As one of the most secretive and tightly-controlled countries in the world, not many tourists visit North Korea. In fact, the country only gets about 4,000 to 6,000 visitors per year and many people don’t even know you can get a North Korea visa.
But for those who have thought about visiting, this article will detail some of the most common questions from people who intend to visit North Korea.
Can I Visit North Korea?
Contrary to popular belief, yes, most people can visit North Korea. Trips have to be arranged by tour agencies, and you will have a guide the entire time you are there, but you can visit.
But, something you should know before your trip to North Korea is that you won’t be able to do most of the things you can do in other countries as a tourist. For example, you cannot explore and wander off on your own, you won’t be allowed to interact with the locals as you would in other countries, and you cannot leave your hotel room after the official guided tour is over in the evenings.
And, because the tour is so controlled and organized, you will not truly get to see the real North Korea. The government will only let you see what they want you to see, which is why you are not allowed to go anywhere on your own.
But, if you are truly dead-set on visiting, you will still get a glimpse of this country that is so often on the news and surrounded by such negative connotations.
How to Get a North Korea Visa?
The first step to getting a North Korean visa is to contact a travel agency that organizes state-approved tours to North Korea. You will need them to organize your trip and get your visa approved since you cannot visit the country independently.
You have to provide your tour agency with a passport-size picture with a white background, a copy of your passport, fill in the North Korea visa application form, and sign the terms and agreement with your tour agency. They will notify you if they need any more information or documents.
The visa comes in the form of a separate document or a booklet – you don’t receive a North Korean visa on your passport.
You can enter North Korea through China or Russia, either by air or a train. So, you have to check the visa and entry requirements for those countries as well.
At the entry point, the North Korean officers will stamp your passport, but you will need to give it to your guides until you depart. You will also receive a departure stamp.
- South Korean citizens cannot apply for a North Korean visa.
- American passports are not valid for entry to North Korea
- Chinese citizens with an ordinary passport who only intend to visit Tongrim County as tourists can enter with only their Chinese ID card for up to two days.
- Holders of diplomatic or service passports of the following countries can visit without a visa:
Can Americans Visit North Korea?
As of 2017, American citizens are not allowed to use their passports to travel to North Korea.
The US government banned entry to North Korea arguing that US citizens have been arrested and detained for long-term periods for offences that would not lead to imprisonment in the US or other countries. Additionally, they also claim that North Korean authorities have detained US citizens without charges, even when they had a valid entry permit and were part of an organized tour.
The decision came after US college student, Otto Warmbier was arrested in 2016 after he tried to take a propaganda poster from his hotel room in North Korea. He was sentenced to 15 years imprisonment on charges of “Subversion” despite US efforts to have him released. Otto was ultimately released in 2017 in a vegetative state and died only days after his return to the US.
Can I Get Travel Insurance for North Korea?
You can get travel insurance for North Korea, but it won’t be the easiest to find. For one, not all Western insurance companies offer coverage for North Korea. Second, even if an insurance company does offer coverage, if your country’s government has a travel advisory in place against travelling there, the insurers will simply refuse to cover you.
If your usual insurers will not cover your trip, then your best bet in finding an insurance company that will cover your trip to North Korea is by asking your tour agency. They likely already have a partner and even a built-in insurance plan into the tour package.
Although in most cases, we do not advise accepting the travel insurance policy that comes with the tour package, in cases such as these where insurance is otherwise hard to find, you may have no other choice.
Make sure, however, that your travel insurance policy will cover everything necessary, such as:
- Medical emergencies
- Travel disruption
- Evacuation in the case of a medical emergency.
Is North Korea Dangerous to Visit?
In terms of major crime and disease, no North Korea is not dangerous to visit. In fact, your trip will be so monitored, that you won’t need to be worried about those things at all. However, North Korea is a very tightly-controlled country with strict laws and regulations, much harsher than you are likely accustomed to. If you break these laws, minor as they may seem, you may face imprisonment. This is what has given it a reputation for being unsafe.
Moreover, there have been reports of detentions of Westerners, especially US citizens, such as the case of Otto Warmbier who was arrested in 2016 on a charge of subversion and released in 2017 in a coma state, of which he died a few days later, leading to the US ban on travel to North Korea.
However, if you are truly set on visiting North Korea, when you book a tour, your tour agency will inform you about the rules you have to follow once you are in the country. This includes:
- You must not disrespect any of the country’s leaders. In fact, it’s best if you just don’t comment on them at all, regardless of the fact it may be a positive remark. If you take pictures of the leaders’ statue, do not cut off their faces!
- You will have to show your respect to the North Korean leaders. I.e. you must bow to their statues when you visit them.
- Do not take pictures or video footage of any government buildings – or anything really, without having the okay from your tour guide.
- Do not wander anywhere without your guides.
- Do not engage in any religious practices. You are also not allowed to bring a religious book inside.
- Don’t talk about politics.
- Do not bring any banned items into the country, such as religious books, guides about North Korea, electronics, drones, etc.
- Refer to the country as just “Korea”, not “North Korea”. This may not be a punishable offence, but the government still prefers the former name rather than the latter. It is what everyone uses.
Remember, if you break the rules, you will not only be endangering yourself, but your guide as well since they may be considered co-conspirators for “espionage”. They may be imprisoned for this or even tortured.
So, no one can really tell you it is 100% safe to visit North Korea. After all, if a place has a reputation for being unsafe, in most cases it’s true. However, you can ensure your safety by following the rules and laws of the country, keeping your head down, not attracting attention to yourself, and sticking with your tour guide.
Will I Have Internet in North Korea as a Tourist?
Internet is not widely available in North Korea, except for government officials and foreigners. However, it is not the internet as you are used to in your home country. For one, there is no wifi that connects to the World Wide Web. One way of getting access to the World Wide Web is by purchasing a North Korean SIM card, but that is very expensive to set up and does not offer a lot of MB. You can use the SIM card, however, to make international calls.
So you may have to be resigned to the fact you won’t have access to the internet for a few days.
North Korea also has its own local internet, where only state-controlled content can be accessed, such as news, educational material, local business sites, the weather, etc. So while natives do use internet, they do not have access to global websites.