Korea, North | Culture, Facts & Travel | (2023)

What makes Korea, North a unique country to travel to?

Country Description

The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea or the DPRK) is a highly regimented, repressive Communist state located on the Korean Peninsula between northeast China and the Republic of Korea (South Korea or the ROK), sharing land borders with China, Russia, and South Korea. The border between North and South Korea is closed. The United States does not maintain diplomatic or consular relations with North Korea. The Embassy of Sweden in Pyongyang acts as the United States’ interim protecting power and provides basic consular services to U.S. citizens traveling in North Korea. For additional information, please refer to the section on “Special Circumstances” below.

Crime

North Korea does not release crime statistics. Violent crime is rare, and street crime against foreigners is uncommon in Pyongyang. Petty thefts have been reported, especially at the airport in Pyongyang.

Do not buy counterfeit and/or pirated goods, even if they are widely available. The purchase of counterfeit and pirated goods is illegal in the United States and may be illegal in North Korea.

Criminal Penalties

The North Korean system does not operate according to the rule of law, and foreigners should harbor no expectations regarding due process. Foreign visitors to North Korea may be arrested, detained, or expelled for activities that would not be considered criminal outside North Korea, including involvement in unsanctioned religious and/or political activities (whether those activities took place inside or outside North Korea), unauthorized travel, or unauthorized interaction with the local population. If you do something considered illegal in North Korea, you may be subject to the North Korean judicial system, which is an instrument of state power and not an independent branch of government. Protections guaranteed under the U.S. legal system do not apply, and possession of a U.S. passport does not confer special status. Your local host/liaison may be able to provide useful guidance.

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North Korean security personnel may regard as espionage unauthorized or unescorted travel inside North Korea and unauthorized attempts to speak directly with North Korean citizens. North Korean authorities may fine or arrest you for exchanging currency with an unauthorized vendor, for taking unauthorized photographs, or for shopping at stores not designated for foreigners. It is a criminal act in North Korea to show disrespect to the country's current and former leaders – Kim Jong Un, Kim Jong Il, and Kim Il Sung. A near-religious cult surrounds treatment of these individuals, and acts that would be deemed unexceptional elsewhere in the world – e.g., placing in the garbage newspapers bearing their photographs – may be deemed disrespectful.

Although North Korea has granted press visas for cultural or sporting events or visits of foreign leaders, officials watch closely to prevent journalists from talking to ordinary people or questioning the policies, actions, or public statements of North Korea’s leadership. North Korea has confiscated objectionable material from foreign journalists. Journalists who engaged in activities that challenged the regime have been deported, arrested, or detained to face criminal charges.

North Korean government security personnel closely monitor the activities and conversations of foreigners in North Korea. Never bring or handle any material, printed or digital, that could be interpreted as critical of, or hostile to, the country or its leadership. Hotel rooms, telephones, and fax machines may be monitored, and personal possessions in hotel rooms may be searched. Do not take pictures without explicit authorization. North Korean government authorities may view taking unauthorized pictures as espionage, confiscate cameras and film and/or detain the photographer. Persons violating the laws of North Korea, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested, or imprisoned.

Engaging in sexual conduct with minors or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime, prosecutable in the United States.

Languages

Korean is spoken in both North and South Korea and is written in a phonetic alphabet created and promulgated in the mid-15th century. While the alphabet is called Hangul in South Korea, it is known as Chosongul in North Korea. Although the Korean language is derived with words adapted from Chinese, the North Koreans, unlike the South Koreans, do not use Chinese characters with Chosongul in their newspapers and publications. They prefer to use only Chosongul, which is sufficient for most needs.

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There are difference in vocabulary between the North and the South, influenced somewhat by politics and also by the contact each country has had with other nations. Russian, Chinese, and English are taught as second languages in the schools.

Medical Facilities and Health Information

If you have medical problems, you should not travel to North Korea. For decades, medical facilities in the DPRK have suffered from a lack of resources and electricity. Medical personnel often have inadequate or outdated skills. Hospitals in Pyongyang can perform basic examinations and lifesaving measures, but functioning x-ray facilities are not generally available. If possible, avoid surgery. If you have an accident outside Pyongyang, transport back to the capital can be lengthy and without medical assistance. According to DPRK Customs, most prescription medication may be brought into the country with no restrictions. If you require regular medication, you should bring a sufficient amount for your personal use along with the doctor’s prescription, since most drugs are unavailable locally. Hospitals will expect immediate U.S. dollar cash payment for medical treatment. You cannot use credit cards or checks in the DPRK. Local DPRK hosts are often not aware of options available for medical evacuations and might claim that no such options exist. It is important to insist on immediate contact with the Embassy of Sweden if you have serious medical problems.

Tuberculosis is an increasingly serious health concern in North Korea.

