Is North Korea Safe? 8 Essential Travel Tips for Visitors

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Ever wondered what it's like traveling in the hermit kingdom of North Korea? From local laws to crime, here's what you need to know to stay safe if you travel to North Korea.


Pyongyang, North Korea Photo © iStock/Claudiad

Editor's note: We’re all about adventurous, independent, off-the-beaten-track travel, but unfortunately World Nomads travel insurance policies cannot cover travel to or in North Korea.

The Korean war ended in 1953, and since then the Korean Peninsula has been divided by a demilitarized zone (DMZ), separating the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North Korea) and the Republic of Korea (South Korea).

Forget any independent travel in North Korea, you'll be on an authorized tour. Anything else is considered espionage.

Curiosity will probably get the cat killed in North Korea – perhaps even your tour guide – and you may be expelled from the country if you probe to many questions or step out of line. Still, North Korea is a fascinating and totally unique country, and you may be curious to experience the place for yourself. First, you must learn to follow all the rules to the letter.

Here's everything you need to know about personal safety and local customs in the country.

1. The political situation in North Korea

While peace is maintained under an armistice agreement, the two Koreas are still technically at war and inter-Korean relations are extremely tense. The security situation on the Korean Peninsula could deteriorate with little warning.

North Korea is a communist state; it's safe to assume that you will be under surveillance at all times. North Korean government security personnel closely monitor the activities and conversations of foreigners. Hotel rooms, telephones, and fax machines may be monitored, and personal possessions in hotel rooms may be searched.

North Korea is a closed society with little, if any, information available about internal political developments. Although access to international satellite TV channels is available in hotels used by foreigners, such access may be curtailed in a crisis. Civil unrest, internal instability and/or an escalation of tensions on the Korean Peninsula could arise rapidly and you may get little or no information about this from the local media or authorities.

2. Can you travel to North Korea?

This is a country in which total obedience to the state is the norm. There is no "dissension" in North Korea and travelers must abide by this or simply not travel there. Curiosity may well get you or your guide killed in North Korea, it's as simple as that.

Tourism in North Korea is unlike anything you will have experienced anywhere else in the world. Your every movement is controlled, watched and carefully planned by the Government. Most, if not all tours, are ultimately run by the Korean International Travel Company and it will be their guides who show you around.

Forget any notions of independent, adventure or solo travel, it just doesn't work that way in North Korea.

Travel throughout the country is only possible as part of a guided tour. Independent travel is not permitted, you must not leave your hotel without a guide, you will not be allowed to travel on the public transport system at all, and both you and your guide will be punished if you infringe the rules.

If you are not prepared to accept severe limitations on your movements and behavior, you should not go to North Korea.

Kim Il Sung Square
Kim Il-Sung Square, Pyongyang. Photo credit: iStock/alexkuehni

3. Entry limits to North Korea

There are some nationalities that are not even permitted entry to North Korea. South Koreans are not permitted entry and there have been reports of difficulties regarding Israeli, American, British and Japanese nationals. However, in January 2010, North Korea lifted the restrictions on American citizens who are now free to visit at any time of the year. If you are a U.S. passport holder, be aware you must have special validation for travel to North Korea from the Department of State. A specialist North Korean travel agency can help you sort out the complex and ever-changing regulations. 

4. Total control

When you arrive in North Korea, your guide will take your passport and keep it for "security reasons". Make sure your passport looks decent and doesn't differ from the most common passports from your country.

Also, DPRK border officials routinely confiscate visitors' cell phones upon arrival, returning the phone only upon departure.

You will not have access to anyone or anything that is not part of your authorized tour. You will not get any insight into how local North Korean people live. Your tour will be highly choreographed to visit only authorized sites, shop in approved stores, and speak only to official guides.

Do not break any of the rules of the tour; doing so will place your guide at risk. He/she will be subjected to imprisonment and even torture, for assisting your "espionage". Do what the guides do, praise every stop on your tour, and remember the rule, "If you have nothing good to say, don't say it at all."

Kim Jung Un Statue
Soldiers paying respect to Kim Il-sung in North Korea. Photo credit: iStock/narvikk

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5. Honor the leader

Most, if not all, tour groups are asked to solemnly bow and lay flowers on one or two occasions in front of statues of Kim Il Sung when visiting monuments of national importance. Always act in a respectful manner around images North Korean leaders.

If you don't think you can follow the rules, behave respectfully and keep any negative thoughts or opinions to yourself you should reconsider traveling to North Korea.

