Traveling Luck for North Korea

North Korea is located in Eastern Asia, northern half of the Korean Peninsula bordering the Korea Bay and the Sea of Japan, between China and South Korea.

North Korea has borders with China for 1416km, South Korea for 238km and Russia for 19km.

Land in North Korea is mostly hills and mountains separated by deep, narrow valleys; coastal plains wide in west, discontinuous in east.

Korean land covers an area of 120540 square kilometers which is slightly smaller than Mississippi

As for the Korean climate; temperate with rainfall concentrated in summer.

Korean(s) speak Korean.

Korean National Map

Korean Map

Regions of North Korea

An independent kingdom for much of its long history, Korea was occupied by Japan in 1905 following the Russo-Japanese War. Five years later, Japan formally annexed the entire peninsula. Following World War II, Korea was split with the northern half coming under Soviet-sponsored Communist domination. After failing in the Korean War (1950-53) to conquer the US-backed Republic of Korea (ROK) in the southern portion by force, North Korea (DPRK), under its founder President KIM Il-so'ng, adopted a policy of ostensible diplomatic and economic "self-reliance" as a check against excessive Soviet or Communist Chinese influence. The DPRK demonized the US as the ultimate threat to its social system through state-funded propaganda, and molded political, economic, and military policies around the core ideological objective of eventual unification of Korea under Pyongyang's control. KIM's son, the current ruler KIM Jong Il, was officially designated as his father's successor in 1980, assuming a growing political and managerial role until the elder KIM's death in 1994. After decades of economic mismanagement and resource misallocation, the DPRK since the mid-1990s has relied heavily on international aid to feed its population while continuing to expend resources to maintain an army of 1 million. North Korea's long-range missile development, as well as its nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons programs and massive conventional armed forces, are of major concern to the international community. In December 2002, following revelations that the DPRK was pursuing a nuclear weapons program based on enriched uranium in violation of a 1994 agreement with the US to freeze and ultimately dismantle its existing plutonium-based program, North Korea expelled monitors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). In January 2003, it declared its withdrawal from the international Non-Proliferation Treaty. In mid-2003 Pyongyang announced it had completed the reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel rods (to extract weapons-grade plutonium) and was developing a "nuclear deterrent." Since August 2003, North Korea has participated in the Six-Party Talks with China, Japan, Russia, South Korea, and the US designed to resolve the stalemate over its nuclear programs. The fourth round of Six-Party Talks were held in Beijing during July-September 2005. All parties agreed to a Joint Statement of Principles in which, among other things, the six parties unanimously reaffirmed the goal of verifiable denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula in a peaceful manner. In the Joint Statement, the DPRK committed to "abandoning all nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programs and returning, at an early date, to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons and to IAEA safeguards." The Joint Statement also commits the US and other parties to certain actions as the DPRK denuclearizes. The US offered a security assurance, specifying that it had no nuclear weapons on ROK territory and no intention to attack or invade the DPRK with nuclear or other weapons. The US and DPRK will take steps to normalize relations, subject to the DPRK's implementing its denuclearization pledge and resolving other longstanding concerns. While the Joint Statement provides a vision of the end-point of the Six-Party process, much work lies ahead to implement the elements of the agreement.


North Korea Country Profile

North Korea, one of the world's most centrally planned and isolated economies, faces desperate economic conditions. Industrial capital stock is nearly beyond repair as a result of years of underinvestment and shortages of spare parts. Industrial and power output have declined in parallel. Despite an increased harvest in 2005 because of more stable weather conditions, fertilizer assistance from South Korea, and an extraordinary mobilization of the population to help with agricultural production, the nation has suffered its 11th year of food shortages because of on-going systemic problems, including a lack of arable land, collective farming practices, and chronic shortages of tractors and fuel. Massive international food aid deliveries have allowed the people of North Korea to escape mass starvation since famine threatened in 1995, but the population continues to suffer from prolonged malnutrition and poor living conditions. Large-scale military spending eats up resources needed for investment and civilian consumption. In 2004, the regime formalized an arrangement whereby private "farmers markets" were allowed to begin selling a wider range of goods. It also permitted some private farming on an experimental basis in an effort to boost agricultural output. In October 2005, the regime reversed some of these policies by forbidding private sales of grains and reinstituting a centralized food rationing system. In December 2005, the regime confirmed that it intended to carry out earlier threats to terminate all international humanitarian assistance operations in the DPRK (calling instead for developmental assistance only) and to restrict the activities of international and non-governmental aid organizations such as the World Food Program. Firm political control remains the Communist government's overriding concern, which will likely inhibit the loosening of economic regulations.

