Advice levelsWhat does this mean?
- North Korea and South Korea are technically at war. Military exchanges are rare, but tensions are still high. They could increase with little warning. North Korea sometimes conducts missile tests or other provocations. Monitor developments.
- The North Korean Government restricts information, especially about domestic politics and international relations. You can usually access international satellite TV channels at tourist hotels. However, if the government shuts these down in a crisis, you may not know what's happening. If, despite our advice, you travel to North Korea, don't stay long. Monitor state broadcasts and, if possible, international media for signs of increasing tensions.
- Crime against travellers is rare. However, some travellers have reported petty crimes. Keep your passport and belongings close, especially at Pyongyang Airport and in public markets.
- The monsoon season is from late June to late August. Typhoons can occur between August and September. Flooding may disrupt essential services. Know your hotel's evacuation plan.
- Some countries near North Korea experience large earthquakes. This makes destructive tsunamis more likely. Don't wait for official warnings, alarms or sirens. Know the tsunami warning signs and move to high ground straight away if you're on the coast.
Full travel advice: Safety
- COVID-19 remains a risk in North Korea.
- Medical facilities are basic, including in Pyongyang, and hygiene is poor. Avoid surgery unless you need it to leave North Korea. If you're seriously ill or injured, you'll need medical evacuation to China. Contact the Swedish Embassy in Pyongyang to arrange it. Medical evacuations are very expensive and difficult to organise. Ensure your travel insurance covers this. Travel restrictions due to the novel coronavirus will make medical evacuations even more difficult.
- Medications can be very hard to get in North Korea. If you plan to bring medication, check if it's legal. Take enough legal medicine for your trip.
- Malaria is a risk, especially in the south from May to September. Japanese encephalitis is also a risk. Ensure your accommodation is insect-proof. Consider taking anti-malarial medication. Get vaccinated against Japanese encephalitis before you travel.
- Waterborne, foodborne, and other infectious diseases include tuberculosis, typhoid and hepatitis. Intestinal worm infections, such as roundworm, are also common. Drink only boiled or bottled water. Avoid raw or undercooked food. Get advice on preventative medication for intestinal worms.
- Hand, foot and mouth disease (HFMD) is common. It mostly affects children younger than 10, but adult cases occur. Wash your hands thoroughly and often.
- From March to May, strong winds carry yellow dust to the Korean Peninsula from Mongolia and China. This can cause eye, nose, mouth and throat irritations. Get medical advice if you have heart or breathing problems.
Full travel advice: Health
- Travelling as part of a tour or with a guide doesn't give you special protection from North Korean laws. Authorities may arrest, detain or expel you for activities that aren't crimes in Australia. They may also search your belongings and monitor your communications.
- Don't use or carry illegal drugs. Penalties for drug offences are severe and parole is unlikely. Drug traffickers can get indefinite jail sentences.
- Authorities may judge many activities as spying. Be very careful when taking photos. It's illegal to photograph anything other than designated public tourist sites. Always ask your North Korean guide for permission before taking photos.
- North Korea has strict laws about what you can bring into the country. It's illegal to bring in religious, pornographic or political items. Declare all published material and electronic devices when you arrive. It's also illegal to knowingly or unknowingly possess items that breach North Korean law.
- Be careful who you talk to and what you say. It's illegal to show disrespect or make jokes about North Korea, current or former leaders or their families. It's also illegal to talk to North Koreans without authorisation. Authorities may consider it spying if you do. Only shop at stores designated for foreigners.
- North Korea doesn't recognise dual nationality. If you're an Australian-North Korean dual national and you're detained, we may not be able to help you. This includes Australians of Korean heritage, including those originally from South Korea. Australian-South Korean dual nationals may need permission from South Korean authorities to travel to North Korea.
Full travel advice: Local laws
- If, despite our advice, you travel to North Korea, you'll need a visa for all types of travel. North Korea doesn't have an embassy or consulate in Australia. This means you need to travel to another country, such as China, to get your visa. If you're travelling for business, you'll need a North Korean sponsor and permission from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Journalists must get a special visa. Entry and exit conditions can change at short notice. You should contact the nearest embassy or consulate of North Korea for the latest details.
- Due to COVID-19, North Korea has closed its borders. Tours have been suspended until further notice. The following advice applies if borders reopen.
- You'll probably have to travel via Beijing. Get a double- or multiple-entry visa for China.
