8 Things to Know About North Korea Before You Visit

Since the end of the Korean War in 1953, a demilitarised zone (DMZ) has split the Korean Peninsula and kept the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) and the Republic of Korea apart (South Korea).

You will be on an authorized tour, so forget about exploring North Korea on your own. Any other behavior is regarded as espionage.

If you ask too many questions or cross the line in North Korea, curiosity will undoubtedly get the cat killed—possibly even your tour guide—and you could be kicked out of the country. However, North Korea is a fascinating and wholly different country, so you might be curious to visit it. You must first master the art of strictly adhering to the rules.

Everything you need to know about personal safety and regional traditions is provided below.

  • North Korea’s political condition
  • Are you able to visit North Korea?
  • Limits on entering North Korea
  • Complete command Respect the leader
  • Knowing local legislation is important.
  • Is North Korea a secure place?
  • North Korean healthcare

1. North Korea’s political condition

Although an armistice deal keeps the peace, the two Koreas are still technically at war, and relations between the two Koreas remain quite tense. Without much notice, the security situation on the Korean Peninsula might deteriorate.

Given that North Korea is a totalitarian country, you can be sure that you’ll always be watched. Security personnel for the North Korean government regularly observe the actions and communications of outsiders. Personal belongings in hotel rooms may be examined, and hotel rooms, telephones, and fax machines may be monitored.

North Korea is a closed society where knowledge regarding internal political developments is scarce, if not nonexistent. In hotels frequented by foreigners, access to international satellite TV channels is accessible, however, in times of emergency, access may be restricted. You might receive little to no information about this from the local media or government, and civil upheaval, internal instability, and/or an escalation of tensions on the Korean Peninsula might occur suddenly.

2. Are you able to visit North Korea?

In our nation, complete deference to the government is the rule. North Korea does not engage in “dissension,” thus visitors must respect this fact or stay away. In North Korea, being curious could very well result in your death or the death of your tour guide.

North Korean tourism is unlike anything you will have seen or experienced elsewhere in the world. Your every step is meticulously monitored, controlled, and planned by the government. The Korean International Travel Company eventually oversees most tours, if not all of them, and its tour guides will take you around.

Only as part of a guided tour is it feasible to go across the entire nation. Independent travel is prohibited, leaving your accommodation without a guide is required, using the public transportation system is completely prohibited, and breaking the restrictions will result in penalties for both you and your guide.

You should not travel to North Korea if you are not willing to put up with significant restrictions on your behavior and movements.

3. North Korea’s entry restrictions

3. North Korea's entry restrictions

Some nations are even prohibited from entering North Korea. Entry is prohibited to South Koreans, and there have reportedly been issues with Israeli, American, British, and Japanese nationals. North Korea, however, removed the prohibitions in January 2010, allowing American citizens to travel whenever they like. If you have a U.S. passport, you should be aware that the Department of State requires specific authorization before you can go to North Korea. You can figure out the intricate and constantly-evolving laws with the aid of a specialized North Korean travel service.

4. Complete command

Your tour guide will grab your passport and retain it till you get to North Korea for “security reasons.” Make sure your passport is well-presented and doesn’t deviate from the majority of other passports issued in your nation.

Additionally, DPRK border guards frequently take tourists’ cell phones upon arrival and only return them when they leave.

No one or anything that is not a part of your authorized tour will be accessible to you. You won’t learn anything about how local North Koreans live. Your tour will be carefully planned so that you only visit permitted locations, shop at recognized establishments, and interact with authorized tour operators.

Avoid breaking any of the tour’s restrictions; doing so puts your guide in danger. He or she will face incarceration and possibly torture as punishment for aiding your “espionage.” Praise each location on your trip as the guides do, and keep in mind the adage, “If you have nothing nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”

North Korean soldiers honored Kim Il-sung with the Kim Jung Un statue. Image source: iStock/Narvik

5. Respect the leader

When visiting monuments of national significance, most, if not all, tour groups are encouraged to respectfully bow and drop flowers in front of statues of Kim Il Sung one or two times. When in the vicinity of photographs of North Korean leaders, always act with respect.

You should rethink visiting North Korea if you don’t think you can adhere to the laws, act with respect, and keep your unfavorable views and opinions to yourself.

Disrespect for Kim Jong-Il and Kim Il-Sung, the nation’s current and former leaders, is illegal in North Korea. Even unintentional lawbreakers in North Korea risk expulsion, arrest, and/or imprisonment.

6. Local legislation to be aware of

Any unlawful actions can and will be viewed as espionage attempts. Authorities will see any attempt to speak with a North Korean citizen or travel unaccompanied without express official authorization as attempted espionage. Never do anything to draw notice to oneself from local authorities and always stick with a guide.

6. Local legislation to be aware of

For making unlawful money exchanges or buying at establishments not intended for foreigners, North Korean authorities may punish or detain you.

Do not snap pictures unless instructed to do so by North Korean government officials, who may consider such action to be espionage and seize the photographer’s camera and film as well as detain him or her. The confiscation of photographs that show poverty or other things that can give a bad impression of the DPRK is another possibility. In the DPRK, you should always get consent before taking pictures of anyone—including government employees, troops, or ordinary citizens. Guides from the DPRK can grant authorization to snap pictures.

7. Is North Korea secure?

No significant offense will have an impact on you in North Korea. Your visit will be so closely monitored that you won’t have any chance of being a victim of crime. The worst you can anticipate is minor thievery, especially at the airport and in open markets in Pyongyang. As usual, use caution, pay attention to your surroundings, and make sure your possessions are locked up. You shouldn’t become overconfident just because your moves are meticulously choreographed.

8. North Korea’s health

There shouldn’t be any significant dangers to your health during your travel to North Korea due to the strict controls in place.

However, there is a risk of malaria, especially in the country’s south, and Japanese encephalitis is not unusual.

More serious epidemics of water-borne, food-borne, and other infectious diseases (such as rabies, typhoid, hepatitis, measles, cholera, and tuberculosis) occasionally occur. You won’t have access to street food, though, and your meals will be strictly regulated.

The disease Hand, Foot, and Mouth is widespread, and occasionally there are more severe outbreaks. Yellow dust, which is transported to the Korean Peninsula by powerful winds from China and Mongolia from March to May, can irritate the eyes, nose, mouth, and throat as well as aggravate respiratory and cardiovascular issues.

The following immunizations should be taken into account before visiting North Korea:

Japanese encephalitis, Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, and typhoid
Check your immunization status for rubella, measles, mumps, and tetanus.

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