My experience in...

How to enter North Korea


Dear Reader,

it’s time to answer some of the biggest questions. Many of you have asked about how to obtain visa and access to the DPRK, so here is my experience 🙂 or better yet, my holiday adventure!

Entering North Korea DPRK is something I won’t forget. I think I might have mentioned it before, but entering North Korea is very easy, regardless of your nationality. You can fly to Pyongyang from three places: Beijing, Vladivostok and a city in Malaysia that I cannot recall right now (perhaps its capital). However, the overwhelming majority of foreigners travel to Pyongyang from China, either by train or flight. Me and my friends traveled via Air Koryo, although I heard from my other tour fellows that the train experience is quite something.

The only way you can enter the country is by joining an authorized tour from an authorized company. When I signed up for the Young Pioneers Tour, all I had to do was filling an application form like this one

Image
© Stanito, 2013

Of course the DPRK authorities reserve the right to reject your application for X,Y, Z reason, luckily, that wasn’t my case 🙂

I did managed to enter so you’re probably wondering “Ok, but how easy it is to get to DPRK from China?”, and my answer is… It is a pain in the neck mixed up with lots of bureaucratic issues and in some cases even many visits to the Chinese Consulate.
Anyway, it all happened on a Wednesday morning, two weeks before my departure… I was told “Do not go to the angry Chinese girl, but instead the grey-haired Italian man!”. Sadly, by the time I went the Italian man was gone, the Angry lady (if angry) was still there, but luckily there seemed to be a different Italian there as well. So I sad “I won’t go against the odds, so I might want to try someone more familiar”. I wish I thought this through a bit more, because the Italian guy who attended me made the whole process a lot more complicated and frustrating than I thought.

Basically there was no issue at all until the North Korea tour came up in the conversation with the Man. He had checked all my papers, requested a booking for every single night I was going to spend in China, flights details and bla bla bla, so to sum up I was entitled to a touristic visa. But as there was gap he wanted to know where I was going to go. The minute he heard me saying “North Korea! :)” he freaked out. He took back my tourist visa and nervously said “We cannot guarantee you be safe in there, so we cannot grant you a touristic visa. People cannot go to North Korea…” to which I impatiently replied “Yes, people can, I’m going since I’m in a tour plan, departing from Beijing. See? It is possible”. My inner patience thermometer was reaching a dangerous level, at some point he even said to me “It is not possible to go to North Korea, you need to go talk to the North Korean consulate, I cannot give you a tourist visa if you plan to go there, I mean… it’s a dangerous place, we cannot take responsibility for you”. Not wishing to be rude, I demanded to talk to Angry Lady as she dealt with Riccio’s application and simply said “Can you please help us here? He evidently has no clue on what to do and you helped my friend getting everything done, so your help in here is much needed”. In the end, I signed 6 declarations, 6! All aiming to exonerate the consulate from any responsibility during my trip. Angry and all, the lady took one minute, and I got my two-entry visa 🙂 Yayy!

So, as the hardest part is over, let’s go back to North Korea entry process. After our arrival in China, as my application went through, we were instructed on some important tips:

1. Always show respect to the Koreans leaders and avoid offending the local guides and people. At certain places especially statues of the leaders we will often bow to show our respect according to the local customs.

2. We are not allowed to use the local currency in North Korea.

3. Professional video cameras are not allowed to be taken into the DPRK, but handheld digicams have recently been allowed as long as you don’t film anything you’re told not to! Regular digital still cameras are fine, for professional cameras, lenses less than 250mm are allowed- anything over that could be retained at customs until you depart.

4. E-books are fine, and normal books are OK as long as it’s not a Bible, Qur’an or any other religious text. A couple of people were in trouble because they were bringing Bibles with them, so e-hem, no religious text book.

5. It is strongly recommend giving an entrance gift for your North Korean guides when you first arrive at the hotel, and have a ‘sit down’.

Having said this, we were ready to go and we had our North Korean tourist card

North Korea Tourist card stanito© Stanito, 2013

North Korea tourist card stanito 1© Stanito, 2013

North Korea Tourist card back stanito© Stanito, 2013

At the checking counter at Beijing International Airport, already very excited !

From China to North Korea stanito© Stanito, 2013

Finally on board of Air Koryo!

Air Koryo black list rating North Korean official airline

Enjoying some musical and artistic show as part of the entertainment on board

Flight on Air Koryo stanito© Stanito, 2013

A soy burger, despite most of opinions it was ok and not too bad, and a wet towel which I preserved up to date 🙂

Food on Air Koryo Stanito© Stanito, 2013

More entertainment on board, this is some reading material, magazine called Korea Today based of course on Juche. This particular issue had an insert (that I took with me) on foreign trade, which is very curious considering that we were going to the Hermit Kingdom… here it is its online version

Entertainment on Air Koryo Stanito© Stanito, 2013

A first view of us very close to landing point

Arriving in North Korea Stanito© Stanito, 2013

And here we are at Pyongyang Airport!

Airport North Korea Stanito© Stanito, 2013

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5 replies »

  1. The train entering was quite the experience. I hope you post again about entry through the airport. We had everything checked but luckily got a friendly guy on the way in. Surprisingly it was much tougher and longer on the way out!

    • Hahaha I know what you mean, ammm I don’t know, perhaps they do search you before entering the country 🙂 I know China does, so careful!

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