Yough Pioneer Tours

North Korea FAQ

North Korea FAQ

How safe is it?
Extremely safe! Despite what you may hear, North Korea is probably one of the safest places on Earth to visit. Tourism is very welcomed in North Korea and tourists are well taken care of. North Korean people are generally extremely friendly and accommodating and we have never felt suspicious or threatened at any time. Even during tense political moments, tourism to the DPRK is never affected.

Do I need to be vaccinated?

No. There aren’t any required vaccinations for travel to North Korea, but as always, it’s sensible to get checked out before your trip, and take any advice given by your doctor.

What do your group tour costs include?

Our tour costs covers rail transportation from Beijing to the DPRK and back, all meals unless detailed as an option on the itinerary, hotel accommodation, two Korean tour guides and a driver, a YPT western guide, all transportation within the DPRK and all entry fees for attractions unless specified within the itinerary.

What if I don’t want to travel in a group?

Understandable. We offer independent tours, as well as group tours. Check out the tours page or get in touch for more details. We do, however, feel that group travel is most enjoyable for North Korea. It may get a little lonely if you’re spending your entire trip with just you and your Korean guides. Independents however are great for those with special interests, families & friends, return visitors or those who are definitely sure they’d rather be on their own.

Can I take photos/videos/selfies?

Of course you can! But some lenses – mostly professional long zoom lenses – can be restricted. There’s no real hard and fast rule any more, but if you’re concerned send us a picture of the lens and we can give you advice. Rason and Extreme North East tours are exceptions, with lenses to those areas restricted to 250mm or less. When taking photos and videos your Korean guides will give you warning of the ‘no-no’ zones, and it’s crucial to follow their requests. For the most part, you are only unable to take pictures of military zones (aside from the D.M.Z), check points, or close up of soldiers.

It’s also suggested and courteous, to ask locals if you can take their picture. Other than this, or whatever else your guides deem unsuitable, snap away! Another thing to be aware of is that we usually will not go back to the hotel during the day, if you plan to use your camera a lot you may want to bring a spare battery or charger with you.

Should I take the train or fly in and out of North Korea?

While there are pros and cons for both options, there’s nothing quite like experiencing life of the lesser-seen rural areas of North Korea pass you by through the window of a Soviet-era North Korean train. However, the convenience of flying direct between Beijing and Pyongyang on the only North Korean airline Air Koryo is well worth the experience – look out for the infamous in-flight mystery meat hamburger meal. Click here for more information on taking the train and here for more info on taking the flight.

Am I free to wander?

No. You must be accompanied by a guide at all times, but this kind of adds to the mysticism of the country. Whilst staying in any given hotel feel free to explore around the hotel and invite your Korean guides for a drink. If you see a place outside you’d like to visit you can ask your YPT guide or if you’re travelling as an independent tourist you may ask your Korean guides, but please understand if the answer is no, it can’t be done.

If I travel to the DPRK will this restrict my future travel to other countries?

Definitely not. Travelling to North Korea doesn’t restrict you from any future travel to other countries – yes that includes South Korea and the U.S. too. It is absolutely fine to travel to South Korea before or after a tour with us to North Korea. As DPRK visas are external to passports

I’m American. Is this a problem?

Not at all! Restrictions on Americans joining tours throughout the year have been lifted. U.S citizens are allowed to travel at any time! The only restrictions are the train – all Americans must fly in and out of the country and for the Extreme North East tours at Mt Chilbo, they can’t stay overnight in the homestay, though they can visit and enjoy a meal with the local families.

Update: Americans can now join us on our new Weekend Getaway tours starting in Dandong, China. Click here for more information.

I’m South Korean. Can I go?

South Koreans holding a passport of another nation are able to use this to travel to the DPRK without any issues. We’ve taken plenty of overseas Koreans to the DPRK on many of our trips and enjoyed watching the friendly and very involving interactions between the locals and the Korean tourists. Koreans travelling on a Republic of Korea (ROK, South Korea) passport are restricted from travelling to the DPRK.

I’m an expat living in South Korea, can I still visit the DPRK?

Absolutely! If you are living in South Korea with a South Korean residency or study/work permit you are able to visit the DPRK. Unfortunately this excludes Japanese and South Korean passport holders. However, if you happen to be Japanese or a South Korean with a second national passport belonging to another country you are able to visit!

I am a journalist. Can I join you on tour?

Journalists need a special visa and permission from the government to enter the DPRK. We do not have permission to bring in journalists. If you try to sneak into our tours as a journalist your DPRK visa will be denied and you run the risk of breaching our terms & conditions.

I’m an ex-military personnel and very interested in visiting the DPRK.

