If you read some of the testimonies from people who've travelled to the DPRK with us then you'll soon see what an amazing experience awaits. But you probably still have some questions. Here are our answers to some of the questions we get asked — frequently. Welcome to our FAQs...
Koryo Tours is a British-owned company and tour operator with an office in Beijing. Founded in 1993 by founder Nicholas Bonner, we are the longest-running tour company operating tours in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (‘DPRK’ or ‘North Korea’).
Since 2003, we have expanded to operate tours to other destinations: Turkmenistan, Russia, Mongolia, Tajikistan, and, most recently, Kazakhstan. Our destinations are chosen with careful research and initial on-site visits. We aim to provide authentic and safe travel through a combination of well-rounded and insightful itineraries and input from both local guides and tour leaders. In addition to must-see highlights, we try to incorporate aspects of traditional culture, modern history, as well as the obscure and the quirky into all of our tours. We hope all of our customers will come away from the trip with a deeper understanding, curiosity, and interest in the destination, not to mention the experience of a lifetime.
Koryo Tours is also active in cultural and humanitarian projects in the countries we work in. We have produced three full-length documentaries, a feature film, and contributed to numerous exhibitions, shows, and books – most recently a two-part documentary with British-traveller Michael Palin. As a company, we are committed to better understanding and well-being of the places we travel and the people with whom we interact – whether our customers, hosts, or partners.
Check out our about us page for profiles of our staff and tour leaders.
What does ‘Koryo’ mean?
‘Koryo’ was the name of a medieval Korean Dynasty (918-1392 AD) and is the word from which the word ‘Korea’ is derived. The word is synonymous with Korea and we share a name with the flag carrier of North Korea, Air Koryo, as well as numerous banks, hotels, and other entities in both the DPRK and ROK.
How much does a trip to North Korea cost?
Most introductory tours to North Korea will typically range between 600-1500 EUR per person depending on your point of departure, tour length, group size, accommodation type, rooming preference, and your preferred method of transport.
You can find all the prices on the tour pages Group Tours or Private Tour alongside the itineraries. All our prices are in EUR but you are welcome to pay in USD, GBP or Chinese RMB if that is easier for you.
For more information about pricing check out our blog post.
Is it possible to visit North Korea? Can I visit North Korea?
Despite what the majority of people think, it's possible to visit North Korea as a tourist, and we have been doing so since 1993. The whole process is surprisingly easy — we can arrange it all for you, including travel, guides, food, accommodation, and even your DPRK visa. The only nationalities restricted from travel to North Korea as tourists are citizens of the Republic of Korea (ROK), and — from 1 Sep 2017 — citizens of the United States of America (USA). The latter are legally allowed to visit by the DPRK, but not by their own government.
Who does Koryo Tours employ as tour leaders?
Koryo Tours employs both in-house tour leaders and freelance tour leaders with experience travelling, working, and/or living in the destination in questions and who can bring their own unique perspectives to the tour. Whether it be extensive experience planning tours to these regions, humanitarian work, or academic research, our tour leaders have a passion for the people, places, and cultures we visit. Our tour leaders accompany group tours to help facilitate the tour as well as provide well-rounded, diverse perspectives in conjunction with local guides.
In each one of our destinations, local guides employed by our local partners accompany our groups for the majority, if not all, of the tour. Local guides are proficient or fluent in English, have extensive local knowledge of the locations we travel, and have experience working with Koryo Tours tour leaders. We recommend tipping our local guides and drivers at the end of the tour based on industry standards. We do not expect you to tip your tour leader.
I'm an American citizen and would like to travel to North Korea. Can I travel to North Korea?
Unfortunately, due to legislation put in place by the US Government, we will no longer be able to take any US citizens travelling on an American passport to the DPRK (North Korea). This travel ban comes into effect on 1 Sep 2017. You can read more about it at the US State Department website. We maintain an additional blog post regularly updated with additional information on this subject at the Koryo Tours Blog.