Korean natural resources include coal, lead, tungsten, zinc, graphite, magnesite, iron ore, copper, gold, pyrites, salt, fluorspar, hydropower

strategic location bordering China, South Korea, and Russia; mountainous interior is isolated and sparsely populated

Korean religion is traditionally Buddhist and Confucianist, some Christian and syncretic Chondogyo (Religion of the Heavenly Way).

Natural hazards in North Korea include late spring droughts often followed by severe flooding; occasional typhoons during the early fall.

Travel Advice on North Korea

Korea, Democratic People's Republic of (North Korea)

This advice has been reviewed and reissued with amendments to the Air Safety, General (money) and Contact detail sections.  The overall level of the advice has not changed.

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 on arrival.

  • 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.

  • You should ensure that you are inoculated against rubella, which has broken out in some parts of the DPRK.

  • Very few British nationals visit DPRK and those that do are usually on an organised tour.  Most visits are trouble-free.  Only one British national has required consular assistance (a hospital visit) in the past year in DPRK.

  • 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 the activities you want to undertake.  Please see: Travel Insurance.


SAFETY AND SECURITY

Crime

Levels of crime against foreigners in the DPRK are low.  You should still exercise normal safety precautions and ensure that valuables are secure.

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 or fall from time to time.  At the moment, tension is high following DPRK claims to have tested a nuclear explosive device on 9 October 2006.  You should check this Travel Advice regularly and follow developments closely.

Local Travel

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.  Police checkpoints, to be found at the entry and exit to all towns, sometimes demand 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 Safety

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 DPRK.  Foreigners resident in DPRK must be in possession of a local licence, obtained by passing a local driving test.
It is possible to drive between Pyongyang and Dandong in China (close to the border), although you will need to obtain permission.  In good weather this journey takes five or six hours.  In winter the 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 Dandong, so that cars driven from Pyongyang have to be left in the customs pound in Dandong for the  duration of a visitor’s stay.

Rail Safety

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 Dandong (on the border with the DPRK) four times a week, although delays are frequent and sanitation is limited.  The advertised journey time is approximately 24 hours.  There are two flights a week between Beijing and Dandong, but flight and rail times are not co-ordinated.

Air Safety

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 Vladivostok, Khabarovsk and Shenyang.
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.
In 2006, China Southern operated a summer schedule of twice-weekly direct flights between Beijing and Pyongyang.  Their plans for 2007 are unclear.
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 based businessmen, diplomats and the staff of 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.


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.
It is always advisable to ask permission before taking photographs.  Photographs of Korean officials or guarded or protected buildings should be avoided.


ENTRY REQUIREMENTS

Visas are required to enter the DPRK.  You must have a valid UK passport.  You should contact the DPRK Embassy in London for further information about obtaining visas.

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.

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.  For further information on exactly what will be required at immigration please contact the DPRK Embassy in London.


HEALTH

We strongly recommend that you take out comprehensive medical insurance before travelling to DPRK.  You should check any exclusions, and that your policy covers you for the activities you want to undertake.  Please see Travel Insurance
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.
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.
Inoculations against Hepatitis A & B, rabies, tetanus, cholera, diphtheria and TB may be recommended prior to arrival.  Japanese encephalitis is also a risk during the summer.  Anti-malarial precautions are necessary.  Insect repellent is available locally, as are mosquito coils.
There has been an outbreak of rubella in the DPRK.  Travellers are advised to ensure that they are inoculated against this disease.
Cholera is a risk in the DPRK and precautions are essential.  All water is a potential health risk.  For drinking and brushing teeth, you should use bottled water.
There is no indication that Pyongyang has been affected by radiation following the DPRK’s claimed test of an explosive nuclear device on 9 October 2006.  Radiation levels outside the capital have not been subjected to independent monitoring.

You should seek medical advice before travelling and ensure that all appropriate vaccinations are up to date.  For further information on health, check the Department of Health’s website at www.dh.gov.uk
Avian Influenza (Bird Flu)
There have been no confirmed cases of Avian Influenza (bird flu) in North Korea during the current series of outbreaks.  But the World Health Organisation (WHO) has confirmed cases elsewhere in the region.

You should read this advice in conjunction with the Avian and Pandemic Influenza Factsheet
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

If things go wrong when overseas, please see: What We Can Do To Help

We strongly recommend that you should take out adequate comprehensive insurance including insurance cover for unexpected losses such as cancelled flights, theft of passport or luggage.  We strongly recommend that you should take out adequate comprehensive insurance including insurance cover for unexpected losses such as cancelled flights, theft of passport or luggage.  You should check any exclusions, and that your policy covers you for the activities you want to undertake.  Please see: Travel Insurance.

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 also 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.
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.
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.  Acceptance of credit cards (only Visa and Mastercard, not American Express) is at best patchy.  Travellers’ cheques are not accepted.  Some hotels may insist on full payment in advance when checking in.