Those thinking about exploring the Asian culture might be curious about one thing: is North Korea safe to visit? Many would say that there are no dangers when it comes to visiting North Korea; however, just as many would say that it’s as dangerous as it could get. It all depends on your luck and how you conduct yourself on those lands.
Granted, because of its political status, North Korea is a fairly unstable country – but where does the danger exactly lie? In some areas, North Korea is less dangerous than others – which is why you ought to learn exactly where you should expect the danger. If you are considering a trip to North Korea, here are some aspects that you might want to keep in mind.
Highest Risks You Expose Yourself to When Visiting North Korea
Overall Risks in North Korea: MEDIUM to HIGH
Visiting North Korea is like stepping onto a landmine: it’s either a hit or a miss – but the government advises against traveling to North Korea unless it is absolutely necessary. Tourists are not really protected in this country, and there are no actual embassies that could actually be of any help if you ever need it.
Access is not prohibited – but traveling as a tourist to North Korea can only be done if you are part of a travel tour. There will be severe limitations to your movement, and independent travel is prohibited. Freedom of speech and behavior is also severely limited.
Most countries are considered a high danger because of terrorist acts, natural disasters, or the state of the economy. In North Korea, however, the restrictions are what cause these dangers. If you do not submit to the North Korean laws, you risk being arrested and detained on the long term for the smallest of crimes. Many U.S. nationals have suffered from this scenario.
Pickpocketing and Theft Risks in North Korea: LOW to MEDIUM
Considering the fact that the country is in the situation that it is, you would think that the pickpocketing risk would be fairly high. However, the situation is quite the opposite. For tourists, the risk is very low.
Considering that your visit will be controlled tightly and that you will not even be able to put yourself in the position of a victim, it is very unlikely that anything will happen to you – at least not when it comes to theft and pickpocketing.
The worth that can happen to you is petty theft at the public markets and the airport – particularly Pyongyang airport.
- How to avoid pickpocketing and theft in North Korea?
While the risk may be low, this does not mean that it is not possible. The situation for some (or most) North Koreans is not that great – and the most desperate ones may resort to theft.
This can be avoided by exercising the proper care and being fully alerts to your surroundings at all times. Stay close to your group and do not wander, lest you want to become a target for both the authorities and prying hands.
Scam Risk in North Korea: LOW to MEDIUM
Just like the risk of pickpocketing, getting scammed is almost fairly low-risk. You may only get scammed when you “lose” your tour group – something which you might want to avoid, because it will bring other issues up your shoulders.
The only places where you may get scammed are the occasional taxis, when the driver does not use the meter and overcharges the ride. However, these are not as commonly used, since North Korea has a fairly efficient public transport system at hand. Anything from trains, subways, and busses are available there.
- How to avoid getting scammed in North Korea?
In order to avoid being scammed, you might want to be very attentive to your surroundings. If the taxi driver refuses to turn on the meter, insist – and if that fails as well, simply get out of the taxi. Considering the traffic, it is likely that you’ll reach your destination faster by using the subway.
Also, you might want to ensure that you are traveling with your group. Not only will this prevent you from being fined by the authorities, but it will also protect you from scammers. When it comes to North Korea safety travel tips, it is always safer to travel in numbers.
Kidnapping Risk in North Korea: MEDIUM
Just like scamming or pickpocketing is not actually an issue when it comes to North Korea, kidnapping is not really an issue either. As long as you stay close to your group, there should be no issues with kidnapping.
There have been several issues of Japanese people kidnapped by North Korea – and also several abductions of non-Japanese citizens. These kidnappings have been conducted by the North Korean government – and not all of them were even made public.
These kidnappings were done for political reasons – mainly because of North Korea’s strained relationship with a particular country. Most victims have been returned alive and safe – but there were also suspicions that some of the kidnapped people have lost their lives in the process.
- How to avoid getting kidnapped in North Korea?
In order to avoid being kidnapped in North Korea, there are two things that you ought to do. The first thing would be to stay close to your group. Regardless of the nature of the kidnapper, there is a low chance of you being approached if you are part of a group. Those who are kidnapped are usually either walking alone or part of very small groups.
Another way of avoiding being kidnapped is by respecting the North Korean laws. If you act in accordance to the government and do not break any laws, chances are that you will not be targeted.
