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North Korea: before you go

Going to North Korea, at the time, was a fantastic revolutionary idea for traveling. A destination nobody would even consider. The most secretive and hermetic country on earth. North Korea, officially known as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea or DPRK, is famous for nothing but negative things on our medias, ruled by the questionable supreme leader Kim Jong-un as part of the family hierarchy, known the top 1 strangest country in the world. This was enough reason for me to go and on top of that it is still incredibly easy to obtain a vist permit.

North Korea’s countryside view. District of Kaesong.

What you need to know about DPRK

  • Capital: Pyongyang.
  • Population: Approximately 25 million but statistics are shady so do not trust this number.
  • Language: Korean, specifically a less evolved version of the language peope speak in South Korea.
  • Currency: even if there is an official North Korean currency, the Won, foreigners are only allowed to use Euros, USD dollars and Chinese RMB.

Travel Tips & Facts

  • The only way to enter the country is via an organised tour, either individual or in a group.
  • Like many other blacklisted and embargoed countries, in North Korea there are no ATM’s. Bring cash.

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My Experience in the DPRK

Entering North Korea DPRK is something I will never forget: I have never been able to collect my luggage so quickly at an airport before.

I think I might have mentioned it before, but entering North Korea is very easy, regardless of your nationality. You can fly to Pyongyang from three places: Beijing, Vladivostok and a city in Malaysia that I cannot recall right now (perhaps its capital). However, the overwhelming majority of foreigners travel to Pyongyang from China, either by train or flight. Me and my friends traveled via Air Koryo, although I heard from my other tour fellows that the train experience is quite something.

The only way you can enter the country is by joining an authorized tour from an authorised company. When I signed up for the Young Pioneers Tour, all I had to do was filling an application form like this one

DPRK Visa application form

Of course the DPRK authorities reserve the right to reject your application for X,Y, Z reason, luckily, that wasn’t my case 🙂

I did managed to enter so you’re probably wondering “Ok, but how easy it is to get to DPRK from China?”, and my answer is… It is a pain in the neck mixed up with lots of bureaucratic issues and in some cases even many visits to the Chinese Consulate. The most difficult of part of my application process was indeed applying for a Chinese visa.

The application process consists of a general interview. If all goes well, the Chinese Consulate will retain you passport and return to you with the visa attached in it.
In my case there was no issue at all until the North Korea tour came up in the conversation with the Officer. North Korea, being a sensitive topic for China, will require special attention if you are going there through China. You will be asked many questions and eventually sign a waiver that exonerate the consulate from any responsibility during the trip.

So, as the hardest part is over, let’s go back to North Korea entry process. After our arrival in China, as my application went through, we were instructed on some important tips:

1. Always show respect to the Koreans leaders and avoid offending the local guides and people. At certain places especially statues of the leaders we will often bow to show our respect according to the local customs.

2. We are not allowed to use the local currency in North Korea.

3. Professional video cameras are not allowed to be taken into the DPRK, but handheld digicams have recently been allowed as long as you don’t film anything you’re told not to! Regular digital still cameras are fine, for professional cameras, lenses less than 250mm are allowed- anything over that could be retained at customs until you depart.

4. E-books are fine, and normal books are OK as long as it’s not a Bible, Qur’an or any other religious text. A couple of people were in trouble because they were bringing Bibles with them, so e-hem, no religious text book.

5. It is strongly recommend giving an entrance gift for your North Korean guides when you first arrive at the hotel, and have a ‘sit down’.

Having said this, we were ready to go and we had our North Korean tourist card

At the checking counter at Beijing International Airport, already very excited !

Finally on board of Air Koryo!

Flying on black-listed airline Air Koryo.



A curious Italian-Chilean travel writer and culture enthusiast who loves to discover the obscure and unusual in everything.

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