North Korea travel guide
About North Korea
Perhaps the world's most insular, provocative and challenging country, North Korea is hardly the archetype of an alluring holiday destination. Yet more and more foreigners are signing up for tours of the socialist state. The reason? There's simply nowhere else on Earth quite like it.
North Korea – or the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) – is a totalitarian socialist state with an elaborate cult of personality built around the Kim dynasty.
Its isolation and ideology means that independent travel is impossible. Instead, there are a number foreign agencies that offer tours of the country with government-approved guides, regaling sightseers with propaganda-skewed tales of local history, while steering them clear of interaction with the general public.
All approved tours begin and end in the country's capital, Pyongyang. A city of more than 2.5 million inhabitants, the long working hours and strict curfew can often make it appear empty – yet there's an abundance of socialist sites for the foreign visitor to enjoy.
Highlights include the flame-topped Juche Tower (a monument to the state's socialist ideology), the Mansudae Grand Monument (bronze statues of former leaders Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il) and USS Pueblo (an American ship captured in 1968 and now on permanent display).
Beyond the capital most excursions include visits to Myohyang-san (a mountain with a palace carved into it), Panmunjom (the tense military border between North and South Korea) and Mangyongdae (a North Korean village said to be the birthplace of Kim Il-sung).
And then there's the food. Sharing a culinary heritage with South Korea, the North boasts a similar smorgasbord of delicacies, offering visitors an authentic taste of this most inauthentic of countries.
North Korea might not be the most easygoing destination, but if you can accept its tyrannical leadership and take everything you are told with a pinch of salt, there are plenty of incredible experiences to be had in the world's most mysterious country.
120,538 sq km (45,540 sq miles).
25,281,327 (UN estimate 2016).
207.3 per sq km.
First Chairman Kim Jong-un since 2011.
Prime minister Kim Tok-hun since 2020.
Coronavirus travel health
Check the latest information on risk from COVID-19 for North Korea on the TravelHealthPro website
See the TravelHealthPro website for further advice on travel abroad and reducing spread of respiratory viruses during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Commercial flights to and from North Korea remain very limited. Check with your travel company for the latest information.
Entry and borders
See Entry requirements to find out what you will need to do when you arrive in North Korea.
Returning to the UK
Travelling from and returning to the UK
Check what you must do to travel abroad and return to England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland.
If you plan to pass through another country to return to the UK, check the travel advice for the country you’re transiting.
Be prepared for your plans to change
No travel is risk-free during COVID. Countries may further restrict travel or bring in new rules at short notice, for example due to a new COVID-19 variant. Check with your travel company or airline for any transport changes which may delay your journey home.
If you test positive for COVID-19, you may need to stay where you are until you test negative. You may also need to seek treatment there.
Plan ahead and make sure you:
- can access money
- understand what your insurance will cover
- can make arrangements to extend your stay and be away for longer than planned
Travel in North Korea
For information on entering North Korea, see Entry requirements
Healthcare in North Korea
For contact details for English speaking doctors, visit our list of healthcare providers.
Your emotional and mental wellbeing is important. Read guidance on how to look after your mental wellbeing and mental health.
View Health for further details on healthcare in North Korea.
See also the guidance on healthcare if you’re waiting to return to the UK.
COVID-19 vaccines if you live in North Korea
If you’re a British national living in North Korea, you should seek medical advice from your local healthcare provider. Information about COVID-19 vaccines used in the national programme where you live, including regulatory status, should be available from local authorities.
Find out more, including about vaccines that are authorised in the UK or approved by the World Health Organisation, on the COVID-19 vaccines if you live abroad.
For information on financial support you can access whilst abroad, visit our financial assistance guidance.
Returning to the UK
When you return, you must follow the rules for entering the UK.
For further UK government guidance on support you can access whilst abroad, visit our waiting to return guidance. This includes guidance on finance, health, and staying connected.
If you need urgent consular assistance, please call (+44) (0)207 008 5000 (available 24 hours).
Crime against foreigners in North Korea is rare. Take sensible precautions to protect your belongings.
An incident at a hotel in Pyongyang in June 2015 highlighted a culture of low safety awareness. You may wish to check hotel fire procedures or consult your tour operator.
Tourists can normally only travel to North Korea as part of an organised tour. Independent travellers will need a sponsor and permission from the Ministry for Foreign Affairs. This is normally only possible for business travellers.
