Visiting North Korea may be difficult, and you will not be able to see the nation without being escorted by a North Korean, whether as part of a group or on an individual trip. Depending on the geopolitical environment, entry conditions vary often and without warning. For example, between October 2014 and March 2015, North Korea was largely closed to tourists owing to an Ebola fear, despite no instances of the illness in or around the nation.
Foreign embassies are increasing their diplomatic presence in Pyongyang. Find out ahead of time which nation can help you in the event of an emergency, such as a medical issue or a police encounter.
Because Sweden protects Americans, Australians, and Canadians visiting North Korea, the Swedish embassy in Pyongyang may be able to provide limited consular services to these tourists. The US Department of State strongly advises American citizens to alert the Swedish embassy (through email) about their travel to North Korea, as well as the US embassy in Beijing, China, especially if their trip to North Korea includes a stopover in China.
Except for Singaporeans and Tanzanians, whose governments have chosen to opt out of this system, the British embassy provides consular services to Commonwealth nationals who do not have representation via other nations.
Almost all citizens of the world will need a visa, which will be granted only after your trip has been scheduled and authorized by North Korean officials. Singaporean and Malaysian passport holders who are entering for 30 days or fewer for official, business, or tour reasons and have previously obtained the necessary paperwork are the only exceptions.
Tourists usually get a tourist visa by arranging a trip via a travel operator that specializes in such excursions. The visa is generally handled by the travel companies on their behalf, but in certain instances, tourists are needed to conduct a brief phone interview with the North Korean embassy to verify their identification and employment. The interview is usually done in a pleasant way, so there is no need to be concerned. Visas are often only verified the day before the trip, although tourists are seldom turned down unless they can demonstrate that they are a political figure or a journalist.
Tourist visas for North Korea are often granted on a tourist card. When joining a tour group, group visas are often given on separate pieces of paper listing all of the group’s participants, along with a tourist card with the tour leader’s name. Tourists are never allowed to keep this visa, but they may ask to have a picture taken of it. In any event, there will be no stamp in the passport. Only when a visa is granted inside a North Korean embassy in Europe will a visa and entry stamp be placed on the passport.
Journalists and anyone suspected of being journalists are need to acquire special authorization, which is difficult to obtain. Journalists are not permitted to visit North Korea on a tourist visa.
In 2010, the majority of restrictions on American citizens were removed, but visitors are still not permitted to travel by rail or engage in homestay programs. Tours organized by exchange organizations such as Choson Exchange and The Pyongyang Project are exempt from these limitations.
South Korean citizens are not allowed to enter North Korea unless they obtain permission from the North Korean government for entry and the Ministry of Unification for the South. If South Korean nationals do not get authorization before returning, they may face a long jail term under the National Security Act. Citizens of South Korea who go to North Korea using a passport from another nation are still at danger of being prosecuted.
Israelis and Jewish citizens of other nations do not suffer any extra limitations, contrary to popular belief.
North Korea can only be visited on a guided trip, which may be for a big group or for a single person. Prices for a 5-day group trip from Beijing, which includes lodging, food, and transportation, start about USD1,000/€700/GBP580, but may skyrocket if you wish to travel across the country or “independently” (as your own one-person escorted group). The following tour operators/travel companies organize their own trips to North Korea:
- Asia Pacific Travel Ltd – Chicago, USA
- Choson Exchange – Singapore, UK & USA. They are not a travel company; instead, they offer business and economics instruction in Pyongyang, and they sometimes invite visitors to North Korean institutions.
- DDCTS – Dandong, China
- Experience North Korea – Shanghai, China
- Juche Travel Services – UK, Beijing
- Korea Konsult – Stockholm, Sweden
- Korea Reisedienst – Hannover, Germany
- Koryo Tours and Koryo Group – Beijing, Shanghai, Belgium, UK. In addition, coordinates school visits and athletic exchanges, as well as co-producing three documentaries on North Korea.
- Lupine Travel – Wigan, UK.
- NoordKorea2GO – Amsterdam, Netherlands
- North Korea Travel – Sheyang, China
- The Pyongyang Project – Yanji, China / Vancouver, Canada (Academic programs, student visits, exchanges, and Korean language study abroad at institutions in the DPRK and Yanbian are all organized by this Canadian non-profit.)
- Pyongyang Travel – Berlin, Germany (provides North Korea group tours, individual tours, and New Year’s Tours.)
- Viajes Pujol – Barcelona, Spain
- Regent Holidays – Bristol, UK
- Tongil Tours – Canberra/Sydney – Group tours, bespoke private tours, study tours, and intellectual and cultural exchanges are all available; guides all speak Korean and have academic credentials in Korean Studies.
- Universal Travel Corporation – Singapore
- Uri Tours Inc. – NYC, US (operates regular and bespoke trips to the DPRK, as well as acting as an Air Koryo booking agent in the United States.)
- VNC Asia Travel – Utrecht, Netherlands
- Yangpa Tours – USA, Korea
- Young Pioneer Tours
- Your Planet – Hilversum, Netherlands
All tours (with the exception of a few, such as Choson Exchange and The Pyongyang Project, which both work directly with different government departments and local DPRK NGOs) are organized by the Korean International Travel Company, and its guides will show you around. The average number of visitors per group that each business accepts varies significantly, so you should inquire about this before scheduling a trip.
The majority of individuals traveling to North Korea will pass via Beijing, and you will most likely pick up your visa there, but some agencies may arrange visas abroad ahead of time. The North Korean consulate is located around the corner at Fangcaodi Xijie, apart from the main embassy complex on Ritan Lu. It’s open 09:30-11:30 & 14:00-17:30 M, W, F; and 09:30-11:30 Tu, Th, Sa. Bring your passport, USD45, and two passport pictures with you.
For “security concerns,” or simply because your entrance and departure dates must be recorded, as shown by the black stamps on the back of your visa or passport, your guides will take your passport and retain it throughout your stay in North Korea, or at least for the first couple of days of your trip. Make sure your passport is in good shape and matches the most popular passports in your nation.
Visiting the North Korean border area from South Korea
The Panmunjom Joint Security Area (often referred to as Panmunjom) is the only location in North Korea that ordinary visitors may visit from the south. The Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), which separates the two Koreas, has a jointly managed ceasefire town. It offers one-day bus excursions from Seoul on a regular basis. Specific nationalities are subject to restrictions.
Until 2009, group bus excursions from the South to North Korea’s Kaesong and Kumgangsan were possible. It’s unknown when or if they will be operational again.