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North Korea (Democratic People's Republic of Korea)

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Summary

  • Reconsider your need to travel to North Korea (officially known as the Democratic People's Republic of Korea - DPRK) due to the very different laws and regulations affecting foreign visitors and the risks from intermittent DPRK threats against international interests. If you decide to travel despite the risks, stay as short a time as possible, eliminate unnecessary activities, and review your security arrangements.
  • Travel to the DPRK is uncommon. Foreign visitors have been subject to arbitrary arrest and long-term detention. Foreigners can be arrested, detained or expelled for activities that would not be considered crimes in Australia, including perceived disrespectful behaviour and unwarranted interaction with local nationals. See Laws.
  • Take particular care not to bring anything into the country that could be perceived by DPRK officials as religious, pornographic or political in nature. Your mobile devices will be monitored and electronic devices searched by DPRK authorities. See Entry and exit.
  • The DPRK has conducted underground nuclear tests and continues to conduct ballistic missile tests, aggravating the already tense situation on the Korean Peninsula. The DPRK regularly makes aggressive statements against neighbouring countries, including Australia. Further provocations by the DPRK or reactions by other countries are possible. See Safety and security.
  • Do not travel to the Northern Limit Line Islands, a disputed border, in the West Sea (Yellow Sea), where the Republic of Korea and DPRK militaries sometimes exchange artillery fire. See Safety and security.
  • Australia does not have an Embassy or Consulate in North Korea. The Australian Embassy in Seoul, Republic of Korea, will endeavour to provide consular assistance to Australians in North Korea. The Swedish Embassy in Pyongyang may be able to provide limited assistance to Australians. See Where to get help.

Entry and exit

Visas

You'll need a visa for all types of travel to the DPRK. Foreigners arriving without a valid visa may be detained, arrested, fined or denied entry. Because there is no longer a DPRK embassy or consulate in Australia, you'll need to travel to another country, such as China, to get your visa for the DPRK.

You may need to provide your recent international travel itineraries as part of the visa application process and, possibly, on arrival in the DPRK. Business travellers generally require sponsorship by a DPRK organisation and permission from the DPRK Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Professional journalists must apply for special permission to visit the DPRK and are not permitted to enter the country on a tourist visa.

Visa and other entry and exit conditions (such as currency, customs and quarantine regulations) change regularly. Contact the nearest Embassy or Consulate of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea for up-to-date information.

Almost all travel into the DPRK is routed through Beijing. You'll need to get a double- or multiple-entry visa for China so that you'll be able to re-enter China on departure from the DPRK. Contact an Embassy or Consulate of the People's Republic of China for the most up-to-date visa information for China. More information: China

Other formalities

Australia has a sanctions regime on the DPRK that limits what you can take with you to the DPRK – see Laws.

You'll need to declare all published material (books, academic papers, pamphlets etc.) and communications devices (mobile phones, radios etc.) when entering the DPRK. Assume that authorities will inspect published material and electronic devices and possibly confiscate the items. Speak to your tour operator if you have any concerns.

If they are not confiscated on arrival, you may be required to deposit mobile phones, satellite phones and global positioning satellite (GPS) receivers at the customs checkpoint, to be collected on departure.

Quarantine regulations are usually strictly applied to travellers who exhibit medical symptoms related to serious communicable disease. More information: Embassy or Consulate of the DPRK.

Foreigners are required to register with government authorities, through their host organisation, within 24 hours of arrival in the DPRK. If you stay in a hotel, confirm at check-in that your registration will be done by the hotel.

 

Read Local travel for advice on arriving in the DPRK by air and by sea.

Passport

Make sure your passport is valid for at least six months after the date you intend to return to Australia.

Your passport is a valuable document and attractive to criminals who may try to use your identity to commit crimes. Always keep it in a safe place.

Be aware of attempts to obtain access to your passport by deception. If you are forced to hand over your passport, contact an Australian Embassy, High Commission or Consulate for advice.

