Asia and Oceania

Korea, DPR (North Korea) Flag of Korea, DPR (North Korea)

Still current at: 10 June 2008
Updated: 15 May 2008

This advice has been reviewed and reissued with an amendment to the Health section (prevalence of HIV/AIDS in Korea, DPR (North Korea)). The overall level of the advice has not changed.

(see travel advice legal disclaimer)


Travel advice for this country


Travel Summary

  • It is not possible to enter the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) (North Korea) from the Republic of Korea (ROK) (South Korea).

  • The threat from terrorism in the DPRK is low.  But you should be aware of the global risk of indiscriminate terrorist attacks, which could be against civilian targets, including places frequented by foreigners.

  • You should register with the British Embassy in Pyongyang prior to your arrival.  See the General (Registering with the British Embassy) section of this advice for more details.

  • Travel within the DPRK is severely restricted.

  • Due to Avian Influenza outbreaks in the region, you may be required by the DPRK authorities to provide recent travel itineraries as part of the visa application process.  The DPRK authorities have said informally that visas may be denied to applicants who have recently visited areas affected by Avian Influenza but no further guidance has yet issued as to how this might be applied.

  • Very few British nationals visit DPRK and those that do are usually on an organised tour.  Most visits are trouble-free.  The main type of incident for which British nationals required consular assistance in DPRK in 2007 was for hospitalisations.

  • We strongly recommend that you obtain comprehensive travel and medical insurance before travelling to the DPRK.  You should check any exclusions, and that your policy covers you for all the activities you want to undertake.  See the General (Insurance) section of this advice and Travel Insurance for more details.

Safety and security

Terrorism

The threat from terrorism in the DPRK is low.  But you should be aware of the global risk of indiscriminate terrorist attacks, which could be against civilian targets, including places frequented by foreigners.  For further information see Terrorism Abroad.

Crime

Crime against foreigners in the DPRK is unusual but not unheard of.  You should still exercise normal safety precautions and ensure that valuables are secure.
 
For more general information see Victims of Crime Abroad.
 
Political Situation

Korea (DPR) Country Profile

Since the end of the Korean War in 1953, the Korean peninsula has been divided in two by a de-militarised zone separating North and South Korea.  Peace has been maintained under an Armistice Agreement. Tensions rise and fall from time to time. As of August 2007, tensions have eased due to progress in the Six Party Talks and the North – South Summit. However, North – South cross-fire was exchanged at the DMZ for the first time in a year at the beginning of the month.  You should check this Travel Advice regularly and follow developments closely.
 
Local Travel
 
Tourists can normally only travel to North Korea as 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.
 
Travel within the DPRK 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.  However, it is sometimes possible to make short walks unaccompanied from some of the major hotels in Pyongyang.  For travel outside Pyongyang, it is your guide's responsibility to obtain the necessary permissions.  Military checkpoints, to be found at the entry and exit to all towns, usually require identity documents before allowing travel onward.
 
Foreigners resident in Pyongyang are usually able to travel freely within the city, but permission is usually required for travel beyond a 30km radius.
 
It is not possible for you to travel direct to South Korea from the DPRK.
 
Road Travel
 
A limited number of taxis are sometimes available from hotels or outside department stores.  However, they are often reluctant to take you without a local guide/interpreter.
 
International driving licences are not valid in the DPRK.  Foreigners resident in the DPRK must be in possession of a local licence, obtained by passing a local driving test.
 
It is possible to drive between Pyongyang and Sinuiju / Dandong (DPRK and Chinese border towns), although you will need to obtain permission and be accompanied by a DPRK guide or interpreter. Outside of major towns communications infrastructure is limited. In good weather this journey takes five or six hours. In bad weather roads can be treacherous, making the journey longer, and delays at the border are common.  For safety reasons it is advisable to take at least two cars on such a trip.  It is not possible to drive vehicles without Chinese number plates in China, but cars driven from Pyongyang can be left in the customs pound in Dandong for the duration of a visitor's stay.
 