Medical Evacuations: In the case of a critical illness or accident, immediately contact the Embassy of Sweden, which will attempt to arrange flight clearances for air ambulances performing emergency medical evacuations. Costs for medical air evacuation vary, but according to SOS International, an evacuation from Pyongyang to Beijing averages approximately USD 40,000 including medical personnel (1 doctor and 1 nurse), the aircraft, and clearance costs. The General Bureau of the Koryo Civil Aviation of the DPRK says that it provides around-the-clock service and that requests for air clearance will be granted within 24 hours. If a U.S. citizen with a medical emergency is in Pyongyang, the Embassy of Sweden can usually arrange a medical evacuation to Beijing in one day. If the patient is located outside Pyongyang, it will take longer. Medical evacuation by regularly scheduled airlines can be arranged, but very few flights operate from Pyongyang to Beijing (Air Koryo and Air China), Shenyang (Air Koryo), or Vladivostok (Air Koryo). Air Koryo flights go to Shanghai only on a charter basis in the tourist season (April-October). In order to transit China, Chinese visas for injured foreigners and any escorts must be obtained prior to the evacuation from North Korea. Even in the case of a medical emergency, transit visas may take several days to arrange. Evacuation across the DMZ to South Korea is not allowed.

Vaccinations: You should get all necessary vaccinations prior to traveling to North Korea. You can find information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) or via the CDC Internet site. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad consult the World Health Organization's (WHO) website. If you have special dietary requirements, you are advised to bring food with you to North Korea, as the restaurants available to foreigners have limited menus that lack variety and nutritional adequacy.

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Companies that may be able to arrange evacuation services include, but are not limited to, those listed below. You may wish to contact these or other emergency medical assistance providers for information about their ability to provide medical evacuation insurance and/or assistance for travelers to North Korea.

International SOS ( www.internationalsos.com/en/ )

Telephone: (U.S.) (1-800) 468-5232

Telephone: (China) (86-10) 6462-9100, 6462-9112

Medex Assistance Corporation ( www.medexassist.com )

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Telephone: (U.S.) (410) 453-6300 / 6301

Telephone: (Toll free within China) 10-8888-800-527-0218

Telephone: (China) (86-10) 6595-8510)

Global Doctor

Telephone: (China) (86-10) 8315-1914.

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Telephone: (Shenyang, Liaoning Province) (86-24) 24330678

Traffic Safety and Road Conditions

Road conditions and driving habits in a foreign country can differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning North Korea is provided for general reference only. You are not allowed to drive in North Korea unless you hold a valid DPRK driver’s license. Bicycles are unavailable for rental or purchase.

Foreigners are not allowed to use public buses or the subway. North Korea has a functioning rail transport system; however, delays occur often, sometimes for days. On occasion, service may cease altogether before a traveler has reached his/her final destination.

FAQs

Can North Korean people travel? ›

Can North Koreans travel abroad? It's a question that frequently arises on our North Korea Tours. In short – Yes they can, but only with the necessary permission. While waiting for your train to Pyongyang at Dandong station or your flight from Beijing you will encounter hundreds of Travelling North Koreans.

What is the culture like in North Korea? ›

The contemporary culture of North Korea is based on traditional Korean culture, but has developed since the division of Korea in 1945. Juche ideology formed by Kim Il-sung (1948–1994) asserts Korea's cultural distinctiveness and creativity as well as the productive powers of the working masses.

Why does North Korea not allow tourists? ›

North Korea - Level 4: Do Not Travel

Do not travel to North Korea due to the continuing serious risk of arrest and long-term detention of U.S. nationals.

What are 3 things that are not allowed in North Korea? ›

North Korea has strict laws about what you can bring into the country. It's illegal to bring in religious, pornographic or political items.

Can you travel to North Korea from UK? ›

Visas. You will need a visa to enter North Korea. For further information contact the Embassy of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) in London. You must register with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs if your visit is for more than 24 hours.

What are the rules for tourists 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.

Is there a dress code in North Korea? ›

North Korea has banned piercings, skinny jeans, and hairstyles, including mullets, since last May, in a bid to keep the country free from "decadent" Western fashion trends. It came after the country's leader Kim Jong Un described foreign speech, hairstyles, and clothes as "dangerous poisons," per BBC.

How strict is life in North Korea? ›

North Korea is home to more than 25 million people, who live under a form of communist rule, which strictly controls all areas of daily life. People have to ask permission to travel around and it's difficult for visitors to enter the country too.

Do they take your phone in North Korea? ›

Contrary to popular belief and the many outdated travel guides, you can bring your phone to North Korea.

Which countries Cannot visit North Korea? ›

The only country that North Korea restricts visitors from is South Korea (the Republic of Korea), whose citizens need special permission (from both governments).

Can a foreigner marry a North Korean? ›

Foreigners must apply for official permission from the North Korean government to marry a citizen of North Korea.