It is a criminal act in North Korea to show disrespect to the country's current and former leaders, Kim Jong-Il and Kim Il-Sung. Persons violating the laws of North Korea, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested, or imprisoned.

6. Local laws you should know

Any unauthorized activities can and will be seen as an attempt at espionage. If you travel unescorted without explicit official authorization, or any attempt to talk to a North Korean citizen authorities will see these actions as attempted espionage. Always stay with a guide and never do anything to draw attention to yourself from local authorities.

North Korean authorities may fine or arrest you for unauthorized currency transactions, or for shopping at stores not designated for foreigners.

Do not take pictures unless you are told you can; North Korean government authorities may view taking unauthorized pictures as espionage, confiscate cameras and film and/or detain the photographer. Photographing scenes of poverty or other things that may cause a negative impression of the DPRK may also result in confiscation. You should ask permission before taking photographs in the DPRK, including of officials, soldiers or other people. DPRK guides can provide permission to take photographs.

7. Is it safe in North Korea?

You will not be affected by any serious crime in North Korea. Your visit will be so tightly controlled that you will simply not be in a position to be the victim of crime. The worst you can expect is petty theft, particularly at Pyongyang airport and in public markets. As always you should exercise care, be alert to your surroundings and ensure personal belongings are secure. Just because your movements are tightly choreographed you should not get too complacent.

8. Health in North Korea

Your visit will be so tightly controlled that there should be no real risks to your health in North Korea. 

However, Malaria is a risk particularly in the south of the country, and Japanese encephalitis is not uncommon.

Water-borne, food-borne, and other infectious diseases (including tuberculosis, typhoid, hepatitis, measles, cholera and rabies) occur with more serious outbreaks occurring from time to time. However, your meals will be tightly controlled and you will not have access to street food.

Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease is common with more serious outbreaks occurring from time to time. From March to May, yellow dust, which is carried to the Korean Peninsula by strong winds from Mongolia and China, can cause eye, nose, mouth and throat irritations and may exacerbate respiratory and cardiovascular problems.

You should consider the following vaccinations before traveling to North Korea:

  • Hepatitis A
  • Hepatitis B
  • Japanese Encephalitis
  • Typhoid
  • Ensure your tetanus-diphtheria, measles, mumps and rubella are up to date.

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  • Nobody said


    Even though these rules are helpful,

    I really don't want to go there. AT ALL.


  • James Dosh said

    I'm very excited about my up coming trip to North Korea. I will pay my respects to the dear leader.


  • Jack Poleski said

    Thank you for this wonderful article as well as all the insightful and vital information it provided. I'm wondering what it would be like to live in such a tightly controlled culture. One thing surely fascinated me; safety and the concept of lack of street crime. Something undoubtedly which results from severe punishment and strict monitoring not mention the fear of torture and imprisonment.


  • M said

    It really is not that serious as it seem from this article...... but yeah,obey the rules.


  • Jef Choo said

    I been to North Korea last Dec 2016. It pretty safe to travel as the 2 guides will look after you thru out the trip. Just obey the guide told you and pay great respect to the leaders. North Korea is a clean country and with beautiful colourful building at Pyongyang. The guides are very friendly and they try their best to fullfill your request. There are many souvenirs you can buy and many shops at the interest places. Is a memories experience in North Korea that make you excitement everyday.


  • Lance said

    Why on earth would you want to ?

    Oh dear, now the NK, will be hacking me

    Sick of his bullshit, wants a war, lets give it


  • Kevin said

    Strangely enough, weed is completely legal in DPRK (don't believe me? google it). And who's the ones with the controlling government?


    • Person said

      There are a number of countrys run by dangerous rulers that allow very bad things like weed to be legal.


  • Anshuman said

    Very helpful article...would definately love to visit this unique country :)


  • Nella Rogers said

    After reading this I have an urge to do an Ozzy Osborn on a statue of Kim I'll Jong!!!


  • Michael robson said

    Hey, l want to visit just to see the new fireworks show... l hear its going to be bigger than Sydney!!!


  • Mike Litoris said

    I hear they are building a few new golf courses there and Donald Trump is going to help them create the bunkers. Can just see Kim running around like the gofer in Caddyshack!!


  • Aoutanka Roy said

    Will never such a horrible country, do you think its a tour during which you are not allowed to do shopping and not allowed to eat by your choice.



  • Sarah connor said

    Lol caddyshack!!!! Remeber the gopher survived!


  • Tillerson said

    Each day we postpone military intervention his Arsenal grows stronger.