The origin of the kidnapped person could also decide whether or not you are a target. For instance, people from South Korea are not allowed to enter the country – which is why their safety cannot be guaranteed if they enter North Korea. If your country is in conflict with North Korea, you might want to refrain from traveling into.
So, is North Korea safe to visit? If you are travelling with a group, in accordance with the laws in North Korea, then yes, this country is safe to visit. However, if by any chance you are traveling individually or if your country is in conflict with North Korea, then chances are that you might end up being kidnapped by the government.
Terrorism Risk in North Korea: LOW
There have not been any recent terrorist incidents in North Korea – but you still should not rule out an attack. There is a global risk of terrorist attacks that are indiscriminate of the country – and these attacks can be held against tourists and civilians alike.
Groups and individuals motivated by the conflicts in Syria and Iraq are conducting their threats all over the world – and North Korea should be of no exception. Granted, it might be more difficult to enter North Korea as a terrorist than you would in any other country – but it is not impossible.
So, how safe is North Korea for tourists when it comes to terrorists? Fairly safe – but you should still keep an eye out for everything that seems suspicious to you.
- How to avoid terrorism in North Korea?
Since there's no actual threat of terrorism in North Korea, you should only apply the basic safety measures - namely, be aware of your surroundings at all times and try to avoid official buildings.
However, given the fact that you will probably not be walking alone through North Korea, this means that you will be among other tourists - in this case, it will be much easier for you to notice if anything suspicious is happening around you.
Risks for Women Traveling Alone in North Korea: MEDIUM to HIGH
As a woman traveling alone as part of a tour, there should be no reason why you should be in danger. As long as you do what the tour guides tell you and do not insult their political system (and leaders), your trip to North Korea should be fairly pleasant. It’s a beautiful country with many things to see – and with the right tour, there should not be any issues.
This cannot be said, however, if you are travelling alone – and are not part of a tour. Not only is independent travelling illegal, but it will attract the unwanted attention of the authorities. And considering that women no longer have a proper protection system in North Korea, they will certainly be subjected to danger.
So, is North Korea safe for solo women travelers? Yes, it should be – but only as long as you are part of an official guided tour.
- How to avoid crime as a solo woman traveler in North Korea?
As mentioned before, if you stick with your guide and don't wander off, you will be more than safe in North Korea - it is well-known the fact that, in this country, incidents of crime against foreigners are very rare.
Keep in mind that if, by chance, you walk alone into a restricted area, it is very likely that you will be either approached by authorities or even opened fire upon - it is imperative that you stay close to your guide and listen to his/ her instructions.
Rape Risk in North Korea: HIGH
In North Korea, women are routinely a subject of sexual violence – mainly because the law does nothing to protect them. This is mostly the case with local woman – but tourists are of no exception, particularly if they are traveling alone.
Sexual abuse and rape are an everyday occurrence, affecting almost a billion women from or going through North Korea. Most of the incidents occurred close to the border, where women tried to enter or exit the country.
These acts have been conducted by officials as well, the sexual act being “payment” for a service given by the official. Since there is no framework to protect women from this, they have no other option but to comply. So if you are asking yourself the question “is North Korea safe for solo women travelers,” find out that it is not actually really safe – not if you are not part of a tour.
- How to avoid getting raped in North Korea?
Sadly, if you are a victim of this type of abuse, chances are that you will receive no aid from the government. However, if you are a tourist visiting North Korea, you can avoid this kind of scenario by sticking to your tour group.
You should also avoid dressing improperly as a woman. Trousers are frowned upon – and depending on where you plan on visiting, you might find yourself with a big, glorious fine. The best way of avoiding any incidents is to wear long skirts and clothes that are not too revealing. This way, you will not attract any attention from anyone.
Risk for People Traveling with Children in North Korea: MEDIUM
If you are being accompanied by a tour guide, nor you or your children should be affected in any way – as long as you teach them how to be respectful. As long as your child does not do anything to disrespect the system in North Korea – or worse, disrespect their leader – there should be no reason to worry about your and your child’s safety.
The same thing can’t be said, however, if you travel independently from your guide. If you are traveling alone, you are no longer under the protection of the tourist system – and you’ll basically be a “floater” without a life jacket. This applies to your child as well – although most likely, you will be the one who has to pay for their offense.
