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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.

Overview

Security status

We advise Irish citizens to avoid non-essential travel to North Korea.

Latest travel alert

The frequency of North Korean nuclear and missile tests has increased in 2016 and 2017, and the level of tension between North and South Korea can escalate at little notice. The Embassy in Seoul is monitoring the situation and advises Irish citizens in Korea to be aware of and follow developments and to ensure that you are registered with the Embassy.

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. Avoid taking photographs of officials or guarded or protected buildings. Reserved behaviour in public is the norm.

It is currently not possible to travel direct to South Korea from North Korea

Emergency Assistance

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.

We suggest you learn as much as you can about North Korea before your trip from travel agents, tour operators and guide books. The best help is often close at hand so if you have problems when you’re in North Korea, try talking to your local contacts, tour operator representative or hotel management.

Other EU embassies

You can contact the Embassies and Consulates of other EU countries represented in North Korea for emergency consular assistance, advice and support. 

Our tips for safe travels

  • Purchase comprehensive travel insurance which covers all your intended activities
  • Add an alert for your destination within the Travelwise App.
  • Register your details with us so that we can contact you quickly in an emergency, such as a natural disaster or a family emergency
  • Follow us on twitter @dfatravelwise for the latest travel updates
  • Read our Topical ‘Know Before You Go’ guide

Safety and security

Political situation

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, and there have been infrequent military incidents, particularly along the DMZ border and maritime boundaries.

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.

Foreign nationals have been arrested and detained in North Korea for activity which may not be deemed an offence in other countries.

Nuclear tests

North Korea carried out underground nuclear tests in 2006, 2009, 2013 and 2016. They lead to an increase in political and military tension on the peninsula. There has been no evidence of radiation fall-out from these tests.

Terrorism

The threat from terrorism in North Korea is low but there is always the risk of indiscriminate terrorist attacks anywhere in the world. 

Crime

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.

Scams

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 risks 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.

Reporting crime

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.

Driving

Infrastructure in North Korea is poor and dilapidated, which makes long distance travel challenging. If you’re planning on driving in North Korea, you’ll need a local licence, obtained by passing a local driving test. International driving licences are not valid in North Korea

Taxis

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

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 may even be illegal.

Local culture

Reserved behaviour in public is the norm. Public displays of affection are not customary in Korean culture.

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. Avoid bringing religious books or any material that could be considered to be “anti-North Korean”.

LGBT

While there are no laws expressly prohibiting same-sex relationships in North Korea, homosexuality is not openly discussed and would not be considered acceptable by the authorities.

Local travel

Travel within North Korea is severely restricted. Carry identification papers at all times. 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 is currently not possible to travel direct to South Korea from North Korea

Illegal drugs

Illegal drug use (no matter what the drug) carries stiff penalties, including fines and long prison terms. 

Photography

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

Flooding

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.

Additional information

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.

Passports

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.

Health

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.

Language

Spoken English is confined to official guides and senior government officials.

Mobile phones

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.

Money

Local currency is the North Korean Won but you’ll need hard currency such as euro, dollars to make payments in country.