North Korea, officially known as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), is one of the most isolated countries in the world. Yet despite its closed borders, a small number of international tourists do visit every year. So can American citizens travel to North Korea?
The short answer is yes, but only through an approved tour company and with some restrictions.
In this comprehensive guide, we’ll look at everything you need to know as an American wanting to visit North Korea. We’ll cover the visa application process, where you can go, rules to follow, costs, and common questions about traveling to this unique destination.
American Citizen Visa Process for North Korea
Americans Can Visit North Korea on Organized Tours
Contrary to popular belief, it is possible for American citizens to visit North Korea. However, the process is not as straightforward as traveling to other countries. In order to enter North Korea, Americans must join organized tours.
This means that individual travel to the country is not allowed, and tourists must be accompanied by a tour guide at all times during their visit.
You Must Book Through an Approved Tour Operator
When planning a trip to North Korea, it is important to book through an approved tour operator. The tour operator acts as a liaison between the traveler and the North Korean government, ensuring that all necessary permits and visa arrangements are taken care of.
It is recommended to choose a reputable tour operator that has experience in organizing trips to North Korea and has a good track record of providing safe and reliable tours.
The Visa Application Requires Detailed Information
Applying for a visa to enter North Korea as an American citizen involves a detailed application process. The visa application form requires individuals to provide personal information, such as their full name, date of birth, passport details, and occupation.
Additionally, applicants may need to provide additional documentation, such as a letter of invitation from a North Korean organization or a travel itinerary.
It is important to note that the visa application process for North Korea can be time-consuming and may require patience. It is recommended to start the application process well in advance of the planned trip to allow for any potential delays or complications.
For more information on the visa process for Americans traveling to North Korea, it is advisable to consult the official website of the North Korean tourism authorities or contact the U.S. Department of State for the latest travel advisories and requirements.
What Places Americans Can Visit in North Korea
For Americans looking to visit North Korea, there are certain places that are open to tourists. While the country has strict rules and regulations, there are still a few locations that Americans can explore and experience. Let’s take a detailed look at some of these destinations.
Pyongyang and Nearby Sites
One of the main destinations for tourists in North Korea is the capital city, Pyongyang. This vibrant city offers a glimpse into the country’s culture, history, and daily life. Visitors can explore iconic landmarks such as the Juche Tower, Mansudae Grand Monument, and the Arch of Triumph.
The city also boasts beautiful parks and gardens, including Moran Hill and the Botanical Gardens.
Outside of Pyongyang, there are several nearby sites that Americans can visit. One of these is the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun, which serves as a mausoleum for the country’s leaders Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il.
Another popular destination is the Mangyongdae Native House, the birthplace of Kim Il-sung, where visitors can learn about his early life.
The Demilitarized Zone (DMZ)
The Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) is a heavily fortified border that separates North and South Korea. While Americans can’t freely explore the entire DMZ, there are certain areas that they can visit. One of these is the Joint Security Area (JSA), where visitors can step into the infamous blue negotiation huts and stand on the border between the two countries.
It’s a unique experience that offers a glimpse into the tension between North and South Korea.
Another part of the DMZ that Americans can visit is the Dora Observatory, which provides panoramic views of North Korea. Visitors can also explore the Third Infiltration Tunnel, a tunnel dug by North Korea for potential military infiltration into South Korea.
Other Limited Destinations Outside the Capital
Outside of Pyongyang and the DMZ, there are a few limited destinations that Americans can explore. One such place is Mount Myohyang, known for its beautiful scenery and historic Buddhist temples. Another is the city of Kaesong, located near the border with South Korea, which offers a glimpse into traditional Korean culture and architecture.
It’s important to note that travel to North Korea for Americans is strictly regulated and usually requires booking through authorized tour operators. Additionally, certain areas may be off-limits or restricted depending on the political climate.
Therefore, it’s essential to stay updated on the latest travel advisories and follow all rules and regulations set by the North Korean government.
For more information on traveling to North Korea as an American, you can visit the U.S. Department of State’s website for the most up-to-date travel advisories and guidelines.
Rules Americans Must Follow While in North Korea
You’ll Have Official Guides Watching You
When traveling to North Korea as an American, it is important to understand that you will be accompanied by official guides throughout your stay. These guides are there to ensure your safety and to monitor your activities.
They will provide you with information about the places you visit and will be your main point of contact with the local authorities. It is crucial to follow their instructions and not wander off on your own, as this could lead to serious consequences.
