What American City Is Closest To North Korea

Korean Americans often cite being close to their ancestral home as a desire, but only a handful of US cities are actually within close enough proximity to North Korea for that dream to become a reality. The number of US cities close to North Korea varies depending on how travelers define “close”. For some, the term may conjure up images of major cities like New York or Los Angeles; for others, it’s about being close enough to visit the isolated nation.

The closest mainland American city to North Korea is San Francisco, California. From San Francisco, travelers can travel to Incheon, South Korea, by air. From there, they can take a high-speed rail to Pyongyang. The trip takes approximately 24 hours, though travelers may have to wait one additional day in Incheon while requesting a visa to enter North Korea.

The next closest US cities are Seattle, Washington and Anchorage, Alaska. Both are situated roughly midway between the two countries, at a distance of approximately 2,500 miles. While travel to North Korea from the US is possible, citizens of the US may need to apply for a special visa in order to enter the nation, though this process is often quite lengthy.

The Japanese cities of Tokyo, Osaka, and Nagasaki are also situated within relatively close distance of North Korea. In particular, Tokyo is only 900 miles away; while Osaka is just 800 miles away. This distance makes it possible for tourists and business people to reach the nation in one day. However, potential travelers should research travel restrictions and visa requirements before attempting to travel to North Korea.

Traveling to North Korea as an American citizen is not without its risks. The US State Department advises Americans against traveling to North Korea, citing their lack of diplomatic relations with the country and their record of human rights violations. For this reason, it is not advised for American citizens to visit the country without prior official permission.


The relationship between North Korea and the United States has been complicated since the Korean War, which was fought between 1950-1953. This conflict ended in a stalemate, with the two nations having never formally signed a peace treaty. In the last few decades, tensions between the two nations have only increased, further straining the diplomatic relationship between them.

North Korea has been accused of multiple human rights abuses, ranging from labor camps to public executions. The US government has responded to the negative reports with mutual condemnation and the imposition of additional sanctions, but the two governments have yet to reach an agreement on improving their relationship.

Despite their volatility, North Korea and the United States have been able to take small steps towards working together. In 2018, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and then-President of the United States Donald Trump held a summit in Singapore, in which the leaders agreed to work towards the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. Further discussions between the two nations came to a standstill when the Trump administration pulled out of negotiations in 2019.

Economic Exchange

North Korea has also had a tumultuous relationship with the US when it comes to economic exchange. In 2017, the US imposed economic sanctions on North Korea in response to their nuclear program. These sanctions have been criticized by countries around the world as detrimental to the Kim regime, but have furthered the US government’s efforts to pressure the nation and its leaders into peacefully no longer working on nuclear armament.

Despite the sanctions, North Korea has been able to acquire some goods and services from the US. In 2018, North Korea purchased wheat and corn from the United States and received medical supplies, largely due to their scarcity in North Korean markets. North Korea has also received humanitarian aid from the US, albeit in a limited scope.

The United Nations Security Council has recently approved some exemptions to the US sanctions, allowing certain products and services to be imported into North Korea. The exemptions include certain products that are deemed critical, such as agricultural and medical supplies, and those related to cultural exchange, such as films and books.

Agriculture and Resources

Being close to North Korea has its benefits for US citizens. North Korea is known for its rich natural resources and arable land, both of which can be potentially valuable for US industrial or agricultural projects. Cheaper land and human labor are also popular draws, with US companies often choosing to set up local operations in the hermit kingdom.

Furthermore, North Korea’s agricultural and construction sectors have made great strides over the past few years; while their stone and metal industries have also grown and become major sources of revenue for the nation. North Korea is also believed to be a key supplier of rare-earth elements to other countries, though this is still largely unverified.

However, these developments have been slow; and the US government has continued to sanction North Korea in order to keep its citizens from being used as a resource by North Korean leaders. North Korea has also threatened to use its nuclear weapons as a deterrent against foreign aggression, leading many US citizens to choose not to visit North Korea.

Sporting Events

North Korea is not just about politics; the country has also made a name for itself with its budding sports scene. North Korea has hosted a number of international sporting events, such as the 2018 Winter Olympics and the 2017 Asian Games. This serves as a way for North Korea to engage with other nations and potentially export their culture.

North Korean teams have also performed well in international competitions, such as football. North Korea’s women’s football team won the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup, further boosting their reputation in the world of sports. North Korea has also sent teams to participate in the Olympic Games, with its athletes having performed particularly well in gymnastics, weightlifting, and wrestling.

The United States has even sought to use the sports scene to build better diplomatic ties with the country. In 2018, prominent figures from both countries met at the Winter Olympics in order to try and ease tensions between them. US Vice President Mike Pence and Kim Yo Jong, the sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, both attended the event.

Unique Culture

North Korea is home to an incredibly diverse culture, due in part to its history of isolation. North Koreans have their own dialect of the Korean language and have often adopted unique customs and fashion. North Korea also has its own unique cuisine, which is often seen as a combination of Chinese and Korean flavors.

The nation is also considered to be one of the most restrictive countries in terms of freedom of expression and the press. For example, North Korea is one of the few countries where television is still broadcast in black-and-white. North Koreans also have very limited access to the internet and other forms of media, and access to foreign media is even more limited.

North Korea also has its own unique approach to religion. Buddhism is the main religion practiced in the country, though Confucianism and various animistic beliefs also exist. North Korea has built several monuments, such as the Grand People’s Study House and the Juche Tower, which celebrate their unique ideology and history. North Koreans are also renowned for their respect for their leaders and their unwavering loyalty.


Despite its current political tensions, North Korea has become a popular tourist destination in recent years. North Korea is often seen as a unique destination, with travelers drawn to its unique culture, stunning architecture, and ancient monuments. Tourists to North Korea are often taken on a tightly regulated but highly secure tour of the country, allowing them to experience North Korea up close. However, the North Korean government very closely monitors tourist activity and only allows a select number of tourists to enter the country each year.

Though it is not recommended, some Americans have chosen to visit North Korea, either as tourists or for business purposes. American travelers are often welcomed by the people of North Korea, who, despite their extreme national loyalty, use the opportunity to engage in conversation with someone from an entirely different culture. Nonetheless, US citizens should respect the nation’s laws and customs when visiting and should be aware of the potential risks when traveling to such a restrictive country.


For US citizens hoping to travel to North Korea, the closest cities are San Francisco and Seattle in the United States, or Tokyo and Osaka in Japan. Depending on the traveler’s definition of closeness, the trip could take 24 hours or more. Traveling to North Korea as an American citizen is not advised by the US government, due to the lack of diplomatic relations and human rights abuses. Though there is limited engagement between the two nations, North Korea has seen an uptick in tourism, primarily from other countries. Ultimately, US citizens should take caution when considering a trip to North Korea, and research the potential risks of doing so.

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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