Local laws and customs

Insults or jokes about the North Korean political system and its leadership are severely frowned upon. Foreigners have sometimes found themselves in trouble for not paying what was deemed to be a sufficient level of respect – including not treating images of the leader with care.

In recent years, the North Korean authorities have arrested some visitors on various or unspecified grounds, including 4 US citizens and 1 Canadian. Some individuals have been publicly put on trial by the DPRK.

Some foreign nationals have reportedly not been granted access to consular support when detained in the DPRK.

On 16 March 2016 a US national was sentenced to 15 years hard labour after a conviction for crimes against the state. He was alleged to have attempted to steal a political slogan from the staff quarters of a main tourist hotel. On 13 June 2017, he was released and returned to the US in a coma. He died on 19 June 2017.

A Japanese national visiting North Korea as part of an organised tour group was detained on 5 August 2018 on unspecified grounds before being released and deported on 28 August 2018.

Although there’s no specific legislation outlawing homosexuality in North Korea, same-sex relationships are considered unacceptable by the authorities. See our information and advice page for the LGBT community before you travel.

Any technology incorporating Global Positioning Systems must be left with North Korean customs on entry into the country and collected on departure. Foreign mobile phones can be brought into the country but must be registered at the airport/border. They can only be used in North Korea by purchasing a North Korean SIM card.

Avoid bringing books or other written material in the Korean language, including anything with religious content. Any literature deemed subversive or pornographic by the DPRK authorities risk being confiscated. There have been cases of travel guides being confiscated at the airport on arrival; they are usually returned on departure.

Consider carefully any films or television programmes that you bring into the country, either on DVD or on data storage devices. Those deemed to have an anti-DPRK government message may be confiscated and you may face detention as a result.

Tipping is officially frowned upon, but is increasingly expected by some hotel staff.

Always carry some form of identification. Hotels will want passports for registration, but these can usually be reclaimed quickly.

Ask permission before taking photographs. Avoid taking photographs of North Korean officials or guarded buildings.