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Is North Korea Safe?

North Korea is considered a high-risk destination for travelers. Violent crime and civil unrest are rare, but arbitrary arrests and detentions of foreigners occur. Tensions with neighboring countries pose a potential risk of conflict. Medical facilities are severely limited, and travelers should ensure they have comprehensive travel insurance. Independent travel is heavily restricted, and visitors must be accompanied by government guides at all times.

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Safety & Security

North Korea is considered one of the most restrictive and isolated countries in the world, posing significant risks for travelers. Here's an overview of the safety concerns:

  • Crime: While violent crime against foreigners is rare, petty crimes like theft and scams can occur. Disputes with locals should be avoided as they can escalate quickly.

  • Civil Unrest: North Korea has a history of political tension and civil unrest. Protests, demonstrations, and military activity can happen without warning, putting travelers at risk.

  • Political Tension: The country's strained relations with other nations, particularly the United States and South Korea, can lead to heightened security measures and travel restrictions.

  • Terrorism: While the risk of terrorism is generally low, the country's political climate and tensions with other nations can increase the potential for terrorist activities.

  • Surveillance and Restrictions: Travelers are subject to strict surveillance, monitoring, and restrictions on movement and communication. Any perceived violation of rules can result in severe consequences.

  • Arbitrary Arrest and Detention: Foreign nationals have been arrested and detained for actions that may seem trivial, such as taking unauthorized photographs or engaging in unsanctioned religious activities.

  • Limited Consular Assistance: The ability of foreign governments to provide consular assistance to their citizens in North Korea is extremely limited, making it difficult to receive help in case of emergencies or legal issues.

It's crucial for travelers to exercise extreme caution, follow all rules and regulations, and consider the potential risks before visiting North Korea. Consulting with relevant authorities and travel advisories is highly recommended.

Health & Medical

Travelers to North Korea should be aware of the limited medical facilities and potential health risks in the country. While the government claims to have eradicated some infectious diseases, the risk of contracting illnesses like tuberculosis, hepatitis, and food and waterborne diseases remains high due to poor sanitation and lack of resources. Air pollution in major cities like Pyongyang can also pose respiratory health concerns.

  • Vaccinations are strongly recommended, including those for hepatitis A, typhoid, and influenza. Some travelers may also need Japanese encephalitis and rabies vaccines.

  • Medical Facilities are generally inadequate, with shortages of medical supplies, outdated equipment, and limited staff training. Travelers should carry sufficient medication for their entire stay.

  • Food and Water Safety is a significant concern. Avoid tap water, ice cubes, and raw/undercooked food. Stick to bottled or purified water and thoroughly cooked meals.

  • Insect-Borne Diseases like malaria and dengue fever are present in some regions, especially during warmer months. Use insect repellent and wear protective clothing.

  • Animal Diseases like avian influenza (bird flu) have been reported in North Korea. Avoid contact with live poultry and birds.

Travelers with chronic medical conditions or special needs should carefully consider the risks and limitations of North Korea's healthcare system before visiting.

Natural Disasters

North Korea is prone to natural disasters, particularly floods, droughts, and occasional earthquakes. While the risk of major natural disasters is relatively low, travelers should be prepared for potential disruptions and take necessary precautions.

  • Flooding is a common occurrence during the rainy season, which typically lasts from June to September. Heavy rains can lead to flash floods, landslides, and damage to infrastructure, affecting transportation and accessibility to certain areas.

  • Droughts have also been a recurring issue, particularly in the northern regions of the country. These can impact agricultural production and potentially lead to food shortages, which may affect the availability of certain goods for travelers.

  • Earthquakes, while not as frequent as in neighboring regions, have occurred in North Korea. The country experienced a magnitude 6.3 earthquake in 2016, causing some damage to buildings and infrastructure. Travelers should familiarize themselves with earthquake safety procedures.

  • Typhoons and tropical storms can also affect North Korea, especially in the coastal areas. These weather systems can bring heavy rains, strong winds, and potential flooding, which may disrupt travel plans and infrastructure.

It is advisable for travelers to monitor weather conditions, follow local advisories, and have contingency plans in case of natural disasters or severe weather events. Ensuring adequate travel insurance coverage and having emergency contacts readily available is also recommended.


Transportation in North Korea is generally unreliable and can pose safety risks for travelers. Public transportation options are limited, with the following considerations:

  • Trains: The rail network is outdated and poorly maintained. Delays and breakdowns are common. Foreigners may face restrictions on certain routes.

  • Buses: Long-distance buses are available but can be overcrowded and uncomfortable. Safety standards are often lacking.

