North Korea Suspends Tourist Visas

Filed Under: Travel

For those brave enough to visit North Korea, the only way to visit is with a tour operator. You fly to China, and then your visa for North Korea will be issued there, and then you’ll be accompanied on your trip, as the country doesn’t allow independent tourism.

It goes without saying that there has been a lot of “excitement” surrounding North Korea lately, especially following the summit between Trump and Kim. I’m not sure what to make of all of this, though it seems that stuff isn’t quite as tense as it used to be (for example, Air China discontinued flights to Pyongyang, presumably due to pressure from the US, but they’ve since reinstated them).

That’s why I find it interesting that North Korea has suspended the issuance of tourist visas through September 9, 2018. This is according to one of the largest tour operators for North Korea, which wrote the following on their website:

Koryo Tours were informed on 13 August by our partners in Pyongyang that they had been instructed from above that all tourist visa applications currently underway are to be frozen. This freeze applies to all tourists visas currently being processed. This follows a similar temporary halt to all tour groups visiting Korea with Chinese tour companies.

The reason(s) for this freeze has (have) not given (frustrating we know, our partners are in the dark about it as well) but it is expected that at the end of this month the situation will be clear, applications will be unfrozen, and visas will be issued very quickly after that. This suggests to us that this is an issue with the general capacity of the country to receive visitors in September and as various high-level state delegations are expected to go to Pyongyang in September that a higher power in the country is simply pressing pause on tourism until it is clear to them who is coming in such delegations and how many people. This seems the most likely and characteristic reason for this unusual act.

So it’s not entirely clear whether this is due to political reasons, whether it’s because they don’t have the capacity to handle the current demand for tourism, or what. This is something to keep an eye on, though, as I’m curious to see how quickly they reinstate visa issuance.

(Tip of the hat to You Have Been Upgraded, featured image courtesy of Kristoferb)

  1. So i’m someone who is actually affected by this visa ban – or supposedly. I have a tour booked on the 8th September with Young Pioneer Tours (which happens to be the tour company Otto Warmbier took); also one of the largest companies providing tours to NK. Unlike Koryo Tours however who issued this statement, YPT have not announced any issues, and just a few hours ago via email a staff member told me that the visa ban still only affects Chinese Travel Agencies and not them. A bit confusing as Koryo & YPT are both Chinese registered companies, so whether there is a conflict of information, or YPT are holding back info it will be interesting to find out soon. It may be that because they have frozen new applications for visas rather than any existing visas I might be in the clear.

    It is common practise for NK tours to be booked up far in advance to allow at least a month for the NK visa to process, therefore it would be interesting to see who is really affected by this, as if a certain company maybe leaves the visa processing last minute certain travellers might be screwed.

  2. “Brave enough”? North Korea is probably one of the safest country on earth to visit, if you look at the percentage of tourists that have ran into any problems there.

    Also, it is not uncommon for them to stop letting tourists in. It happens every now and then, without any warning.

  3. If what they did to Otto Warmbier, isn’t enough to scare you, then perhaps the 10” worms the South Korean surgeon removed from gut of the North Korean Soldier defector last year might raise concerns about food safety.

  4. I wouldn’t go there. I hear their leader lies and cannot be trusted. They waterboard people, separate children from their parents and keep them in cages. Oh wait…

  5. @Donna, and how many tourists are simply murdered in other countries and you never hear about it? NK gets attention if something happens to 1 person. I’d be very interested to visit there. Hope the visa issue is only temporary.

  6. For most tourists this will be no issue at all. They like tourists for the money they bring and will probably clear the backlog in two days.

  7. @Dennis – Actually, one does hear of tourists getting murdered in other countries occasionally however, the big difference is that the government isn’t the perpetrator.

  8. Why would anyone want to legitimize this monstrous regime by traveling there and giving them money?

    Are you doing it for Instagram? For frequent-flier miles? Is it just so you can cross another country off your meaningless bucket list of countries you’ve visited but few others have?

  9. North Korea monitors the internet. They have been known to be petty to retaliate or even kidnap ordinary citizens, especially Japanese. Therefore, I salute to the Great Leader! He can do no wrong! He cares about the world! His nuclear weapons are only because of the hegemony of the imperialist yankees and their barking dog dotard lackey!

  10. I went there. You guys should visit before the regime collapses / improves (lol). So, while I can see those people who don’t want to support their government. I do highly recommend experiencing it. Press agencies routinely pay shady governments and terrorist groups for access and interviews. Plus, the US of A president already made it official by meeting the guy.

    Take it as a multi-day stage performance. Enjoy their entertainment, Follow the rules, don’t do stupid things and just take in their point of view. It will make you a fuller person.

    Given how many tourist go to DPRK and the handful that gets into trouble. You are more likely to be killed on the streets of Beijing or a problem with the flight.


  11. “that they had been instructed from above that all tourist visa applications currently underway are to be frozen” – God told them? Wow I guess Trump isnt the only one with a direct channel to the almighty.

  12. oh no what a terrible news to read oh my goodness now my summer holidays are over oh crap what am i gonna do i was SO looking forward to visiting this amazing country *sarcasm*

  13. Is it risky ro visit? Let see…..the supreme leader lies, appoints family members in government roles, threatens other countries, has a huge intelligence service that spies on its own citizens, locks up people, ignores international treaties, exports weapons around the globe, is involved in attempts to change foreign governments, has one of the highest % of citizens in jail worldwide, calls itself democracy exporting but has rwalnpoer concentrated in government organs……yeah scary place to visit.

  14. Oh forgot, he also monitors the internet, taps all calls, taps all emails, has access to all message platforms and upon entry you may be asked for your social media passwords

  15. I hate hearing that traveling to North Korea as a tourist is an act of bravery, because I disagree. It’s an act of selfishness. By traveling there without intent to improve the situation, all you are doing is putting your country on the line to invest resources to bring you back home when DPRK decides to throw an Otto Warmbier tantrum and use you as a bargaining chip. I respect others ability to do what they want with their life, and I also appreciate journalists and humanitarian workers and others who enter the DPRK as work with the intent to improve the situation for people, but let’s stop calling the random thrill-seeking tourists entering the country brave heroes, because they are not.

  16. Likely has to do with Moon Jae In’s visit to Pyongyang. While they have not announced the date publicaly, I suspect it is during this window.

  17. @whoops
    The reason for YPT not notifying you is because they suck.

    Go take a look at Chinese agencies, not those agencies registered in China and run by foreigners. They suspended their NK tours for the next few weeks as well.

    It is highly suspected that this is for “security reasons”. NK is preparing for the military parade for their 70th National Day on 9th of September, and they don’t want potential foreign spies to peek into their arsenal. Also, Chinese President Xi Jinping is said to be visiting Pyongyang around that time as well, so now we wonder why…

  18. It’s too late, by many decades, to visit “exotic” Nazi Germany.

    But NK is still an option for the adventurous traveler.

    And I understand it’s a great place to get some free posters as well.

  19. People traveling to North Korea are not “brave”and it is not “adventure tourism”. You are traveling to a totalitarian regime and there are no consequences for their actions. Adventure travel is something that pushes your own limits and fears, not because of others actions.

  20. Been there – done that. An interesting perspective on a country that is so opaque. I wouldn’t consider myself ever feeling fearful or in danger while I was there. Just be responsible and follow etiquette.

  21. @Justin yep anybody who is stupid enough to go there should not expect their government to lift a finger to get them back if they get arrested. The regime isn’t trustworthy, so people who go there are on their own.

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