The Tongil Tours team is constantly updating this FAQ, so please check back frequently. If you have a question that is not answered below, feel free to drop us a line here.
Is it difficult to travel to North Korea (the DPRK) (i.e. is it difficult to procure a visa for North Korea)?
No. Many people would be surprised to discover that it’s actually quite simple (especially when compared with the present China visa application process). All that is required to lodge a DPRK visa application are three things: 1) a short completed application form listing basic personal information (found under the information for each tour in the ‘Tours’ section of our website); 2) a scan of your passport information page (sent as an attachment along with the form); and 3) a scan of a passport-type photo with a white background (sent as an attachment along with the form). Once these have been sent we will handle the rest and your visa will be ready within four weeks. We’ve never had an application rejected. It really is that simple! YOUR PASSPORT DOES NOT HAVE TO BE SENT ANYWHERE. As for flight and train tickets from China to North Korea and back, travel within the country, meals, hotel bookings and itineraries, all will be handled by us.
Is it safe to travel to North Korea (the DPRK)?
Yes. Expatriates living in country report that they have almost never been in situations where they have felt that their personal safety was under threat and that North Korea ranks among the safer countries they have experienced. As for tourists, given that tour groups are accompanied, there is even less chance of trouble occurring — which makes travel very safe.
Is it ethical to travel to North Korea?
A common view is that money spent on travelling to North Korea ends up being used for nefarious purposes. This is indeed a complex issue that may be impossible to settle conclusively. Such reasoning, however, ignores certain aspects of North Korea tourism that bring about positive effects. Firstly, to the best of our knowledge, the money spent actually ends up spread between various individuals and organisations, much of it going back into developing the local tourism sector. Tourism also provides jobs and livelihoods for local people. Also, tourist visits provide a rare and much-needed bridge between North Korea and the outside world. As such, we feel that initiatives that promote people-to-people connections are in the long-term interests of the North Korean people.
Many academics are in favour of international tourism to North Korea, citing the same arguments mentioned above. For a good discussion of this issue, view this article in the Shanghaiist.
Will visiting the DPRK (North Korea) adversely impact travel to other countries such as the United States or South Korea?
No. We have never heard of anyone’s travel to another country being impeded due to having visited the DPRK (North Korea).
I’m an American citizen, can I join one of your North Korea tours (i.e. are there any restrictions based on nationality)?
Yes. Americans can go to the DPRK as tourists. As can Japanese citizens. Unfortunately, those travelling on American and Japanese passports cannot take the international train into or out of the country, instead they must take the plane. A South Korean (Republic of Korea) passport is the only passport which cannot be used to travel to North Korea.
Q: I’m an overseas Korean; can I join one of your DPRK (North Korea) tours?
Yes. If you are an overseas Korean holding a foreign passport that the DPRK (North Korea) accepts for tourism (i.e. not a South Korean one) you can join.
I’ve heard that travel inside North Korea is very restricted and you cannot go many places. Is this true?
Travel in North Korea is restricted only to the extent that we must follow a set itinerary, and there are only certain locations open to foreigners. That said, we find that there are a great many locations and sites open to our tours recently, and we even find it hard to choose sometimes. Tour participants are often surprised at the degree to which they are given opportunities to meet and interact with locals. We always include a few such activities on our itineraries.
What about photography while in the DPRK?
It is generally OK to photograph most anything that you see while on the tour. If we enter an area where there are soldiers, then our DPRK guides will simply let us know to not take pictures for that specific moment. But other than that, taking pictures is allowed.
Can I bring my camera/ video camera/ computer/ mobile phone/ literature (i.e. what does DPRK customs restrict being brought into the country)?
Yes to all counts. Computers, cameras and video cameras have long been allowed in for tourists, and mobile phones have started being permitted since a change in policy in 2012. Books, magazines and other printed material are acceptable to bring in, excluding materials printed in South Korea and any other materials that portray the DPRK (North Korea) in a negative light. We send out a pre-departure email to each participant in which we again outline luggage rules and also give a few recommendations on what to pack.
Will I be able to make phone calls or use the internet?
Yes. Many hotels have international phone and internet services. Concerning your own mobile phone, while it is now possible for foreigners to bring their phones into the country, international roaming with an overseas provider will not work.
What is the weather like and what clothes will I need to bring?
