Democratic People's Republic of Korea

Latest update

This Advice was last issued on Wednesday, 05 March 2014.   It contains updated information in the Summary and under Laws (if you travel to the DPRK with written material, electronic devices or other media, including books, pamphlets, USB drives, CD-ROMs, DVDs, or laptops and phones, you should assume that authorities will review this information. Penalties for knowingly or unknowingly possessing items that breach the DPRKs laws are significantly harsher than in Australia. Take particular care to ensure that you do not bring anything into the country that may be perceived by DPRK officials as religious, pornographic or political in nature). We advise you to reconsider your need to travel to the DPRK due to the restrictions placed on foreigners and very different laws and regulations on your behaviour and intermittent DPRK threats against international interests.

Democratic People's Republic of Korea overall

Summary

  • We advise you to reconsider your need to travel to the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) due to the restrictions placed on foreigners and very different laws and regulations on your behaviour and intermittent DPRK threats against international interests.
  • Travel by Australians to North Korea is uncommon and foreign nationals visiting the DPRK have been subject to arbitrary arrest and long-term detention.
  • Foreigners may be arrested, detained or expelled for activities that would not be considered crimes in Australia, including unsanctioned religious and political activities, unauthorised travel, or unwarranted interaction with local nationals.
  • Take particular care to ensure that you do not bring anything into the country that may be perceived by DPRK officials as religious, pornographic or political in nature.
  • Over the first few months of 2013, the DPRK Government raised tensions on the Korean peninsula through a series of strong public statements. Further provocations by the DPRK or reactions by neighbouring countries, including the ROK, cannot be ruled out.
  • On 5 April 2013, the DPRK Government advised that it would be unable to guarantee the safety of Embassies and international organisations present in the country in the event of conflict.
  • Relations between the Republic of Korea (ROK) and the DPRK remain tense following the attempted launch by the DPRK of a satellite using a long-range missile on 12 December 2012. The DPRK conducted an underground nuclear test on 12 February 2013, further increasing tensions in the region.
  • Relations between the ROK and DPRK were very tense following an exchange of artillery fire on 23 November 2010 across the Northern Limit Line, a disputed border, in the West Sea (Yellow Sea) off the coast of DPRK. We continue to advise against travel to the Northern Limit Line Islands.
  • Pay close attention to your personal security and, to the extent possible, monitor the Korean media for information about possible new safety or security risks. Due to the lack of access to international media, safety and security risks may occur with little or no warning.
  • Australia does not have an Embassy or Consulate in the DPRK. The Australian Embassy in Seoul, Republic of Korea, provides consular assistance to Australians in the DPRK. The Swedish Embassy in Pyongyang can also provide limited assistance to Australians.
  • Be a smart traveller. Before heading overseas:
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Entry and exit

Visa and other entry and exit conditions (such as currency, customs and quarantine regulations) change regularly. Contact the nearest Embassy or Consulate of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea for the most up to date information.

Visas are required for all travel to the DPRK. Foreigners arriving without a valid visa may be detained, arrested, fined or denied entry. Because there is no longer a DPRK embassy or consulate in Australia, visas for the DPRK need to be obtained in a third country, for example, from the DPRK embassy in Beijing. Travellers may be required by the DPRK authorities to provide recent international travel itineraries as part of the visa application process and possibly on arrival in the DPRK.

If you are considering travel to the DPRK, be aware that almost all travel into the country is routed through Beijing. A double or multiple-entry visa for China will be required to ensure that you will be permitted to re-enter China on departure from the DPRK. We recommend you consult our travel advice for the People's Republic of China and contact the nearest Embassy or Consulate of the People's Republic of China for the most up to date visa information.

Travellers intending to travel to the DPRK by sea should be aware that due to security issues, many areas are considered sensitive. Vessels risk being detained or fired on.

Entry to the DPRK from the ROK is generally limited to the Gaesong industrial processing zone. Visa arrangements for entry to Gaesong are made by the operator, Hyundai Asan, or the Kaesong Industrial District Management Committee (KIDMC), depending on the purpose of your visit.

