North Korea is an enigmatic country. It’s a place of contradictions: you can find the most modern facilities in this country and its capital city, yet they’re surrounded by farmlands that look like they haven’t changed in decades. The safety risks are real but not as dangerous as the Western media makes them. In fact, I wouldn’t recommend visiting North Korea if you don’t have any interest in learning about this unique culture or getting up close with some of its most famous landmarks (which are actually quite impressive). But if you do have an interest—or if you just like being one of the few Americans who get to enter North Korea each year legally—then here’s everything you need to know before booking your trip!
North Korea is an enigmatic country
North Korea is an enigmatic country. It’s a communist dictatorship, isolated from the rest of the world and shrouded in secrecy. It’s closed to tourism and has been for years. So why would you want to go there?
Well, for starters: because it’s one of those places that will make you question everything you think about travel and what it means to be adventurous. And also because North Korea is fascinatingly unique!
It’s a place of contradictions
North Korea is a place of contradictions. It’s one of the poorest countries in the world, but it has some of the best infrastructure. It’s infamous for being a dictatorship, but it’s not as bad as you might expect. And while North Korea is often characterized as an isolated country, there are quite a few ways tourists can get around and see things once they’re inside that closed society.
So should you travel to North Korea? Well… maybe!
Tourism options are limited
If you’re considering a trip to North Korea, it’s important to remember that tourism options are limited. While many people think of North Korea as an exotic destination, tourists are only allowed to visit certain areas and must travel with pre-approved tour groups.
Tourists can’t travel independently. They must stay at designated hotels and restaurants throughout their visit. And while there are plenty of sights and experiences that are off-limits for foreigners, there are still plenty of interesting places within Pyongyang itself that are worth seeing if you want something more than just another photo opportunity with an iconic landmark like the Tower of Juche Idea or Ryugyong Hotel.
The safety risks are real
The safety risks are real. North Korea is not a safe place, and you should not travel there. There have been multiple instances of Americans being detained in North Korea, including Otto Warmbier, who died after returning from detention in 2017.
The U.S. government does not guarantee the safety of Americans traveling to North Korea, as it does for other countries with which we have diplomatic relations (such as Cuba). In fact, if you choose to travel there on your own accord, without approval from both governments, you could be arrested or detained by North Korean authorities upon arrival at the airport or elsewhere in Pyongyang (the capital).
You can’t simply “go” on vacation
If you want to visit North Korea, you’ll need to go through a travel company that specializes in the country. It’s not as easy as booking a flight and showing up at the airport. You’ll need to get into the country first.
You can’t just show up on your own. Getting a visa is difficult, and only select groups of people are allowed into North Korea each year (and even then, they must be accompanied by tour guides).
It’s very expensive for Americans
As an American, you’re going to have a harder time getting into this Asian country than other nationalities. The country has strict sanctions against the United States and charges a hefty fee for Americans who want to visit. That is about $2,000 per person. That’s not unusual. Other countries charge less than Americans, but the difference is due to sanctions imposed because of North Korea’s ongoing nuclear program and missile tests (which have been happening since 1998).
The cost has been increasing recently: In 2017, it was about $1,000 per person. In 2018, it jumped up to $2,000. Now, it’s back down again at $1,200 per person due to diplomatic progress between Washington, DC, and Pyongyang.
You won’t be able to communicate with locals or read their news
You won’t be able to communicate with locals or read their news. North Koreans are isolated from the rest of the world, which means there is no internet or cell phone service. You will be under surveillance at all times, and you won’t have access to any media that isn’t approved by the government. The government controls what you see and hear while in North Korea, even if it’s something as simple as a book or magazine article.
If you’re considering visiting North Korea, we strongly encourage you to research first. There are many things to consider before booking a trip and some important questions to ask yourself. Will this be worth it? Could I learn more about this country by visiting other places instead? Is there another way for me to experience its culture without going through all the hassle involved with traveling here? If so, then maybe it’s time for us all to start thinking differently about how we travel and where!