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Latest travel advice for North Korea including safety and security, entry requirements, travel warnings and health

2017-03-08T11:47:04.591+00:00: Latest update: Summary - the DPRK (North Korea) government announced on 7 March 2017 that all Malaysian nationals in the DPRK will be temporarily prevented from leaving the country until the investigation into the death of Kim Jong Nam, who was killed at Kuala Lumpur airport on 13 February, has been concluded; there is no indication that this action will affect British nationals travelling to the DPRK

The DPRK (North Korea) government announced on 7 March 2017 that all Malaysian nationals in the DPRK will be temporarily prevented from leaving the country until the investigation into the death of Kim Jong Nam, who was killed at Kuala Lumpur airport on 13 February, has been concluded. There is no indication that this action will affect British nationals travelling to the DPRK.

On 9 September 2016, the DPRK (North Korea) conducted its second nuclear test of 2016 and its fifth since 2009. Since the nuclear test in January, the DPRK have conducted several ballistic missile tests. The situation in Pyongyang remains calm. You should follow the political and security situation closely and stay in touch with your host organisation or tour operator. See Political situation.

The level of tension on the Korean peninsula can change with little notice. See Political situation.

British nationals resident in or travelling to the DPRK who are not with tour groups should inform the British Embassy in Pyongyang about their travel plans prior to, or on arrival.

You can’t enter or leave North Korea through the border with South Korea without special permission.

The British Embassy Pyongyang can provide only limited consular assistance to those visiting parts of the DPRK outside the capital Pyongyang due to restricted access.

Flooding is common in the rainy season (July to August). See Natural Disasters.

There is a low threat from terrorism. See Terrorism

Very few British nationals visit North Korea and those that do are usually part of an organised tour.

Offences that would be considered trivial in other countries can incur very severe penalties in North Korea, particularly those which the authorities deem to be disrespectful towards the North Korean leadership or government. In recent years the North Korean authorities have arrested and sentenced some legal visitors on these grounds, including 3 US citizens. On 16 March 2016 a US national was sentenced to 15 years hard labour after a conviction for crimes against the state; he was alleged to have attempted to steal a political slogan from the staff quarters of a main tourist hotel. See Local laws and customs

Take out comprehensive travel and medical insurance before you travel.

Safety and security

Crime

Crime against foreigners in North Korea is rare. Take sensible precautions to protect your belongings.

Fire safety

An incident at a hotel in Pyongyang in June 2015 highlighted a culture of low safety awareness. You may wish to check hotel fire procedures or consult your tour operator.

Local travel

Tourists can normally only travel to North Korea as part of an organised tour. Independent travellers will need a sponsor and permission from the Ministry for Foreign Affairs. This is normally only possible for business travellers.

Travel within the country 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. For travel outside Pyongyang, it is your guide’s responsibility to get the necessary permissions. Military checkpoints at the entry and exit to all towns usually include ID checks.

In 2008 a South Korean tourist who strayed into a restricted military area was shot dead. Take care to remain in permitted areas and move away immediately if asked to do so by North Korean officials.

Foreigners living in Pyongyang are usually able to travel freely within the city, but permission is often required for travel outside Pyongyang.

It is not possible to travel directly to South Korea from North Korea, unless you are making an official visit to the Kaesong Industrial Complex.

Road travel

Taxis are sometimes available from hotels or outside department stores, but they will be reluctant to take you without a local guide or interpreter.

International Driving Permits are not valid in North Korea. Foreigners living in North Korea must get a local driving licence by passing a local driving test.

Rail travel

The domestic network is small, equipment is old and trains are subject to delays because of electricity shortages. There is a rail service between Pyongyang and Beijing via Sinuiju/Dandong (North Korean and Chinese border towns) 4 times a week, although delays are frequent and facilities on board are basic.

Air travel

Most travellers enter North Korea on direct flights from Beijing to Pyongyang operated by Air China and Air Koryo, the North Korean national airline. Air Koryo also operates regular international flights to Shenyang and Vladivostok and occasional flights to other, mostly domestic, destinations.

All aircraft operated by Air Koryo, with the exception of two Tupolev Tu204, have been refused permission to operate services to the EU because they do not meet international safety standards. An incident reported in July 2016 involving an Air Koryo flight highlights the lack of official information regarding Air Koryo’s safety record and standards.

Air Koryo is still used by some members of Pyongyang’s international community, including businesspeople, diplomats and International Organisations. Foreign and Commonwealth Office staff avoid using Air Koryo unless it is operationally essential.