If your passport is lost or stolen, you must notify the Australian Government as soon as possible.

Money

Foreigners are not allowed to use the local currency, the DPRK Won. The Euro is the most widely accepted foreign currency. US Dollars and Chinese Renminbi (RMB) are also widely accepted.

You could encounter difficulties in exchanging currencies in the DPRK. Banking facilities are limited and travellers cheques are not accepted. ATMs are not available and you can't use a debit or credit card to withdraw cash from a bank. Some shops and restaurants catering to foreigners might convert foreign currency on site to allow payments to be processed.

Cash is the most accepted form of payment. Take small denominations of the foreign currency you intend to use, as it may be difficult to obtain change if paying with large denominations.

Safety and security

Civil unrest and political tension

Since the (practical) end of the Korean War in 1953, the Korean Peninsula has been divided by a demilitarised zone (DMZ) separating the DPRK in the north and the Republic of Korea (ROK) in the south. Peace is maintained under an armistice agreement but the two Koreas are still technically at war and inter-Korean relations are very tense.

The security situation on the Korean Peninsula could deteriorate further with little warning. The DPRK has conducted underground nuclear tests and ballistic missile tests, increasing tensions in the region. The DPRK regularly makes aggressive statements against neighbouring countries, including Australia, especially during annual ROK/US military exercises. These routine and scheduled military exercises usually take place in February/March and August/September. Further military and rhetorical provocations by the DPRK and responses by other countries are possible.

The DPRK Government has advised in the past that it would be unable to guarantee the safety of Embassies and international organisations present in the country in the event of conflict.

The DPRK is a closed society. Access to information is restricted and unreliable. There is very little, if any, information available about internal political developments. Access to international satellite TV channels is usually available in hotels used by foreigners but such access could be curtailed in a crisis. Civil unrest, internal instability and/or an escalation of tensions on the Korean Peninsula could arise rapidly and without information on developments being available from within the DPRK.

Reconsider your need to travel to the DPRK.

If you decide to travel to the DPRK despite the risks,

  • stay as short a time as possible
  • eliminate unnecessary activities
  • pay close attention to your personal security
  • monitor local propaganda and other local sources for signs of rising tensions on the Korean Peninsula, civil unrest or internal instability
  • to the extent possible, monitor ROK and other media for information on political issues and possible safety or security risks in the DPRK.

Crime

DPRK authorities do not release crime statistics. Crime against foreigners in the DPRK is relatively rare but reports from travellers suggest petty crime occurs, particularly at Pyongyang airport and in public markets.

  • Keep your passport and other valuables secure at all times.
  • Carry only what you need.
  • Don't tempt thieves – avoid wearing expensive watches, jewellery and cameras.
  • Pay close attention to your personal belongings, particularly at the airport and in markets.

Terrorism

Terrorism is a threat throughout the world. More information: Terrorist Threat Worldwide

Local travel

Independent tourism is not permitted in the DPRK and travel within the country is severely restricted. Tourism is only permitted in groups organised by DPRK officials, or by approved travel agencies. Foreigners must be accompanied by an official guide at all times.

Foreigners are often required to present their identity documents at police checkpoints when entering and leaving towns.

Travellers often report that charges for taxis, hire vehicles, guides, tolls, permits and other requirements can be high and arbitrary.

Communications

Assume that all your phone conversations are monitored, including on your mobile phone (if it is not confiscated on arrival – see Entry and exit). International phone lines may be disconnected without notice. Some hotels in Pyongyang provide for direct dial international telephone calls but charges are very high. Internet access is severely restricted. Communications within the DPRK are unreliable. Direct telephone communication between the DPRK and the ROK is not possible.

Necessities

Food and clean water can be purchased with hard currencies at some hotels and restaurants. Energy and pharmaceutical shortages are widespread in the DPRK.