Travel within the country is severely restricted. Whether you are visiting on business or as a tourist, you will almost always be accompanied by a guide and will only be allowed to go where your guide is content for you to go. For travel outside Pyongyang, it is your guide’s responsibility to get the necessary permissions. Military checkpoints at the entry and exit to all towns usually include ID checks.
In 2008 a South Korean tourist who strayed into a restricted military area was shot dead. Take care to remain in permitted areas and move away immediately if asked to do so by North Korean officials.
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. In response to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the North Korean government announced that all air and train routes into and out of North Korea were temporarily suspended with effect from 31 January 2020.
Taxis are sometimes available from hotels or outside department stores, but they will be reluctant to take you without a local guide or interpreter. Public transport is not generally accessible to foreigners.
International Driving Permits are not valid in North Korea. Foreigners living in North Korea must get a local driving licence by passing a local driving test. You should take extra care when driving, as roads are often of poor quality with frequent hazards, and pedestrian road safety awareness is low.
The domestic network is small, equipment is old and trains are subject to delays because of electricity shortages. There is a rail service between Pyongyang and Beijing via Sinuiju/Dandong (North Korean and Chinese border towns) 4 times a week, and a daily service between Pyongyang and Dandong. Facilities on board are basic.
Most travellers enter North Korea on direct flights from Beijing to Pyongyang operated by Air Koryo, the North Korean national airline, or Air China.
All aircraft operated by Air Koryo, with the exception of two Tupolev Tu204, have been refused permission to operate services to the EU because they do not meet international safety standards. Incidents reported in July 2016 and May 2017 involving Air Koryo flights highlight the lack of official information regarding Air Koryo’s safety record and standards.
Air Koryo is still used by some members of Pyongyang’s international community, including businesspeople, diplomats and international organisations. Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office staff only use Air Koryo when it is operationally necessary and this position is kept under review.
Tensions increased throughout 2017 due to the number of missile launches carried out by DPRK and the threat of further missile or nuclear tests. There were two nuclear tests in 2016 and one in 2017, a series of ballistic missile tests in 2016 and 2017, one intercontinental ballistic missile tests in July 2017 and one in November 2017. On 21 April 2018, North Korea announced a halt to nuclear and intercontinental ballistic missile testing, but since May 2019, has carried out a number of other missile tests. These include the testing of submarine launched and short range ballistic missiles, which DPRK tested most recently in March 2020.
Since the start of 2018, there has been a renewed direct contact between the North and South Korean governments, and North Korea and the United States. The two Koreas competed under a unified flag at the 2018 Winter Olympics, exchanged high-level delegations for the opening and closing ceremonies, and held 3 inter-Korean leaders’ summits in April, May and September 2018. The Panmunjom Declaration, signed at the first summit, confirmed the common goal of realising, through complete denuclearisation, a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula. Both countries also pledged to agree a peace treaty to formally end the Korean War, alongside a number of other commitments to build inter-Korean ties, reduce military tensions and establish a peace regime.
On 12 June 2018, US President Donald Trump met North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore. Their summit was the first ever meeting between a sitting US President and North Korean leader. In a joint statement, North Korea reaffirmed the commitment it made on 27 April to work towards complete denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula. The US and North Korea also committed to establish new US-DPRK relations, to join their efforts to build a lasting and stable peace regime on the Korean Peninsula, and to recover the remains of prisoners of war and those missing in action from the Korean War, and repatriate any remains already identified. The two leaders held a second summit in Hanoi on 27 to 28 February 2019. The meeting broke up without agreement. A further meeting between President Trump and Kim Jong Un took place on 30 June 2019 at the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) that separates the two Koreas, in which the two agreed that working-level negotiations would resume within weeks. However, the level of tension on the Korean Peninsula can change with little notice. Tensions increased after the sinking of the South Korean Navy Ship Cheonan and an artillery attack against Yeonpyeong Island in 2010; when the DPRK carried out 2 missile tests in 2012; and after nuclear tests in 2013, 2016 and 2017. Tensions can also rise during the regular South Korean-US military exercises, which take place throughout the year.
Since the end of the Korean War in 1953, the Korean Peninsula has been divided by a demilitarised zone (DMZ) separating the DPRK and the Republic of Korea. Peace has been maintained under an armistice agreement but no formal peace treaty has ever been signed. If you’re in the area of the DMZ, you should exercise caution and follow the advice of the local authorities.