  • Kelly said

    With a professional experience of law, especially International Politics. I will advise everyone. Please DO NOT travel to North Korea. You will see a "manicured" area ONLY.

    The political situation RIGHT NOW, is the worse. AMERICANS are valuable AS LEVERAGE and to be use as HUMAN SHIELDS.

    The tourist is subject to their will. You will be VERY LUCKY if you get the plane back home.
    This is NOT THE TIME to visit such a place, where human rights DO NOT EXIST.


  • Potus said

    South Korea wants THAAD out??? Wont chamge US policy on Kim getting ICBMS , wouldn't being flying to Seoul either at the moment.


  • Overlord said

    2nd Carrier to the Peninsula - Defcon 2- then game on.


  • Lisa Lane said

    Never would I allow this dictator monster rule over me As an American Citizen I believe Nk could use a cocktail of platinum and uranium.maybe a repeat of Hirishimo


  • Kim Junkinthetrunk said

    Someone please help me understand why anyone would want a "cultural experience" if all that money will go directly into the pocket of the oppressive machine and not the people?


  • Kristin said

    As an influential travel website, you should renege all positive sentiments you have expressed about NK and remove any and all posts promoting tourism there. Promoting travel to this country is irresponsible and negligent. As a travel influencer, you should take this opportunity to do the exact opposite and inform people that it is NOT OKAY to risk their own lives and support the Kim Jong Un regime. The treatment of Otto Warmbier was disgraceful and unforgivable. Otto's father spoke of how Otto was lured to NK by tour groups promoting safe, fun trips and claiming no one has ever gotten hurt — it's totally safe. And look what happened! You should not be promoting and sugar-coating North Korea. Not anymore. You are encouraging people to turn a blind eye at the atrocities the regime is committing against not only it's own people, but also citizens of other countries including the US. That is disgraceful. Please I beg you to do the right thing.


  • Person said

    @Lisa Lane
    Seriously? Hiroshima? Are you that effing dumb? Please think about the innocent lives that were cost because of stupid Americans doing something they strongly should not have done. It's absolutely insane that you would even want innocent lives gone all because of NK's government. Please educate yourself and have some human decency.

    Otto's death was very unfortunate and something that should NOT have happened. BUT Otto should have done some serious internet background before visiting a 'fun' country beforehand. it should be common sense to visit another country's background before visiting it, just in case something we do casually in our home country is seen as disrespect in their own. Please remember that we come from free countries (Canada, US, UK (maybe)) and stuff we do on a regular could be something that is not regular in another country. They won't change their ways if you do something wrong in their country. Every country has their own laws and rules.
    This brings up the next topic about Otto. He purposely violated NK. He purposely broke their rules, and he knew that there were consequences. It's his own fault that he did this, all for a dare? Seriously? It was truly stupid of him to do that and because of this, everyone should take into consideration of doing some serious background info on countries they've never visited before.

    Otto's death was truly horrible, but what happened to him was sort of coming, considering he committed a crime. People like James Franco should feel relieved that the movie 'The Interview' is something NK's leader's are looking at lightly. It could have been revenge on their part? Who knows..


  • Jordy said

    To those saying Otto purposely violated NK laws are wrong. The North Korean regime doesn´t care if you actually committed a crime or not. If they wish to detain you they will. If they wish to detain an american tourist to use as leverage they will. The regime will purposefully torture a person into confession. This confession will then be used as the press release as to why this particular person is held in custody. Custody meaning 9 out of 10 times you´ll spent the rest of your life in a labor camp similar to those of the Nazi regime. Consider every piece of information that´s coming from North Korean officials to be entirely false and manipulated. It´s sad that in this day and age such brutalities still happen.

    My sincere condolences to the family & friends of Otto Warmbier.

    Rest in Peace


  • Anastasia said

    I can completely understand why people would want to visit North K. I personally want to visit North K myself. Curiosity does get the best of us. There's just something about this place that really grabs certain people's attention. Perhaps is the way North Koreans live? Going to North Korea is very risky, you're practically committing suicide, but if you follow the rules and don't do anything foolish that can get you killed, then all is good. We all know North Korea is a country full of lies, but that won't stop hundreds of people from going and visiting.


  • Jon said

    Sunny day on the 20th page 4 line 7


  • PhilSylvester said

    to call this article "promoting" tourism is a big stretch. I thought we were making it abundantly clear that it is a place of totalitarian control and not somewhere to be enjoyed. I cannot find one "positive sentiment" expressed in the article. For you to construe it as otherwise baffles me.

