Should you visit North Korea - The Leaders
Should you visit North Korea?

Or are the thousands of tourists visiting each year now just the beginning of the change much needed for the people of the DPRK.

Most importantly, is it safe to visit North Korea?

Update: North Korea closed its border in March 2020 for all internationals. As of January 2022, the border is due to reopen with China for trade.

Should you visit North Korea?

North Korea, the most isolated country in the world. Even just mentioning that you are planning to visit will raise eyebrows.

Is it safe? Can you go alone? What about the visa? What do you actually see?

Following the death of Otto Warmbier, an American student sentenced to 15 years of hard labour for attempting to steal a poster of the country’s leader, therefore you may wonder why should you visit North Korea.

There are many myths about North Korea. Here are a few points based on my recent experience travelling on an organised group tour there.

Should you visit North Korea? And is it ethical?

The suitability of tourism in North Korea has long been questioned. Once you start reading more about this secretive country, you have to answer the key question: Should you visit North Korea?

All basic freedoms have been severely restricted under the Kim family’s political dynasty. Human rights in North Korea are severely limited, violations include censorship, public executions and secretive prison camps for political prisoners.

Also, there is no independent media, functioning civil society, religious freedom or freedom of movement.

As a tourist, you will be travelling as part of a tour group on a very restricted and structured itinerary. Your guides from the Korean International Travel Company determine what you see and where you go. Your guides are responsible for you whilst in the country.

should you visit north korea mass dance
Mass dance in North Korea – Should you visit North Korea?

Advocates argue that the contact (although limited) between tourists and locals will help improve citizens’ views of foreigners. Seems like following years of propaganda that paints the West as an evil villain, this is a step in the right direction?

Of course, the opposing side of this argument argues that tourism supports and legitimizes the government and its human rights mistreatment. Many argue that tourist dollars spent on tours only help to fund the regime.

My personal experience of my visit to North Korea

On occasion, we were allowed to interact with the locals. Many of the participants on our trip were able to speak Korean so I do believe that this was a great way to connect with locals.

Considering that North Korea trades with mainly China and these exports account for approximately $2.3 million (Coal briquettes), I really don’t see how money gained from tourism can have a significant impact on the country wealth.

So, should you visit North Korea? Well, it is up to you to make that decision based on what side of the argument you believe.

Is it safe to visit North Korea?

Yes, it is safe. As long as you obey all the rules and don’t misbehave. People who have been arrested in the past have always broken the laws of North Korea.

Breaking a rule will not only put your life at risk, but it will put your Korean guides life and faith in danger.

The list of Rules in North Korea

Don’t take photos of customs, uniformed men, construction workers, construction sites or poverty. Do not take photos when told not to and don’t ask why.

You cannot separate from your tour group. It is forbidden to say anything negative about the country or the leaders. When taking photos of the leaders you must have their entire bodies in the frame, a close-up photo is not allowed.

If visiting any sights, you must ensure your appearance is neat and you will be asked to bow in front of the statues of the leaders. A strict set of rules apply when visiting the Kumsusan Palace which is the resting place of Kim il-Sung and Kim Jong-il.

Don’t bring any religious books such as Koran, Bible into the country or any other literature about North Korea. The same goes for GPS, satellite phones and camera lenses over 250mm and any pornographic material.

Do not refer to the country like North Korea. Because it is The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) or just Korea.

If you are not willing to accept extreme limitations to your behaviour, a visit to North Korea is probably not the right travel destination for you.

Maybe try one of the safest countries to visit instead.

Should you visit North Korea - Streets
Almost empty streets of Kaesong, close to the border with South Korea. Should you visit North Korea?

Do I need a visa to North Korea?

Yes, you will need a visa to enter North Korea and some consider it one of the 10 hardest countries to visit. Currently, South Korean and American citizens cannot enter.

Other nationalities can obtain their visa at one of the very few embassies in the world (Stockholm, Prague, Mexico City, Moscow, and a few others). Furthermore, you can let your tour company apply for your visa on your behalf.

You will then receive your visa on a separate piece of paper so you will not get a stamp in your passport.

So, should you visit North Korea? If you still wish to travel to North Korea, I recommend researching companies organising group tours.

We travelled with Young Pioneer Tours, and we would travel with them again. Most importantly, I want to learn more about this unique country and its struggle.

I visited North Korea in April 2018 as part of an adventure to visit every country.

If you’re considering visiting North Korea, I recommend you read these 7 Myths about North Korea before you leave.

Wondering what the food is like there? Check out these 10 Foods from North Korea that may surprise you.

More Travel Tips

Many travellers continue to travel to China after they’ve visited North Korea. If you’re heading that way, too, don’t miss our post on how to avoid common tourist scams in China.

No doubt you will try some of the local cuisine, but I wonder how many of these 10 most bizarre foods in China you would dare to eat?

There are some fantastic things to see and do in China, and I recommend you try and visit Pingyao – there is some fantastic food there too!

Our Expert tips from visiting every country are packed with helpful advice and tricks we’ve used over the past 20 years of travel.

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