NORTH KOREA - AVOID ALL TRAVEL
Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada advises against all travel to North Korea (officially named the Democratic People's Republic of Korea) due to the uncertain security situation caused by North Korea’s nuclear weapons development program and highly repressive regime.
There is no resident Canadian government office in the country. The ability of Canadian officials to provide consular assistance is extremely limited.
The decision to travel is your responsibility. You are also responsible for your personal safety abroad. The purpose of this Travel Advice is to provide up-to-date information to enable you to make well-informed decisions.
Nuclear weapons development program
Tensions have increased in the region as a result of North Korea’s ongoing nuclear weapons development program. In April and December 2012, North Korea attempted to launch two missiles into orbit, and on February 12, 2013, performed a nuclear weapons test. Additional tests cannot be ruled out.
North Korea and South Korea
Relations between North Korea and South Korea remain tense. On March 11, 2013, North Korea issued a statement declaring that the Korean Armistice Agreement is invalid. While past threats made by the North to nullify this agreement have gone unfulfilled, this statement has raised tension in the region.
Border skirmishes with South Korean armed forces occur occasionally. The security situation could deteriorate suddenly. Due to very limited access to international media broadcasts in North Korea, you may be taken by surprise by events that could affect your security.
The crime rate is low. Petty crime occurs, especially at the airport in Pyongyang and in public markets. Ensure personal belongings, passports and other travel documents are secure at all times.
Travel within North Korea is severely restricted. Transportation is usually provided by local tour representatives or authorities. Traffic is usually minimal, and major highways are in good condition. Rural roads can be hazardous. Police checkpoints, usually located at the entry to towns, may require that travellers provide documentation before onward travel is permitted.
Consult our Transportation Safety page in order to verify if national airlines meet safety standards.
General safety information
There is no resident Canadian government office in the country. Register with the Embassy of Canada in Seoul, South Korea, and with the Swedish Embassy in Pyongyang.
Canadian or Swedish authorities may encounter major difficulties and delays in obtaining consular access to you if you are detained, particularly outside of the capital, Pyongyang. The provision of consular access is solely at the discretion of the North Korean government. Knowledge of North Korean police and judicial systems is limited, which may affect our ability to provide assistance to you.
Tourist facilities are minimal and telecommunications are unreliable. Individual tourism can be arranged only through a handful of North Korean government-approved travel agencies. Travel must be authorized in advance by the government. Travellers are closely observed. Hotel rooms, telephones and fax machines are monitored. There are serious shortages of food, electricity and clean water.
It is the sole prerogative of each country or region to determine who is allowed to enter. Canadian consular officials cannot intervene on your behalf if you do not meet entry requirements. The following information on entry and exit requirements has been obtained from North Korean authorities. However, these requirements are subject to change at any time. It is your responsibility to check with the Permanent Mission of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea to the United Nations for up-to-date information.
Official (special and diplomatic) passport holders must consult the Official Travel page, as they may be subject to different entry requirements.
Canadians must present a valid passport to visit North Korea, which must be valid for at least six months beyond the date of expected departure from that country.
Canadians must also be in possession of a visa. Visas are issued from a North Korean mission in a third country after approval from the government in Pyongyang. The process for obtaining visas (even for accredited diplomats) can be extremely slow and arduous.
Canadians arriving without a valid Canadian passport and visa may be detained, arrested, fined or denied entry. Foreigners must register through their host organization within 24 hours of arrival.
As most travellers must pass through China on their way to and from North Korea, a single- or double-entry Chinese visa may also be required, depending on the length and number of stays in China. For more information, please consult the Travel Advisory for China.
Professional journalists must apply for special permission to visit North Korea and may not enter the country on a tourist visa (regardless of their reason for travel).
Tourist visa: Required
Business visa: Required
Student visa: Required
General entry/exit information
Foreigners can enter North Korea either by air or by train. It is not possible to enter North Korea from South Korea or to enter South Korea from North Korea.
Even if you meet all entry requirements, you may be arbitrarily arrested and/or detained at your point of entry.
Dual citizenship is not legally recognized, which may limit the ability of Canadian officials to provide consular services. You should travel using your Canadian passport and present yourself as Canadian to foreign authorities at all times. Consult our publication entitled Dual Citizenship: What You Need to Know for more information.
Persons with Korean citizenship or family ties with North Korea should carefully consider their decision to visit. Authorities periodically subject dual citizens and children of former Koreans to certain laws and obligations.
Canadians who also have South Korean citizenship must obtain approval for travel to North Korea from South Korean authorities. For more information, consult the Embassy of Canada in Seoul, South Korea.
Unauthorized points of entry
Foreigners have been detained, and in one instance, shot, for entering the country through unauthorized points of entry. Ensure that you stay within permitted zones and strictly follow North Korean procedures and protocols.
Children and travel
Children need special documentation to visit certain countries. Please consult our Children page for more information.
Some countries require proof of yellow fever vaccination before allowing entry. Consult the World Health Organization’s country list to obtain information on this country’s requirements.
The Agency strongly recommends that you consult with a travel medicine clinic or health care provider preferably six weeks before departure.
The Agency publishes travel health advice for North Korea.
Consumption of untreated water and water-based foods greatly increases the chance of illness.
Hospitals often lack heat and medicine, and suffer from frequent power outages. Immediate payment in cash is expected for treatment. A hospital staffed by English-speaking professionals is available to foreigners in the Munsudong district of Pyongyang. Medical evacuations are very difficult to arrange and are not guaranteed. You should take this into account prior to travel if you have an unstable medical condition. If you show symptoms of a serious communicable disease, you may be subject to strict quarantine conditions.
Laws & Culture
You are subject to local laws. Consult our Arrest and Detention FAQ for more information.
You must be accompanied by an official guide at all times. Instructions provided by the guide must be adhered to. Tourists are not permitted to drive.
International driving permits are not recognized. Foreigners residing in the country must obtain a licence by passing a local driving test.
Penalties for possession, use or trafficking of illegal drugs are strict. Convicted offenders can expect jail sentences and heavy fines.
Importation of satellite telephones and shortwave radios is prohibited. Such items are confiscated upon entry and usually returned upon departure. Authorities may seize any material that they deem to be pornographic, political or intended for religious proselytizing. Written material of any kind in the Korean language should not be brought into North Korea.
Involvement in politics and unsanctioned religious activity can result in detention.
Photography of airports, roads, bridges, seaports and rail stations is prohibited and may result in confiscation of equipment or detention. Seek permission from your tour guide before taking photographs.
Ensure that you are not seen to be critical of the country’s political system, current and former leaders Kim Jong Un, Kim Jong Il and Kim Il Sung, or members of their family.
The currency is North Korean won (KPW). Cash is the most recognized form of payment. The Euro is widely accepted; however, change is often unavailable. U.S. dollars and the Chinese renminbi are also accepted. Banking facilities are limited. Traveller’s cheques are not accepted. There are no automated banking machines. Some credit cards are accepted in some hotels if an advanced notice is given. Credit cards should be used with caution due to the potential for fraud and other criminal activity. Leave copies of your card numbers with a family member at home in case of emergency.
Natural Disasters & Climate
The rainy (monsoon) season extends from the end of June until August. Severe rainstorms can cause flooding and landslides. Typhoons occur in August and September, and can result in significant loss of life and extensive damage to infrastructure, as well as hamper the provision of essential services. Keep informed of regional weather forecasts, avoid disaster areas and follow the advice of local authorities.
See our Typhoons and Monsoons page for more information.
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