We’re sorry that as a result of this we are now unable to take you on a tour of the DPRK (North Korea), and would like to sincerely thank you for your interest and support. Other destinations of interest we travel to include Mongolia, Russia, Turkmenistan, and Tajikistan. We appreciate that none of those places are North Korea, but hope you’ll find what we have to offer there to be equally as inspiring — please see our Other Countries page for more.
Of course, as and when this travel ban is lifted, we would be more than happy to take you to the DPRK (North Korea) and share our experience and knowledge there with you. We will notify our mailing list as soon as there are any changes to this US travel ban, and our ability to take people travelling on American passports to the DPRK. You can sign up for this newsletter via the box at the bottom of this page.
What languages are Koryo Tours trips conducted?
All Koryo Tours’ group trips are conducted in English. All tour leaders are native English speakers or highly proficient in English. For private independent tours, we often arrange local guides proficient in another language based upon request and availability. Please contact us for more details.
Will visiting North Korea affect me travelling to other countries in the future?
As of Tuesday 6 August 2019, the United States has introduced travel restrictions on foreign nationals who have visited North Korea. The US government announced that anyone who has been to North Korea since March 2011 would no longer qualify for ESTA (the visa-free entry scheme used by citizens of many countries). Previously North Korea was not on this list and there was no announcement made ahead of time that it would be added. This means that people from countries that are normally eligible for the Visa Waiver Program, using the Electronic System for Travel Authorisation (ESTA) will now have to apply for a US visa in order to visit the United States if they have visited North Korea since 2011.
What does this mean for me?
This does not mean that if you have visited or are planning to visit North Korea that you can't go to the United States. It just means that you have to apply for a US visa, which you have to pay for.
Can I still visit the US after visiting North Korea?
Yes. As mentioned above, you can still travel to the US after visiting North Korea. However, you will need a US visa.
If you were one of the 38 country nationals permitted to use the ESTA program, you will no longer be able to use this to travel to the US.
I am Canadian, does this affect me?
No. Canadians citizens never used the ETSA Visa Waiver Program. Therefore, the new laws will not affect you.
I have a South Korean stamp in my passport - will this cause a problem?
No, the DPRK authorities do not care if you have visited South Korea before, so having a stamp in your passport won't cause any problems.
There are people who say that visiting a country such as North Korea is wrong and that all we are doing is supporting the government - is this true?
We don't believe this to be true. The amount of money the DPRK government receives through tourism is very minimal and certainly not enough to fund a nuclear programme or the like. Travel broadens the mind and nowhere is that truer than in North Korea. We believe that there is a benefit to be gained by both those who visit and those who are visited from increased human-level contact between both sides. Just as most North Koreans have hardly any experience of interacting face to face with foreigners, almost nobody outside of the DPRK has ever met a North Korean. We would like to see that ratio change over time and believe that non-governmental tourism is the best way to go about this. There are very few restrictions on who can visit and the United Nations, European Union and other agencies see tourism as a positive way of engagement.
Will I be spied on/will the guides try and brainwash me?
Despite claims in various newspapers and blogs, it seems to us (although we don't know for sure) very unlikely indeed that the Koreans would bug the hotel rooms of western visitors. Paranoid fantasies aside, what can the average visitor possibly have to say that would be of interest to the Korean authorities? If they want to hear a foreign viewpoint on something they will ask you! Nevertheless, as in all places in the DPRK, it is best to restrain any criticisms until having left the country.
The guides, like all North Koreans, have very strong beliefs which probably differ quite starkly from most tourists; however, they will not try to brainwash you for perhaps the simple reason that their system of 'Juche' socialism is intended for those of Korean blood only. They are not into spreading world revolution through the mouths of their handful of western visitors. They express their beliefs and faiths very strongly and these are held universally throughout the DPRK so it is both impolite and futile to argue certain points with the Koreans. They will not try to brainwash you, so don't try to 'liberate' their minds in return, it is disrespectful, will breed resentment and cause irritation.
Is it safe to travel to the DPRK? I have seen news stories about tourists getting detained in North Korea — will this happen to me?
