Ways & How

How to Travel to North Korea

How to Travel to North Korea

North Korea doesn’t exactly top the list of popular tourist destinations in Asia, but getting a visa is not that difficult. Despite the most recent nuclear testing issue, the country remains open to tourism. However, if you are in the mood for a carefree trip, be warned that you won’t be getting it there. Like North Korean citizens, tourists will have to conform to a lot of regulations that the state dictates, beginning with making travel arrangements. Getting into North Korea as a tourist is only possible by booking your trip and visa application through one of the three travel agencies that are accredited by the Ministry of Tourism. The agency of your choice will be the one to handle all the logistics involved—including your placement into a pre-planned tour group that will be strictly accompanied by at least two North Korean guides all the time. Aside from sharing trivia about the city’s sights, these tour guides are there to make sure that you comply with the regulations such as always taking a full shot when snapping pictures of national monuments—no partials allowed. The United States and Canada have recently advised against all travel to North Korea, given the uncertain security situation related to its nuclear weapons development program.

if you feel like being adventurous, here’s how to travel to North Korea:

  1. Your entry application to North Korea will depend on your nationality, your profession, and your purpose for travelling. Citizens of all countries will require a visa, but you will only be issued one after you have been approved as a tourist, then booked and paid for your tour. (Certain Malaysian passport holders are exempt from needing a visa.) Americans don’t usually have any problems getting in, not since restrictions were lifted in 2010. However, if you are a journalist (or just suspected to be one), you won’t be allowed in using a tourist visa. Instead, you will have to apply for a special permit that can be pretty hard to obtain.

  2. As a tourist, you will really need to get in touch with an accredited tour agency, all of which are based in the capital Pyongyang. You can either pick Regent Holidays, Lupine Travel, or Cox and Kings. Tourists are generally not allowed to enter the country via train, and not by any means from South Korea.

  3. Your tour agency will advise you of the requirements that need to be submitted so that the government authorities can begin the screening process. Make sure to submit everything that is asked of you. Visa processing will be taken care of by your agency, but you can expect a short telephone interview from the North Korean embassy just to confirm your identity and your job.

  4. The granting of visas will only be confirmed a day before the tour. This can be maddening for people who are used to taking control of their travel arrangements, but then again, tourists are rarely rejected as long as they aren’t suspected of having journalistic or political intentions.

  5. Once the visa has been approved, you will be placed within a tour group. Take note that your visa will be in the care of your tour leader at all times, and it will not be given to you. It will be printed out on a separate sheet of paper rather than stamped on your passport.

  6. Before departing for North Korea, your tour agency will give you advice on what you need to pack. For instance, men will need to bring a jacket, shirt, and tie for the visit to the Kumkusan Memorial Palace of the Sun. You do actually have the choice between a group tour and an “individual” tour—but even the latter requires a tour guide as well.

The most difficult part of figuring out how to travel to North Korea is getting in touch with the right tour agency. After that, all you literally need to do is just go along for the ride. Tourists to North Korea are always expected to toe the line when it comes to the rules; stepping out of bounds is not tolerated at all. For instance, it’s not a good idea to sneak shots of “forbidden” subjects or objects because your camera could be inspected at any time. Those who have been to the country say that their stay has generally been pleasant, if a little too restrictive. But then again, if you’re looking to learn more about a culture and a way of life that is far from your present one, it could be a rather educational experience.


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