For further information see Driving Abroad.
 
Rail Travel

Rail travel is possible in the DPRK.  However, the domestic network is small, the 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 (DPRK and Chinese border towns) four times a week, although delays are frequent and sanitation is limited.  The advertised journey time is approximately 24 hours. There are three flights a week between Beijing and Dandong, but flight and rail times are not co-ordinated. There is also a weekly rail service to Moscow that takes six and a half days.
 
Air Travel

It is essential to reconfirm your return booking some days before you travel.  An issued air ticket does not guarantee a seat unless it has been confirmed and the ticket endorsed prior to travel.  Departure tax, currently 10 euros, needs to be paid before confirmation takes place.  This will usually be done by your host organisation in DPRK.

The European Commission has published a list of air carriers that are subject to an operating ban or restrictions within the European Union.  The list, which includes Air Koryo, can be found at the following link:  http://europa.eu.int/comm/transport/air/safety/flywell_en.htm
 
Most travellers enter the DPRK on direct flights from Beijing to Pyongyang operated three times a week by Air Koryo, the DPRK national airline.  Air Koryo also operates regular international flights to Shenyang and Vladivostok and occasional flights to other destinations.
 
Air Koryo uses IL-62, TU-154 and Tu934 jet aircraft on its international routes and an AN-24 on domestic routes.  Air Koryo is IATA bonded, although international aircraft safety procedures are not observed on all flights.
 
A TU-154 operated by Air Koryo from Beijing to Pyongyang performed an emergency landing at Pyongyang airport on 15 August 2006.
 
Air Koryo is still heavily used by Pyongyang’s international community, including businessmen, diplomats, NGOs and International Organisations, as it is currently the only air service operating on the Beijing to Pyongyang (and vice versa) route. However, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has explained the concerns about Air Koryo to its staff and advised them to use alternative means of transport if possible.  You should bear this in mind when making your travel plans.
 
Air China began flying to Pyongyang on 31 March and plan to operate a Beijing-Pyongyang-Beijing service three times per week throughout 2008.

Local laws and customs

Perceived insults to, or jokes about, the DPRK's political system and its leadership are severely frowned upon.  Foreigners have very occasionally found themselves caught up in criminal cases for not paying what is deemed to be sufficient levels of respect.

Foreign mobile phones and Global Positioning Systems have to be deposited with DPRK Customs on entry into the country and collected on departure.  It is also not advisable to bring books or other written material in the Korean language.  These and any other literature deemed subversive or pornographic by the DPRK authorities, risk being confiscated from travellers on arrival.

Tipping is officially frowned upon, but is increasingly expected by some hotel staff.
 
You should always carry some form of identification.  Hotels will want passports for registration, but these can usually be reclaimed within the hour.
 
It is always advisable to ask permission before taking photographs.  Photographs of Korean officials or guarded or protected buildings should be avoided.
 
For more general information for different types of travellers see Travel Advice Relevant to You.

Entry requirements

Visas
 
Visas are required to enter the DPRK. Contact the Embassy of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea in London.

You may be required by the DPRK authorities to provide recent travel itineraries as part of the visa application process and possibly on arrival.  The authorities have said informally that visas may be denied to applicants who have recently visited areas affected by Avian Influenza, but no further guidance has yet been issued as to how this might be applied.

You must register with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs if your visit is for more than twenty-four hours.  Most hotels will automatically complete this process on your behalf.
Passport validity
 
You must have a valid UK passport.
 
Travelling with children

Single parents or other adults travelling alone with children should be aware that some countries require 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.

Health

Health facilities in the DPRK are poor, even for foreigners.  Standards of clinical hygiene in hospitals are poor.  Anaesthetics are sometimes unavailable.  Evacuation is necessary for serious illness/injury.  Invasive surgery should be avoided if at all possible.  Facilities for dental treatment are also poor.

You should ensure that you take sufficient supplies of any medication that you may require, as local purchase of most foreign-manufactured medicines is not possible and local medical supplies are severely limited.

