There is no place on earth like the Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea (DPRK) and these North Korea travel guidelines will help you have a hassle-free travel experience in the world’s most secretive country.
North Korea travel
North Korea might not be the easiest going holiday destination, and the compromises required to travel to North Korea are significant. However, those who can accept a filtered view of history while being bussed between government-approved sights will be in for a memorable experience.
Don’t worry, your visit to North Korea doesn’t have to be a constant walking on eggshells. Simply follow these travel guidelines for smooth sailing inside North Korea.
Book a North Korea tour
What many people don’t know is foreign tourists can’t travel alone in North Korea. However, it’s surprisingly simple for tourists to obtain a visa to North Korea, as long as you are on a pre-booked tour arranged by an experienced tour operator.
When you go on our North Korea tour, you’ll be accompanied by two North Korean guides and a driver at all times to guarantee your safety. This means you won’t go anywhere without them.
Straying from your pre-arranged tour is not an option unless you’re escorted by your local guide. So if you’re a curious traveler who likes their independence, you might want to reconsider traveling to North Korea.
Safe travel in North Korea
Despite what you might have heard or read about North Korea, it’s probably one of the safest countries to visit.
By entering North Korea, you will be bound by local laws, the same way you are when traveling to any other holiday destination. However, North Korean laws may be very strict and often strange compared to what you are accustomed to.
Before touching down in the country, there is a debriefing with your tour guides in Beijing to ensure safe travel in North Korea. A general rule of thumb: as long you follow the rules, and respect local customs, you will be in for an experience of a lifetime.
Our local guides are there to answer any questions you may have about life in North Korea and to make sure all travel requirements for foreign tourists are being met. If you’re not sure about how things work in North Korea, or how you can say things in a safe way, without offending any political sensibilities, don’t hesitate to ask.
Consider packing light
Generally, traveling to North Korea means packing light. There are a few North Korea packing essentials, such as a travel medical kit and a torch (so you’re not caught out with surprise power cuts).
When entering the country, expect a very rigorous screening process at the border. USB drives, CDs, DVDs, tablets, laptops, smartphones, digital cameras, and other electronic devices will be thoroughly inspected by customs officials upon arrival. They will look for anything inappropriate, such as pornographic or religious content, or anything critical about the North Korean government.
You are allowed to take your smartphone into the country, but keep in mind that network coverage will not work. You will have to purchase a local SIM card and prepaid credit in order to make and receive international calls only.
Western literature about North Korea, even your Lonely Planet travel guide, as well as music, television shows, and movies are not allowed inside the country. Written material from South Korea is prohibited as well. Also, don’t bring any GPS-trackers or satellite phones with you.
Watch where you point that camera
You’re allowed to bring a digital camera or video camera (as long as they don’t have GPS), but leave any camera lens more than 150mm at home. Remember to pack an extra memory card, as these cannot be bought in North Korea.
Please note, in certain areas in North Korea, it’s strictly prohibited to take photos. Your guide will point out exactly which places you are allowed to take photos of. But if you want to be absolutely sure, avoid taking photos of:
- Anything involving North Korean military zones, military property, and soldiers
- Scenes of poverty and construction sites
- Local people or your local guide without their permission
- Close-ups of the head of a statue. If you do want to take a photo of a statue, make sure you capture the whole body of the statue
Be respectful during your stay in North Korea
A North Korea tour is your chance to get up close and personal and have a real experience of North Korean culture. You will have the opportunity to meet and talk to locals during the tour.
Keep in mind that North Koreans are known to be shy and a bit wary of making contact with foreigners. Also, the majority of North Koreans do not speak English.
When you do get the opportunity to talk to a local, remember that they are conservative people with limited access to the outside world. It’s perfectly normal to hold a different opinion from the locals. But before you start trying to change their viewpoints, remember that they come from a different background.
Be respectful during your stay in North Korea. Rather than speaking your mind, try and keep an open mind and actually listen to what the locals have to say. Not sure what to talk about? Ask your local guide what is appropriate.
Here’s one tip: avoid mentioning the word North Korea during your visit. Instead, refer to the country as DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea).
Furthermore, you are expected to show respect to North Korea’s supreme leaders. This includes presenting flowers to statues of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il, and bowing in front of their statues when required.
When visiting the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun, make sure to dress appropriately and respectfully. This means wearing pants with a shirt or blouse. Formal wear would be even more appreciated. Jeans, sandals, shorts, and short skirts are not permitted in the mausoleum.
Where to eat and sleep
Our North Korea full tour package includes staying in the deluxe-class Koryo hotel. Like any 4-star hotel in China, you can expect comfortable and spacious rooms with air conditioning, refrigerator, a safe, hot water, IDD telephone, and several international TV channels, including the BBC.
The Koryo hotel provides a range of entertainment facilities including bars, a swimming pool, karaoke, billiards, a bowling alley, several souvenir shops, and even a casino for those wanting to try their luck.
Please note, hotels in cities other than Pyongyang often have limited facilities and services.
All your meals in North Korea are generally provided for on the tour. Most of the meals will be served in local restaurants, which gives you the chance to sample a taste of traditional Korean flavors.
Vegetarian or other dietary requirements can be catered for, but be aware that dining options will be rather limited in such cases. Fruit is scarce in North Korea, and the price can be extremely high. If necessary, you can bring fruit purchased from Beijing.
Show your guides some appreciation
It is customary to tip your guides and drivers during your North Korea tour as a way to show your appreciation for their service. A tip of approximately seven euros per tourist per day is common.
Generally, you don’t tip service staff, nor do they expect it. If you are really pleased with their service, tip them privately. Service providers usually receive a minimum salary and are greatly dependent on tips. They would be grateful for any tips you give.
Finally, it’s recommended to bring some gifts for the guides and driver, perhaps cigarettes or cosmetics, or something typical to where you live. The guides are also interested to see what the lives of their tourists are like, so make sure you bring some photos of home and family to show them.
North Korea, it’s something else!
As you can see, a tour to North Korea truly is a journey of a lifetime. From the everyday life of local people to impressive man-made monuments, and exotic natural scenery, our meticulously planned tours bring together everything that makes North Korea unique from any other place in the world.
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