Despite the common myth, tourists can travel to North Korea

Written by: 
Tomson Cheang

NOTE: The Ke Alaka'i does not endorse or recommend that individuals travel to North Korea, and it is completely neutral on the matter. We encourage readers to be extremely cautious and to consult with proper sources before making plans to travel there.


Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, also known as North Korea, has drawn more than 4,000 western tourists to visit every year, according to a tour guide from China Travel Service. During my visit to the northern country in December, I had two different tour guides: the one I previously mentioned who was with me as I entered the country, and an official one from the North Korean government. Both informed me of how the regime continues to attract visitors, despite myths that foreign tourists cannot enter.


Freedom and restrictions

The North Korean tour guide said visiting the country alone is prohibited and the most important rule for travelling there is to have a group led by official North Korean tour guides. These guides are trained by the government and most of them speak Chinese and English fluently.


All tourists are treated politely, he added, as long as they do what the North Korean tour guides say and do not intentionally offend the Kim family. During the day, tourists must follow the tour guides and stay within their sight. At night, tourists can move around freely in the hotel but are not permitted to leave the hotel alone. The tour guides also keep your passport because “there are immigration procedures to be finished and your travel documents are required.”


The N.K. guide said electronic devices can be brought into the country as long as tourists declare all their devices and let the DPRK custom check the contents in those devices. Taking pictures is not a law offense. However, soldiers of People’s Army in North Korea are considered sacred and under no circumstances can tourists point their cameras at the soldiers.


Living in North Korea

Josh Eui Yong Jung, a special instructor in the EIL department from South Korea, met North Korean refugees during his mission in Canada. He said, “I heard lots of their escape stories. They usually chose China for their route and got out of North Korea. They hid their identities for several years. Then, they claimed themselves refugees to come to America, Canada or other places that take refugees.”


The N.K. tour guide said all jobs and daily commodities distributed to citizens by the government. He mentioned only scientists and people with high positions in the government own a car. The main public transportation for citizens in Pyongyang is a rubber-tyred bus guided by a fixed rail. There is also an underground subway system, and some citizens use bicycles.


How can you visit North Korea?

The China Travel Service tour guide said travelers going to North Korea must find a travel agency in China that has connections with North Korea. The traveler must also provide their identity information. After that, the travel agency will contact the North Korean government and finish all the visa application process for them.


Yan Wu, a sophomore majoring in TESOL education from Hong Kong, said, “Even if you haven’t traveled to Europe, you can still get to know what it looks like and what’s happening there through the internet, through TV. But for North Korea, you really have to visit there for yourself.”


Wu explained, “I do feel scared when I hear the word ‘North Korea.’ However, visiting North Korea could be a good chance for me to learn. Having grown up in Hong Kong, I’ve never worried about life necessities or my freedom. Having a trip in North Korea can make me reflect on myself. I’ll get to understand how happy my life is and how grateful I should be. You may want an iPhone X very bad when you see one in the street, but imagine, people in North Korea aren’t able to get even an iPhone 5.”


Things tourists must know before going

Before setting off for North Korea, know that all your luggage and the contents in your electronic devices will be checked. Also, the DPRK custom has the right to confiscate any item of yours.

Some of my personal tips for those traveling based off of my recent experience are:

There must not be any memes, photos or other forms of media that make fun of the Kim family on your electronic devices.

Delete all the South Korean dramas on your electronic devices.

Avoid bringing any products that are made in South Korea.

Declare all the electronic devices and memory cards to the custom. Do not attempt to hide an extra memory without declaring it. The consequences can be serious once discovered.

Use Renminbi, which is Chinese currency, in North Korea. It’s illegal for foreigners to use North Korean currency or carry it out of the country.

Refrain from showing disrespect to the Kim family in words and actions.

Date Published: 
Saturday, March 17, 2018
Last Edited: 
Saturday, March 17, 2018