Political situation

Since the end of the Korean War in 1953, the Korean peninsula has been divided by a de-militarised zone (DMZ) separating the DPRK and the Republic of Korea. Peace has been maintained under an Armistice Agreement. If you’re in the area of the DMZ, you should exercise caution and follow the advice of the local authorities.

The level of tension on the Korean peninsula can change with little notice. It increased after the sinking of the South Korean Navy Ship Cheonan and an artillery attack against Yeonpyeong Island in 2010; when the DPRK carried out two missile tests in 2012 and after a nuclear test in 2013.

The DPRK have carried out two nuclear tests in 2016, the most recent on 9 September. This followed a series of ballistic missile tests that took place during 2016. Tensions can also rise during regular South Korean-US military exercises that take place throughout the year.

Terrorism

There is a low threat from terrorism, but you should be aware of the global risk of indiscriminate terrorist attacks, which could be against civilian targets, including places frequented by foreigners.

There is considered to be a heightened threat of terrorist attack globally against UK interests and British nationals, from groups or individuals motivated by the conflict in Iraq and Syria. You should be vigilant at this time.

Find out more about the global threat from terrorism, how to minimise your risk and what to do in the event of a terrorist attack.

Local laws and customs

Insults or jokes about the North Korean political system and its leadership are severely frowned upon. Foreigners have sometimes found themselves in trouble for not paying what was deemed to be a sufficient level of respect – including not treating images of the leader with care.

Offences that would be considered trivial in other countries can incur very severe penalties in North Korea. On 16 March 2016 a US national was sentenced to 15 years hard labour after his conviction for crimes against the state; he was alleged to have attempted to steal a political slogan from the staff quarters of a main tourist hotel.

Although there is no specific legislation outlawing homosexuality in North Korea, same sex relationships are considered unacceptable by the authorities.

Any technology incorporating Global Positioning Systems must be left with North Korean customs on entry into the country and collected on departure. Foreign mobile phones can be brought into the country but must be registered at the airport. They can only be used in North Korea by purchasing a North Korean SIM card.

Avoid bringing books or other written material in the Korean language, including anything with religious content. Any literature deemed subversive or pornographic by the DPRK authorities risk being confiscated. There have been recent cases of travel guides being confiscated at the airport on arrival; they are usually returned on departure.

Consider carefully any films or television programmes that you bring into the country, either on DVD or on data storage devices. Those deemed to have an anti-DPRK government message may be confiscated and you may face detention as a result.

Tipping is officially frowned upon, but is increasingly expected by some hotel staff.

Always carry some form of identification. Hotels will want passports for registration, but these can usually be reclaimed quickly.

Ask permission before taking photographs. Avoid taking photographs of North Korean officials or guarded buildings.

Entry requirements

The information on this page covers the most common types of travel and reflects the UK government’s understanding of the rules currently in place. Unless otherwise stated, this information is for travellers using a full ‘British Citizen’ passport.

The authorities in the country or territory you’re travelling to are responsible for setting and enforcing the rules for entry. If you’re unclear about any aspect of the entry requirements, or you need further reassurance, you’ll need to contact the embassy, high commission or consulate of the country or territory you’re travelling to.

You should also consider checking with your transport provider or travel company to make sure your passport and other travel documents meet their requirements.

Visas

You will need a visa to enter North Korea. For further information contact the Embassy of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) in London.

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.

Passport validity

Your passport should be valid for the proposed duration of your stay. No additional period of validity beyond this is required.

UK Emergency Travel Documents

UK Emergency Travel Documents (ETDs) are accepted for entry and exit from DPRK through China. You may be required to show a police report indicating how you lost your full passport.

If your ETD has been issued in DPRK, you will need an exit visa from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs before you can travel out of the country. This process can take up to 5 working days. ETDs are not produced in DPRK; therefore it may take the British Embassy 7 working days to obtain one from the British Consulate in neighbouring China.

Yellow fever certificate requirements

Check whether you need a yellow fever certificate by visiting the National Travel Health Network and Centre’s TravelHealthPro website.

Travelling with children

Single parents or other adults travelling alone with children should be aware that some countries need 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. British government staff based in North Korea are not allowed to be accompanied by their children because of the limited medical facilities within North Korea.

Health

Visit your health professional at least 4 to 6 weeks before your trip to check whether you need any vaccinations or other preventive measures. Country specific information and advice is published by the National Travel Health Network and Centre on the TravelHealthPro website and by NHS (Scotland) on the fitfortravel website. Useful information and advice about healthcare abroad is also available on the NHS Choices website.

Health facilities in North Korea are poor. Standards of clinical hygiene in hospitals are low. Anaesthetics are sometimes unavailable. Evacuation is likely to be necessary for serious illness or injury. Avoid surgery if at all possible. Facilities for dental treatment are also poor.