Road travel

Road transportation in the DPRK is usually provided by tour operators/sponsors. Regular delays should be expected with vehicles and passengers needing to clear through regular checkpoints. Highways in the DPRK are relatively good, but rural and some suburban roads can be in a poor state. Tourists are generally not permitted to drive. Vehicles may be old and subject to breakdown.

Public transport

The use of public transport is restricted. Liaise with tour operators/guides on the use of the system.

Rail travel

The use of the rail network is restricted. Liaise with you tour operators/sponsor/official guides on the use. Expect lengthy delays due to power outages.

Sea travel

Many coastal areas are considered sensitive. If you travel to the DPRK by sea, your vessel could be detained or fired on.

Air travel

Flights to and from the DPRK are regularly cancelled or delayed. Sanctions are in place that affect DPRK service providers, including airlines. Consult your tour operator or airline prior to your travel.

The Australian Government does not provide information on the safety of individual commercial airlines or flight paths. See instead the Aviation Safety Network website for information on aviation safety in the DPRK.

More information: Air travel

Laws

You're subject to all local laws and penalties, including those that appear harsh by Australian standards. Research local laws before travelling, especially for an extended stay.

If you're arrested or jailed, the Australian Government will do what it can to help you under our Consular Services Charter. But we can't get you out of trouble or out of jail.

Reconsider your need to travel to the DPRK due to the restrictions placed on foreigners and the risk of being arrested and/or detained. Travel as part of a tour or with a guide offers no special protection from DPRK laws.

Arbitrary arrest and detention

A number of foreigners, including an Australian, have been arbitrarily arrested and detained in the DPRK. Cultural and political considerations, not just legal ones, may influence an authority's decision to detain someone.

Foreigners can be arrested, detained or expelled for activities that would not be considered crimes in Australia. Foreigners in the DPRK are closely observed by the authorities, which may include searching belongings in hotel rooms and monitoring telephone and facsimile services.

Drug laws

Penalties for drug offences are severe. Parole is rare in drug-related cases. Trafficking can result in imprisonment for an indefinite period.

Other laws

If you engage in the following activities in the DPRK you could be arrested and subject to penalties, which can be extremely harsh: 

  • showing disrespect, including in jest, to the country, the country's current or former leaders or their families
  • photographing roads, bridges, airports, rail stations, seaports, or anything other than designated public tourist sites – these activities can be perceived as espionage
  • photographing scenes of poverty or other things that may cause a negative impression of the DPRK – always ask for your DPRK guide's permission before taking any photograph
  • attempting to engage in unauthorised conversation with DPRK citizens – this can be perceived as espionage.
  • bringing into DPRK anything that may be perceived as religious, pornographic or political in nature
  • failing to declare published material or electronic devices upon entry to the DPRK
  • knowingly or unknowingly possessing items that breach the DPRK's laws
  • engaging in an unauthorised currency transaction, if you're a foreigner
  • shopping at stores not designated for foreigners, if you're a foreigner.

Authorities can impose travel restrictions on foreigners involved in a civil or commercial dispute in the DPRK.

Australian laws

Australia has a sanctions regime on the DPRK that prohibits transfer of luxury goods to the DPRK. Australians travelling to the DPRK can carry items on the luxury goods lists for personal use only (not for sale, supply or transfer to others).

Some Australian criminal laws apply overseas. If you commit these offences, you may be prosecuted in Australia. Laws include those relating to:

  • bribery of foreign public officials
  • child pornography
  • child sex tourism
  • female genital mutilation
  • forced marriage
  • money laundering
  • terrorism.

More information:

Dual nationals

The DPRK does not recognise dual nationality. This may limit the ability of the Australian Government to provide consular assistance to Australian-DPRK dual nationals or Australians of Korean heritage, including those originally from the ROK, who are arrested or detained.

If you're an Australian-ROK dual national, you may need to get approval from ROK authorities to travel to the DPRK. Seek advice from an Embassy or Consulate of the ROK well in advance of travel.

More information: Dual nationals provides further information for dual nationals.