- Travellers must register with government authorities within 24 hours of arriving. Do this through your host organisation or hotel.
- The local currency is the North Korean Won. Foreigners can't use it. The Euro is the most widely accepted foreign currency. US dollars and Chinese yuan are also widely accepted. Exchanging currencies is difficult. You can't use ATMs, traveller’s cheques, or debit and credit cards. Take enough foreign currency for your trip, in small denominations.
- You can only travel on an official tour. An official guide must always accompany you. Charges for travel can be high, including for taxis, guides, tolls and permits.
Full travel advice: Travel
- The Consular Services Charter details what we can and can't do to help you overseas.
- Australia doesn't have an embassy in North Korea. The Australian Embassy in Seoul provides consular help to Australians in North Korea. But North Korean authorities may not allow Australian consular access if you're arrested or detained.
- Consider registering your travel to North Korea with the Australian Embassy in Seoul.
- You can also contact the Swedish Embassy in Pyongyang.
- To stay up to date with local information, follow the Australian Embassy in Seoul's social media accounts.
Full travel advice: Local contacts
Civil unrest and political tension
Since the practical end of the Korean War in 1953, the Korean Peninsula has been divided by a demilitarised zone (DMZ), which separates:
- North Korea or the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK)
- South Korea or the Republic of Korea (ROK)
An armistice agreement helps to maintain peace. However, North and South Korea are still technically at war. Relations between the 2 countries are tense.
Be aware that South Korean and North Korean militaries sometimes exchange artillery fire on a group of islands near the Northern Limit Line, a disputed border, in the West Sea (Yellow Sea).
Security and tension
The security situation on the Korean Peninsula could worsen with little warning.
North Korea has conducted underground nuclear tests and ballistic missile tests. This increased tension in the region.
North Korea regularly makes assertive statements about other countries, including Australia. This tension increases during annual South Korean and US military exercises. These routine exercises usually take place biannually in:
- February or March
- August or September
Further military action and political statements by North Korea are likely to continue. This may lead to responses from other countries.
North Korea says it can't guarantee the safety of embassies and international organisations in the country if there's conflict.
Access to information
North Korea is a closed society.
Authorities restrict access to information. What's available is unreliable. There's very little, if any, information about internal politics.
You can usually access international satellite TV channels at hotels travellers use. However, this could change if there's a crisis.
Civil unrest, internal instability or tension on the Korean Peninsula could rise quickly. If news channels are shut down, you'll be without information on developments from in North Korea.
If, despite the risks, you travel to North Korea:
- don't stay long
- only do the activities you need to do
- pay close attention to your personal security
- monitor state broadcasts and other local sources for signs of rising tension, civil unrest or internal instability
- if possible, monitor South Korean and other media for security risks
- consider notifying the Australian Embassy in Seoul of your travel plans
Crime against travellers is rare. However, some travellers have reported petty crimes.
Keep your passport and belongings close:
- at Pyongyang airport
- in public markets
Terrorism is a threat throughout the world.
Climate and natural disasters
In an emergency, we may only be able to give you limited consular help.
If a natural disaster occurs:
- secure your passport in a safe, waterproof location
- follow the advice of local authorities
- monitor local media and other sources
- keep in contact with friends and family
Check with tour operators before travelling to affected areas.
Register with the Global Disaster Alert and Coordination System to receive alerts on major disasters.
Typhoons and severe weather
The monsoon season is from late June to late August.
Typhoons can occur between August and September.
Flooding is common during the monsoon season and may disrupt transport and other essential services. Check if severe weather has affected the areas where you plan to travel.
The direction and strength of typhoons can change with little warning.
If a typhoon approaches:
- know your hotel evacuation plans
- identify your local shelter
If you stay:
- adequate shelter might not be available
- flights could be delayed, suspended or fill quickly
- ports may close
Contact your airline for flight updates.
Earthquakes and tsunamis
Earthquake activity on the Korean Peninsula is low for the region.
Some countries near North Korea experience large earthquakes. This makes destructive tsunamis more likely.
Get updates on earthquakes and tsunamis from the US Tsunami Warning Center.
If there's an earthquake or tsunami:
- follow our advice for natural disasters
- move to higher ground right away if you're on the coast
Don't wait for official warnings, such as alarms or sirens. Once on high ground, check local media.
Get comprehensive travel insurance before you leave.