Is condoms allowed in North Korea? ›

Getting a condom is next to impossible because the country has banned all sorts of birth control measures. Sanitary pads and tampons are not available in the North Korean market.

What can people not do in North Korea? ›

Here are 8 frightful rules that forbid North Korea's citizens and in some cases, tourists, from doing normal things.
  • Blue jeans are a big no-no. ...
  • You cannot access the internet. ...
  • Watching foreign movies or TV is a crime. ...
  • You can't turn off the radio. ...
  • Owning a Bible can get you killed. ...
  • People cry to survive.
8 Jan 2021

Is Coke allowed in North Korea? ›

There are two countries where you won't find the carbonated drink in stores – at least officially. Due to ongoing trade embargoes and sanctions, there are currently no legal avenues to buy Coca-Cola in Cuba and North Korea.

Is it expensive to go to North Korea? ›

go to North Korea? FAQ: How much does it cost to go to North Korea? Most introductory tours to North Korea will typically range between 600-1500 EUR per person depending on your point of departure, tour length, group size, accommodation type, rooming preference, and your preferred method of transport.

What are 4 things you Cannot do in North Korea? ›

  • Foreign movies, songs not allowed. ...
  • Making International calls is a crime. ...
  • Disloyalty to the leader can mean the death penalty. ...
  • Three-generation punishment. ...
  • Only government-approved haircuts. ...
  • Own basketball rules. ...
  • Permission needed to live in the national capital. ...
  • Students required to pay for their own desks and chairs.
9 Dec 2021

What are you not allowed to bring to Korea? ›

Guns, narcotics, pornography, subversive material, treasonous material, and counterfeit goods are prohibited from entering Korea.

Can you wear red in North Korea? ›

"The color red represents capitalism and that may be why North Korean society does not let you wear it."

Are pictures allowed in North Korea? ›

Unlike what many people believe, or what the media may suggest, it is perfectly fine to take pictures and videos in North Korea.

Are there homeless people in North Korea? ›

In North Korea, homeless children like Yoon Hee are called “kotjebes,” or flowering swallows. Like the bird, these children are free to roam, unconstrained by the country's societal norms.

Are North Koreans ever allowed to leave? ›

The simple short answer, like most things in the DPRK, is somewhat complex. Much like in other Soviet, socialist, or Eastern Bloc countries, North Koreans can travel abroad with permission from the government.

Why is North Korea dark at night? ›

While the surrounding countries of South Korea and China shine brightly at night, North Korea shuts down. The effect happens because North Korea's supply of electricity is too small to keep shining through the night. In the mid-1990s, the Soviet Union cut off the country's energy supply entirely.

Is music allowed in North Korea? ›

North Korean pop music is available for visitors to Pyongyang at the Koryo Hotel or Number One Department Store, as well as gift shops in tourist destinations. International and Western music can be enjoyed by locals and tourists at the Grand People's Study House, Pyongyang's central library.

Can you go to North Korea with tattoos? ›

There is no law against tattoos in North Korea, but they are subject to certain regulations and need to have some sort of ideological element. “In North Korea, tattoos must carry praise of the Kim family or carry a teaching of the state,” said Hyun Namhyuk, who escaped North Korea and recently settled in South Korea.

Can I buy Iphone in North Korea? ›

Ordinary North Koreans, however, are not freely permitted to own or use iPhones. The North Korean authorities consider the use of the “enemy's products” a vector by which residents can be influenced by “anti-Socialist” culture.

Can South Koreans go to North Korea? ›

Can South Korean nationals visit North Korea? South Korean passport holders cannot visit North Korea on tourist visas, even if they're willing to travel via a third country.

Are people living in North Korea happy? ›

The North Korea happiness index

Though I can't imagine that North Koreans are universally happy with their lot, they absolutely have the capacity for genuine happiness.

Can a man marry two wives legally in Korea? ›

Bigamy is illegal in South Korea. The man disagreed, saying he had not done anything illegal because his country recognizes polygamy, and he did not register the marriage with the government there. He added he maintained his marriage long enough before he divorced his Korean wife after naturalization.

Can Kim marry Kim in Korea? ›

Nevertheless, there was long a law in place to forbid marriage between people with the same surname and ancestral paternal origin. In 1997, however, South Korea's Constitutional Court ruled the law unconstitutional, and the civil code was amended in 2005 to forbid only marriage between closely related people.

What age do North Koreans marry? ›

Marriage in North Korea

Marriage is allowed at age 18 (for boys) and 17 (for girls). Unlike in South Korea, there are no legal provisions regulating or banning marriage between persons in cases of consanguinity or other types of familial relations.

What are women's rights in North Korea? ›

The official position of the North Korean government is that women have equal rights with men. North Korea has enacted laws such as the Law on Sex Equality, the Labor Law, and the Law on Nationalization of Essential Industries.

