Why Do Americans Travel To North Korea

Why Do Americans Travel To North Korea

North Korea is a highly secretive nation, considered a mystery to outsiders due to its widespread censoring of its people, government and society. North Korea has the highest number of political prisoners in the world and remains largely isolated from the rest of the world. Despite the country’s many issues, American tourists still seek out trips to the country.

In recent years, the number of American tourists travelling to North Korea has been growing. According to statistics from the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), over 5,000 US citizens visited North Korea in 2018, the highest number in nearly two decades. The number of Americans travelling to the country is continuing to increase, with nearly 7,000 US citizens believed to have visited in 2019.

The primary reason that Americans are travelling to North Korea is curiosity. Author and academic Andrei Lankov, who visited North Korea several times as a university student in the 1980s, stated that “Western tourists who thought of themselves as daring, as people who knew the world, had a strong desire to see North Korea with their own eyes.” He elaborated that, despite the risks associated with the visit (such as censorship, government surveillance and detention of those deemed to have a ‘political agenda’), many Americans have a natural urge to explore a place as mysterious and unfamiliar as North Korea.

It is also intriguing to note that, despite the international sanctions imposed upon North Korea, many tour companies are profiting from tourism to the country. These companies are able to provide US citizens with the necessary visas and travel permits in order to visit North Korea. They offer tours that include sightseeing, sports activities and cultural experiences.

Despite the increasing numbers of US citizens travelling to North Korea, experts warn that such visits remain highly controversial. Many view the trips as merely a way to support the oppressive regime in North Korea, as the dollars spent in the country are likely being used for the government’s own purposes. American citizens are also warned to exercise caution when travelling to the country, as there is always a risk of being arrested or detained by North Korean authorities.

Are American Tourists Endangering Themselves?

Anyone considering travelling to North Korea, American or otherwise, should be aware of the risks they may encounter while there. The secretive and authoritarian nature of the North Korean government means that any perceived affront to the regime may be met with severe penalties, including imprisonment and even potentially being deemed a political threat. In the past, American citizens have been arrested and detained in North Korea for “hostile acts” against the government, such as displaying signs that are pro-American.

It is therefore essential for anyone planning to visit North Korea to be aware of the potential repercussions of their actions. Travellers should always remember that the primary purpose of the North Korean government is to retain power, and tourists should therefore take care that their behaviour does not come across as provocative.

Thus, it is important for American tourists to understand the nature of their visit and decide for themselves if the risks associated with travelling to North Korea are worth it. While some see the opportunity of visiting North Korea as an interesting adventure, others have expressed concern that such visitors are encouraging oppressive activities and endangering themselves in the process.

American Attitudes Towards North Korea

The attitudes of American citizens towards North Korea have shifted over time. In the past, most Americans viewed North Korea as an adversary and an oppressive regime, and thus sought to limit contact and exchange with the country.

However, in recent years, there has been a shift in American attitudes towards North Korea, as many Americans now view the country in a more positive light. This could be attributed to the growing number of American tourists visiting the country, as well as the increasing number of Americans who view the country as not just a political rival, but also as a potential partner for economic and political development.

American cartoonist, author and North Korean tourist Kambiz Hosseini is a prominent supporter of North Korea. He has sought to promote a more sympathetic view of the country, and has argued that the dramatic and febrile coverage of North Korea by the international media has misled the public. Hosseini has stated that “the perception of North Korea abroad is that of a prison; this is totally wrong. It is rather a totally different culture – a different way of seeing the world we should respect”.

Similarly, there has been increasing support for the idea of increased dialogue between the US and North Korea, with some arguing that US contact with North Korea could be beneficial for both countries.

The Impact of American Tourists on North Korea

One of the most significant impacts of the growing numbers of American tourists to North Korea is the potential to challenge the rigid views of North Korea held by many outsiders.

Indeed, by visiting North Korea, American tourists are able to gain insights into the way of life inside the country and can also provide North Koreans with an opportunity to receive an alternate view of the world. Through his travels, author and academic Andrei Lankov suggests that foreign tourists visiting North Korea can indirectly challenge the North Korean government’s claims that North Korea is superior to the outside world.

Since the North Korean government aims to keep information in and out of the country restricted, any knowledge and experiences shared between US and North Korean citizens can potentially be seen as a challenge to the regime and its policies.

Moreover, cultural exchange between US and North Korean citizens, facilitated by tourism and various visitor exchange programs, could potentially open up more lines of communication, understanding, and cooperation between the two countries. Such programs could, in turn, provide a platform for international dialogue in order to reduce the tensions between the two nations.

Negative Risks of US Tourism to North Korea

Though North Korea remains a mystery to many, the current focus on increasing US-North Korean dialogue, as well as the rise in American tourists visiting the country, has introduced some interesting implications. While such engagement may potentially have a positive impact on relations between the two countries, there are also potentially negative risks in travelling to the secretive and authoritarian country.

One potential risk of continued US tourism to North Korea is the potential complacency of US citizens towards the oppressive North Korean government, as well as any human rights abuses that may take place in the country. Indeed, a recent survey conducted by the US State Department found that 91% of US citizens who had visited North Korea stated that human rights had “not been a consideration” in planning their trip to the country.

By failing to address the issue of human rights in North Korea, this complacency may simply reinforce the oppressive regime. Additionally, American tourists visiting the country should always be aware of the potential implications of their visit, especially when it comes to censorship and surveillance.

Korean Unification and American Tourists

Korean unification could potentially be a long-term consequence of American tourists visiting North Korea. By visiting North Korea, US citizens are bound to come into contact in some way with North Korean citizens, providing an opportunity to build an understanding between the two countries.

Ultimately, a reduction in tensions brought about by increased dialogue between North Korea and the United States could put pressure on the North Korean government to enter into unification talks with South Korea, sparking the eventual reunification of the Korean peninsula.

While this is a hopeful future to be envisioned, the potential reunification of the two Korean nations remains largely speculative and impossible to accurately predict. Nevertheless, it is interesting to note how American tourism to North Korea could potentially play a role in the future unification of the Korean peninsula.


US tourism to North Korea has increased in recent years, despite the international sanctions imposed upon the country. While the reasons for travelling to the notoriously secretive nation are varied, one of the most prominent is mere curiosity.

It is essential for American tourists to be aware of the potential risks associated with their visit, such as censorship, surveillance and arrest. Moreover, complacency towards human rights abuses in North Korea should be avoided.

It is intriguing to note that, through increased dialogue as well as cultural exchange, American tourism to North Korea could potentially lead to the unification of the Korean peninsula in the future. Whether this is possible, however, remains uncertain.

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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