Foreigners who enter the DPRK are expected to register with the authorities, through their host organisation, within 24 hours of arrival. If staying in a hotel the registration process is normally carried out by the hotel.

Make sure your passport has at least six months validity from your planned date of return to Australia. You should carry copies of a recent passport photo with you in case you need a replacement passport while overseas.

Safety and security

Civil unrest/Political tension

We advise you to reconsider your need to travel to the DPRK due to intermittent DPRK threats against international interests.

Over the first few months of 2013, the DPRK Government raised tensions on the Korean peninsula through a series of strong public statements. Further provocations by the DPRK or reactions by neighbouring countries, including the ROK, cannot be ruled out.

On 5 April 2013, the DPRK Government advised that it would be unable to guarantee the safety of Embassies and international organisations present in the country in the event of conflict.

Australia does not have an Embassy or Consulate in the DPRK. The Australian Embassy in Seoul, Republic of Korea, is responsible for providing consular assistance to Australians in the DPRK (see under Where to get help for details). Developments could adversely affect our already limited capacity to provide consular assistance to Australians in the DPRK.

Relations between the ROK and the DPRK remain tense following the attempted launch by the DPRK of a satellite using a long-range missile in December 2012. The DPRK conducted an underground nuclear test in February 2013, further increasing tensions in the region. Australians in the DPRK should continue to monitor developments closely because of the risk that tensions on the Korean Peninsula could escalate with little warning.

Since the end of the Korean War in 1953, the Korean Peninsula has been divided by a demilitarised zone (DMZ) separating the DPRK in the north and the ROK in the south. While peace is maintained under an armistice agreement, the two Koreas are still technically at war and inter-Korean relations are very tense.

The security situation on the Korean Peninsula could deteriorate further with little warning.

Pay close attention to your personal security and, to the extent possible in the DPRK, monitor the Korean media for information about possible new safety or security risks.

The DPRK is a closed society with very little, if any, information available about internal political developments. Although access to international satellite TV channels is available in hotels used by foreigners, such access may be curtailed in a crisis. Civil unrest, internal instability and/or an escalation of tensions on the Korean Peninsula could arise rapidly and without information on developments being available from within the DPRK.

Crime

The DPRK authorities do not release crime statistics. While crime against foreigners in the DPRK is relatively rare, reports from travellers suggest petty crime does occur, particularly at Pyongyang airport and in public markets. Travellers should exercise care, be alert to their surroundings and ensure personal belongings, passports and other valuable documents are kept secure at all times. Australians travelling in the DPRK should take at least the same precautions they would take in Australia.

Terrorism

Terrorism is a threat throughout the world. You can find more information about this threat in our General advice to Australian travellers.

Money and valuables

Banking facilities are limited in the DPRK and travellers may experience difficulties in exchanging currencies. Travellers' cheques are not accepted, ATMs are not available and it is not possible to use a debit or credit card to withdraw cash in the DPRK.

Foreigners are not permitted to use the local currency (the DPRK won). Cash is the most acceptable form of payment, with the Euro being the most widely accepted currency. US dollars and Chinese RMB are also widely accepted. Shops and restaurants catering to foreigners might convert foreign currency on site to allow payments to be processed. We advise you to take small denominations of the foreign currency you intend to use, as it may be difficult to obtain change if paying with large denominations.

Make two photocopies of valuable documents such as your passport, tickets, visas and travellers' cheques. Keep one copy with you in a separate place to the original and leave another copy with someone at home.

While travelling, don't carry too much cash and remember that expensive watches, jewellery and cameras may be tempting targets for thieves.

As a sensible precaution against luggage tampering, including theft, lock your luggage. Information on luggage safety is available from Australia's Civil Aviation Safety Authority.

Your passport is a valuable document that is attractive to criminals who may try to use your identity to commit crimes. It should always be kept in a safe place. You are required by Australian law to report a lost or stolen passport. If your passport is lost or stolen overseas, report it online or contact the nearest Australian Embassy, High Commission or Consulate as soon as possible.

You are required to pay an additional fee to have a lost or stolen passport replaced. In some cases, the Government may also restrict the length of validity or type of replacement passports.

