My first experience to the Hermit Kingdom was at the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) between North and South Korea. We were in the South Korea side of the border, but it was very limiting to say the least. We had few photos with North Korean guards without crossing the border. Took photos of the buildings then we quickly went inside as there were strict guidelines during the tour.
Take note that your agency will help you process your North Korea tourist visa. You need to apply for your Chinese visa separately. I went with Young Pioneer Tours, a company based in Beijing. My sister found out about them first in one of Shane Hodhrain’s posts in Instagram. I messaged him in IG and was instructed to send an email and the rest was history.
Timing is everything between your DPRK tour date and your Chinese visa application. Because even if you have provided your details and documents with your DPRK agency your only gateway to North Korea is in Beijing. You NEED multiple entry or at least a double entry to China. Please choose your agency wisely and read their refund policy should you be denied entry to China.
HERE ARE THE STEPS ON HOW TO APPLY FOR NORTH KOREAN TOURIST VISA
1. Fill out a booking form from your agency
Details such as contacts, work, and just basic information about you. Do not handwrite your details, update using PDF viewing software.
2. Download the PDRK visa form.
Email this back to the agency in a word documents not exceeding 2 pages. Do not hand print your details. In the document there is a space for your signature – just type in your name.
3. Scan and email your documents
Scan and email the following (1) color scan of your passport’s photo page. (2) a color passport style photo with white background. I took my photo using my phone and wore a blazer again the white wall inside our house and cropped it to 2×2 inches before sending it. (3) If you are working or living in China at the time of the application, scan your Chinese residence visa and attach it to the email.
4. Print and Sign the Travel Terms
The agency will provide you the DPRK Terms of Travel Agreement, print, sign and scan. You may take a photo of the signed document, which I did, and attach to the email.
5. Pay your deposit
Pay your deposit with a minimum requirement of 50% of the tour fee. This will get you a slot of the tour. With this payment you’ll be able to get the supporting documents such as invitation and itinerary to apply for your Chinese visa from the agency. My remaining balance in was paid 30 days before the departure date. Please read your agency’s payment policy. Mine was non-refundable but can be used for another tour on a different date within 1 year. I was supposed to go in August however my plans changed and was able to join them in October instead.
The agency accepts payment via Paypal in USD and EUR currencies. They also accept EURO International Bank Transfer, and RMB local bank transfer or Alipay. Inform them of your preferred payment method in advance. I transferred via Paypal and Paypal charged me3.75% transaction fee. The agency’s prices are in EUR, mostly because they cater to European travelers, so depending on the exchange rate that’s your price in USD. When you pay do not mention DPRK or North Korea in your subject or your notes.
When all this is done, you can now prepare your documents to apply for a Chinese tourist visa. You can find the details here for on how to apply if you are a Philippine passport holder.
HOW MUCH DOES IT COST?
Amount in EUR (1 EUR=56.00Php)
|495||Ultra budget tour with mass games (3 days/2 nights)|
|144||Overnight sleeper train tickets between Beijing-Dandong|
|30||Tour guide tip (I recommend more if you have extra)|
|200||Mass games ticket.|
The budget tour includes hotel/accommodation and food while in the DPRK. If you wish to buy extra while in transit you pay it out of your pocket.
WHAT OTHER COST TO CONSIDER?
Currency in Philippine Pesos
|30,000||Round trip ticket DVO-MNL-PEK|
|2,100||Chinese Visa – Double Entry|
COMMONLY ASKED QUESTIONS
1. Can I DIY my trip to North Korea?
NO. Meaning you cannot freely show up in North Korea. You can however customize your trip – list your itineraries coordinate with an agency who can arrange you with a North Korean agency. This is ideal if you want to research about the country or experience something not listed in the agency’s itinerary or really, you have the money to burn. As you can see for a 3-day trip it almost cost me 900EUR and that’s with a group. And while you are with this customize trip, need to hire a North Korean guide to go with you.
2. Is it safe to travel to North Korea?
Yes. The travel was restrictive, there rules to follow but we came out unharmed. And I think it is unfair for our North Korean and Western guides to say that the trip was not safe. While everyone was anxious of horror stories and rumors from people who haven’t set foot in the country, I had the best experience.
3. Are you allowed to bring electronic gadgets like phone, laptops, cameras?
Yes. But please make sure to check with your agency as well. I brought my laptop, DSLR, phone and gopro camera. DSLR camera lenses are restricted officially to a maximum focal length of 150mm.
4. What else can I bring?
Please bring food or clothes from the Philippines. I only brought 2 shirts and few goodies. I wish I had more. Remember that these people have never been anywhere and I don’t think you’ll consider it lucky if they find their way to China but what you share with them is something they may never have or will even experience in their lifetime.
5. Is it true that I cannot take pictures?
I brought my SLR and phone and was able to take plenty of photos and videos. There are restrictions though like you cannot take photos inside Kwangbok Supermarket, this is a mall that sells imported goods. You are not allowed to take unfinished buildings. Yes, you can take photos of locals but they are very shy so ask nicely.
6. The train takes longer, can I fly instead?
Yes you can fly via Air Koryo from Beijing.
7. How does the food taste like?
It takes like your normal Korean food, if you’ve been to the South. Nothing fancy at all.
8. Can you travel from South Korea to North Korea?
There is no way to go from South to North. South Koreans are not even allowed to enter North Korea. But we all hope these two brothers find peace in the end.
9. When is the best time to go to North Korea?
I haven’t been in any other months so I can’t say for sure. I went in October, it wasn’t so cold and the weather was good. My suggestion is to go when there is a celebration or performances or festival so you’ll make the most out of your time there.
10. What monetary unit can I use in the DPRK?
You can use USD or EUR.
11. Can I enter North Korea if I have a South Korean Visa?
Yes. I have been to South Korea few times before I joined a tour in the DPRK.
12. Will I be restricted to travel to other countries if I visit North Korea?
The last country I visited after North Korea was China so I cannot say for sure. You have to check this with the immigration website of the country you want to visit. Your visa is unattached from your password and will be collected as soon as you leave the county so what evidence will support that you’ve been to the country but your pictures.
I’ll leave the rest of the questions for you to discover. Do not listen to people who comment badly about going to countries like North Korea. You either go or don’t go. If you do, enjoy!
See more photos of my North Korean tour on my Instagram.