Deciding on traveling to North Korea is not a commonly thought of vacation destination. The decision of going to a country that is seen by most of the world as politically unstable or worse would give most people pause before going further. There can be a variety of reasons for someone to express interest in how to go about visiting the country. Most of the potential visitors to the country cannot just pick and choose what they want to see rather their trip will be a function of what they are allowed to see by the current government.
At this time, reports state that people from most countries are technically able to receive a tourist visa to visit the country, but citizens from South Korea are not allowed. Other countries can have potential difficulties in visa approval that can track in parallel to international political situations are citizens from Japan, the United States, or Israel. While western countries such as the United Kingdom warns its citizens to be aware of the possible political uncertainty in the region before traveling. The representatives of the American government expressly warn against travel to this country. These warnings can escalate quickly and a potential tourist needs to be aware of them.
Estimates put the total number of outside visitors to the country at around one hundred thousand people a year. Of that group, an estimated ninety-five percent are Chinese citizens with rest being made of up of nationalities from various countries around the world. The country has reportedly expressed interest in trying to increase the number of tourist arrivals to several million over the next decade.
China is the main gateway for most foreign visitors choosing to visit North Korea. There are only two countries that have direct flight or train links to the country with Russia being the other one. The majority of potential visitors will need to apply for a visa in China’s capital city of Beijing before being allowed to enter. Since visas are issued there in combination with direct connections most tour operators have picked this city as the location for their business. The procedure for attempting to get a visa is mostly recommended to be accomplished via the tour operator someone chooses to use for their visit. Almost all visitors book a trip through one of the government approved tour operators. The fact that anyone entering the country must be accompanied by at least two government minders at all times makes a group tour trip economically reasonable option for most people. It seems most tours are for ten days or less with the majority of visitors reporting five days or less as a common tour length. The price per day usually includes daily meals, nightly accommodation, and the fees for government tour minders that must accompany all foreign tourists. Visitors are recommended to carry cash in the form of euro or yuan for any incidentals during their tour as ATMs and banks are unavailable for use inside the country.
Getting accepted for a visa is reportedly considered fairly routine for most who book through a tour operator unless someone lists a potentially objectionable job to the North Korean government such as a journalist. So a common beginning to a trip would be arriving in Beijing first, spending several days meeting with the local tour operator agents, and then finally joining with a group of others to take a flight into the capital city of North Korea.
People report that on arriving in the capital city they are met at the local airport by the government tour guides and begin the entry process. Recently it has been reported that tourists should no longer expect to have their cellphone or laptop confiscated by customs officials for the duration of their tour. Now it is possible to keep them with you during the tour but it seems prudent to leave work behind while you’re on vacation. These objects can be subject to search on exiting the country. The most common complaint about the searches is reviewing pictures taken inside the country of people and places. A reportedly common custom is to give a small gift to the government tour guides representing something from the visitor’s home country. The local government tour guides are usually fluent in the languages spoken among the group tour members and they provide a running dialogue of the sights to be seen. It is also considered normal to ask and have questions answered for most tourist-related topics. Tour operators suggest to their customers to avoid having political or religious conversations to avoid any disagreements that can arise. It is not recommended to use the tour as a time to express personal views about these types of topics. But it is considered acceptable to talk about other general topics with the government tour guides.
During the planned tour, government guides will accompany the group at all times from morning until evening. The most common tour is a review of the capital city landmarks and sights. A potentially politically disagreeable act for visitors would be the requirement for all tours to visit the statue of one the countries past political leaders and bow to it under threat of legal action if they don’t comply. Other reportedly specific requirements are that all pictures of statues in the city must have the full length of statues in the frame. Visitors can also be expected to listen without disagreement to the history of the city or country told from the local government guides perspective. Other rules and regulations should be explained by tour operators before entry into the country.
Potential tourists should review relevant travel literature before deciding on a vacation to North Korea. Reading the above-discussed topics can give a general idea of what can be expected on a trip to the country. By seeking out information from government approved tour operators and other up to date sources they can make a more informed decision.
Elaina Meiser is an enthusiastic blogger interested in writing about everything worth knowing in the digital age. She loves creative arts, excursion and backpacking trips, film photography. You can follow her on Twitter @ElainaMeiser.