You might want to read every North Korea safety guide that you can get your hands on – and teach them to your child as well. This way, you will ensure that their conduct is proper and that they will not offend anyone in North Korea
- How to avoid unwanted scenarios?
Even when traveling without or with a guide, you should always keep an eye on your children - this is the most important rule that you should respect when traveling with your children.
Furthermore, you definitely don't want to lose your children inside North Korea - first of all, you'll have a hard time finding them and you also can't know what's going to happen to them if they are apprehended by the authorities.
Natural Disaster Risks in North Korea: HIGH
North Korea is fairly prone to natural disasters of all kinds – from drought to flooding and the occasional typhoon. Floods in particular have been known to kill dozens of people and leaving thousands of them without a home.
Furthermore, the Changbaishan volcano is still historically active – posing the risk of erupting at any time. One can never know when the area around the Chinese border will become engulfed in lava.
Transportations Risks in North Korea: HIGH
As you might have guessed it already, public transport is not something that's usually available to tourists. Moreover, even the taxis that are sometimes available in front of the hotels will have a second thought before giving you a ride, especially if you are not accompanied by a guide.
When it comes to North Korea's road safety, keep in mind that an International Driving Permit is not valid here - the only way to get a driving license in North Korea is by actually living here and passing a local driving test.
However, if you happen to be in the driver's position, be extra cautious as the country's roads are overall in poor condition and come equipped, so to say, with frequent hazards. Furthermore, pedestrians don't tend to be very careful when it comes to vehicles.
Night-Clubs, Pubs, and Bar Risks in North Korea: LOW
North Korea comes with a quite limited nightlife - namely, you can find only two open for tourists hotels in Pyongyang that have some of the facilities a night-club, pub, or bar should have. These are the Koryo and the Yangakkdo Hotel.
In terms of safety, you can rest assured as the night-clubs and casinos that the two aforementioned hotels are equipped with are not open for the locals - in short, you will meet only tourists in such places.
Inside of these so-called night-clubs, you will spend time with the people you are traveling with - and this makes them the only possible dangers, so to say. Other than that, there is really nothing else you should be worried about.
Health Risks in North Korea
When it comes to health risks, be aware of the fact that clinical hygiene is below standards in the North Korean hospitals - such facilities are poorly equipped and often lack even anesthetics.
In case of serious injury or illness, you will most likely have to be evacuated. Naturally, you should avoid having a surgery here at all costs and even any sort of dental treatment.
You should also be very careful when purchasing medicine, even if you are buying a brand you are familiar with - reportedly, the foreign-manufactured brands are usually inappropriately prescribed and out of date.
In short, you should come equipped with the medicine you think you may need, with a proper travel health insurance, and with funds to cover any treatment that you might be subject to.
List of Vaccines You Need While Traveling to North Korea
If you are planning to go to North Korea soon, then you might want to take the necessary precautions. Not every one of these vaccines is mandatory – but it is certainly recommended that you have these shots. Some of these vaccines might need to be had a couple weeks before entering North Korea; otherwise, they will not have enough time to be in effect.
Here are the vaccines that you might want to consider:
- Hepatitis A
- Hepatitis B
- Japanese Encephalitis
- MMR (Mumps, Measles, and Rubella)
- Typhoid Fever
- Yellow Fever
Most of the vaccines are not necessarily compulsory, but may depend on your personal situation. This is why you may want to discuss with your doctor before heading on a trip to North Korea.
Depending on the area that you are planning to visit and the status of your own health, you may or may not be required to take a certain vaccine. You may want to read some North Korea safety travel tips as well, to protect yourself on the spot from illness.
Most Dangerous Areas in North Korea
- Military or restricted areas - trespassing into this kind of zones will most likely get you killed. As long as you stick to your tour guide, you will not come across any dangerous areas in North Korea.
Concluding Remarks: Is North Korea Safe to Visit?
North Korea is a safe place for tourists only if you visit with a tour guide. If you are part of a tour, no one will bother with you, nor will they bring you any harm. If you are part of an official tourist group, then you have a high chance of having a successful trip.
The same thing cannot be said about traveling alone. Almost every government advises against traveling to North Korea – and they only advise to do so if it is strictly necessary. If there’s no other way around it, you might want to read every North Korea safety guide possible. Hopefully, our guide was helpful in your decision of going to North Korea.