Local customs

Homosexuality is not illegal in DPRK but is not considered acceptable by the authorities. Avoid public displays of affection. More information: LGBTI travellers  

Health

Travel insurance

Take out comprehensive travel insurance before you depart to cover overseas medical costs, including medical evacuation.

Remember, regardless of how healthy and fit you are, if you can't afford travel insurance, you can't afford to travel. The Australian Government will not pay for your medical expenses overseas or medical evacuation costs. This can be very expensive and cost you many thousands of dollars upfront.

Confirm:

  • what circumstances and activities are and are not covered under your policy
  • that you are covered for the whole time you will be away.

More information: Travel insurance

Physical and mental health

Consider your physical and mental health before travelling, especially if you have an existing medical condition.

  • At least eight weeks before you depart, see your doctor or travel clinic for a basic health check-up, and to discuss your travel plans and implications for your health.
  • Get vaccinated before you travel.

More information:

Medication

Not all medications available over the counter or by prescription in Australia are available in other countries. Some may be considered illegal or a controlled substance, even if prescribed by an Australian doctor.

Medications can be extremely hard to obtain in the DPRK. Take enough prescription medicine with you to last for the duration of your visit so you remain in good health. Always carry on your person a letter from your doctor stating what the medicine is, how much you'll take and that it's for personal use only.

Before you leave Australia, check if your medication is legal in each country you're travelling to.

More information: Prescription medicines

Mosquito-borne illnesses

Malaria is a risk, particularly in the south of the country from May to September. Japanese encephalitis is also a risk.

Protect yourself against mosquito-borne illnesses:

  • ensure your accommodation is mosquito proof
  • take measures to avoid insect bites, including always using insect repellent and wearing long, loose fitting, light coloured clothing
  • consider taking prophylaxis against malaria where necessary
  • get vaccinated against Japanese encephalitis before you travel.

More information: Infectious diseases

Other infectious diseases

Water-borne, food-borne, and other infectious diseases (including tuberculosis, typhoid, hepatitis, measles, cholera and rabies) occur with more serious outbreaks occurring from time-to-time.

Intestinal worm infections, such as roundworm, are common in the DPRK and can affect visitors. 

Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease (HFMD) is common in the DPRK, with serious outbreaks occurring from time to time. Outbreaks of HFMD usually start in March/April and peak in May but can continue until August to October each year. It mostly affects children under the age of 10 years but adult cases (particularly young adults) are not unusual. The illness is characterised by fever as well as blisters and rashes on the hands, feet and buttocks. HFMD is spread by direct contact with nose and throat discharges and faeces of infected people.

  • Use normal hygiene precautions, including careful and frequent hand washing.
  • Boil all drinking water or drink bottled water.
  • Avoid ice cubes.
  • Avoid uncooked and undercooked food.
  • Seek advice on appropriate preventative medication for intestinal worms.

Yellow dust

From March to May, yellow dust, which is carried to the Korean Peninsula by strong winds from Mongolia and China, can cause eye, nose, mouth and throat irritations and exacerbate respiratory and cardio-vascular problems.

Bird flu

There is a risk of bird flu (avian influenza) in the DPRK.

More information: Infectious diseases

Medical facilities

The standard of medical facilities, including in Pyongyang, is rudimentary. Hygiene is poor. Avoid surgery unless you need it in order to leave the DPRK.

The Friendship Hospital is a hospital for foreigners with English speaking doctors, located in the Munsudong District of Pyongyang. Like other hospitals in the DPRK, it may lack adequate heating and medical supplies and often experiences power outages and other difficulties.

The DPRK's limited medical facilities, care and health management processes mean it would not be able to protect its residents and visitors in the event of a pandemic.

The cost of medical treatment for foreigners is high and hospitals may demand immediate cash payment, generally in Euros, for services prior to treatment.

Travel from rural areas to Pyongyang for medical emergencies can be lengthy and difficult.

If you become seriously ill or injured, you'll need to be evacuated to China for treatment. Make early contact with the Swedish Embassy in Pyongyang for assistance to arrange a medical evacuation to Beijing.

