Travel To North Korea: Can a US citizen Visit North Korea?

Locals walking in front of a big statue in Pyongyang, North Korea

There are several misconceptions revolving around certain places in the world and whether they are safe for travel or not, and North Korea is no exception to such rumors. If you have ever wondered how a United States citizen can visit North Korea, you have landed at the right place. Here, we discuss the country and all the essential information regarding your travel to North Korea as a United States citizen.




North Korea is a country in East Asia officially known by the acronym DPRK, which means the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea. It is situated in the northern part of the Korean Peninsula. The country shares its borders with China and Russia. North Korea is a one-party state, centralized by one power. However, it recognizes itself as a socialist and revolutionary country. The countrys capital city is Pyongyang, the largest city in the country and the most popular city among tourists while traveling to North Korea.


The country has been in a state of war with its southern counterpart, South Korea, on which the two Koreas should govern the entire Korean Peninsula. The Korean War led to the formation of the two hostile subparts of the Korean Peninsula. North Korea is backed by China as its ally in the war, and South Korea is backed by the United States and United Nations.  The misconception arises that the country does not allow tourists to enter or leave its border, which is entirely fake news. Anyone can visit the country for visiting purposes except for South Korean citizens and journalists. 


Everyday life in North Korea


Pyongyang city


North Korea is said to be a communist state. People and travelers are under surveillance and supervision at all times. The North Korean government is believed to be monitoring all the activities and movements of people, especially foreigners. Although the lives in North Korea seem peaceful in nature, they are at risk of civil unrest and escalations of tensions of political instability at all times.


There is almost zero transparency about the political and administrative proceedings of the Kim government. The media is controlled and cannot impart enough preliminary information if a tense situation arises or an existing situation worsens. The worst scenario is that North Korean citizens are barred from leaving the borders without the government's permission. Suppose they are caught illegally trying to leave the country. In that case, harsh penalties are forced upon the citizens, including labor, torture, life imprisonment, and prison camps.


Travel to North Korea


Traveling to North Korea is unlike anywhere else in the world. The country is highly secretive about its administration and political order. It thus monitors every movement of foreign nationals who visit North Korea. Almost all tours planned for tourists are under the supervision of the government. Even the guides who show the tourists around are most likely to be from the government's side. You and your guide have severe punishments if you do not abide by the country's rules, like not traveling alone, not using public transport, etc. The government requires people in its country to pay adequate respect to the country and its leader. Thus, you are forbidden to speak ill of the state or the President while in North Korea. To visit North Korea, you should make sure to abide by the government's rules.


Also read: The U.S. Passport Tips: A Guide For A Smooth Travel!


Can a United States citizen visit North Korea?


If you are a US citizen, you need to be aware of a few facts before planning a trip to travel to North Korea.

  • The US government prohibits its nationals from traveling to North Korea. They would be exposed to the risk of arrest or long-term detention, as many foreigners from the US have faced in North Korea before. The government advises its citizens to avoid visiting North Korea because if matters go south with its citizens, the US government would be unable to help its citizens. The reason is poor diplomatic relations with North Korea. Suppose emergency services are required by US citizens in North Korea. In that case, they need to demand services from Sweden, which acts as a protecting power on behalf of the United States in North Korea. However, this alternative is not foolproof as the Korean government usually delays or rejects the Sweden government's appeal to help or escort detained US citizens.
  • Under exceptional circumstances, the US government permits politicians, diplomats, and recognized media persons, such as CNN, MSNBC, etc. Apart from these, if you have any other genuine reason to visit North Korea, the government provides a list of validations to apply for a permit. But, again, it is not confirmed that you will be granted the permit to travel to North Korea.
  • As the United States has no North Korean Embassy, you can travel to North Korea on an American Passport via China, which is the only country that provides flights to Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea. You can get yourself a visa on an American passport from the Embassy of North Korea in Beijing, China, and then take a flight from the Beijing Airport to Pyongyang.
  • There are no restrictions on entering North Korea for US citizens by North Korea itself. It allows the tourism of American nationals but makes them abide by the government's peculiar rules just like they would do with any other tourist. To make things easier, you can consult a North Korean travel agency that can smooth out your processes.


Safety in North Korea


After the Otto Warmbier incident in 2016, when an 18-year-old student and a United States citizen were arrested in North Korea, US citizens generally do not approve of traveling to North Korea. Though Warmbier was sent back to the US, he arrived in a state of coma, which ultimately led to his death. This incident has been engraved in the brains of United States citizens. Thus, they avoid planning a trip to travel to North Korea.

However, you can visit North Korea safely - just on one condition. The North Korean government requires total observance of its rules and regulations. If a tourist does so, he is safer than ever in North Korea. You can visit North Korea safely if you consult a native travel agency or a guide to help you plan your travel in the country safely while keeping in mind what the government allows and what it prohibits. While in North Korea, you will have to take care that you go with your guide or travel agent wherever you want to. Otherwise, both you and your guide will be punished by the government. 


You are strictly prohibited from talking to native North Koreans and getting to know about their daily lives. You have to obey whatever your guide tells you to do throughout your trip. You have to agree with them on wherever he takes you to shop or eat, as places of shopping and eating for tourists are also pre-allocated by the North Korean government. As a tourist in North Korea, you have to be utterly respectful of their government and their leaders. You should not speak ill of anything or anyone or meddle in any political propaganda you encounter. As for crimes in North Korea, the tourists should not be worried as they will not happen to become victims of any crime due to the government's rigorous monitoring of their movements and actions.


Suggested read: Safety Travel Tips For Safe And Healthy Travel


Wrapping up


As discussed, North Korea is safe for an American national if they follow all the North Korean government's guidelines, laws, rules, and regulations. But, it has to be kept in mind that a person traveling to North Korea on an American passport cannot board a flight from anywhere in the United States the lack of a visa; thus, they have to apply for a visa in Beijing, China where the Embassy of North Korea is located. The only flight to Pyongyang is available. Reiterating the answer to the question -can a United States citizen visit North Korea? - An American citizen can travel to North Korea but has to keep several points in his mind to ensure his own safety at all times. 


With the appropriate measures, a perfect guide, and strict observance of North Korea's rules, you are safe to plan a trip to North Korea. For more information on such intriguing topics, follow!

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