Safety is our number one priority, and, as we have done since our first tour in 1993, we take every step to ensure and maintain the safety of everyone who chooses to travel with us. We do this by providing crucial information, briefings, and warnings about the risks of travel to North Korea, which is a destination, more than any other, that one should be fully prepared for before making a visit.
When you travel to the DPRK with us you are legally entering the country as a tourist, and therefore must obey the local laws to ensure your safety, and that of the group. Breaking the rules is when safety becomes compromised. But, based on our experience of running tours for the last 25 years, as well as our continual consultations with those inside and outside of the country, if no rules are broken there will be no issue with tour safety, or how you are treated.
However, we believe it's important that you familiarise yourself with your own government's position before booking a tour as many of them involve advice against all but essential travel, and it is only right and proper that you are fully aware of those statements, and their content, when making the decision to travel with us. See, for example, the British Government's latest advice, reacting to the latest sabre-rattling and heightened rhetoric, here:
We take these sorts of warnings extremely seriously, of course, and make sure that — because of our regular visits to the country, unequalled time spent on the ground, and continual consultations with our partners in Pyongyang, as well as various international government representatives and other interested agencies — we continue to run our DPRK (North Korea) tours safely, and with full knowledge of the most up-to-date assessments and situational changes.
We insist that anyone travelling with us attends a mandatory pre-tour meeting, and — thanks to our thorough tour briefings, our experienced and professional staff, and our unparalleled understanding from over two decades in the country — continue to conduct our tours to North Korea in a safe and responsible manner — for anyone and everyone who chooses to travel with us.
However, as we cover on our website, and via email, and in the information we send out after receiving your booking, as well as at the mandatory pre-tour briefing — it is *very* important to note that offences that would be considered trivial in other countries can incur very severe penalties in North Korea, particularly actions the authorities deem to be disrespectful towards the North Korean leadership or government, or those involving religion.
We have all heard of visitors to North Korea — including tourists — being detained in the country. These extremely rare cases are all on the public record, have made international news, and have been extensively reported. It is advisable to familiarise yourself with these cases and to be fully informed about the level of risk that comes from falling foul of the law when in the DPRK.
Punishment for what are seen as crimes there is disproportionate and exceedingly harsh. This is not something that should be whitewashed or downplayed at all. However, the maxim that, if you obey all of the country’s laws and rules, then you will face no punishment or problems at all, remains true — whatever your nationality may be.
We don’t take the situation in the DPRK lightly, but we don’t want to sensationalise the risks involved in visiting, either. Rather, we continue — as we always have done — to take a sober and informed view. Our staff are in North Korea most weeks, where they have mobile phone contact with our office in Beijing, and regular contact in Pyongyang with the British and Swedish Embassies.
We started tourism to North Korea in 1993 and, to this day, still take in the highest percentage of Western tourists to the country, and continue to do so in a safe and considered manner.
What are the hotels like in North Korea?
It is not possible for tourists to stay in back-packer/hostel-type accommodation, so the hotel we usually use in Pyongyang is the deluxe class Yanggakdo Hotel. It is roughly a western 3 star (Chinese 4 star) equivalent and equipped with bars, restaurants, shops, swimming pool, bowling, casino, and other entertainment facilities (including Karaoke of course). The hotel has reliable electricity, heating, air conditioning, hot water, and now have foreign TV channels including BBC World and Japanese and Chinese TV. There are some slightly cheaper options in Pyongyang but the drop in standard is generally not worth the reduction in cost.
The hotels we use outside of Pyongyang are less well developed and have temperamental supplies of electricity and hot water, however there are some spectacular hotels in other places in DPRK such as the traditional Korean style Minsok (Folk) Hotel in Kaesong and the Pyramidal Hyangsan Hotel near Mount Myohyang.
Can I talk to locals?