Medical evacuations are expensive and can be difficult to arrange quickly.  You could face delays getting the required approvals or securing seats on the relatively few regularly scheduled flights from the DPRK. A visa for China is required for evacuation to China, including for any medical escorts. Evacuation across the DMZ to South Korea is not permitted.

Natural disasters

Natural disasters, severe weather and climate

The DPRK experiences earthquakes, tsunamis and typhoons. In an emergency, the Australian Government's ability to provide consular assistance may be severely limited.

If there is a natural disaster:

  • secure your passport in a safe, waterproof and accessible location or carry it on you at all times (in a waterproof bag).
  • follow the advice of local authorities
  • closely monitor the media, other local information sources and the Global Disaster Alert and Coordination System
  • contact friends and family in Australia with regular updates about your welfare and whereabouts
  • check with tour operators before travelling to affected areas.

Typhoons and severe weather

The monsoon season on the Korean Peninsula is from late June to late August. Typhoons can occur between August and September. Flooding may disrupt transportation and other essential services. Check whether areas you intend to travel to have been affected.

The direction and strength of typhoons can change with little warning.

If there is a typhoon approaching:

Adequate shelter from a severe typhoon may not be available to all who choose to stay.

Flights in and out of affected areas could be delayed or suspended. Available flights may fill quickly. The typhoon could also affect access to sea ports in the region. Contact your airline directly for flight information.

More information: Severe weather

Earthquakes and Tsunamis

There is earthquake activity on the Korean Peninsula, although considered low compared to the region.

All oceanic regions of the world can experience tsunamis, but the susceptibility of some of the DPRK's neighbours to large earthquakes makes large, destructive tsunamis more likely than in many other regions.

Access information on earthquakes and tsunamis in the Pacific on the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center website.

If there is an earthquake or tsunami:

  • follow the advice above for all natural disasters
  • move to higher ground immediately, if you are in a coastal region.

More information: Earthquakes

Where to get help

Depending on what you need, your best option may be to contact your family, friends, airline, travel agent, tour operator, employer or travel insurance provider in the first instance. Your travel insurer should have a 24-hour emergency number.

Tourism services and products

For complaints relating to tourism services or products, contact your service provider directly.

Australian Government

Read the Consular Services Charter for what the Australian Government can and can't do to help you overseas.

Australia does not have an Embassy in the DPRK. The Australian Embassy in Seoul is responsible for providing consular assistance to Australians in the DPRK. However, the Australian Government's capacity to provide consular assistance can be limited by the DPRK authorities.

If you are arrested or detained in the DPRK, consular access by Australian officials may be denied by the DPRK authorities. If access is allowed, if could be significantly delayed. The Swedish Embassy in Pyongyang may be able to provide limited assistance to Australians detained in the DPRK.

If you need consular assistance, contact the Australian Embassy in Seoul.

Australian Embassy, Seoul

19th floor, Kyobo Building
1, Jong-ro
Jongno-gu
Seoul 03154, Republic of Korea
Telephone: +82 2 2003 0100
Facsimile: +82 2 2003 0196
Website: southkorea.embassy.gov.au

Check the Embassy website for information about opening hours and temporary closures that may affect service provision.

South Korean telephone numbers cannot be called from within the DPRK.

Alternatively, the Swedish Embassy in Pyongyang may be able to assist you.

Swedish Embassy, Pyongyang

Daehak Street
Munsudong District
Pyongyang
Democratic People's Republic of Korea
Telephone: +850 2 381 7485
Facsimile +850 2 381 7663. 

Email: Ambassaden.pyongyang@gov.se

Website: Swedish Embassy, Pyongyang

If you are unable to contact the Australian or Swedish Embassy in a consular emergency, contact the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade's 24-hour Consular Emergency Centre in Canberra on +61 2 6261 3305, or 1300 555 135 within Australia.

Additional information

Additional resources