Your policy needs to cover all overseas medical costs, including medical evacuation. The Australian Government won't pay for these costs.
You'll probably need a specialised insurance policy that covers travel to high-risk destinations. Most Australian policies won't cover you for travel to North Korea.
If you can't afford travel insurance, you can't afford to travel. This applies to everyone, no matter how healthy and fit you are.
If you're not insured, you may have to pay many 1000s of dollars up-front for medical care.
- what activities and care your policy covers
- that your insurance covers you for the whole time you'll be away
Physical and mental health
Consider your physical and mental health before you travel, especially if you have an existing medical condition. Consider whether you may be in a vulnerable category for COVID-19.
See your doctor or travel clinic to:
- have a basic health check-up
- ask if your travel plans may affect your health
- plan any vaccinations you need
Do this at least 8 weeks before you leave.
If you have immediate concerns for your welfare or the welfare of another Australian, call the 24-hour Consular Emergency Centre on +61 2 6261 3305 or contact your nearest Australian Embassy, High Commission or Consulate to discuss counselling hotlines and services available in your location.
Not all medication available over the counter or by prescription in Australia is available in other countries. Some may even be considered illegal or a controlled substance, even if prescribed by an Australian doctor.
Medications can be very hard to get in North Korea.
If you plan to bring medication, check if it's legal in North Korea. Take enough legal medicine for your trip.
Carry a copy of your prescription and a letter from your doctor stating:
- what the medication is
- how much you'll take
- that it's for personal use
COVID-19 remains a risk in North Korea.
You should consult your local health professional for advice on vaccine options, including assistance that may be available locally. The Australian Government cannot provide advice on the safety, quality and efficacy of vaccines that have been approved for use outside of Australia's regulatory process.
- Coronavirus (COVID-19) (Department of Health and Aged Care)
Malaria is a risk, especially in the south of the country from May to September.
Japanese encephalitis is also a risk.
To protect yourself from disease:
- make sure your accommodation is insect-proof
- use insect repellent
- wear long, loose, light-coloured clothing
- consider taking medicine to prevent malaria
- get vaccinated against Japanese encephalitis before you travel
Other health risks
- Waterborne, foodborne and other infectious diseases occur, including:
Intestinal worm infections, such as roundworm, are common. These can affect travellers.
Get advice on preventative medicine for intestinal worms.
Hand, foot and mouth disease
Hand, foot and mouth disease (HFMD) is common.
Serious outbreaks sometimes occur. Outbreaks usually start in March and peak in May but can continue until October each year.
The disease mostly affects children aged under 10 years. Adult cases, especially in young adults, are not unusual.
Signs of HFMD include fever and blisters and rashes on the hands, feet and buttocks.
The disease is spread by direct contact with nose and throat discharges and faeces of infected people.
To protect yourself from illness:
- boil drinking water or drink bottled water from bottles with sealed lids
- avoid ice cubes
- avoid raw and undercooked food, such as salads
- wash your hand frequently and thoroughly
Yellow dust is carried to the Korean Peninsula by strong winds from Mongolia and China from March to May.
The dust can:
- cause eye, nose, mouth and throat irritations
- make breathing and heart problems worse
To protect yourself:
- stay indoors as much as possible
- avoid exercising outdoors on days of high yellow dust concentration
- speak to a doctor if you're concerned about symptoms
The standard of medical facilities is basic and hygiene is poor. This includes in Pyongyang.
Avoid surgery unless you need it to leave North Korea.
The Friendship Hospital has English-speaking doctors for travellers. The hospital is in the Munsudong District of Pyongyang. Like other hospitals in North Korea, it may:
- lack heating and medical supplies
- have power outages and other difficulties
The Friendship Hospital wouldn't be able to protect people if there was a pandemic. Healthcare standards in North Korea mean that adequate care could not be provided to both residents and travellers if there was a pandemic.
The cost of medical treatment is high.
You may need to pay cash up-front, usually in euros, before a hospital will treat you.
Travel from rural areas to Pyongyang for medical emergencies can be long and difficult.
In January 2020, North Korean authorities severely restricted flights in and out of North Korea due to the outbreak of COVID-19. This makes medical evacuation even more difficult than usual.
If you become seriously ill or injured, you'll need to be evacuated to China for treatment. Contact the Swedish Embassy in Pyongyang for help with this.