Contact with local people is possible. It’s allowed and is legal both for you to talk to locals, and for them to talk to you. However, it can be difficult for several reasons; the main one being the language barrier (foreign languages are not widely spoken in DPRK). Other reasons include the fact that people are generally very wary of foreigners and also are very shy, conservative and careful of drawing attention to themselves. You are free to attempt a dialogue with a local but do not be surprised if they are not interested in talking to you. It can be very rewarding when you do manage to make some human contact and your guides and tour leader will make every effort to enable it. We make sure we take you to the best spots for mixing with the locals, for example the May Day games in the park or at the Kimjongilia flower show. In terms of finding locals at ease and more willing to interact with foreigners we suggest visiting the country on a national holiday; at these times people are often more willing to chat, dance, and share home-made drinks and so on. A day off work and a little liquid social lubricant work wonders to break the suspicious veneer!
What about the food?
As a visitor and guest in the DPRK, you will be well fed with 3 meals a day including meat and fish. The Koreans take the role of host very seriously so they will always over-cater! The food in the DPRK is far from fantastic but is not too bad. Some meals are very good and some are just good enough. Vegetarians can be catered for although it cannot be guaranteed that utensils used to touch food will not have touched meat, or that cooking oil does not contain animal fats. If you are a vegan then we would need to discuss this with you before your trip. Fruit and chocolate are scarce in the DPRK so if you need this while you are on the tour then you should take it with you from Beijing.
Which airlines do you use and can I take a train in/out of the country?
All our group tours use Air Koryo which is the national airline and has a fleet of various Russian models acquired over the years. On flights between Beijing and Pyongyang, Air Koryo uses one of its two recently bought Tupolev Tu-204-300 planes (essentially a Russian 757) which date from 2008 and 2010. Air Koryo is a safe airline and has been in operation since 1956, in that time not one fatal accident has occurred.
Air China also flies to the DPRK several times a week so for independent tours you are welcome to use these, however, we prefer to use the Air Koryo fleet. Travelling Air Koryo means your holiday starts as soon as you get on the plane - the red uniformed Air Koryo hostesses, the in-flight DPRK magazines, the packed lunch and the North Korean history announcement over the tannoy are not to be missed.
For those on group tours, it can be arranged for you to use Air China if necessary but this will likely necessitate extra nights in Pyongyang at the start and end of the tour and therefore an increase in cost.
On the majority of our tours, there is the option to take the 23-hour train ride in and/or out of the country back to Beijing (unfortunately, this is not possible for American citizens). We use the hard sleeper class meaning 6 berths to each section of the carriage. Meals are available in the dining car at additional cost. Trains in China and North Korea are designed for functionality rather than comfort. If the sound of this makes you uncomfortable than we would recommend looking at the flight option instead. Those that do use the train will find themselves sharing it with other foreign tourists, local Chinese and even North Koreans so you'll be in for an interesting time one way or another!
Will there be a military parade?
In September 2018 there was a military parade to coincide with the 70th anniversary of the founding of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK). Military parades are held a lot less frequently than people think; less than once a year and only on major anniversaries. Up until 2012, western tourists were not allowed to attend the military parades but we managed to get special access to the one held on the occasion of Kim Il Sung’s 100th birthday (15th April 2012) – not in Kim Il Sung Square itself but we watched as it passed through the streets joining the locals as they cheered on the tanks! We were also able to see the same thing on Victory Day 2013, so we hope that this remains an option for future parades although there are no guarantees.
What exactly are the Mass Games?
The Mass Games are an art form in North Korea, developed over decades, which can involve up to 100,000 performers in a 90-minute spectacular display of synchronised gymnastics, dance, acrobatics and dramatic performance. Think the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games - but on a much larger scale. The Mass Games returned in 2018 after a five-year hiatus.
Are there any other special events tourists can attend?
We do get access to celebratory events such as Mass Dancing in public spaces. We cannot guarantee what celebrations will take place on a national holiday until quite close to the date and in some cases only on the day. Mass dances usually take place on national holidays but no advance notice is given. However, the guides will be able to find out when and where they are happening on the day itself. Please contact us and we can update you with what activities are expected. May Day (workers' day off) is often a great time to attend festive celebrations with the people (team games such as tug of war competitions in the park) and mid-April is the Pyongyang festival for Peace and Friendship where entertainers from around the world (mainly the socialist countries) come and perform. There is also the Pyongyang Film Festival held once every two years in September. We always manage to attend the best event that it is possible to attend on festival days.