Local travel

Independent tourism is not permitted in the DPRK and travel within the country is severely restricted. Tourists are not permitted to drive, and international drivers’ licences are not recognised. Tourism is only permitted in groups organised by DPRK officials, or by approved travel agencies. Business travellers generally require sponsorship by a DPRK organisation and permission from the DPRK Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Professional journalists must apply for special permission to visit the DPRK and are not permitted to enter the country on a tourist visa. Foreigners are expected to be accompanied by an official guide at all times and are often required to present their identity documents at police checkpoints when entering and leaving towns.

Foreign mobile phones may be confiscated on your arrival into the DPRK and returned to you on your departure. International phone lines in the DPRK may be disconnected without notice. Some hotels in Pyongyang provide for direct dial international telephone calls but charges are very expensive. Internet access is severely restricted. Communications within the DPRK are unreliable. Direct telephone communication between the DPRK and the ROK is not possible.

Food and clean water can be purchased with hard currencies at some hotels and restaurants. Energy and pharmaceutical shortages are widespread in the DPRK. Modern tourist and health facilities are limited.

Travellers to the DPRK often report that charges and other fees, for example, for taxis or hire vehicles, guides, tolls and permits, can be high and arbitrary.

Airline safety

Please refer to our page about air travel for information about aviation safety and security.

Laws

We advise you to reconsider your need to travel to the DPRK due to the restrictions placed on foreigners and very different laws and regulations affecting your behaviour.

When you are in DPRK, be aware that local laws and penalties, including ones that appear harsh by Australian standards, do apply to you. If you are arrested or jailed, the Australian Government will do what it can to help you but we can't get you out of trouble or out of jail.

Information on what Australian consular officers can and cannot do to help Australians in trouble overseas is available from the Consular Services Charter.

Arbitrary arrest and detention

A number of foreigners have recently been subject to arbitrary arrest and detention by the DPRK government. Australians travelling in the DPRK should be conscious that cultural and political considerations, not just legal ones, may inform an authority’s decision to detain people.

Australians intending to travel to the DPRK should be aware that foreigners may be arrested, detained or expelled for activities that would not be considered crimes in Australia, including unsanctioned religious and political activities, unauthorised travel, or unwarranted interaction with local nationals.

If you travel to the DPRK with written material, electronic devices or other media, including books, pamphlets, USB drives, CD-ROMs, DVDs, or laptops and phones, you should assume that authorities will review this information. Penalties for knowingly or unknowingly possessing items that breach the DPRK’s laws are significantly harsher than in Australia. Take particular care to ensure that you do not bring anything into the country that may be perceived by DPRK officials as religious, pornographic or political in nature.

Other local laws and regulations affecting your behaviour

Showing disrespect, including in jest, to the country's current or former leadership or their families is a crime in the DPRK. Foreigners in the DPRK are closely observed by the authorities, which may include searching belongings in hotel rooms and monitoring telephone and facsimile services.

Photographing roads, bridges, airports, rail stations, seaports, or anything other than designated public tourist sites can be perceived as espionage and may result in confiscation of cameras, and/or detention. Photographing scenes of poverty or other things that may cause a negative impression of the DPRK may also result in confiscation. You should ask permission before taking photographs in the DPRK, including of officials, soldiers or other people. DPRK guides can provide permission to take photographs. Attempts to engage in unauthorised conversation with DPRK citizens may be viewed by security personnel as espionage.

Foreign travellers are not permitted to carry satellite phones such as Inmarsat and these may be confiscated on entry. Mobile phones and global positioning satellite (GPS) receivers are also not permitted and must be deposited on entry and collected on departure at the Customs checkpoint. Importation of other audio or communications devices, including shortwave radios and computers, is prohibited.

Other legal issues to consider

Penalties for drug offences are severe. Parole is rarely given in drug-related cases. Trafficking may result in imprisonment for an indefinite period.

Authorities may impose travel restrictions on foreigners involved in a civil or commercial dispute in the DPRK.

Foreigners are subject to fines or arrest for unauthorised currency transactions or shopping at stores not designated for foreigners.

