Traveling To North Korea On A US Passport Is Now A Felony

Filed Under: Travel

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about how the US was planning on banning tourism to North Korea. This came after Otto Warmbier died a few weeks ago, after having been held in captivity in North Korea for several months. He returned to the US in a coma, and died just days later. He had visited North Korea over New Years, and was accused of trying to steal a North Korean banner from the hotel he was staying at.

North Korea accused him of committing a “hostile act” on behalf of a church, a secretive university organization, and the CIA. Within a couple of weeks he was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor in North Korea, as he “confessed to the serious offense against the DPRK he had committed, pursuant to the US government’s hostile policy toward it, in a bid to impair the unity of its people after entering it as a tourist.”

At the time we received unofficial word that the US would be banning Americans from visiting North Korea. It looks like that’s now official. Per a filing yesterday, United States passports are invalid for travel to North Korea as of September 1, 2017. This restriction is due to the “serious risk of arrest and long-term detention.” Here’s what the filing says about this new restriction:

SUMMARY: The Department of State is declaring all U.S. passports invalid for travel to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) unless the travel meets certain criteria.

DATES: The travel restriction is in effect on September 1, 2017.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: The Department of State has determined that the serious risk to United States nationals of arrest and long-term detention represents imminent danger to the physical safety of United States nationals traveling to and within the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), within the meaning of 22 CFR 51.63(a)(3). Therefore, pursuant to the authority of 22 U.S.C. 211a and Executive Order 11295 (31 FR 10603), and in accordance with 22 CFR 51.63(a)(3), all United States passports are declared invalid for travel to, in, or through the DPRK unless specially validated for such travel, as specified at 22 CFR 51.64. The restriction on travel to the DPRK shall be effective 30 days after publication of this Notice, and shall remain in effect for one year unless extended or sooner revoked by the Secretary of State. Dated: July 21, 2017.

Well, there you have it. If you’re American and want to legally visit North Korea, you have about four weeks left to do so. As far as the exceptions go, while I can’t find an official document on this, ABC claims that exceptions include “journalists traveling to cover North Korea, American Red Cross or International Committee of the Red Cross employees on official business, other aid workers with compelling humanitarian considerations, and anyone else whose trip is otherwise in the national interest.”

H/T Every Passport Stamp

  1. I note the exceptions in my post on this.

    22 CFR 51.64 allows the Department of State to offer special validation of passports for North Korea travel if “determined to be in the national interest” and the person seeking to travel is a professional journalist traveling to “”obtain, and make available to the public, information about the restricted area,” if the person is representing the Red Cross on an official mission, if the trip is “justified by compelling humanitarian considerations” or if the trip “is otherwise in the national interest.”

  2. Can Americans who hold other citizenships travel to North Korea on the other passport?

  3. WT Plus

    That is how many Americans got around the ban on Cuba when that was in effect. Just enter on your other passport (and of course fly via a third country).

    But then it was never a felony to visit Cuba.

  4. While I have no plans to visit the DPRK anytime soon, whatever happened to this thing called freedom?

  5. @Mike O: While I agree with the sentiment of your comment, the reality is that the government is frequently looked to for assistance in cases like Otto Warmbier’s. That puts the government in a precarious position of either looking like it doesn’t care about its citizens (if nothing is done to help) or using a lot of diplomatic capital on just 1 person. It’s a lose-lose situation for the government, so the State Department’s declaration on DPRK makes a lot of sense.

  6. In layman terms, “Dear Stupid, please stop doing stupid things. Regards, your stupid administration.”

    Since this only give another challange for the stupid to proof that their stupidity is the best stupid there is.

  7. How does this rise to the level of a felony as the blog headline would imply? None of the cites noted in the article impose criminal sanctions/penalties on US citizens.

  8. @WT Plus @Andy Great. Just know that when you enter a country on another passport, you are declaring that you wish to be treated as a citizen of that other country — US consular officials have zero legal capacity nor any moral obligation to render assistance. It’s not just about preventing people from doing stupid things, but avoiding situations where retrieving one or two citizens requires political actions which damage national security. @Mike O US citizens should absolutely be free to do stupid things, but when these stupid things are a danger to others, freedom is curtailed

  9. How is it now illegal? So what, that the state department determined us passport invalid for travel to NK. If NK accepts them, what can the US do. I seriously doubt anyone is going to jail.

  10. @KahunnaTravel

    The relevant criminal statute is 18 USC § 1544 (2011). Misuse of passport.

    “…Whoever willfully and knowingly uses or attempts to use any passport in violation of the conditions or restrictions therein contained, or of the rules prescribed pursuant to the laws regulating the issuance of passports…Shall be fined under this title, imprisoned not more than…10 years (in the case of the first or second such offense, if the offense was not committed to facilitate such an act of international terrorism or a drug trafficking crime)…”

  11. @EV LOC it’s the US that could arrest them on return. You probably could get in with out a problem but on your return if you are caught you could be arrested.

  12. As someone who’s been to the DPRK, I agree with the ban. Given that we’re at risk of war any day, I think it makes sense to try to prevent U.S. citizens from getting in harm’s way should it happen.

  13. I think it is bullcrap. I visited North Korea last month and i felt safer than i do in my hometown of Savannah ga. I encourage anyone that has an usa passport to visit north korea. *Just don’t tell anyone about it. Btw North korea doesn’t stamp us passport s

  14. As long as Donald trump is in office. Who said that I would be coming back ? To this sorry ass country. No one will ever dictate. My comings and goings. No Man.. Or Woman. Im not an never will be politically correct. That’s a bunch of garbage.

  15. You posted about north korea torturing and killing an american, and said you drew the line at north korea, but you still go to the middle east where they torture kill people for who they love, protesting peacefully, driving a car, going out on their own. this is no different to north korea. please stop going to countries that abuse people’s human rights

  16. Imagine the uproar from the “freedom fighters” if this had been enacted by the “black guy”.

    It would have been the act of a dictator…

  17. So Lucky, that means you’ll have to use your German passport for the long awaited Air Koryo business class review. No? It would be interesting to see Air Koryo compared with Spirit.

  18. This is pure lunacy. While we may not agree that otto’s punishment was in line with his crime, he did commit a crime and for all of us who want to visit the DPRK, we are now being punished. This is not freedom.

  19. How would they enforce that? Tourists get a visa on a separate paper, they don’t get a stamp into the passport… officially there is no proof that somebody went to DPRK, unless US does some deal with Chinese… of course, if you send a postcard from DPRK, or brag on instagram, youtube or facebook you could have problems.

    I only wish that Lucky would have opportunity to test out the famour “Air Koryo” burger and its business class. Or even the vegetarian option (the same, but without the “meat”). I found service and food (surprisingly) on Air Koryo so much better than on any chinese airline (at least in economy). And i used to live in China for three years and travelled around quite a bit.

  20. US can gather intelligence from many sources.

    Payment paper trails. Cell phone pings/records.

    Do you really think the US does not have access via hacking to other country’s hacking into another country’s customs\immigration processing system?

    If North Korea and Cuba stamp a paper other than your passport, they are still logging the visit, and I am positve the US can see the visit if they pry.

  21. @Andrew – Since Dennis Rodman is, essentially, our de facto U.S. Ambassador to North Korea, perhaps he’ll get a pass.

    And that sounds ridiculous and laughable… except it’s becoming increasingly clear that Rodman literally is the United States’ best diplomatic connection to Kim Jong Un, and undoubtedly a source of some valuable intelligence (whether Rodman is aware of it or not).

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