  • Taxis: Taxis are scarce, especially for foreigners. Those available may be old and poorly maintained.

  • Driving: Renting a vehicle is extremely difficult for tourists. Roads are in poor condition, with inadequate signage and lighting. Erratic driving behavior by locals poses risks.

Travelers are typically restricted to guided tours and must use state-approved transportation. Independent travel is highly regulated and discouraged. Breakdowns, accidents, and detours are common occurrences, requiring patience and flexibility.

Cultural Norms

North Korea is a highly insular and tightly controlled society, with strict rules and customs that visitors must adhere to. Respecting the local culture is crucial for a smooth and safe travel experience. Here are some essential tips:

  • Dress Conservatively: Avoid revealing clothing, especially for women. Cover up when visiting sites of cultural or religious significance.

  • Public Displays of Affection: Refrain from public displays of affection, as they are frowned upon and may be considered offensive.

  • Photography Restrictions: Exercise caution when taking photographs. Many areas, including military installations and government buildings, are strictly off-limits for photography.

  • Political Discussions: Avoid engaging in political discussions or making critical comments about the government, as this can be perceived as highly offensive and may lead to serious consequences.

  • Guided Tours: Most foreign visitors are required to travel with authorized guides and follow predetermined itineraries. Respect the guidelines provided by your tour guides.

  • Respect for Leaders: Showing disrespect towards the country's leaders, such as defacing or mistreating their images, is considered a grave offense and can result in severe penalties.

  • Alcohol Consumption: While not strictly prohibited, excessive alcohol consumption is generally frowned upon and may be seen as disrespectful.

  • Gifts: If offered gifts by locals, it is polite to accept them graciously, even if you do not intend to keep them.

Adhering to these cultural sensitivities can help ensure a respectful and safe travel experience in North Korea.

Emergency Services

Emergency services in North Korea are extremely limited and unreliable for foreign travelers. The availability and quality of emergency services cannot be guaranteed, and response times may be severely delayed or non-existent, especially in remote areas.

  • Limited Resources: North Korea's emergency services suffer from a severe lack of resources, including trained personnel, modern equipment, and adequate facilities. This can significantly impact their ability to respond effectively to emergencies.

  • Restricted Access: As a foreigner, your access to emergency services may be restricted or denied altogether, particularly in sensitive areas or during times of heightened security.

  • Language Barriers: Communication barriers can further complicate emergency situations, as most emergency personnel may not speak English or other foreign languages fluently.

  • Tourist-Specific Services: There are no dedicated emergency services specifically designed for foreign tourists in North Korea. You will be relying on the same limited resources available to locals.

It is crucial for travelers to exercise extreme caution and take all necessary precautions to minimize the need for emergency assistance during their visit to North Korea. Obtaining comprehensive travel insurance and carrying a well-stocked first-aid kit is highly recommended.

Frequently Asked Questions

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Is North Korea safe for tourists?

North Korea is generally not safe for tourists. The country has strict rules and regulations, and any violation can lead to severe consequences. Tourists must be accompanied by government-approved guides at all times and follow a pre-approved itinerary. Independent travel is not allowed.

Is North Korea safe for solo female travelers?

Solo female travelers are not recommended to visit North Korea. The country has a conservative culture, and women may face additional restrictions and scrutiny. Female travelers are advised to dress modestly and avoid traveling alone, especially at night.

Is North Korea safe for families?

North Korea is not a suitable destination for families with children. The country has limited facilities and activities for children, and the strict rules and regulations can be challenging for families. Additionally, the political situation and potential for unexpected incidents make it a risky choice.

Is North Korea LGBTQ+ friendly?

North Korea is not LGBTQ+-friendly. Same-sex relationships are considered illegal and punishable by law. The LGBTQ+ community faces discrimination and persecution, and public displays of affection or expression of LGBTQ+ identity are strictly prohibited.

Do you need a visa to go to North Korea?

Yes, a visa is required to visit North Korea for most foreign nationals. The process of obtaining a visa is complex and must be arranged through authorized travel agencies. Visitors are typically required to travel as part of an organized tour group and follow a strict itinerary.

Can you drink tap water in North Korea?

Tap water is not safe to drink in North Korea. The water supply is often contaminated and can cause serious illnesses. Visitors are advised to drink only bottled or purified water and avoid consuming any food or beverages that may have been prepared with tap water.

What is the currency in North Korea?

The official currency of North Korea is the North Korean Won (KPW). However, foreign currencies, especially the US Dollar, Euro, and Chinese Yuan, are widely accepted in tourist areas and for transactions with foreigners.

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