Australians travelling to the DPRK should familiarise themselves with the operation of United Nations sanctions and, in particular, with prohibitions on transferring luxury goods to the DPRK. Australians travelling to the DPRK are permitted to carry items on the luxury goods lists for personal use only (not for sale, supply or transfer to others). Further information on Australian laws implementing United Nations Security Council and other sanctions against the DPRK is available from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade's website.

Some Australian criminal laws, such as those relating to money laundering, bribery of foreign public officials, terrorism, forced marriage, female genital mutilation, child pornography, and child sex tourism, apply to Australians overseas. Australians who commit these offences while overseas may be prosecuted in Australia.

Australian authorities are committed to combating sexual exploitation of children by Australians overseas. Australians may be prosecuted at home under Australian child sex tourism and child pornography laws. These laws provide severe penalties up to 25 years’ imprisonment for Australians who engage in child sexual exploitation while outside of Australia.

Information for dual nationals

The DPRK does not recognise dual nationality. This may limit the ability of the Australian Government to provide consular assistance to Australian/DPRK dual nationals or Australians of Korean heritage, including those originally from the ROK who are arrested or detained.

Australians who also have ROK citizenship may need to obtain approval from ROK authorities to travel to the DPRK: Australian/ROK dual nationals should seek advice from the nearest ROK Embassy or Consulate well in advance of travel.

Our Dual nationals brochure provides further information for dual nationals.

Health

We strongly recommend that you take out comprehensive travel insurance that will cover any overseas medical costs, including medical evacuation, before you depart. Confirm that your insurance covers you for the whole time you'll be away and check what circumstances and activities are not included in your policy. Remember, regardless of how healthy and fit you are, if you can't afford travel insurance, you can't afford to travel. The Australian Government will not pay for a traveller's medical expenses overseas or medical evacuation costs.

It is important to consider your physical and mental health before travelling overseas. We encourage you to consider having vaccinations before you travel. At least eight weeks before you depart, make an appointment with your doctor or travel clinic for a basic health check-up, and to discuss your travel plans and any implications for your health, particularly if you have an existing medical condition. The World Health Organization (WHO) provides information for travellers and our health page also provides useful information for travellers on staying healthy.

Public hygiene and the standard of medical facilities, including in Pyongyang, is poor. Medical procedures requiring surgery should be avoided if feasible. Doctors and hospitals may expect immediate cash payment for services. A hospital for foreigners, with English speaking doctors, operates in the Munsudong District of Pyongyang, but even hospitals in Pyongyang may lack adequate heating and medical supplies and often experience power outages and other difficulties. Travel from rural areas to Pyongyang for medical emergencies can be lengthy and difficult.

In the event of a serious accident or illness, medical evacuation may be necessary. In such cases, it is important to make early contact with the Swedish Embassy in Pyongyang which can assist in arranging a medical evacuation to Beijing. Medical evacuations are expensive and delays may be experienced obtaining the required approvals or securing seats on the relatively few regularly scheduled flights from the DPRK. A visa is required for evacuation to China including for any medical escorts. Evacuation across the DMZ to South Korea is not permitted.

Malaria is a risk particularly in the south of the country, especially from May to September. The mosquito-borne disease Japanese encephalitis also occurs in the DPRK. We recommend that you consider taking prophylaxis against malaria, and that you take measures to avoid mosquito bites, including using insect repellent where necessary; wearing long, loose-fitting, light coloured clothing and ensuring your accommodation is mosquito proof.

Water-borne, food-borne, and other infectious diseases (including tuberculosis, typhoid, hepatitis, measles, cholera and rabies) occur with more serious outbreaks occurring from time to time.

Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease (HFMD) is common in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea with more serious outbreaks occurring from time to time. In Asia, outbreaks of HFMD usually start in March/April and peak in May but can continue until August to October each year. It mostly affects children under the age of 10 years but adult cases (particularly young adults) are not unusual. The illness is characterised by fever as well as blisters and rashes on the hands, feet and buttocks. HFMD is spread by direct contact with nose and throat discharges and faeces of infected people. Normal hygiene precautions should be taken including careful and frequent hand washing.