Similar to its neighbours, Korea has four distinct seasons. Summer is hot and humid, autumn mild, winter extremely cold and spring also quite mild. Thus pack appropriately.
Is the water safe to drink?
While the tap water is certainly much safer than in Beijing, we would advise drinking bottled water, which is provided with every meal.
What sort of souvenirs will I be able to buy?
A wide range of things is available, from books, postcards, folk handicrafts and paintings, to your very own tailored Mao suit or Kim Jong Il-style jumpsuit. As well, you can purchase many food items, liquors, beers, and cigarettes.
Is alcohol/tobacco accessible and is it OK for me to drink/smoke?
Yes, very much so. North Koreans love to drink on festive occasions. Beer or soju will be included in most dinners, and a range of alcoholic drinks, from the delicious locally brewed Taedonggang Beer (which is brewed in a distillery imported from the UK and staffed with workers who have received training from the British), to all kinds of soju, as well as a range of other spirits such as acorn spirits, blueberry spirits, and even snake spirits (which come with a whole snake in the bottle). Smoking is also fine. Most North Korean men smoke, and so common is smoking that men are given cigarettes as part of their rations, along with food. Women generally do not smoke and smoking for women is considered somewhat taboo. However, foreign women smoking causes no problems. Various local cigarette brands are available for purchase as well.
I would like to see the Arirang Mass Games, how would that be possible?
From their inception in the early to mid 2000s up until 2013, the Arirang Mass Games were performed several times a week between late July and early September each year. However, it was announced in early 2014 that the Arirang Mass Games would be suspended indefinitely. We are closely watching this situation, because they may start again at some point.
Can my dietary requirements (e.g. vegetarian, vegan or halal) be catered to while in North Korea?
Yes. Please let us know on your application form if this applies to you.
Can special provisions be made for disabled tourists in North Korea?
Yes. Please let us know on your application form if this applies to you.
What insurance arrangements should I make before joining one of your trips?
We require that all of our travellers have travel insurance. We recommend World Nomads Travel Insurance. You can buy, extend and claim online, even after you’ve left home. World Nomads offers travel insurance to people from over 150 countries. It’s designed for adventurous travellers with coverage for overseas medical, evacuation, baggage and a range of adventure sports and activities. We require all participants to sign a document acknowledging that they have purchased travel insurance before departing.
[Full disclosure: we are a World Nomads affiliate, and we get a small percentage of the cost of your insurance if you click through the link above. If you would rather not do it this way, you can simply navigate to World Nomads in a separate window.]
What happens in the case of a medical emergency while we are in North Korea?
The Swedish embassy has a medical clinic equipped with the facilities needed to deal with such emergencies. As addressed above, participants must have travel insurance before joining one of our tours.
Where do your tours depart from?
Beijing, China. This means that travellers must obtain their own Chinese visas and find their own air tickets to Beijing (both of which are not included in our tour prices) for the start of the tour.
What is and isn’t included in your tour prices?
Our tour prices include DPRK (North Korea) visa processing fees, transportation from Beijing to North Korea and back, all sight-seeing, transport, accommodation, the majority of meals within the DPRK (North Korea) and (where applicable) any contextual lectures and seminars. Not included are select out-of-pocket expenses such as fun park, circus and other event tickets, dining at certain restaurants, tips for our guides, and money for souvenirs and snacks. Excluding souvenir and snack money, these generally add up to a minimum of about €150 euro/ 1100 Chinese yuan/ $165 USD (approx. A$240), depending on the itinerary. In advance of each trip we outline these expected costs based on the itinerary, with estimates included in both the itineraries in the ‘Tours’ section of our website as well as in the pre-departure email we send to each participant. As mentioned above, airplane tickets for the flight to Beijing and back (for those not residing there already) as well as China visa application costs are not included.
What currencies can I use in the DPRK (North Korea)?
Chinese yuan, US dollars and euros are all accepted. Beijing International Airport has ATMs that you may use to withdraw Chinese yuan from your international account if need be. Further advice on currency usage in country is given in our pre-departure email.
Will I be able to use my debit/credit card to pay or withdraw from ATMs in the DPRK (North Korea)?
No. The last ATM you will have access to will be the one in Beijing International Airport. Therefore bring extra cash for spending money and to pay for out-of-pocket expenses.
Updated on June 16, 2016.