North Korea (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea)
If you’re travelling to North Korea, our travel advice and updates give you practical tips and useful information.
Get travel and medical insurance
Before travelling, the Department strongly recommends that you obtain comprehensive travel insurance which will cover all overseas medical costs, including medical repatriation/evacuation, repatriation of remains and legal costs. You should check any exclusions and, in particular, that your policy covers you for the activities you want to undertake.
- Safety and security
- Local laws and customs
- Natural disasters and climate
- Additional information
If you’re planning a trip to North Korea, we advise you to avoid non-essential travel.
Latest travel alert
Since conducting what was stated to be a nuclear test in February 2013, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea – DPRK (North Korea) has issued a number of statements which have resulted in increased tension on the Korean Peninsula. Most recently, these statements have concerned the safety of the diplomatic community in the DPRK and foreign nationals living in the Republic of Korea.
As the North Korean authorities have indicated to the diplomatic community that they can’t guarantee their safety, we now advise against all non-essential travel to the DPRK.
Register with us
If you’re visiting or planning to stay in North Korea, you should register your details with us so we can find you quickly if there’s an unforeseen crisis like a natural disaster or if you have a family emergency while you’re abroad. And, if necessary, we can offer help to you and your family.
We suggest you learn as much as you can about North Korea before your trip.
We also recommend reading our Know Before You Go travel guide for practical tips on travelling abroad.
The best help is often close at hand so if you have problems, try talking to your local contacts, tour operator representative or hotel management.
Contact the Embassy
Because there is no Irish Embassy or Consulate in North Korea, we’re limited in the help we can offer you in an emergency. However, if you need assistance, you can contact the Irish Embassy in Seoul in South Korea.
If you phone outside of working hours, leave us a message giving:
- Your name
- The nature of your problem
- Where you are now
- Your contact details (mobile phone number or phone number of where you’re staying)
We regularly monitor these messages and one of our staff members will be in contact with you.
Other EU embassies
You can also contact the Embassies or Consulates of other EU countries for emergency consular assistance, advice and support.
How we can help you
We have a lot of experience helping Irish citizens who run into problems when they’re abroad. Learn more about the kind of emergency assistance we can offer you.
Safety and security
Safety and security
- Read our Know Before You Go travel guide for useful security tips when travelling abroad
- Get advice locally about areas of risk and security concerns
- Take common-sense precautions about safety and security
- Know who to contact in case of an emergency
Since the end of World War II, the Korean peninsula has been partitioned. At the end of the Korean War in 1953, this partition was enforced when a 4km-wide de-militarised zone (DMZ) was created to separate North and South Korea. Peace has been maintained under an Armistice Agreement, however tensions rise and fall from time to time.
Following the fatal shooting in July 2008 of a South Korean tourist who reportedly strayed into a restricted military area while visiting North Korea, we recommend that you always stay in permitted areas and obey immediately any instructions from North Korean officials.
North Korea carried out an underground nuclear test in 2009 and in 2013. There’s been no evidence of radiation fall-out from these tests.
The threat from terrorism in North Korea is low but there is always the risk of indiscriminate terrorist attacks anywhere in the world.
Levels of crime against foreigners in North Korea are low and highly supervised group travel keeps visitors safe from crime. However, you should take sensible precautions:
- Don’t carry your credit card, travel tickets and money together - leave spare cash and valuables in a safe place.
- Don’t carry your passport unless absolutely necessary and leave a copy of your passport (and travel and insurance documents) with family or friends at home.
- Avoid showing large sums of money in public, especially if you’re alone. Check no one has followed you after conducting your business.
- Avoid dark and unlit streets and stairways, and arrange to be picked up or dropped off as close to your hotel or apartment entrance as possible.
- Keep a close eye on your personal belongings and hold on to them in public places such as internet cafés, train and bus stations.
We’ve seen examples of scams involving ‘property deals’ in North Korea. This should immediately arouse suspicion as it’s virtually impossible for foreigners to own property in the country.
Other scams include being detained at international airports for currency violations; being held against your will; being involved in a road accident (frequently in or around the airport); needing unexpected legal or court fee payments; or hospitalisation.
The normal advice applies: common sense and no transfer of funds to strangers. If in doubt, refer the person to the nearest relevant Embassy or consular office.
If you’re a victim of a crime while in North Korea, report it to the local police immediately. And you can contact us at the Irish Embassy in Seoul if you need help.
