Can I Visit North Korea From South Korea

Can I Visit North Korea From South Korea?

The highly anticipated 2020 Tokyo Olympics are fast approaching, but this summer also marks a historic moment for the countries of North and South Korea as the two nations work towards reconciliation. South Koreans in particular are becoming increasingly curious about the mysterious North Korean regime just beyond their borders. With the high levels of political tension that remain between the two countries, is it even possible for South Koreans to visit North Korea?

How Travelling To North Korea Is Structured

North Korea is ruled by an oppressive totalitarian regime, meaning that access to the state is highly restricted. For South Korean citizens, it is not possible to take a quick day trip to North Korea as a tourist and explore Pyongyang’s neon-lit skyline. In order to be allowed inside, strict credentials and lengthy applications must be presented, and even then, a visit is not guaranteed. For example, International humanitarian workers, journalists, and college groups are some of the few able to apply and if approved, visits can be coordinated either through an organised tour or independently.

Advantages Of Organized Tours

Organized tours are regulated by tour operators like the Koryo Group that ensure that tourists follow therules of the state and observe protocol throughout the duration of the trip, making them thesafe option for entry. This level of control gives tourists an organized experience, allowing themthe chance to interact and speak with locals and to visit areas where photography and filming ispermitted. However, the downside of this form of entry is the inability to control or alter theitinerary, as all organized tours are scripted, allowing visitors limited times and access to certainplaces. These organized tours are also known to be heavily monitored, and tour hosts often tailtourists the whole way, making it difficult to truly get a sense of the culture.

What Is Required For Independent Visits?

For those choosing the independent route, more evident risks are associated. Independentvisitors to the country must go through the arduous process of submitting the necessary applicationsto the North Korea authorities and must have an official guide assigned to them. Moreover, applicantsmust also take special measures, such as securing visas, remitting hundreds of dollars, and obtainedtheir admissions beforehand. As a result, payments and arrangements are done in a very secretivemanner and in general, authorization is rarely given to independent tours, making this routeunpopular.

South Korean Citizens Entering North Korea

For South Korean citizens entering North Korean, an entirely different set of regulations apply. The South Korean government must first approve of the citizen’s entry into the North, and it is highly advisable that South Korean’s seek government approval rather than any other organization.


North and South Korea had been split since the 1950s, but in recent years, the two countries have seen unprecedented levels of diplomatic cooperation. It is too early to say if this will open the door for South Koreans to explore their estranged neighbour, but for now, visiting North Korea is highly regulated and requires extensive applications and credentials to even be considered.

Impact of South Korea’s Political Diplomacy on Access

South Korea’s president, Moon Jae-in is committed to facilitating further rapprochement betweenNorth and South Korea in the wake of the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics. These diplomatic efforts have already led to the reopening of the railway between the two countries, the first time in decades. The opening of the railway has provided South Koreans with a long-awaited link to North Korea, allowing access to the Munsan Line station where citizens can purchase a ticket and make the 14 hour journey to Pyongyang. While the optics of Moon’s diplomatic venture look positive, South Korean citizens are still highly restricted from accessing North Korea, with only a few granted entry annually.

North Korea-Russia Rail Link Effects

More recently, the establishment of a trans-Siberian rail link between Russia and North Koreahas created an increase in the number of North Koreans allowed to visit South Korea. This link has provided North Korea with access to sources of hard currency, sustaining them as a punishment-based economy. The increased access has also opened up the possibility of a visa-waiver system being implemented, allowing visa free short-term stays in North Korea for citizens from both countries.

Businesses Between South and North Korea

Both South and North Korea are actively working to facilitate more financial and business collaboration between the two states. Additionally, in 2018 two representatives from South Korea were allowed access to the Kaesong Industrial Complex, a joint project between the two states. Access to this economic zone has opened up conversations about further economic collaborations opening up for South Korean businesses, however, restrictions still remain and any South Korean citizens granted access to the Complex must adhere to the inspection and entry regulations set out by the North Korean government.

Are South Korean Visitors Welcome In North Korea?

North Korea remains shrouded in mystery and the level of restrictions in place indicate that the North Korean government is not eager to welcome foreign visitors into the country. Seoul’s diplomatic efforts have already achieved great progress in the form of increased travel access and eased financial sanctions, but it is yet to be seen whether it will be enough to encourage the North Korean government to relax its stringent access restrictions. Until then, tourists and visitors to the North will still have to adhere to a highly regulated, scripted itinerary and be expected to follow the strict rules of the state.

What Are The Safety Considerations?

Due to the high levels of security observed in North Korea, tourists and visitors must resist the temptation to explore off-the-beaten track. Moreover, if granted permission to visit the country, all visitors must be conscious of the fact that their actions are closely monitored by the state and that certain topics, such as political ones, must be avoided. Nevertheless, as long as travellers maintain a respectful attitude throughout, any journey to the North should be made in relative safety.

What Are North Korea’s Cultural Attractions?

Culturally, North Korea offers some interesting attractions, the most notable being the Demilitarized Zone, or DMZ, a buffer zone between the North and South. The strip of land has been divided since the end of the Korean War and entry on both sides is forbidden, making it one of the most heavily guarded borders in the world. In addition, visitors can also explore the Mount Kumgang region in the North, an area surrounded by panoramic views and serene landscapes. Another popular attraction is the North Korean capital Pyongyang, a city saturated with propaganda and energy.

Risks of Visiting North Korea

Visiting North Korea is far from an ordinary holiday destination and requires extensive planning and considerations. For starters, all travelers must be aware of the fact that the North Korean government prohibits all forms of criticism, even that of foreign governments, and that engaging in any unauthorized contact with locals is not recommended. Moreover, tourists should also bear in mind the risk of detentions and geolocation tracking, in which the state records the exact location of its citizens as well as foreigners.

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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