Make sure you take sufficient supplies of any medication that you may need. Most foreign-manufactured medicines aren’t available. Even when they are, they’re sometimes out of date and inappropriately prescribed. Local medical supplies, including oriental medicines exist, but can also be limited.

Make sure you have adequate travel health insurance and accessible funds to cover the cost of any medical treatment abroad and repatriation. If you’re participating in any sporting activities like running, skiing or cycling, make sure this is covered in your insurance

Japanese encephalitis occurs in North Korea, especially during the summer. Cholera also occurs and all water is a potential health risk. You should drink or use only boiled or bottled water and avoid ice in drinks.

Natural disasters

Flooding is common in the rainy season (July to August). This can disrupt travel especially to rural areas. Check that routes are passable before setting out on long journeys.

Money

While prices are listed in local currency foreigners usually pay in foreign currency and shops and restaurants catering to foreigners will convert the Won price into foreign currency using the official exchange rate.

The Euro and US Dollar are the most widely accepted currencies, although Chinese RMB is accepted in some places. The import and export of local currency is prohibited. Import and export of foreign currency is unrestricted, but subject to declaration on arrival. Credit cards and travellers’ cheques are not accepted. Some hotels may insist on full payment in advance when checking in.

Travel advice help and support

If you’re abroad and you need emergency help from the UK government, contact the nearest British embassy, consulate or high commission. If you need urgent help because something has happened to a friend or relative abroad, contact the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) in London on 020 7008 1500 (24 hours).

Foreign travel checklist

Read our foreign travel checklist to help you plan for your trip abroad and stay safe while you’re there.

Travel safety

The FCO travel advice helps you make your own decisions about foreign travel. Your safety is our main concern, but we can’t provide tailored advice for individual trips. If you’re concerned about whether or not it’s safe for you to travel, you should read the travel advice for the country or territory you’re travelling to, together with information from other sources you’ve identified, before making your own decision on whether to travel. Only you can decide whether it’s safe for you to travel.

When we judge the level of risk to British nationals in a particular place has become unacceptably high, we’ll state on the travel advice page for that country or territory that we advise against all or all but essential travel. Read more about how the FCO assesses and categorises risk in foreign travel advice.

Our crisis overseas page suggests additional things you can do before and during foreign travel to help you stay safe.

Refunds and cancellations

If you wish to cancel or change a holiday that you’ve booked, you should contact your travel company. The question of refunds and cancellations is a matter for you and your travel company. Travel companies make their own decisions about whether or not to offer customers a refund. Many of them use our travel advice to help them reach these decisions, but we do not instruct travel companies on when they can or can’t offer a refund to their customers.

For more information about your rights if you wish to cancel a holiday, visit the Citizen’s Advice Bureau website. For help resolving problems with a flight booking, visit the website of the Civil Aviation Authority. For questions about travel insurance, contact your insurance provider and if you’re not happy with their response, you can complain to the Financial Ombudsman Service.

Registering your travel details with us

We’re no longer asking people to register with us before travel. Our foreign travel checklist and crisis overseas page suggest things you can do before and during foreign travel to plan your trip and stay safe.

Previous versions of FCO travel advice

If you’re looking for a previous version of the FCO travel advice, visit the National Archives website. If you can’t find the page you’re looking for there, send us a request.

Further help

If you’re a British national and you have a question about travelling abroad that isn’t covered in our foreign travel advice or elsewhere on GOV.UK, you can submit an enquiry. We’re not able to provide tailored advice for specific trips.

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  • British Embassy Pyongyang

    Title: British Embassy Pyongyang
    Email:Pyongyang.enquiries@fco.gov.uk
    Address:

    Munsu-Dong Compound,,
    Pyongyang,
    Democratic People's Republic of Korea
    Pyongyang
    North Korea

    Contact: Telephone: 00 (850) 2 381 7982
    Telephone (out-of-hours emergency): 00 (850) 191 250 7980 (from outside DPRK)
    Fax: (+850) 2 381 7985
    Visiting:Opening hours:
    Monday to Thursday - 9.00am to 6.00pm (local time);
    Friday - 9.00am to 1.00pm (local time)
    Services:Transferring funds for prisoners / for financial assistance service (Assistance Services)
    Notarial services (Documentary Services)
    Overseas Passports Service (Other Services)
    Lost or Stolen Passports (Assistance Services)

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The latest news, travel advice, and information for North korea, updated regularly for all British travellers by the UK Foreign Office. Including British consulate and embassy addresses in North korea (Pyongyang).

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