Photography is Restricted
One of the rules that Americans must adhere to while in North Korea is the restriction on photography. While you will have the opportunity to take photos at designated tourist sites, it is important to remember that photography in certain areas is prohibited.
This includes military installations, checkpoints, and sensitive government buildings. It is crucial to respect these restrictions to avoid any legal issues or misunderstandings with the local authorities.
Abide by Local Laws and Customs
When visiting any foreign country, it is essential to familiarize yourself with the local laws and customs. This is especially true when traveling to North Korea as an American. It is important to research and understand the laws and regulations that apply to you as a foreign visitor.
This includes respecting the local customs, traditions, and cultural norms. By doing so, you will not only ensure your own safety but also show respect to the local people and their way of life.
Avoid Politically Sensitive Topics
Political discussions and debates can be sensitive in any country, and North Korea is no exception. It is crucial for Americans traveling to North Korea to avoid engaging in conversations or debates about politically sensitive topics.
This includes discussions about North Korean leadership, nuclear weapons, and human rights issues. Engaging in such discussions could lead to misunderstandings or even legal trouble. It is always better to focus on cultural exchanges and positive interactions during your visit.
Costs for Americans to Visit North Korea
Planning a trip to North Korea as an American can be an exciting and unique experience. However, it’s important to be aware of the costs involved. Here is a detailed look at the expenses you can expect when traveling to this intriguing destination.
Tour Packages Range from $1,000 to $4,000
When it comes to traveling to North Korea, most Americans opt for organized tour packages. These packages typically include accommodation, meals, transportation, and a guide. The cost of these tours can vary depending on the duration of the trip and the level of luxury.
On average, tour packages for Americans range from $1,000 to $4,000, with higher-end options offering more amenities.
Flights and Visa Fees Additional
In addition to the cost of the tour package, Americans should budget for flights and visa fees. Flights from the United States to North Korea typically involve multiple layovers, and prices can vary depending on the time of year and the airline.
It’s recommended to book your flights well in advance to secure the best deals. Additionally, Americans are required to obtain a visa to enter North Korea, which typically comes with a fee. It’s important to check the latest visa requirements and fees before planning your trip.
Bring Spending Money for Souvenirs
While most expenses are covered in the tour package, it’s always a good idea to bring some extra spending money for souvenirs or additional activities. North Korea offers unique and interesting souvenirs that you won’t find anywhere else.
From traditional artwork to locally-made crafts, there are plenty of options to choose from. It’s also worth noting that credit cards are not widely accepted in North Korea, so it’s best to bring cash in the local currency.
It’s important to keep in mind that these costs are subject to change and may vary depending on the current political climate and regulations. It’s recommended to consult with a reputable tour operator and do thorough research before planning your trip to North Korea.
Frequently Asked Questions About Travel to North Korea
Is It Safe for Americans?
Traveling to North Korea can be a complex and potentially risky endeavor, especially for Americans. The US Department of State strongly advises against all travel to North Korea due to the serious risk of arrest and long-term detention.
The North Korean government has detained several US citizens in the past, often on unclear charges, and there have been cases of mistreatment and even death while in custody. It is crucial to assess the risks and carefully consider whether the benefits outweigh the potential dangers before planning a trip to North Korea.
Can I Go Without a Tour Group?
No, it is not possible for Americans to travel to North Korea without being part of an organized tour group. The North Korean government requires all visitors, including Americans, to be accompanied by a tour guide at all times.
This is primarily for monitoring and controlling the activities and movements of visitors. Tour groups are usually led by guides approved by the government, and they strictly adhere to a predetermined itinerary.
What About Getting a North Korean Visa?
Obtaining a North Korean visa is a necessary step for traveling to the country. Americans must apply for a visa through a travel agency authorized by the North Korean government. The visa application process typically involves submitting a completed application form, a valid passport with at least six months of validity, and a passport-sized photograph.
The travel agency will assist in obtaining the visa, but it is important to note that the government has the final say in granting or denying visas.
Are Communication and Internet Access Available?
Communication and internet access in North Korea are heavily restricted. The North Korean government tightly controls all forms of communication, and access to the internet is limited to a select few individuals and institutions.
As a tourist, you will not have access to the internet or be able to communicate freely with the outside world. It is advisable to make necessary arrangements before entering the country, such as informing family and friends about limited communication options and establishing alternative means of contact.
While quite complicated, it is possible for American citizens to visit North Korea if they join an approved tour. The experience provides a rare glimpse into the world’s most mysterious country. Yet travelers must follow strict rules and prepare for limited access.
If you’re up for the challenge, visiting North Korea as an American can be an unforgettable adventure.