What happens if I get sick in North Korea?
Pyongyang has a foreigners’ hospital which is of higher quality than the other hospitals in the country. If you need any medical treatment above the order of a few aspirin or a plaster/band-aid then you would be sent here (note that Koryo Tours cannot be held responsible for any medical costs and we require that all our tourists are covered by medical insurance - we can provide this). In dire emergencies, you should check that your insurance company has a provision to have you airlifted back to Beijing where there are international hospitals available. We recommend taking a simple first aid kit with painkillers, medicine for diarrhoea, etc as these are not easily available.
Once I am there, am I free to go where I want?
No, tourists are not allowed to travel around freely so at all times other than in the hotel, you will be accompanied by 2 guides and a driver regardless of how many people are in your group. Please remember this is not a policy set by the travel company but by higher powers and there is no way round this. Any attempt to sneak off from the guides will have serious consequences for them and for you.
I am a journalist, can I visit?
North Korea does not issue visas to journalists except in special circumstances where they are invited by the authorities. Occasionally this restriction is relaxed and we are able to take journalists. If you are a journalist wanting to go then please contact us and we can try on your behalf or we can add your name to a list to be informed as and when you are permitted to go. In the past, some journalists have tried to sneak in to DPRK by submitting false details. When this happens the company they travel with is held responsible and there are grave consequences; in 1997 we were shut down for 9 months when a British Channel 4 journalist came on a tour with fake details - this not only caused us and our Korean guides problems, it also created problems for two aid agencies we had introduced to the country. Please do not compromise our work in North Korea. We require each of our tourists to sign a form stating that they will not publish any articles about the tours without our express permission. This is something we are required to insist upon by DPRK law.
How do I get to North Korea?
The only way to travel as a tourist is to join a tour. You can either sign up for one of our group tours or we can design a private tour for you. You need to get yourself to Beijing and arrange your own accommodation there (we can provide recommendations and help with bookings). We then take care of all the rest!
How far in advance do I need to be in Beijing?
We only need you here in time for the pre-tour briefing which is held at 4pm the day before departure. This is an important part of the travel process and ensures that you are fully prepared for your trip and will therefore get the most out of it.
Will I need to give you my passport at any time?
No, all visas are issued using a passport copy and passport photo which we ask you to send us when you apply for a tour. The visas are then issued in Beijing on a separate piece of paper so there will be nothing stuck in your passport.
I would like to have a visa in my passport - is there a way to get one?
The only way is if there is a DPRK consulate in your country of residence. We will then arrange for the visa to be issued there and once it is ready to be collected you will need to make an appointment to have it issued.
Which is better, a group tour or an private tour to North Korea?
This all depends on you. Many people shy away from the idea of group tours but actually, we like to think of ourselves as a company that runs group tours for people who don't usually do group tours! The truth is that it is the least expensive option for visiting North Korea and it is actually a lot of fun to travel with a group of like-minded people. Also, all of our group tours are accompanied by one of our western staff who are experts in the DPRK and add real value to the tour.
Independent tours are more expensive but do have the added benefit that you can choose your own travel dates and we design the itinerary to suit your requests. You also get to fit more in as you are able to get round sites more quickly and some people also like the fact that you have much more one-on-one time with the guide.
Please remember though that there is nothing that you can do on an independent tour that can't be done on a group tour.
How do I sign up for a tour to North Korea?
Once you have chosen which tour you want to do then you need to complete the online application form. In addition to this you will also need to email us a scanned colour copy of your passport (full double page) and recent passport photo. Please note that the passport copy has to be clear and all the information easy to read when printed out or it will not be accepted for visa issuance so please test it out before sending! We will then send you the tour confirmation and invoice so you can pay the deposit. Once we have received that then we can go ahead and apply for the visa.