Can you swim in North Korea? ›

Every summer thousands of North Koreans take to the beaches in their droves to do what all of us love to do at the beach. They have picnics, BBQs, play volleyball, swim and even sing karaoke.

Are tampons allowed in North Korea? ›

' North Korea has ban on manufacturing hygiene products like sanitary pads and tampons in the country. To cope with this practice, North Korean women is said to make their own sanitary products from cotton cloth materials available around them and also reuse them as much as possible.

Is there McDonald's in North Korea? ›

North Korea

Unsurprisingly, this totalitarian regime is pretty averse to American businesses, and McDonald's is no exception.

Can North Korean drink alcohol? ›

Beer culture

North Korea has a lively beer brewing culture in spite of the country's isolation. Beer is not the most popular alcoholic beverage among North Koreans, who generally prefer the Korean liquor soju. Consequently, North Korean beer is little known.

Can you drink the water in North Korea? ›

Yet while some 82% of North Koreans have access to tap water usable for basic sanitation, that water is not necessarily safe to drink: According to UNICEF, only 61% have access to safely managed water services.

What is the culture and tradition of Korea? ›

These traditions include the ethical code of conduct in social life and showing respect to the elders and family. Koreans also believe in sincerity and loyalty and follow certain codes of conduct while meeting, eating, praying and even celebrating. At times when many other cultures would shake hands, Koreans bow.

What is it like to live in North Korean? ›

The country is both culturally and economically isolated, and many people in North Korea are suffering from malnutrition, and live in extreme poverty, according to the Associated Press. Most have little idea of what's going on in the outside world due to government restrictions on electricity, travel, and more.

What are living conditions like in North Korea? ›

Living conditions in North Korea are characterized by deprivation. The elite ruling class enjoys basic benefits of modern life such as indoor plumbing, cars, meat, coffee and a few luxury items. The middle class receives sufficient food and occasional new clothes. Most people, however, struggle to survive.

Do North and South Korea have the same culture? ›

Since the mid-20th century, Korea has been split between the North Korean and South Korean states, resulting in a number of cultural differences that can be observed even today. Before the Joseon dynasty, the practice of Korean shamanism was deeply rooted in Korean culture.

What is important to Korean culture? ›

Korean culture is profoundly influenced by Confucian principles and this pervades not only personal lives, but also business. Confucianism supports group harmony, respect for elders and authority, the importance of family, friendship and ancestors, and also, tradition.

What is Korean culture famous for? ›

Korea's vibrant cultural legacy, comprising music, art, literature, dance, architecture, clothing, and cuisine, offers a delightful combination of tradition and modernity. At the present time, Korean arts and culture are attracting many enthusiasts around the world.

What makes Korean culture unique? ›

It has its unique one culture, character, cloth, and food that separate from the countries nearby Korea. Diligent and hard work, filial piety, and humbleness are characteristics respected by Koreans. They are proud of their unique traditional culture and their economic success within short period of time.

Are North Koreans free to leave? ›

Freedom of movement

North Korean citizens usually cannot freely travel around the country, let alone travel abroad. Emigration and immigration are strictly controlled.

Can you love in North Korea? ›

In North Korean films you don't see couples kissing or being physically affectionate with each other, so many North Koreans are just not used to PDA and wouldn't dream of being too affectionate or kissing in public. Nonetheless North Koreans do meet and date and fall in love like everywhere else.

Can foreigners leave North Korea? ›

Foreigners living in Pyongyang are usually able to travel freely within the city, but permission is often required for travel outside Pyongyang. You can't enter or leave North Korea through the border with South Korea without special permission.

How many children can North Koreans have? ›

In its public pronouncements, Pyongyang has called for accelerated population growth and encouraged large families. According to one Korean American scholar who visited North Korea in the early 1980s, the country has no birth control policies; parents are encouraged to have as many as six children.

Can you take pictures in North Korea? ›

Unlike what many people believe, or what the media may suggest, it is perfectly fine to take pictures and videos in North Korea.

What is Korean food culture? ›

Korean food is seasonally driven, centered on vegetables but also featuring seafood and meat from the shores and robust landscape of the peninsula. Traditional Korean cooking employs ancient ways to preserve ingredients for year-round enjoyment. Fermented products, like kimchi and jangs, are foundational in the winter.

What type of society is North Korea? ›

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY. The Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK or North Korea) is an authoritarian state led by the Kim family for 70 years.

Why do Korean bow their heads? ›

Bowing. Just like in Japan, in Korea people bow as a sign of respect, especially between people they don't know or work colleagues. It is not uncommon to see students bowing when they meet their sunbae (older student), just as it is common for the ajumma at the restaurant (middle-aged lady) to bow when greeting you.

Videos

1. A day in North Korea with The Strictest Travel Rules.
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