Japanese encephalitis is common, especially during the summer.  Cholera is also common and all water is a potential health risk.  You should drink or use only boiled or bottled water and avoid ice in drinks.  If you suffer from diarrhoea during a visit to DPRK you should seek immediate medical attention.

You should exercise normal precautions to avoid exposure to HIV/AIDS. For more general information on how to do this see HIV and AIDS.

You should seek medical advice before travelling to DPRK and ensure that all appropriate vaccinations are up-to-date.  For further information on vaccination requirements, health outbreaks and general disease protection and prevention you should visit the websites of the National Travel Heath Network and Centre
NaTHNaC and NHS Scotland's Fit For Travel or call NHS Direct on 0845 46 47.
 
For more general health information see Travel Health.
Avian Influenza (Bird Flu)
 
There have been no confirmed cases of Avian Influenza (bird flu) in North Korea during the series of outbreaks.  But the World Health Organisation (WHO) did confirm cases elsewhere in the region.
 
You should read this advice in conjunction with Avian and Pandemic Influenza, which gives more detailed advice and information.
 
Natural Disasters
 
Flooding is common in the rainy season (July – August).  This can disrupt travel especially to rural areas.  You are advised to check that routes are passable before setting out on long journeys.

General

Insurance
 
We strongly recommend that you take out comprehensive medical insurance before travelling to DPRK.  You should also ensure that your insurance covers you for unexpected losses such as cancelled flights, theft of passport or luggage.  You should check any exclusions, and that your policy covers you for all the activities you want to undertake.  See Travel Insurance for more details.
 
If things do go wrong when you are overseas then this is how we can help.

Registering with the British Embassy

We recommend that you register with the British Embassy as soon as possible after arrival.  Alternatively, you can contact the Embassy in advance by email with your details.  The Embassy does not have full passport facilities.
 
Consular Registration

Register with our LOCATE service to tell us when and where you are travelling abroad or where you live abroad so our consular and crisis staff can provide better assistance to you in an emergency.  More information about registering with LOCATE can be found here.
 
Money
 
Cash is the most acceptable form of payment, and the Euro is the most widely recognised and accepted form of payment, although US dollars and Chinese RMB are also widely accepted.  Local currency is the North Korean Won.  The import and export of local currency is prohibited.  The import and export of foreign currency is unrestricted, subject to declaration on arrival.  Credit cards are very rarely accepted. Travellers’ cheques are not accepted.  Some hotels may insist on full payment in advance when checking in.
 
CONTACT DETAILS
 
Address:  British Embassy
Munsu-dong Diplomatic Compound
Pyongyang
Democratic People's Republic of Korea
 
Email:  postmaster.PYONX@fco.gov.uk
 
Please see separate section on Telephone Services for Embassy contact numbers
 
Office Hours:  GMT:
Mon-Thurs: 0000-0830
Fri: 0000 – 0330
 
Local Time:
Mon-Thurs: 0900-1730
Fri: 0900 – 1230
 
Telephone Services/Embassy contact numbers
 
The DPRK has 4 telephone systems, and resident foreigners can find using the systems confusing. It can often take several attempts to get through to a number and in the past there have been reports of difficulties in reaching British Embassy telephone numbers. For ease of reference, details of how to reach the Embassy across all 4 systems can be found below.
 
1. From outside the DPRK:
Office:                                            +850 2 381 7980
Duty Officer (emergency contact):     +850 193 801 8250
Fax:                                               +850 2 381 7985
 
2. From the DPRK international          (381 XXXX) system:
Office:                                            (2) 381 7980
Duty Officer (emergency contact)      193 850 8250
Fax:                                               (2) 381 7985
 
3. From the DPRK mobile telephone system:
Office:                                           381 7980
Duty Officer (emergency contact)     850 8250
 
4. From the DPRK domestic             (382 XXXX) system:
Office:                                          (2) 382 7980
Duty Officer (emergency contact)  mobile network unavailable

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