North Korea statues of Kim Jong Ill and Kim Ill Sung at the square.

How to travel to North Korea

If you have read our recent blog post about our trip to North Korea and am interested to visit the mysterious yet amazing country yourself, this guide is for you!

In this guide, we will go through the necessary preparations needed before entering the country. There are also some tips and tricks that we think will be really helpful for your trip to North Korea.

For a detailed itinerary of our 4D3N North Korea tour, read our previous blog post here.

General information

Visiting North Korea, also known as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) is not as difficult as what most people think it is. The country is located on the Korean Peninsula, bordering South Korea to the south and China to the north. As one of the world’s least open country, North Korea has generated much interest in many adventurous and curious travellers.

The Pyongyang Skyline from the top of Juche Tower.
Mesmerizing Pyongyang Skyline

Citizens of most countries would have no problem obtaining a DPRK tourist visa. However, according to our research, if you’re a citizen of Japan, South Korea or the US, you are unfortunately out of luck right now as it is simply impossible for you to enter the country.

There is currently no way for tourists to explore the country free and easy. It is mandatory for all tourists to join a tour group before entering the country. On the bright side, the tour agency will take care of all the necessary paperwork for you, including the visa.

Mode of transport

Before selecting a tour agency, you will first have to decide if you want to enter the country by train or by a plane.

If you choose to enter the country by train, you’ll have to make your way to Dandong (1-hour high-speed train from Shen Yang), a border city to North Korea. Alternatively, if you choose to take the plane, you’ll most likely fly into Pyong Yang from Shen Yang.

Plane tours tend to be slightly more expensive and take less time as compared to the train option.

View of the fields from the train.
Sunset views of the train.

Finding a tour agency

There are many tour agencies available online that organises trips to North Korea. Most of the tour groups are either conducted in English or Mandarin.

Luckily for us, as we are bilingual in both languages, we decided to go with a mandarin one as the cost of the package was significantly lower. Not only that, from our experience, going with a Mandarin-speaking tour group meant having more freedom for interactions with the locals.

This is likely due to the good relationship the Koreans have with the Chinese as compared to English speaking countries.

Our tour guides helping us with the administrative tasks.
Very patient and professional tour guides accompany you throughout the tour.

English Tour Agencies

If you are interested in an English speaking tour agency, there are plenty available online. Some popular ones are Young Pioneer Tours, Koryo Group, Uri Tours and Lupine Tours.

Do note that the prices are typically 2-3 times that of Chinese tours.

Chinese Tour Agencies

Although there are plenty of Chinese travel websites that advertise tour groups to North Korea, take note that many of them only accept mainland tourists.

Through long hours of research, we finally found one that is affordable, trustworthy and accept foreign tourists. It is called www.cncn.com.

As the website is entirely Mandarin, it is impossible for non-Chinese speaking people to navigate and use the site. Using the site, you can choose the type of tour that you want and the mode of transport into the country.

The company we found is called Dandong Hua Xia. It is operated single-handedly by a young and energetic man named Ah Di. We got his Wechat contacts from cncn and contacted him directly through the super app.

The tour that we signed on is the 4-day train tour which costs us 3600Y per person. To confirm our reservation, we had to send him a deposit of 500Y each (~72USD).

As we did not have a WeChat wallet or Alipay wallet, I had to remit the money directly into his bank account. From our experience, DBS remit has a lower fee compared to Transferwise for Chinese Yuan.

Once the money has been received, we were told to send photos of our passports and passport photo for the processing of the visa.

Throughout the entire process, Ah Di was very patient and helpful. He even recommended some places for us to explore while we were at Dandong.

Our visa to enter North Korea.
Our visas to enter North Korea.

Before confirming any tour packages, be very sure of what the package covers.

For us, our tour package covered everything including accommodation, transport and even the tips of our guides and drivers. We did not have to pay anything extra once we are in the country.

Once you’ve settled your tour, it’s time to head to China!

Heading to China

Dandong, the bordering town to North Korea's Sinuiju.
Dandong, a stark contrast to its neighbouring city.

Firstly, make sure that you can enter China. Check if your country allows for visa-free entry, such as Singapore which has a 15-day visa-free policy.

Secondly, the airport you’ll want to be flying into is Shen Yang. Thereafter from Shen Yang, make your way to the train station and get a train ticket to Dan Dong city.

It costs 70 CNY per person. The train runs between the 2 cities very frequently (check the timetable online).

Preparation before entering North Korea

Once you’ve arrived at Dandong, you’ll need to meet up with your tour agency to get your North Korea visa. The tour agency will most likely give you a quick brief of the dos and don’ts in the country.

Money

North Korea has its own currency (North Korean Won), and they are not circulated to foreigners. You are not supposed to be in possession of any!

Transactions are mostly conducted with USD or Chinese Yuan, so make sure to bring enough of these currencies.

As a foreigner, you can easily withdraw money in Dan Dong at the big bank’s ATMs. We highly recommend the Bank of China or ICBC. However, there’s really nothing much to spend your money on in North Korea besides souvenirs and extra food top-ups.

Even though you can’t get these in the country, they are actually widely available in neighbouring China.

Electronic Devices

Make sure that your personal devices do not contain any political or obscene/personal materials. These are considered forbidden and not allowed in the country.

Even though our devices were not checked, there’s always a chance of that happening. Therefore, we’d recommend always err on the side of caution.

For people with cameras, do not bring any lenses that are above 200mm focal length.

If you’re bringing along your kindle, do declare them as well. M had to explain what it was and had her bag checked as it was not declared.

Man using his smart phone in the Pyongyang metro.
A man using his smart phone in the Pyong Yang metro.

Contrary to what we’ve read on blogs and article prior to our arrival, security screening was fairly similar to other countries.

Charging of our electronics was not a problem as they use the same voltage and plug as China and the US. However, you’ll most likely not be using much of your phone as there is no phone signal inside the country, other than at the DMZ area.

Have fun!

With this guide, we hope to debunk some of the myths of travelling to North Korea. In fact, it’s very similar to any other tours you would probably have taken in the past.

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