    What happened to Otto is indeed a terrible, tragic thing. The article, although first published a couple of years before those events, was intended to warn others who may have contemplated visiting NK that it is a dangerous place.

    Still, it is entirely a matter for other people to decide if they want to or should visit regardless of the risks and impositions we have highlighted - for us to dictate to them that they MUST not go smacks of the same mind control and totalitarianism we are railing against.


  • Scott said

    I wouldn't leave there alive, I don't care to pay respect to dictators.


  • john said

    The country needs a revolution from its people.


  • Silent Night said

    Camp Carroll families notified of Airlift 10/21/17


  • Aranta said

    Trump Visiting Asia? Biggest smokescreen in history, pre emptive strike imminent.


  • Char said

    So someone explain why the British aren’t allowed to visit? That doesn’t make sense that everywhere else seems to be allowed however we get shut out? Shame as I’d love to visit this country


  • Anamika said

    Hey! what the fuck is this? Monarchy is still running in this country. All these rules to defend the monarchy. Let the people live a freed life over there.


  • Anahona said

    Did DDR way back in the 80's, only difference with this is where you can and cannot go and how controlled that is for NK. If you want to be a smart arsed western try it, you wont last very long. It can be an insightful experience even if it is a sanitised view of the country.


  • George said

    It is not fair for the rest of us sulking about dictators , the world powers that be rescue our brothers and sisters of North KOrea, the world will be a better place to live in


  • Mia said

    I wish i could afford to go.
    Here is usa we are so ignorant about north korea and most westerners think usa is better than nk.
    Well they have Hunan rights! They are given food water shelter and clothing.
    In usa none of these are human rights.
    Nk is beautiful and clean. Usa is dirty polluted and gross.they respect their leader, we distain ours.
    Just because you dont understand their culture it doesn't mean they are "weird" or crazy etc.

    I wish usa treated our vets with loyalty and respect like nk does.
    If you visit usa you won't have 2 guides keeping you safe!
    I wish people would stop believing the lies about nk and let them be
    Usa has a bigger military- spends billions on said military and its not in defense.if youre country was threatened from all sides you'd want to be prepared to fight back.
    Such ugly comments on here from Americans, look at our country and faults instead of judging theirs


  • memeboy said

    honestly NK sounds pretty nice (well some parts do) but it's just the dictatorship and the control that puts me off


  • Alex Duncan said

    The main reason I want to go to go to NK is to get ahold of copies of Squirrel and Hedgehog, wondering if I can have it shipped?


  • Alec said

    I have been there many of the times in my whole life to enjoy my holidays and always spent lovely time there. Now my Uncle also has a plan to go there to enjoy some time with his few fellows. I hope so that it will be a really good time for them and they will come back with many pleasant memories.


  • Spek said

    when you need peaceful at most, be there...less cars, people are obedient, free from internet, TV, media etc..just enjoy human touch


  • josh said

    Know that the Korean War is over, did the rules change in any way?


  • josh said



  • Cindy said

    If I travel to North Korea on business, will i be able do access funds from my U.S. account?


  • Reece Reece 3 said

    Korea is a beautiful country


  • Sandra said

    It is because of the leadership and it's regime that the fascination to visit NK exists. Reading of guides showing you around and where you are not permitted reminded me of a friend of mum's who visited Russia in the 60's or 70's, she said you are never alone, always with a guide and only see what they want you to see. She had started walking down a side street and was quickly led back to the group. Reading through the comments, I don't understand some of them, the advice about visiting NK is helpful to me about what to expect if visiting there - if you have a problem with this and disagree strongly on having your every movement monitored, then don't go there. Honestly, no-one's twisting your arm!


  • Nath said

    I want to. Would like to get there before MacDonalds and Starbuck. That would really stuff up the scenery.


  • Prakash said

    Well said !
    This article is just increasing my curiosity about visiting North Korea.
    Narration is awesome..


  • Celia said

    North Korea is too crazy, Mexico is as crazy as I'll go.


  • Tim H said

    When I was in the Navy many years ago, we were told before disembarking in a foreign country to respect the laws and customs of the country. North Korea is no different. If you want to visit, obey the rules. I would love to be able to visit North Korea someday. It would be a once in a lifetime opportunity.


  • anjela weiss said

    If you have been brought up to respect the culture of other people then you will not have a problem. If you think it funny to come to America and stand outside the White House and burn flags then see how security reacts-No you won't be tortured but why disrespect any culture?
    I think it would be hard for someone from a free country to go and see humans being so controlled. As others have said, why bother going?
    But in the end, NOTHING bad will happen to you in North Korea if you follow the guide and respect what their culture holds sacred. If you find being disrespectful is fun then stay at home. You know the rules and they do warn you before you go.


  • Liam ____ ___ said

    I would like to visit NK, but I have a problem... My grandfather was a CIA operative and three of my aunt/uncles work (in some way) for the CIA. Does NK do extensive (or not so extensive) background checks? Would me having a history with the CIA hamper my ability to visit?

    Also Otto Warmbier removed a propaganda poster from the fifth floor of the yangacto (not sure if I'm spelling it right) hotel, a floor which was repeatedly stressed as a 'no go' zone (it was found in his luggage) which was an illegal act. (This is the same as if someone sneaked into the White House and took DT's pen. Yeah, sneaking into a place which you have REPEATEDLY told NOT to go is illegal, and even if what you took was of no importance. You're still gonna get arrested (The punishment was quite harsh, though))


  • Maverick said

    Reading through these comments is absurd.

    As an American, I would love the opportunity to visit this country. It is very different from ours and almost like another world that you would not get to experience anywhere else.

    It's just that...a unique experience that can only be had there. I feel as though a lot of the closed minded, mis-guided, and sadly mis-spelled comments are authored by narrow headed baby boomer types.

    These people are not a threat to America, relax.


  • Fitzgerald D Hanover said

    North Korea is off the map for me. I am not curious about any beautiful country. I am sure the city must be delightful.


  • Eve Hunt said

    Excellent read, I just passed this onto a friend who was doing a little research on that. And he actually bought me lunch since I found it for him smile So let me rephrase that: Thanks for lunch!


  • Tom MorningStar said

    I want to visit NK in 2020
    Follow the rules and you will be OK. It is much safer to visit NK than many Western countries (exc Europe)


    • Alyssa said

      I am 14.. 'Crash Landing On You' made me want to visit North Korea, haha. It will definitely be one of the places I want to visit.


  • Ade said

    Visited NK last February...It is a great place to visit...!!!

    Heed your guides words to the letter!!!

    Learn when to keep your mouth shut!!!

    Stupidity and making mistakes carry no weight in NK!!!

    Yes, it can be a 'dangerous' place!!!


  • Zein Salhab said

    Thanks for the reminder, but it is not the country to pay a visit.


  • Mari Kurosawa said

    I would like to meet in person and talk with NK's Leader!


  • Caleb said

    Thanks! Now I'm even more curious about what there is in North Korea. Looks like I'll need some more research. :)


  • kermit said

    I think they should let us judge for ourselves about North Korea and let us visit the country,it would be a honor to meet the leader and the people that live their


  • Robert pearson said

    I wish I could visit North Korea
    N have dinner with Kin and his Sister then next Leader cheers Robert


  • tomas said

    I saw pictures of travelers on from North Korea...Its most interesting place, but I think its big risk for me. I dont have a courage :)


  • Abhi M said

    Nice Article... Also read this


  • Anon said

    Hell no. I ain't never going there


  • Mike said

    I spent five days in North Korea in July 2019. It was one of the most fascinating places I have visited. Back in the 1980s, I visited a lot of Communist countries in Europe, including the Soviet Union, DDR, Hugary, Poland, Romania and Czechoslovakia. North Korea is a totally different experience. You have to stay in a group all the time and follow the guide. The NK authorities take things very seriously and expect visitors to be respectful. So long as you follow their rules to the letter, everything will be fine. It is a unique place and you can take some amazing photographs!


  • Ces said

    WOW! Just Wow!
    An adventure for sure, some are made for that type of trip.


  • Amira said

    Wow… I rather be in Kabul.


  • Sammas said

    Please be aware that North Korea applies the theory of "3 generations" to their own citizens as punishment. This means that if they find you guilty of espionage they will execute you, your children, and your parents, essentially erasing you from existence. Dont travel to a place where this is even a consideration for punishment


    • Peter said

      Heed the rules of a country your visiting? yes, when there, but i wouldn't have any respect for any place that can treat 100s of 1000s of it's own citizens like this: (yes, i've checked as far as possible to truth-evaluate this).

      no matter how good a place can seem 'on the surface', it's what occurs, or is allowed to occur, out of sight that counts. Same can be applied to almost any country when commercial animals are added into the equation.
      Off-the-scale sickening.


  • El Enigma said

    I'd like take a few of the lads there with me for a pub crawl.


  • avenue17 said

    I am sorry, that I interfere, would like to offer other decision.


  • novopet said

    What words... A fantasy


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