Which countries cannot visit North Korea? The only country that North Korea restricts visitors from is South Korea (the Republic of Korea), whose citizens need special permission (from both governments).
There are other countries, such as the USA who ban their citizens from going to the country, although much like Cuba, this is not an action reciprocated by the Koreans. Some nations advise against travel to the DPRK, without explicitly banning it. In this instance we always suggest checking with your own government.
The history of North Korean tourism
The main indigenous North Korean travel agency, the Korean International Travel Company was formed in 1953. We were lucky enough to take part in their 60th birthday celebrations, where a number of very interesting initiatives were mentioned! Such as the new beach resort (that is still being built).
You can read about the North Korean beach resort here .
You can read about KITC here .
Early tourism to the DPRK was done very much under the Soviet/Socialist model. You could not simply rock up to the country, you needed to be invited. This meant that most visitors would come from fraternal Socialist countries, such as the USSR, or from organized fraternal socialist organizations in other countries. One of the most famous travel agencies of this kind was “Progressive Tours”, who were run by the Communist Party of Great Britain.
To read about the Communist Party of Great Britain click here.
Therefore and in the early days at least, very few people outside of the socialist circle were to visit the DPRK as tourists.
North Korea opens to tourism
The mid 80’s were a big time for the Socialist Bloc, and a to of changes were made. History might show many of these to be failures, but they reverberated around the whole world, including North Korea.
In 1986 North Korea opened its doors officially to global tourism, although again people still needed to be invited into the country and could not simply travel freely. When North Korea initially opened up to foreign tourists in it excluded citizens of Israel along with those of the United States, Japan, Taiwan, and South Africa.
Aside from citizens of the Republic of Korea (who need special authorization) there is no “banned list” of countries not able to visit the DPRK.
Koryo Tours were formed in 1993, which opened the company to “regular tourism”, with many companies following suit, such as Young Pioneer Tours who took our first group in 2008, almost 13 years ago.
What about Americans visiting North Korea?
Americans were largely banned from entering the DPRK for a long time, with exceptions made for the Mass Games. Initially they were only permitted to stay for 4 days, but this was quickly increased. Interestingly Americans cannot take the train into the country, nor stay in specific hotels, particularly in the countryside. Why? As a Korean friend explained to me, “No why”.
But, this is the North Korean view on things. America have now invalidated US passports for travel into the DPRK. Therefore there is a de-facto ban on Americans going to North Korea, from the American side. This means travel companies could technically still bring in US nationals. We can only speak from our own personal position, but we do not take US nationals into North Korea. Dual nationals can technically still visit the country, if using their other passport, but again we advise doing your own research on this.
Which countries cannot visit North Korea – South Korea
South Koreans are the only citizens we cannot personally take into the country no matter what. South Koreans wishing to go north need permission from both governments to do so, and tend to be part of high level delegations.
This again though is all about your passport! We can take people born in South Korea that now have a Canadian passport for example. It merely means just more paperwork for us.
Foreigners resident in South Korea are also now permitted to enter the country.
So, that probably means you can visit North Korea on one of our tours..