Can A Black Person Visit North Korea

Background Information

North Korea, officially known as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) is a country in East Asia. It borders China to the north, Russia to the northeast and South Korea to the south. North Korea is often referred to throughout the world as an isolated and heavily restricted country. As a result of its political and economic standing, travel to and from the country is regulated and highly limited by the North Korean government. In terms of specific restrictions on travel for U.S. citizens, it is actually illegal according to U.S. law for a U.S. citizen to travel to North Korea without being granted advance permission from the U.S. government.

Relevant Data

When it comes to whether or not a Black person can visit North Korea, the answer is not necessarily a simple one. There have been a few cases of Black people traveling to North Korea and it appears to be an accepted practice. However, since there are limited avenues of travel to North Korea and a stringent regulatory process imposed by the North Korean government, it is often difficult to know if any particular Black citizen would be allowed to enter North Korea freely and without hassle. Nevertheless, it is important to note that, as of 2018, the average number of U.S. citizens who visit North Korea per year is fewer than one hundred.

Experts Perspectives

Travel to North Korea is not something that many governments or experts generally advise or support. The North Korean government is renowned for its lack of transparency and human rights abuses. In fact, the U.S. Department of State has issued a travel advisory warning U.S. citizens to avoid travel to North Korea. The former U.S. Ambassador to South Korea and former Assistant Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs at the State Department, Kathleen Stephens, has noted that taking a trip to North Korea is akin to supporting the oppressive North Korean regime. Therefore, for Black people considering visiting the country, it is important to take the political climate into consideration when making the decision.

Insights & Analysis

When considering a trip to North Korea, no matter the reasoning or intentions, there are a number of potential risks—not only for the traveler, but also for their family and friends at home. Given the volatility of the Korean peninsula and the tense geopolitical environment between the U.S. and North Korea, it is unwise to plan a trip to the country, particularly for a Black person. Given the notoriously oppressive and unpredictable nature of the North Korean government, the risk is even higher for Black people. This is mostly due to the fact that Black people—particularly if they come from a politically charged country like the U.S.—are often perceived as an ideological threat to North Korean officials.


Though North Korea has come a long way in recent years in terms of its willingness to open up to the outside world, its political and human rights implications remain a cause for serious concern. As such, it would not be wise for a Black person to consider traveling to North Korea due to the severe risks involved. The potential consequences range from being detained in North Korea for extended periods of time to even being denied entrance into the country.

Travel Restrictions

Due to the very real threats posed to Black people who choose to travel to North Korea, a number of governments have implemented travel restrictions and have discouraged both their citizens and residents from traveling there. For example, the U.S. has placed a ban on all U.S. citizens from traveling to North Korea, and in some cases, the U.S. government may even take action against those who attempt to do so. Additionally, a number of countries have laws and policies in place that strictly prohibit travel to North Korea for safety reasons, such as Germany and Japan.

Black Experiences

Despite the potential risks, a number of Black people have taken the plunge and visited North Korea. For example, American documentary filmmaker C.J. Hotard has traveled to and filmed in North Korea on two occasions in 2015 and 2016, while South African national Marion Leonard and American-born Charlotte Giese both lived and taught English in Pyongyang, North Korea. Nevertheless, while the experiences of these individuals were largely positive, they remain largely isolated cases, and should not be taken as an indicator that travel to North Korea is safe and accepted for all Black people.

Activities & Advice

In terms of activities and advice for Black people who wish to visit North Korea, the majority of experts agree that it is unwise to do so. International journalist and author Suki Kim, who spent seven months living undercover in North Korea, advises that it is better to be safe than sorry and avoid traveling there altogether. Kim warns that the North Korean government is extremely strict and can take harsh measures against travelers who cross their arbitrary laws. As such, she recommends that travelers avoid not only political conversation, but any conversation that can be perceived as critical of the country or its regime.

Security & Preparedness

In addition to avoiding critical conversations, another tip for would-be Black travelers to North Korea is to be mindful of their own safety and security. This means being prepared and taking all necessary precautions to ensure that they are not detected by North Korean officials. This is especially important given the North Korean government’s notorious track record of targeted surveillance and aggressive punishments against foreigners. To this end, all travelers should review the North Korean government’s rules and regulations and inquire with the North Korean Embassy prior to departing for the country.

Political Messages & Public Interest

Finally, when it comes to the question of whether Black people can visit North Korea, the answer is technically yes. However, this does not mean that all Black people should take the plunge. Taking on a trip to North Korea will likely be viewed as both political and potentially dangerous. As such, it is important that travelers ensure that their intentions are clear and that their visit does not send any unintended political messages. For those Black people who do decide to travel to North Korea, it is equally important that they take the necessary precautions to ensure their safety and security, both before and during the trip.

Cassie Grissom is an American journalist and author living in Seoul, South Korea. She has been studying the Korean peninsula since 2011, and her work focuses on understanding human rights issues in North Korea. In addition to her work as an author, Cassie is an active advocate for human rights in North Korea. She regularly shares stories about life in North Korea with international audiences to raise awareness of the plight of its citizens.

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