How do I get the North Korean visa and how long does it take?
We usually issue the visa here in Beijing using your passport copy and photo. It is issued on a separate piece of paper and not stuck into your passport. If you live in a country that has a DPRK embassy then you have the option of getting the visa issued there, in which case it will be stuck into your passport. This is more work from your side as you have to arrange to take your passport to the embassy, however, it is a good option for visa-junkies! All tours need to be applied for 4 weeks in advance - this can sometimes be shortened but in order to avoid running into any problems it is best to stick to this deadline.
Do I need a visa for China?
This depends on how long you are planning on spending in China before and after the trip and also whether you will be taking the train out of North Korea back to Beijing. Usually, tourists require a double-entry visa for China but it is now possible to visit Beijing with no visa for up to 144 hours (for most western nationalities) if you have an onward ticket to another international destination from Beijing.
If you qualify for this then let us know and we can send a copy of the DPRK plane ticket and visa to you in advance. If you return from the DPRK to Beijing by plane then you can again transit with no visa for up to 72 hours if you have an onward ticket (which must be from Beijing, must be to an international destination, and must be direct – you cannot fly for example from Beijing to Guangzhou and then abroad, this is not considered to be in transit and would require a Chinese visa). If you plan on entering DPRK by train or returning from DPRK to China then you would need a Chinese visa.
It is possible to obtain a re-entry visa at the Chinese embassy in Pyongyang, however, this can be quite expensive (EUR 60 - 160 depending on your nationality and how quickly the visa needs to be processed). This should be a last resort.
Kindly note that although Koryo Tours will assist customers with their Chinese visa where possible, we are not responsible for arranging any part of their Chinese visa requirements and will bear no responsibility for any costs or disruption incurred for any issues arising from failure to obtain entry.
We strongly advise all travellers to check the diplomatic situation between China and their home countries as conditions may change at any time. In addition, if you have visa stamps from any countries seen as ‘sensitive’ by the Chinese authorities this can also cause refusal of entry.
We would strongly recommend you to travel with a dual entry Chinese visa.
**Luggage and International Transfers**
Please note tourists without a Chinese re-entry visa who have checked in luggage from Pyongyang - Beijing and onwards for an international flight, will need to obtain a transit waiver before continuing to pick up their luggage.
**Registration Form of Temporary Residence**
If you are not staying in a hotel and are staying with friends or Air B&B you will need to visit the local police station and have a “Registration Form of Temporary Residence” issued. If you do not have this at airport immigration, you may face fines and/or be denied entry to China in the future.
It seems like a lot of money - what do I get for that?
The tours are actually extremely good value for money because they are all-inclusive from Beijing to DPRK and back to Beijing [see in detail what the tour cost covers]. We employ the best guides and pack the itineraries with exciting places to visit and things to see. We provide the best possible tour itinerary and our experience tells us that if you cut any corners you end up missing the best sites and get a second grade trip. We are aware that tours are expensive but the basic reason for this is that tourists to the DPRK are obliged to have a full service package. Only two airlines fly to Pyongyang so there is almost no competition to keep prices down. There are only 4 trains a week with very limited capacity and there is a limited choice of hotels that are available to foreigners. If you choose to travel with Koryo Tours you can book secure in the knowledge that you are getting the best deal for the best tour of the DPRK available. Why Choose Koryo Tours
Do you offer any discounts?
Yes, students get 10% off on non-budget tours and there are also discounts for groups of people booking together. We unfortunately do not offer discounts for our budget tours.
Can I write about my trip to North Korea afterwards? Is it OK to put pictures online?
There is no problem with you writing a travelogue about the tour, posting pictures on Facebook or other social media, or other normal and conventional methods of telling people about the journey. As for blogging, this is generally not a problem either although the North Koreans would consider DPRK-focussed blogs to be a form of journalism so please do contact us if you are concerned that you may fall into this classification and we can advise. We are often sent people’s blog postings and travelogues after the tour so that we can fact-check or provide any more info for them and are always more than happy to help out in this regard.