For those travellers who have served in their nation’s military (including the US Army) are welcomed with us to the DPRK. Sharing history of your service with our guides is not a big issue either… in fact most of the male guides might be interested to hear your stories!

What currency should I bring?

Euro or Chinese Yuan (RMB) are the best currencies, personally we recommend RMB as it is much easier to get change for. In some areas USD are preferred, especially on the East coast, but we will advise you before the tour if USD will be useful. Prices are usually set in euros and RMB. Credit cards (including American Express), PayPayl, WeChat, etc are not accepted in the DPRK, nor are their ATM’s available so it’s best to bring more than you’ll need just in case. Further, getting change can sometimes be difficult so we recommend bringing small denominations. If you are exchanging money before your trip in your home country – request small denominations.

How much money should I bring with me?

The amount you decide to bring is completely up to you, but once inside the DPRK the daily costs are minimal. You can buy drinks and food to take with you on your day trips, but mostly those who travel to the DPRK will spend the majority of their spending money on souvenirs. Beers are around €2 and propaganda posters can be anywhere from €15 – €50. Any souvenir books by the leaders or about North Korea are around €5 – €15. At a minimum, €250 or 2500RMB should be sufficient for the ‘average’ traveller (Not including tip money or some additional sites and activities).

Should I be tipping?

YES! You need to tip your guides. If you want to get what you’ve paid for and then some, a tip goes a long way, as it does in any tipping culture. We strongly recommend bringing a gift for your North Korean guides and driver. This is something much appreciated by the local guides and your chance to make a difference to their lives, with 100% of your gifts and tips going directly to your guides and their families. We suggest spending around 10 EUR. The DPRK has very limited access to foreign products, so it is a good idea to use your imagination: local specialties from your home country, beauty products (Japanese are preferred but not necessary), carton of cigarettes (Camel, along with some Japanese brands such as Seven Stars, are the most popular – the Koreans prefer Western/Japanese cigarettes to Chinese ones). Practical gift ideas such as medicine including painkillers, vitamins or cold and flu tablets are appreciated. Or, think outside the box: a nice scarf, small bicycle repair kit, razors (for men and women), electric toothbrush, chocolates, etc. Gifts will be shared between guides, the driver and also with their partners/ families, so do not worry about giving ‘male’ and ‘female’ gifts.

We also strongly recommend giving an entrance gift when you first arrive at the hotel, and have a ‘sit down’ with your guides. This gives them a taste of what’s to come when you leave, and you will be very accommodated throughout your holiday. In general you are not required to tip service staff, though it has become accepted in Pyongyang but not expected. If you feel service staff have made a special effort you can quietly give them a tip if you wish. Keep in mind, that as in any service industry, the guides rely greatly on their tips, so be as generous as you like.

What if I have differing opinions?

Well, you more than likely will, but we recommend refraining from having a debate with the guides. Remember, their beliefs are important to them. Be respectful, don’t laugh, and keep your comments to yourself, until you’ve left. You can ask questions, but in a respectful manner. The guides will delicately let you know if they can’t answer. Everyone has read or seen lots on North Korea, this is your opportunity to listen to the other side. If you’re quiet and listen you’ll be surprised just how much you can learn.

What plugs do the North Koreans use?

Electric plugs are 220 volts, and the plug sizes are the same ones used in Western Europe. If you have different plugs, your hotel can provide adaptors for you.

Can I take my smartphone, tablet,  e-reader and laptop?

These devices are completely fine to bring into the DPRK. As a tourist you are unable to purchase a local sim card but you are able to make international phone calls (yes, this also includes USA) or send emails out from certain hotels around the country. Satellite phones are illegal to bring inside North Korea. Who knows, you just might enjoy a digital detox too.

What to wear to Kumsusan Palace of the Sun (Mausoleum)?

The mausoleum is a very important place for North Koreans. It’s important that you show respect when visiting. ‘Smart casual’ is an easy description of the minimum dress code. You don’t have to wear a suit or formal dress, but definitely no jeans, sandals or brightly coloured trainers. Ties are not required, but your Korean guides will appreciate the effort. Pants with a shirt or blouse would be a perfect choice! You will not be allowed to bring anything inside the Mausoleum bar your wallet, so please leave your cameras, cigarettes etc on the bus. The same rules apply to the International Friendship exhibition in Mt Myohyang and the Korean National Treasure house.

Train/Air Tickets

Not only do we arrange all of your tickets, but they are usually included in the price of your tour (NB flights generally incur an extra charge). Please keep in mind that particularly during peak season, train & flight tickets can be quite difficult to get hold of, so the later you book the harder they are to get. YPT reserve the right to change, or provide a suitable alternative transport solution should this occur.

What happens during the DPRK immigration process?