Medical evacuation can be very expensive. It can also be difficult to arrange quickly. You may face delays getting the required approvals or booking flights. There are few regular flights from North Korea.
You and your medical escorts will also need visas for China for evacuation.
Authorities do not allow evacuation across the demilitarised zone to South Korea.
You're subject to all local laws and penalties, including those that may appear harsh by Australian standards. Research local laws before travelling.
If you're arrested or jailed, the Australian Government will do what it can to help you under our Consular Services Charter. But we can't get you out of trouble or out of jail. If you are arrested or detained, ask North Korean officials to notify the Embassy of Sweden immediately.
Travelling as part of a tour or with a guide offers no special protection from North Korean laws.
Arbitrary arrest and detention
Authorities have arrested and detained foreigners, including Australians.
Culture and politics influence authorities when they're making arrests, not just the law.
You may be arrested, detained or expelled for activities that aren't crimes in Australia.
Authorities closely watch travellers. They may search belongings in your hotel room or monitor your email, internet, phone and fax usage.
Penalties for drug offences are severe. Trafficking can result in an indefinite jail sentence.
Parole is rare in drug-related cases.
Authorities make arrests and detain people for many activities. Penalties can be very harsh.
Many seemingly innocent activities may be perceived as spying.
It's illegal to take photos of anything other than designated public tourist sites. This includes:
- roads and bridges
- rail stations
- government buildings
- scenes of poverty
- anything that may give a negative impression of North Korea
Always ask your North Korean guide for permission before taking photos.
It's illegal to:
- bring items that may be seen as religious, pornographic or political
- not declare published material or electronic devices when you enter
- knowingly or unknowingly possess items that breach North Korean law
- show disrespect or make jokes about North Korea, current or former leaders or their families
- engage in an unauthorised currency transaction
- shop at stores not designated for foreigners
It's also illegal to talk to North Korean without authorisation. This may be perceived as spying.
If you're involved in a civil or commercial dispute, authorities can stop you leaving the country.
Australia has sanctions against North Korea. These rules prohibit the transfer of luxury goods to North Korea.
Australians travelling to North Korea can carry items on the luxury goods lists for personal use only. You must not sell or give these items to others.
Some Australian criminal laws still apply when you're overseas. If you break these laws, you may face prosecution in Australia.
North Korea doesn't recognise dual nationality.
If you're a dual citizen, this limits the consular services we can give if you're arrested or detained. This includes if you're an Australian of Korean heritage, including if you're originally from South Korea.
If you're a South Korean-Australian dual citizen, you may need to get approval from South Korean authorities to travel to North Korea.
Get advice from a South Korean embassy or consulate before you travel.
Same-sex relationships are not illegal in North Korea. However, authorities don't find them acceptable, be discrete.
Visas and border measures
You need a visa for all types of travel to the North Korea.
If you arrive without a valid visa, you may be:
- denied entry
There is no longer a North Korean embassy or consulate in Australia. This means you need to travel to another country, such as China, to get your visa for North Korea.
You may need to provide recent international travel itineraries to apply for a visa. You may also have to show these when you arrive in North Korea.
Business travellers generally need:
- sponsorship by a North Korean organisation
- permission from the North Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Professional journalists must apply for special permission to visit. Authorities won't let journalists enter the country on a tourist visa.
Entry and exit conditions change regularly. Contact the Embassy of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea in Indonesia for details about visas, currency, customs and quarantine rules.
Due to COVID-19, North Korea has closed its borders.
If it becomes safe to travel to North Korea, you may need a double - or multiple-entry visa for China. Otherwise you won't be able to re-enter China when you leave North Korea. Contact the Embassy or Consulate of the People's Republic of China for details.
Australia has sanctions against North Korea that limit what you can take with you. See Local laws.
When entering North Korea, you need to declare all:
- published material, such as books, academic papers and pamphlets
- communications devices, such as mobile phones, satellite phones, GPS receivers and radios
Assume that authorities will inspect published material and electronic devices and possibly confiscate them. Speak to your tour operator if you have concerns.
If authorities don't confiscate your controlled items, you may need to leave them at the customs checkpoints. You may be able to collect them when you leave.
You may be quarantined if you show medical symptoms of a serious communicable disease.
Register on arrival
Travellers must register with government authorities within 24 hours of arrival in North Korea. You can do this through your host organisation.