Although there’s no recent history of terrorism in North Korea, attacks can not be ruled out.
You should be aware of the global risk of indiscriminate terrorist attacks, which could be against civilian targets, including places visited by foreigners.
There’s a heightened threat of terrorist attack globally against UK interests and British nationals from groups or individuals motivated by the conflict in Iraq and Syria. You should be vigilant at this time.
Insults or jokes about the North Korean political system and its leadership are severely frowned upon. Foreigners have sometimes found themselves in trouble for not paying what was deemed to be a sufficient level of respect – including not treating images of the leader with care.
In recent years, the North Korean authorities have arrested some visitors on various or unspecified grounds, including 4 US citizens and 1 Canadian. Some individuals have been publicly put on trial by the DPRK.
Some foreign nationals have reportedly not been granted access to consular support when detained in the DPRK.
On 16 March 2016 a US national was sentenced to 15 years hard labour after a conviction for crimes against the state. He was alleged to have attempted to steal a political slogan from the staff quarters of a main tourist hotel. On 13 June 2017, he was released and returned to the US in a coma. He died on 19 June 2017.
A Japanese national visiting North Korea as part of an organised tour group was detained on 5 August 2018 on unspecified grounds before being released and deported on 28 August 2018.
In late June 2019, it was reported that an Australian national, living as a student in Pyongyang, had been detained. He was released and left North Korea on 4 July 2019.
Although there’s no specific legislation outlawing homosexuality in North Korea, same-sex relationships are considered unacceptable by the authorities. See our information and advice page for the LGBT community before you travel.
Any technology incorporating Global Positioning Systems must be left with North Korean customs on entry into the country and collected on departure. Foreign mobile phones can be brought into the country but must be registered at the airport/border. They can only be used in North Korea by purchasing a North Korean SIM card.
Avoid bringing books or other written material in the Korean language, including anything with religious content. Any literature deemed subversive or pornographic by the DPRK authorities risk being confiscated. There have been cases of travel guides being confiscated at the airport on arrival; they are usually returned on departure.
Consider carefully any films or television programmes that you bring into the country, either on DVD or on data storage devices. Those deemed to have an anti-DPRK government message may be confiscated and you may face detention as a result.
Tipping is officially frowned upon, but is increasingly expected by some hotel staff.
Always carry some form of identification. Hotels will want passports for registration, but these can usually be reclaimed quickly.
Ask permission before taking photographs. Avoid taking photographs of North Korean officials or guarded buildings.
This page reflects the UK government’s understanding of current rules for people travelling on a full ‘British Citizen’ passport, for the most common types of travel.
The authorities in North Korea set and enforce entry rules. For further information contact the embassy, high commission or consulate of the country or territory you’re travelling to. You should also consider checking with your transport provider or travel company to make sure your passport and other travel documents meet their requirements.
Entry rules in response to coronavirus (COVID-19)
All air and train routes into and out of North Korea are temporarily suspended as of 31 January 2020.
Foreigners who have travelled into North Korea from virus-affected countries are subject to a 30 day period of quarantine and medical supervision.
Regular entry requirements
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. Most hotels will automatically complete this process on your behalf.
Your passport should be valid for the proposed duration of your stay. No additional period of validity beyond this is required.
UK Emergency Travel Documents
UK Emergency Travel Documents (ETDs) are accepted for entry and exit from DPRK through China. You may be required to show a police report indicating how you lost your full passport. ETDs are not produced in DPRK.
Yellow fever certificate requirements
Check whether you need a yellow fever certificate by visiting the National Travel Health Network and Centre’s TravelHealthPro website.
Travelling with children
Single parents or other adults travelling alone with children should be aware that some countries need documentary evidence of parental responsibility before allowing lone parents to enter the country, or in some cases, before permitting the children to leave the country.
Check the latest information on risk from COVID-19 for North Korea on the TravelHealthPro website
See the healthcare information in the Coronavirus section for information on what to do if you think you have coronavirus while in North Korea.
At least 8 weeks before your trip, check the latest country-specific health advice from the National Travel Health Network and Centre (NaTHNaC) on the TravelHealthPro website. Each country-specific page has information on vaccine recommendations, any current health risks or outbreaks, and factsheets with information on staying healthy abroad. Guidance is also available from NHS (Scotland) on the FitForTravel website.
General information on travel vaccinations and a travel health checklist is available on the NHS website. You may then wish to contact your health adviser or pharmacy for advice on other preventive measures and managing any pre-existing medical conditions while you’re abroad.
