Yough Pioneer Tours

North Korean FAQ

North Korea FAQ

How safe is it to visit North Korea?

Answer – Despite what you may hear, for most nationalities, North Korea is probably one of the safest places on Earth to visit provided you follow the laws as provided by our documentation and pre-tour briefings. Tourism is very welcomed in North Korea. North Korean’s are friendly and accommodating, if you let them into your world and avoid insulting their beliefs or ideology. Even during tense political moments tourism to the DPRK is never affected.

However it is important to note that they have what amount to extremely strict lèse-majesté laws (our pre tour travel agreement which all tourists must sign before a tour cover these in greater details) and in the event you should contravene those laws the consequences can be severe.

Do I need to be vaccinated?

Answer – 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?

Answer – 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?

Answer – 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.

I want to know more about the Pyongyang Marathon.

Answer –The Pyongyang Marathon is formally known in North Korea as the Mangyongdae Prize International Marathon. It is held every year on the Sunday before the President Kim Il Sung’s birthday (April 15th). It is ranked at present by the IAAF as a Bronze Label Road Race.

The Marathon begins and ends at the Kim Il Sung Stadium in Pyongyang. The race was opened to amateur runners and tourists in 2014 and will welcome any participants for future tours. There are four different distances available to runners: the 5km marathon, mini marathon (10km), half marathon and full marathon.

For more information regarding the marathon please click here.

Can I take photos/videos/selfies?

Answer – Of course you can! But some lenses can be restricted mostly professional long zoom lenses. 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 lenses to those areas should be 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 these, 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 your charger with you.

Am I free to wander?

Answer – 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 to 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?

Answer – Definitely not. Travelling to North Korea doesn’t restrict you from any future travel to other countries including South Korea and the US, even if you are travelling to South Korea directly before or after a tour with us to North Korea it is absolutely fine. If you have travelled to North Korea however, and wish to visit the United States, you will not be eligible for the ESTA Visa waiver program (providing you would have been otherwise) and will need to apply for a normal visa.

I’m South Korean. Can I go?

Answer – 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?

Answer – 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 people travelling with those passports. However, if you happen to be Japanese or a South Korean with a second national passport which belongs to another country you are able to visit!

I’m an American. Can I join your tours?

Answer – Recent cases of severe unwarranted consequences for American detainees in North Korea means we now consider the risk to Americans visiting North Korea to be too high and as such we can no longer accept Americans travelling on US passports for tours to North Korea. On September 1st, 2017 the U.S State Department introduced a ban on U.S citizens from travelling to North Korea.

I am a journalist. Can I go?

Answer – 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.

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

Answer – 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.

The overnight sleeper train between Beijing and Pyongyang is 24 hours. The train between Dandong (bordertown city of China) and Pyongyang for our Ultra Budget tours is 7 hours. We organise comfortable sleeper beds for our toursits but the option of being upgraded to first class (soft sleeper) cabins are availble.

Air Koryo is the flagship carrier of North Korea and have almost daily flights to and from Beijing, as well as weekly services to Vladivostok (Russia), Shenyang (China) and occasionally Shanghai (China).

Click here for more information on taking the train and here for more details on taking the flight.

Please keep in mind that particularly during peak season, 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 currency should I bring with me to North Korea?

Answer – 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), PayPal, Alipay, 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?

Answer – Having access to the local DPRK Won currency is not permitted for foreign tourists so either Chinese RMB, EURO or USD is accepted within the country. RMB is used widely within North Korea and much preferred by the locals. It is also easier receiving change in RMB. EURO and USD are accepted in most places however your change may be given back to you with RMB. Some areas in North Korea give the exchange rate of 10RMB to 1USD or 1 EURO.

We highly recommend bringing RMB to make your travels easier and more convenient.

Euro coins are not always accepted in North Korea. If your note is torn, dirty, old or faded you will encounter issues with Koreans accepting it. Clean and crisp notes are preferred by the Koreans.

There are no ATMs, Western Unions or credit card facilities in North Korea. The money you bring in with you on the tour is the money you have during your entire duration. If you run out there is no way to access cash from your bank accounts.

In terms of spending money in North Korea, it depends on how much you like to drink and how many gifts you want to buy. People tend to spend the most money in the evenings – a pint of draft beer at the hotel bar is roughly 15 RMB, a can of soft drink is usually around 10 RMB. A packet of cigarettes starts at 5 RMB, mineral water is about 2 RMB per bottle and 7 RMB for sparkling. The tap water in North Korea is not considered safe to drink.

North Korean books range from 10 RMB to 35 RMB for short pamphlets, hard cover pictorials can cost up to 400 RMB. A regular paperback can cost around 40 RMB. Original artworks range from 250 RMB – 1000+ RMB.

Postcards are 5 RMB each and international stamps are around 10 RMB each. With most things included in the tour price it is possible to bring very little money, but people tend to spend more than they expected on drinks, souvenirs and evening entertainment, such as billiards and karaoke, so bring more than you think you’ll need to avoid any issues with running out of spending cash in North Korea.

We also encourage you to set aside a tip for the North Korea guides to give at the end of the tour, which is the custom and as such is somewhat expected.

Should I be tipping?

Answer – 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. Before you book we will send Pre tour information which contains more details about tipping that is specific to the type of tour you have booked.

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?

Answer – Well, you more than likely will, but we recommend refraining from having a debate with the guides. Remember, that 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?

Answer – 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 cellphone, smartphone, tablet, e-reader and laptop?

Answer – These devices are completely fine to bring into the DPRK. As a tourist you are unable to purchase a local simcard 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.

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

Answer – 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.

What happens during the DPRK immigration process?

Answer – 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 they will go 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?

Answer – In the Deluxe hotels – The Yanggakdo and the Koryo hotel there is a wide range of services including laundry, business services such as copying and faxes, and post. 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?

Answer – The restaurants we visit caters for all vegetarians, vegans and other unique dietary requirements out there. 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?

Answer – China now offers a 144 hour transfer visa to most foreigners 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 Chinese visa, transits do not apply to overland entries or exits.

 

 

Can I apply for a Chinese visa in North Korea?

Answer – Yes but there are restrictions. We recommend for you to apply for a double entry visa or preparing a 144 hour transfer visa before visiting China and partaking in our tour.

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 to visit the Chinese Embassy for an interview to successfully apply which will result in you missing out on some of the items on the tour itinerary. There is no Chinese embassy in Rason so tourists will need to organize 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?

Answer – As tourism to the DPRK grows so does the interest of foreigners wanting to do and to experience more in North Korea. We are giving you the opportunity to not only learn more about the Korean culture but to also help out local communities in the country by getting involved. For each volunteer tour, a distinct program will be selected, and the entire tour would be 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!

Answer – 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.

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