If you stay in a hotel, confirm at check-in that your hotel will take care of your registration.
Some countries won't let you enter unless your passport is valid for 6 months after you plan to leave that country. This can apply even if you're just transiting or stopping over.
Some foreign governments and airlines apply the rule inconsistently. Travellers can receive conflicting advice from different sources.
You can end up stranded if your passport is not valid for more than 6 months.
The Australian Government does not set these rules. Check your passport's expiry date before you travel. If you're not sure it'll be valid for long enough, consider getting a new passport.
Lost or stolen passport
Your passport is a valuable document. It's attractive to people who may try to use your identity to commit crimes.
Some people may try to trick you into giving them your passport. Always keep it in a safe place.
If your passport is lost or stolen, tell the Australian Government as soon as possible:
The local currency is the North Korean Won (KPW). Foreigners are not allowed to use the Won.
The Euro is the most widely accepted foreign currency. US dollars and Chinese yuan are also widely accepted.
Changing currencies in North Korea is difficult.
Banking facilities are limited and traveller's cheques aren't accepted.
ATMs are not available.
You can't use a debit or credit card to withdraw cash from a bank.
Some shops and restaurants catering to travellers might convert foreign currency so you can pay.
Use cash. Take small denominations of foreign currency, as you may not be able to get change from large denominations.
North Korea does not allow independent tourism. Authorities restrict travel within the country.
Authorities only allow tourism in groups organised by North Korean officials or by approved travel agencies.
An official guide must always accompany travellers.
You may have to show your identity documents at police checkpoints when entering and leaving towns.
Travellers often report that charges for travel can be high and arbitrary, including charges for:
- hire vehicles
Assume that authorities are monitoring all your phone conversations. This includes your mobile if it wasn't confiscated when you arrived.
International phone lines may be disconnected without notice.
Some hotels in Pyongyang allow direct dial international phone calls. Charges are high.
Internet access is severely restricted.
Communications are unreliable.
Direct telephone calls with South Korea are not possible.
You can buy food and clean water with hard currency at some hotels and restaurants.
Energy and pharmaceutical shortages are common.
Tour operators or sponsors usually provide road transportation.
Expect regular delays with vehicles and passengers needing to clear through checkpoints.
Highways are relatively good. Rural and some suburban roads can be in a poor state.
Tourists are generally not allowed to drive.
Vehicles may be old and break down.
Authorities restrict the use of public transport, including the rail network.
Ask your tour operator or guide about public transport or rail travel.
If you're travelling by train, expect long delays due to power outages.
Many coastal areas are sensitive.
If you travel to North Korea by sea, your vessel could be detained or fired on.
Flights to and from North Korea are regularly cancelled or delayed.
Sanctions are in place that affect North Korean service providers, including airlines. Check with your tour operator or airline before you travel.
DFAT doesn't provide information on the safety of individual commercial airlines or flight paths.
Check North Korea's air safety profile with the Aviation Safety Network.
Research and carry contact information for local police, medical facilities and your host organisation.
Depending on what you need, contact your:
- family and friends
- travel agent
- insurance provider
Contact your provider with any complaints about tourist services or products.
Read the Consular Services Charter for what the Australian Government can and can't do to help you overseas.
Australia doesn't have an embassy in North Korea.
The Australian Embassy in Seoul provides consular help to Australians in North Korea. Consider registering your travel to North Korea by phoning the Australian Embassy in Seoul.
However, be aware that North Korean authorities may limit the Australian Government's ability to provide consular help.
If you're arrested or detained in North Korea, authorities may deny you consular access to Australian officials. They may also delay access even if they grant it.
If you need consular help, contact the Australian Embassy in Seoul or the Swedish Embassy in Pyongyang.
Australian Embassy, Seoul
19th floor, Kyobo Building
Seoul 03154, Republic of Korea
Phone: +82 2 2003 0100
Fax: +82 2 2003 0196
Check the Embassy website for details about opening hours and any temporary closures.
South Korean phone numbers can't be called from within North Korea.
Swedish Embassy, Pyongyang
Democratic People's Republic of Korea
Phone: (+850) 2 381 7485
Fax: (+850) 2 381 7663
24-hour Consular Emergency Centre
In a consular emergency, if you can't contact an embassy, call the 24-hour Consular Emergency Centre on:
- +61 2 6261 3305 from overseas
- 1300 555 135 in Australia