Infrastructure in North Korea is poor and dilapidated, which makes long distance travel challenging. If you’re planning on driving in North Korea, you should follow these basic guidelines:
- You’ll need a local licence, obtained by passing a local driving test. International driving licences are not valid in North Korea
- Make sure you have adequate and appropriate insurance
- Do not drive under the influence of alcohol or drugs
- Be aware of North Korea’s traffic laws, such as speed limits
- Wear your seatbelts at all times
- Keep your vehicle doors locked and your bags kept out of sight to prevent opportunistic bag-snatching if you’re stopped at traffic lights
A limited number of taxis are sometimes available from hotels or outside department stores. However, they’re often reluctant to take you without a local guide/interpreter.
Local laws and customs
Local laws and customs
- Read our travel advice, inform yourself before travelling and get advice locally when you arrive
- Remember, the local laws apply to you as a visitor and it is your responsibility to follow them
- Be sensitive to local customs, traditions and practices as your behaviour may be seen as improper, hostile or even illegal
Koreans, like other North East Asian peoples, are of Mongolian lineage. They are extremely courteous and hospitable. While Korean history is intertwined with that of China and Japan, Koreans differ from the neighbours ethnically and culturally with their own language (and alphabet, hangul), social norms and customs. A long history of some two thousand years, capped by a five hundred year period of the “hermit kingdom”, and combined with a genetically homogenous population, has given enormous cohesion to the Korean people and strength to their sense of identity.
The political leadership in North Korea is revered and people are proud of their history and socialist system. Lack of courtesy or perceived insults to, or jokes about, the North Korean political system and its leadership are severely frowned upon. Foreigners have very occasionally found themselves in trouble for not paying what was deemed to be enough respect.
Travel within North Korea is severely restricted. Visitors will almost always be accompanied by a guide and will only be allowed to go to locations where the guide gives approval. For travel outside Pyongyang, it’s your guide's responsibility to get the necessary permissions. Military checkpoints at the entry and exit to provinces, counties and towns usually require proof of identity before allowing travel onward.
Foreigners who live in Pyongyang are usually able to travel freely within designated parts of the city, but permission is needed for travel outside of Pyongyang.
It’s not possible for you to travel direct to South Korea from North Korea, unless making an official visit to the Kaesong Industrial Complex.
Illegal drug use (no matter what the drug) carries stiff penalties, including fines and long prison terms.
Restrictions on the use of cameras has eased somewhat, though we recommend always ensuring the guide’s permission before taking a photograph. Avoid taking photographs of officials or guarded or protected buildings.
Natural disasters and climate
Natural disasters and climate
- If you’re travelling to North Korea, make sure you know what to expect – then plan and pack so that you’re prepared
- Get local advice on how to manage in the case of a serious incident or dangerous conditions
- Co-operate with local authorities and emergency services in the case of serious incidents
North Korea has a continental climate of very cold, dry winters and very hot, humid summers, which include a rainy season in July (sometimes extending into August). Autumn and spring are very pleasant but can be short.
Due to widespread deforestation and following heavy rains and/or typhoons, North Korea can be very seriously affected by flooding and it’s not uncommon for fatalities to be reported along with damage to housing, infrastructure and crops. Responses and coping mechanisms to flooding are limited.
Entry requirements (visa/passport)
Few Irish nationals visit North Korea and those who do are usually part of an organised tour. Solo travellers need a sponsor and permission from the Ministry for Foreign Affairs. This is normally only possible for business travellers, government officials and NGOs. For more information about entry requirements for North Korea contact the Embassy of North Korea in London. You can also check with them how long your passport must be valid for.
It is advisable to take a number of photocopies of your passport with you. During your stay you should carry a photocopy of your passport at all times.
Check with your doctor well in advance of travelling to see if you need any vaccinations for North Korea. Be aware that medical care is extremely limited.
Spoken English is confined to official guides and senior government officials.
Visitors are generally not allowed to carry mobile phone and you’ll likely have to surrender your phone on entry to North Korea. It will be returned to you when you leave the country. Devices with GPS capabilities may also be held.
You can generally place calls, at a charge, from hotels to numbers outside North Korea, except numbers in South Korea.
Local currency is the North Korean Won but you’ll need hard currency such as euro, dollars, renminbi and yen to make payments in country.