The legal status and regulation of some medicines prescribed or bought in the UK can be different in other countries. If you’re travelling with prescription or over-the-counter medicine, read this guidance from NaTHNaC on best practice when travelling with medicines. For further information on the legal status of a specific medicine, you’ll need to contact the embassy, high commission or consulate of the country or territory you’re travelling to.
There are clear links between mental and physical health, so looking after yourself during travel and when abroad is important. Information on travelling with mental health conditions is available in our guidance page. Further information is also available from the National Travel Health Network and Centre (NaTHNaC).
Japanese encephalitis occurs in North Korea, especially during the summer. Cholera also occurs and all water is a potential health risk. You should drink or use only boiled or bottled water and avoid ice in drinks. There is also a prevalence of tuberculosis.
Health facilities in North Korea are poor. Standards of clinical hygiene in hospitals are low. Anaesthetics are sometimes unavailable. Evacuation is likely to be necessary for serious illness or injury. Avoid surgery if at all possible. Facilities for dental treatment are also poor.
Make sure you take sufficient supplies of any medication that you may need. Most foreign-manufactured medicines aren’t available. Even when they are, they’re sometimes out of date and inappropriately prescribed. Local medical supplies, including oriental medicines exist, but can also be limited.
Make sure you have adequate travel health insurance and accessible funds to cover the cost of any medical treatment abroad and repatriation. If you’re participating in any sporting activities like running, skiing or cycling, make sure this is covered in your insurance.
Flooding is common in the rainy season (July to August). This can disrupt travel especially to rural areas. Check that routes are passable before setting out on long journeys.
While prices are listed in local currency foreigners usually pay in foreign currency and shops and restaurants catering to foreigners will convert the Won price into foreign currency using the official exchange rate.
The Euro and US Dollar are the most widely accepted currencies, although Chinese RMB is accepted in some places. The import and export of local currency is prohibited. Import and export of foreign currency is unrestricted, but subject to declaration on arrival. Credit cards and travellers’ cheques are not accepted. Some hotels may insist on full payment in advance when checking in.
If you’re abroad and you need emergency help from the UK government, contact the nearest British embassy, consulate or high commission. If you need urgent help because something has happened to a friend or relative abroad, contact the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) in London on 020 7008 5000 (24 hours).
Foreign travel checklist
Read our foreign travel checklist to help you plan for your trip abroad and stay safe while you’re there.
The FCDO travel advice helps you make your own decisions about foreign travel. Your safety is our main concern, but we can’t provide tailored advice for individual trips. If you’re concerned about whether or not it’s safe for you to travel, you should read the travel advice for the country or territory you’re travelling to, together with information from other sources you’ve identified, before making your own decision on whether to travel. Only you can decide whether it’s safe for you to travel.
When we judge the level of risk to British nationals in a particular place has become unacceptably high, we’ll state on the travel advice page for that country or territory that we advise against all or all but essential travel. Read more about how the FCDO assesses and categorises risk in foreign travel advice.
Our crisis overseas page suggests additional things you can do before and during foreign travel to help you stay safe.
Refunds and cancellations
If you wish to cancel or change a holiday that you’ve booked, you should contact your travel company. The question of refunds and cancellations is a matter for you and your travel company. Travel companies make their own decisions about whether or not to offer customers a refund. Many of them use our travel advice to help them reach these decisions, but we do not instruct travel companies on when they can or can’t offer a refund to their customers.
For more information about your rights if you wish to cancel a holiday, visit the Citizen’s Advice Bureau website. For help resolving problems with a flight booking, visit the website of the Civil Aviation Authority. For questions about travel insurance, contact your insurance provider and if you’re not happy with their response, you can complain to the Financial Ombudsman Service.
Registering your travel details with us
We’re no longer asking people to register with us before travel. Our foreign travel checklist and crisis overseas page suggest things you can do before and during foreign travel to plan your trip and stay safe.
Previous versions of FCDO travel advice
If you’re looking for a previous version of the FCDO travel advice, visit the National Archives website. Versions prior to 2 September 2020 will be archived as FCO travel advice. If you can’t find the page you’re looking for there, send the Travel Advice Team a request.
If you’re a British national and you have a question about travelling abroad that isn’t covered in our foreign travel advice or elsewhere on GOV.UK, you can submit an enquiry. We’re not able to provide tailored advice for specific trips.