The experience at Sinuijiu or Pyongyang is pretty straightforward – at the airport they will scan your bags and ask to see your electronics. At Sinuijiu on the train they may check through your bags and ask to see your electronics. They may fiddle around with them out of curiosity but will allow pretty much everything in.

For Extreme North East tours and Rason the experience is much more thorough with customs officials going through everything including your laptops which will be taken to a separate building. Before arrival please put all your electronics including USB and SD cards in a separate bag or somewhere easy to locate and declare them in your customs form. Often books or publications will not be allowed into the country at these borders.

What facilities/services do the hotels have?

Deluxe hotels including the Yanggakdo and Koryo Hotel feature of a wide range of services including laundry, a tailor, business services such as copying and faxes and postal services. All hotels provide shampoo, body wash and toothbrushes/toothpaste. They also feature numerous entertainment facilities and services such as massage, karaoke, billiards, ping-pong and bowling. For hotels outside Pyongyang services are a lot less encompassing. If you have any enquiries about your hotels, please contact us.

I have a strict dietary requirement. Will this cause any issues during the tour?

The restaurants we visit cater for vegetarian, vegan or any other dietary requirements. We do recommend bringing in some snacks you prefer from home just in case you get the munchies on the road and can’t find anything suitable at the time.

Do I need to apply for a Chinese visa if I’m only there for a few days just to visit North Korea?

China now offers a 72 hour transfer visa to most travellers so you don’t need to purchase a Chinese visa. Please review the following link for more information; China transit visa. The requirements are quite rigid so please be sure you meet them and feel free to ask us about it. If you are using the train you will need a double entry Chinese visa, transit visas do not apply to overland entries or exits.

Can I apply for a Chinese visa in North Korea?

Yes but there are restrictions. We strongly recommend you apply for a double entry visa or prepare a 72 hour transfer visa before visiting China and partaking in our tours.

If you are doing a Pyongyang or North East tour you can apply for a single entry Chinese visa. However, when applying in Pyongyang you’ll need to partake in a tour longer than six days as the visa application process requires four full working days (Monday – Friday). When you apply for the visa you will need to supply a flight itinerary (with your flight exiting China), a hotel reservation document and visit the Chinese Embassy for an interview to successfully apply which will result in missing some of the items on the tour itinerary. There is no Chinese embassy in Rason so tourists will need to organise a Chinese visa beforehand.

If you are doing an Ultra Budget tour or a five day tour with us you will not have enough time to apply for a Chinese visa in the DPRK.

I want to volunteer in North Korea, where do I sign?

As tourism to the DPRK grows so does the interest of foreigners wanting to do and experience more in North Korea. We are giving you the opportunity to not only learn more about the Korean culture but to help out local communities in the country by getting involved. For each volunteer tour, a distinct program will be selected, and the entire tour is based around this program as well as seeing all the must see sights of the country. This introduces each traveller to something very rarely seen, done or performed in the DPRK. Please contact us for more information.

But I have so many other questions!

If you have any more questions, drop us an email, or give us a call. We are North Korea veterans. We’re able to answer most of your questions. Those of which we can’t, we’ll find out.

 

Pyongyang Marathon FAQ

The Pyongyang Marathon was opened to amateur runners in 2014 and is now held every year on the Sunday before President Kim Il Sung’s birthday (April 15th). The marathon begins and ends at Kim Il Sung Stadium in Pyongyang and is presently ranked by the IAAF as a Bronze Label Road Race. There are three different distances available to runners: the 10km race, half marathon and full marathon.

After kicking off at Kim Il Sung Stadium, you will run via the Arch of Triumph, Friendship Tower, Eternal Life Tower, Kim Il Sung University, Kumrung Tunnel No.2, Chongryu Suspension bridge, Munsu Street, Rungra Bridge, Kurung Tunnel No.1, Ansangtaek Street, People’s Army Acrobatic Theatre and back to the Arch of Triumph. If you choose to run 10km, you will complete one lap of this course and finish at the Arch. If you choose to run either the Half or Full Marathon runners you will complete two or four laps respectively, finishing in Kim Il Sung Stadium.

Aside from comfortable running clothing, you are also required to bring a tracksuit (jacket and trousers) for attendance of the opening and closing ceremonies. The size and number of any logos on clothing is regulated according to IAAF regulations, however the Pyongyang Marathon is notable for an extra rule – no American or Japanese flags are allowed on any items of clothing.

At the current time the entry fees for the marathon and time allowances are as follows, however those may be subject to change by the ministry of sport or the Pyongyang Marathon Committee.

