Biological soil crusts (BSCs) occur in arid and semi-arid regions worldwide including the Polar Regions. They are important ecosystem engineers, and their composition and areal coverage should be understood before assessing key current functional questions such as their role in biogeochemical nutrient cycles and possible climate change scenarios. Our aim was to investigate the variability of BSCs from Arctic Svalbard and the Antarctic Island, Livingston, using vegetation surveys based on classification by functional group. An additional aim was to describe the structure of BSCs and represent a classification system that can be used in future studies to provide a fast and efficient way to define vegetation type and areal coverage. Firstly, this study demonstrates huge areas occupied by BSCs in Arctic Svalbard, with up to 90 % of soil surface covered, dominated by bryophytes and cyanobacteria, and showing an unexpectedly high variability in many areas. Livingston Island has lower percentage coverage, up to 55 %, but is dominated by lichens. Our findings show that both Polar Regions have varied BSC coverage, within the sites and between them, especially considering their harsh climates and latitudinal positions. Secondly, we have classified the BSCs of both areas into a system that describes the dominant functional groups and local geography, creating a simple scheme that allows easy identification of the prevailing vegetation type. Our results represent the first contribution to the description of BSCs based on their functional group composition in Polar Regions.