We advise you to boil all drinking water or drink bottled water, and avoid ice cubes and raw and undercooked food.

Quarantine regulations are likely to be strictly applied by local authorities to travellers who exhibit medical symptoms related to serious communicable disease. Further information is available from the nearest Embassy or Consulate of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

From March to May, yellow dust, which is carried to the Korean Peninsula by strong winds from Mongolia and China, can cause eye, nose, mouth and throat irritations and exacerbate respiratory and cardio-vascular problems.

There is a risk of avian influenza in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. See our health page and Avian Influenza bulletin for further information on influenza.

Where to get help

Australia does not have an Embassy or Consulate in the DPRK. The Australian Embassy in Seoul, Republic of Korea, is responsible for providing consular assistance to Australians in the DPRK. You should be aware that developments could adversely affect our already limited capacity to provide consular assistance to Australians in the DPRK.
Contact details are:

Australian Embassy

19th floor, Kyobo Building
1, Jongro 1-ga
Jongro-gu
Seoul 110-714, Republic of Korea
Telephone: (82 2) 2003 0100
Facsimile: (82 2) 2003 0196
Website: www.southkorea.embassy.gov.au

Assistance can also be obtained from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s 24-hour Consular Emergency Centre (CEC) in Canberra on telephone: +61 2 6261 3305.

The Swedish Embassy in Pyongyang can also provide limited consular assistance to Australians in the DPRK. Contact details are:

Swedish Embassy

Daehak Street
Munsudong District
Pyongyang
DEMOCRATIC PEOPLE'S REPUBLIC OF KOREA
Telephone: (850 2) 381 7904 or (850 2) 381 7485
Facsimile (850 2) 381 7663.

If you are travelling to the DPRK, whatever the reason and however long you'll be there, we encourage you to register with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. You can register online or in person at any Australian Embassy, High Commission or Consulate. The information you provide will help us to contact you in an emergency - whether it is a natural disaster, civil disturbance or a family issue.

In a consular emergency, if you are unable to contact the Embassy you can contact the 24-hour Consular Emergency Centre on +61 2 6261 3305 or 1300 555 135 within Australia.

In Australia, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in Canberra may be contacted on (02) 6261 3305.

Additional information

Natural disasters, severe weather and climate

The monsoon season on the Korean Peninsula is from late June to late August. Typhoons may occur between August and September. Flooding may disrupt transportation and other essential services. You should check whether areas you intend to travel to have been affected.

The direction and strength of typhoons can change with little warning. You can check the latest typhoon information from the World Meteorological Organisation Severe Weather Information Centre.

In the event of an approaching typhoon, you should identify your local shelter. Travellers should also follow the instructions of local authorities, monitor media and weather reports, and check with tour operators before travelling to affected areas.

Flights in and out of affected areas could be delayed or suspended. Available flights may fill quickly. You should contact your airline for the latest flight information. The typhoon could also affect access to sea ports in the region. In some areas, adequate shelter from a severe typhoon may not be available to all who may choose to stay. You should familiarise yourself with your hotel or cruise ship evacuation plans. You should carry your travel documents at all times (i.e. passport, photo ID, etc.) or secure them in a safe, waterproof location. We also suggest that you contact friends and family in Australia with updates about your welfare and whereabouts. For further information, see our severe weather page.

All oceanic regions of the world can experience tsunamis, but in the Indian and Pacific Oceans, there is a more frequent occurrence of large, destructive tsunamis because of the many large earthquakes along major tectonic plate boundaries and ocean trenches. See the Tsunami Awareness brochure.

Information on natural disasters can be obtained from the Humanitarian Early Warning Service. If a natural disaster occurs, follow the advice of local authorities.



While every care has been taken in preparing this information, neither the Australian Government nor its agents or employees, including any member of Australia's diplomatic and consular staff abroad, can accept liability for any injury, loss or damage arising in respect of any statement contained herein.

Maps are presented for information only. The department accepts no responsibility for errors or omission of any geographic feature. Nomenclature and territorial boundaries may not necessarily reflect Australian Government policy.