Marathon Distance Cost of Entry
Full 42km/26 miles $110
Half 20km/12 miles $80
Mini 10km/6 miles $60

 

A race timer is included in the price above. The maximum time limit for the full marathon is 4 hours, half marathon is 2 and a half hours and the mini marathon is 2 hours. All running participants will receive a Pyongyang marathon certificate titled to you, with the top three men and women in each distance receiving ceramic vases at the awards ceremony held in front of 70,000 people!

Registry for all marathon runners is on a first come first served basis and limited to 1500 runners in total, so if you wish to run, book now!

What do our runners from the 2014, 2015 and 2016 marathon say about us and the marathon?

“Pyongyang Marathon is an absolute must. Finishing the run with a lap around the stadium in front of 50,000 people was amazing. YPT tour guide (Chris Kelly) was excellent – had sound information on North Korea and Pyongyang, joined in all the fun and made it an unforgettable experience”

“What an unbelievable experience. We did the Pyongyang marathon which was one of the best experiences of my life – 70,000 people going mad in the stadium and the start and finale and more cheering you through the streets – as a non-professional athlete I would go just for the experience of feeling like one.”

“I did the Marathon tour in April 2014 with YPT, and it was a blast! Had a great group of people and the whole experience was amazing… I would love to see more of the country, and when I go back I’ll definitely join YPT again.”

 

Visa FAQ

We organise all facets of your DPRK visa, however you must arrange your own Chinese visa at your nearest embassy or consulate unless you are eligible for a 72-hour transit visa. It is your responsibility to ensure you have the correct Chinese visa, however we are more than happy to assist you in any way possible with documents to support your application, advice on what type of visa to use, or your eligibility for transit visas, etc. For more information on applying for Chinese visas in the DPRK please visit this page.

 

72 hour transit visa

If you plan on flying in to Beijing International Airport and onward to Pyongyang in under 72 hours you may be eligible for the 72 hour transit visa on arrival. Please find more details here.

 

Double entry visa

If you plan on taking the train between Beijing and Pyongyang you will require a double entry Chinese visa for your initial entry to China and subsequent re-entry following your North Korea tour. We can provide you with a “invitation letter” which along with your tour itinerary will be sufficient in securing a double entry visa with your nearest Chinese embassy.

 

Multiple entry visa

Only applicable if you plan on entering and exiting China multiple times.

 

72 hour transit visa (new page)

 

As of 1st January 2014, citizens of the following countries may enter China at Beijing Capital, Shanghai Pudong, Shanghai Hongqiao, Guangzhou Baiyun, Chengdu Shuangliu, Shenyang Taoxian, Harbin Taiping and Dalian airports and spend 72 hours without applying for a visa for China

Argentina, Austria, Australia, Belgium, Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Brunei, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Macedonia, Malta, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Republic of Montenegro, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, United Arab Emirates, Ukraine, United Kingdom, United States.

South African citizens are only given a 24 hour transit visa.

There are some important criteria to consider however.

Please inform us during your booking process if you wish to use a 72 hour Chinese transfer visa so we can prepare the necessary documents.

  1. Passengers must fly into and out of the SAME airport in China, and must stay in that city. (Most DPRK tour flights leave from Beijing Capital Airport). This means if you wish to use a 72 hour transfer visa you CANNOT use the trainto or out of the DPRK. Beijing Capital Airport has a 72-Hour Transit Visa service desk on the first floor in the arrivals hall.
  2. The passenger must present the following documents to the check in counter before boarding their flight to China. We email an electronic copy of these two documents to you.
  • confirmed flight ticket to another country (not another mainland China airport) and depart within 72 hours of arriving
  • a valid entry visa to the next country

Please note: DPRK visas are not released by the DPRK embassy in Beijing until a couple of days before the tour. If you wish to use the 72 hour transit visa on your flight into Beijing, it’s best to arrive the day before the tour to make sure the visa has been issued before you depart.

  1. The passenger may not arrive in China and then depart on the same round trip ticket, i.e. must arrive in China from one country and leave to a different country (Visiting Korea in between your flights to and from your home country will satisfy this requirement. So for example if you have a round trip ticket from New York to Beijing and back and visit the DPRK in between the two flights it is ok).
  2. The passenger may put forward your request for transit to your airline in advance, so that the airline can declare this to the Immigration Inspection prior to your visit. You will be granted a transit permit at the airport if you meet all requirements.
  3. Due to Air Koryo’s policies in Pyongyang you must bring a printed copy of the ticket confirmation information. This must include your name, flight number, time and date, confirmation number etc. Having it on your phone or tablet is not satisfactory for them.
  4. Customers are responsible for ensuring these policies are followed and accept that YPT will bear no responsibility for any costs they incur if they do not arrange the transit visa correctly. We strongly advise all travellers to check the diplomatic situation between China and their home countries as conditions and costs may change at any time.
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