North Korea

WARNING: Under no circumstances whatsoever are you to say something that could be perceived as an insult to Kim Il-sung, Kim Jong-Il, Kim Jong-Un, the Juche ideology, the Songun policy, the ruling Worker's Party of Korea, or the entire North Korean government in general, and the citizens. Simply avoid these topics if you can. Keep in mind that anyone can be an undercover government agent or a minder. Respond accordingly when this subject is at hand, always keep in mind you might be tested and pushed into admitting your real feelings on these subjects, whatever they may be. You and your guide are likely to face serious trouble but your guide will bear the worst. "In trouble" does not mean a slap on the wrist. North Korea is known for extremely harsh punishments which range for the guides from lengthy prison sentences to a lifetime of severe mistreatment, hard labour, or even torture by intelligence officers, while you are likely to be sentenced to a stay in a local prison or labour camp, deported, and banned from re-entering. Assume that you will be under surveillance at all times during your trip, and that your hotel room will be bugged.

Crime levels are practically zero, at least to tourists on a strictly controlled tour. However, pickpockets are the least of your worries. The authorities are very touchy, and you need to watch what you say and how you say it. Just do what the guides do, praise every stop on your tour, and remember the rule, "If you have nothing good to say, don't say it at all." Also, the official policy is that you are not to wander around on your own.

You are expected to get permission and/or have a guide accompany you if you are leaving your hotel on your own. This will vary depending on what hotel you are in. The Yanggakdo Hotel is on an island in the middle of the Taedong River in Pyongyang. Therefore you can walk around the area a little more freely than if you are at the Koryo Hotel right in the center of town. You should always be friendly and courteous to your guides and driver who will normally reciprocate by trusting you more and giving you more freedom.

For taking photographs, one needs to exercise restraint, caution and common sense. If you appear to be looking for negative images of North Korea, the guides will not be happy and will tell you to delete any questionable images. In particular, you are not to take photos of anything military, including personnel, or anything showing the DPRK in a bad light.

As noted before, your photographic freedom can largely depend on the type of guides that you are assigned and the rapport that you have with them. In a best case scenario, you can often take pictures without feeling as if you're trying to sneak them by anyone and without pressure capturing some truly unique images. If you are in an area that prohibits picture taking, you will also be informed of this and it is best to simply follow your guide's direction. When in doubt, always ask. Your guide might even want to try out your camera and take a picture of you for your collection.

In a worse case scenario, you can be expected to raise your camera at a reasonable speed, compose and take the picture, and lower the camera at a reasonable speed. Don't try to take pictures of anything that you have been told not to, such as military personnel or certain locales. This may call attention to yourself and the image you are trying to take and can result, whether justified or not, in your being told to delete the image.

Digital cameras are commonly inspected when leaving the country by train. A simple workaround is to leave a memory card with innocuous snaps in the camera and file away any cards with ideologically dubious content.

If you are a person of Korean descent, don't ever, ever tell anyone in the country that you are Korean, as you may be easily suspected as a person from South Korea, and as a result you are most likely to experience severely harsh punishments as well as being mistaken for entering illegally. In July 2008, a South Korean woman was shot in Kumgangsan region by a North Korean soldier after wandering into a restricted area alone.

Drug trafficking can be punishable by death in North Korea, even any consumption of narcotics in North Korea can be fatal.

As North Korea is one of the poorest countries in the world, drinking water is untreated and there are reports of foreigners being hospitalized in the DPRK after drinking the water, so sticking to bottled water is highly recommended. Medical facilities are clean, but very outdated and often suffer a lack of doctors who are actually healthy. If you fall ill you might be better off going to China for medical treatment. Contact your embassy or consulate in North Korea if your country has one for assistance. US citizens may contact the Swedish Embassy in Pyongyang for advice if needed.

Although North Korea is experiencing a food and hunger crisis, your guide will provide you the food and water you need.


The official language is Korean. Note that North Koreans are quite picky about referring to Korean as Choseonmal, not hangungmal. Unlike South Korea, North Korea has abolished Chinese hanja characters and uses hangeul characters, known as Choseongul, exclusively.

Your guides will speak fairly decent and understandable English some better than others and will translate something if you wish. Other guides have the ability to speak both Korean and either Mandarin, German, Russian, Japanese, or Spanish, depending on where you come from.

Although locals may be discouraged from speaking with foreigners due to government propaganda that implies foreigners are generally up to no good, and language can prove to be an additional barrier, there is no formal law preventing citizens of the DPRK from interacting with tourists. A visit to the DPRK around their holidays may give you more of a chance to interact with the locals.

foreign embassies/missions in pyongyang

Practically all foreign embassies in Pyongyang are inside the Munsu-dong. Other EU citizens who need consular assistance can go to one of the other EU embassies as they should offer protection due to the EU laws.

H.M British Embassy to DPR Korea
(, Munsu-dong Diplomatic Compound, Pyongyang, +850 2 381 7980 International dialling 0 2 382 7980 Local dialling There is a Duty Officer rota for out of hours emergencies - to contact use international dialling +850 2 381 7985 Fax International dialling GMT:Mon-Fri: 0000-0830 Local Time: Mon-Fri: 0900-1730.*
Chinese Embassy
(http://kp.chineseembassy....), Kinmaul-dong, Moranbong District, Pyongyang, +850-2-3813116 fax: +850-2-3813425
German Embassy
(http://auswaertiges-amt.d...), Munsu-dong Diplomatic Compound, Pyongyang, +850 2 381 7385.
Indian Embassy
6, Munsudong District Daedonggang, Pyongyang, D.P.R.K. phone: +850 2 381 7215 , +850 2 381 7274 fax: +850 2 381 7619, email:
Malaysian Embassy
(, Munsu-dong Diplomatic Enclave, Pyongyang, D.P.R.K., phone: +850 2 381 7125, fax: +850 2 381 7845, +60 3 8319 3270, email: . Mon-Fri: 0900-1700 GMT+9, closed Sat, Sun, D.P.R.K. Public Holidays and Malaysian Public Holidays.
Polish Embassy
( - Munsu-Dong, Pyongyang, D.P.R.K. phone: +850 2 381 7325, +850 2 381 7328, +850 2 381 7331 fax: +850 2 381 7634 fax/phone: +850 2 381 7637
Swiss Cooperation Office
(, Daedonggang District Munhundong, Yubo Street No. 3, Pyongyang. +850 2 381 76 45, email:
Swedish Embassy
(, Munsu-dong, Daehak Street, Taedonggang District, Pyongyang. +850 2 381 74 85, email: **
Vietnamese Embassy
7 Munsu Street, Pyongyang. +850 2 381 73 53, email:
Russian Embassy
Chungang-gu, Singang-Dong, Pyongyang, phone: +850-2-3813101, +850-2-3813102 fax: +850-2-3813427, email:
Bulgarian Embassy
Pyongyang, Munsudong, phone: +850 2 381-73-43, fax: +850 2 381-73-42, email:
Romanian Embassy
Pyongyang, Munhengdong, phone: +850-2-381-73-36, email:

* The British Embassy incorporates a minor Canadian and Australia diplomatic presence; this offers reasonable consular services to Australian and Canadian citizens

** The United States does not currently maintain diplomatic relations with The D.P.R.K; American citizens can receive limited consular help from the Swedish Embassy usually emergencies only

mobile phones

A 3G mobile phone network Koryolink was introduced in Pyongyang in 2008 and now covers the 42 largest cities. It is widely used by locals who can afford it and by long-staying foreigners who file an application. Sim cards and phones can be purchased in International Communication Center.