large jugs of high quality sun block available at the exits of the Galley. Save yourself a few bucks and some weight and use what they give out for free.