North Korea Risk Report
Security travel advice for North Korea
Threat level: Low-Medium
The current travel safety advice for North Korea is to be vigilant and take appropriate planning prior to arrival especially with regards to electronic materials in your possession whilst travelling. It is strongly advised you contact your embassy prior to arrival with your name, date of birth and dates of your trip alongside your emergency contact information. As there is a high chance of detainment and arrest if you display unfavourable behaviour to officials. Please note your communications will be monitored when you are in the country.
It is advised that if you do intend to travel that you monitor the political situation closely.
Recent Security Risk Events
There have been detainments of visitors in North Korea for various crimes and sometimes without being formally charged, it is advised that you research the local laws and customs prior to arrival. Not knowing is not a sufficient defence in North Korea.
In March 2016, an American national was sentence to 15 years hard labour for allegedly attempting to steal a political slogan from staff quarters of a main hotel. So please note even though some actions may be deemed as petty crime, these actions can result in severe consequences punishable by imprisonment.
Some examples of crimes are listed below, please be mindful that detained foreigners have been known to be kept without presence of legal counsel, been forced into making public statements and trials. You can be held for extended periods of time without charge:
- Disrespectful comments or actions to current and past leaders
- Entering without adequate documentation
- Possessing critical materials of the DPRK government
- Unauthorised interaction with the local population
- Exchange of currency with unauthorised vendor and shopping at stores not designated for foreigners
There are low levels of privacy in the country; all electronic devices can be searched and it is advised these are wiped of any inappropriate materials including things such as pornographic content and information relating to the DPKR which could be deemed as negative. Any devices which have GPS must be left with customs. Foreign mobile phones must be registered and a North Korean sim card purchased.
General and petty crime is low in North Korea, as with all destinations please take sensible safety precautions especially in busy or tourist districts. The threat of terrorism is low also, however if you are of western origin be mindful of the raised risk globally currently from some extremist factions.
There are no specific laws against same sex relationships although it is deemed unacceptable by authorities and discretion is advised.
Movement within the country is extremely restricted outside of the capital and as such permissions are to be sought when leaving any area outside of Pyongyang. It is recommended movement is pre-arranged and with an official guide only, these guides will arrange the appropriate permissions for travel. Please make sure you carry sufficient and correct identification, it is punishable by law if you do not.
The political situation in North Korea on a global scale is one that is complex, especially with some hostile relations between North Korea, South Korea and the United States of America. Since 1953 there is in place a Demilitarised zone (DMZ) separating North from South Korea. There has been many incidents following the separation of the regions including the use of landmines, firearms and anti-aircraft rounds.
The western world is closely monitoring the nuclear missile technology capabilities within the country which plays a part in its global relations. It is further observing North Korea's treatment of foreign nationals being sentenced harshly for crimes which would not be punishable in most western countries. However North Korea has maintained bilateral and strong diplomatic relations with many countries, prominently Cuba, India and Angola.
Do not stray away from your arranged travel itinerary, in 2008 a South Korean tourist was shot dead as he strayed into a restricted military establishment. It is also advised that photos are not taken of any officials, equipment or military establishments. Always ask permission when taking photos.
You must gain a North Korean driving licence if you wish to drive. Taxis will be reluctant to offer you their services without a guide or interpreter. Taxis can be found outside larger stores and hotels.
Religion: Buddhism and Confucianism
Currency: North Korean won
Time now in Pyongyang:
Visa are required to enter North Korea with registration to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs required for stays longer than 24 hours. Please check if your hotel will carry this out on your behalf.
It is advised that visitors to North Korea are up-to-date with primary boosters such as MMR. You should ensure that you have been further vaccinated against diseases such as Tetanus, which are usually administered when you are a young baby. You may also want to consider Hepatitis A and Typhoid vaccinations.
Although there is no direct risk of Yellow Fever in North Korea, if you are coming from a country where there is a risk of the disease, or transiting for longer than 12 hours in an at risk country, you will be required to provide a vaccination certificate. Check with your local health professional prior to travel if you are unsure.
Other health risks
The health facilities are poor and standard of treatment is not good in North Korea. It is highly possible that any treatment beyond basic measures will require evacuation to a more prepared country. You should ensure that your travel and health insurance will cover you for all medical situations.
Many medication and prescriptions are unavailable or out of date in the country and it is advised that you ensure you have enough supplies for your whole trip.
U.S. Embassy Pyongyang Represented by the Swedish Embassy
Embassy of Sweden,
Munsu-dong, Taehak Street
Telephone: +850 2 3817 485
British Embassy Pyongyang
Telephone: +850 2 381 7982
Other useful info
Notes: The standard GSM emergency number 112 is supported in mobile networks. Operators mostly speak only Korean, some may speak English, Russian or Chinese.