I’m here to help all my fellow travellers, that’s my duty and my job. I should have posted this one ages ago as it’s something that I get quite upset about. The reason is, lots of people have asked me questions like “how can you visit North Korea?” and “I thought it was a closed country” etc. etc. Nothing could be further from the truth. North Korea is an EASY country to visit. It’s an EASY visa to get. It’s EASY to organise and even better – it’s one of the safest countries for travellers in the world. Crime against travellers in North Korea is basically non-existent. So put your idiotic media preconceptions in the bin and read on. Here’s an easy guide on how to get a North Korean Visa…
Step 1 – Use a Tour Company (Young Pioneer Tours!)
As North Korea doesn’t have agencies, consulates or even embassies in many (most) countries, then you need to use a tour company to get your visa. This is easy, simply contact the cool guys at Young Pioneer Tours and book onto a tour through them. It will run smoothly. Included in the tour will be the entire visa application. It’s that easy. Even better you can get 5% off by quoting my website – just check this link: cheap North Korea tours.
Step 2 – The North Korea Visa Application
To get a North Korea visa, you don’t need to hand in your physical passport, as the visa will be on a piece of paper unattached to your passport – standard procedure (it’s like a sky blue leaflet). This is for global nomads by the way like myself – I have had a few comments below that said you go to the embassy and hand in your passport – but for most of us, we are on the move all the time so this isn’t a viable option – collecting the visa in Beijing is easier – trust me. With Young Pioneer Tours, you just need to submit the following by e-mail or fax to them (normally at least one month before your tour) and once you have it all then your visa will be confirmed. The representative from YPT will give your visa to you in Beijing before the tour starts.
Follow these four easy steps as part of the North Korean Visa application:
1. Fill in the booking form that YPT send you and email it back to them (or fax it). It’s in 3 sections – Section One is About You (personal stuff like passport, date of birth etc.) – Section Two is About Your Job (current employer, address etc.) – Section Three is About Your Tour (say what tour you’re booking and how you want to pay). There is also the question about your point of entry into North Korea. For those taking the train in, you put Siniuju, for those flying in, you put Pyongyang Airport. By the way if you are a citizen for the United States of America, you MUST fly in and fly out. The train is not an option for you – as far as I know this is the only nationality this applies to. The booking form looks like this, it’s on a single A4 page:
2. Then complete the DPRK visa form, which YPT will also send you in an attachment, you can fill it in the Word format, or send it as PDF, as long as you have filled in both pages. The questions are straight forward and basic. When it asks for the inviting company, the answer is KITC (Young Pioneer Tours will fill this bit in for you).
The form can be filled in by hand or online. I filled mine in by hand, which I always prefer. You then either scan it in and email it or you fax it to the YPT offices.
Fill it in honestly and fully. There is also no problem with having a South Korean, Japanese or USA stamp in your passport. I had 2 of these 3 stamps in my passport. The North Koreans are not really bothered about this stuff to be honest.
The Visa form looks like this:
3. Then Send These Documents by e-mail/fax:
–a scan of your Passport’s photo page
–a colour passport style photo with a white background for the visa application (a scan of this is also ok, as long as it’s coloured and clear)
–If you are currently working/living in China, a scan of your Chinese residence visa
–If you are currently working/living in Hong Kong, a scan of your HK ID, and a letter from your company saying are you working there
–If you are currently living outside China, a letter from your employer saying you are working there
4. Pay the tour deposit. For the deposit you should pay in advance 40% of the tour fee. You then pay the final part of the tour fee when you arrive in Beijing. Obviously prices vary depending on the tour you choose.
All YPT tours start in Beijing – either you get a train to Dandong and cross the border into North Korea by train into Sinuiju or you fly from Beijing to Pyongyang. An overview of the flight into North Korea appears on my World Borders Series: How to get from China to North Korea
Once YPT have all the above four points off you, consider your spot on the tour secured!! Relax and get ready to see this country which is wrongly considered a “closed country” sometimes.
Step 3 – Collecting Your North Korean Visa
All visas have to be collected in person in Beijing, China. A meeting point for this will be arranged between you and the YPT representatives. You will also attend a briefing session in Beijing ahead of the tour. This means you will need a DOUBLE entry Chinese Visa in advance of the tour, easy to get in places like Hong Kong, Bangkok or Macau. Or in your home country. Visas on arrival in Beijing are now possible for certain countries, as long as you stay only 72 hours. This type of visa is not possible on arrival at the train border point in Dandong. Head to your nearest Chinese embassy and get a double entry visa just to be safe.
In case you wondered, here is what a North Korean visa/tourist card looks like:
There are a few other issues to consider once you’ve got your North Korean visa and these are:
– The currency you will spend in North Korea is up to you. We chose Chinese RMB for the most part, but as you know, I travel a lot so we also had US Dollars and Euros in our wallets. South Korean Won is certainly not accepted. The local currency North Korean Won is not really for use by foreigners, though you can pick some up for souvenir purposes as I did.
– Literature issues – the North Koreans may check your bags and ban literature it doesn’t like. This is rare and indeed my bags were never checked, but a Japanese guy on our tour had a book confiscated as it had something mocking Kim Jong Il in it. If you want my advice – take only the Lonely Planet Korea (Travel Guide)
book just to be sure.
– Cameras and videos – there are no real restrictions on cameras – it’s the same as any other country in the world. Again – don’t believe all the media bullshit you read. I took about 2000 photos and made about 150 videos in the country. Obviously don’t photograph soldiers or the mausoleums (which is fairly standard practice in every country in the world anyway). If you do carry a massive video camera though, you’re likely to attract more attention than it’s worth.
– North Korean Passport Stamps – you will not get a passport stamp inside your actual passport on arrival or departure into North Korea. The passport stamps are placed inside your North Korean Tourist Card/Visa, which is then handed back when you leave the country. If you want a North Korean stamp in your passport, you can get a fake exit stamp at Dorasan station in South Korea and it’s rumoured that one of the land borders to China can also stamp you in or out. Things may change of course, but when we went passports weren’t stamped.
– Onward Chinese Visa – this is important – you MUST have an onward Chinese Visa for leaving North Korea and back into China, more important for those taking the train as visas cannot be issued on arrival at Dandong. You don’t want to waste a day of your trip to the DPRK visiting the Chinese Embassy in Pyongyang to sort out a last minute visa. Get this in advance guys!!
That’s it all sorted then folks – get your visa and get over to North Korea! Here are a few of my posts from backpacking through the place: