North Korean authorities have imposed unduly harsh sentences for actions that would not be considered crimes in the United States and have threatened U.S. citizen detainees with being treated in accordance with “wartime law of the DPRK.” Since the United States does not maintain diplomatic or consular relations with North Korea, the U.S. government has no means to provide normal consular services to U.S. citizens in North Korea. Sweden serves as the protecting power for the United States in North Korea, providing limited emergency consular services to U.S. citizens traveling in North Korea. The DPRK still routinely delays or denies consular access to U.S. citizens, even when requested by the Swedish Embassy in Pyongyang, and despite North Korea and the United States both being signatories to the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations.
At least 16 U.S. citizens have been detained in North Korea in the past ten years. North Korean authorities have detained individuals who traveled independently and those who were part of organized tours. Being a member of a group tour or using a tour guide has not prevented detention or arrest. Efforts by private tour operators to prevent or resolve past detentions in the DPRK have not been successful.
If you obtain a special validation and decide to enter North Korea, you should have no expectation of privacy. All electronic and multimedia devices including USB drives, CDs, DVDs, mobile phones, tablets, laptops, Internet browsing histories, and cookies are subject to search for banned content.
If DPRK authorities permit you to keep your mobile phone when you enter the country, it will not function unless you use the DPRK mobile service, which will enable DPRK authorities to monitor your calls. GPS-trackers and satellite phones are not allowed.
Possession of any media, either physical or electronic, that is critical of the DPRK government or its leaders is considered a criminal act punishable by long-term detention in hard labor camps and heavy fines.
In North Korea, the following – whether done knowingly or unknowingly – have been treated as crimes:
- Showing disrespect to the country’s former leaders, Kim Il Sung or Kim Jong Il, or the country’s current leader, Kim Jong Un, including but not limited to tampering with or mishandling materials bearing their names or images;
- Entering North Korea without proper travel documentation;
- Possessing material that is in any way critical of the DPRK government;
- Proselytizing or carrying out religious activities, including activities that may be construed as such, like leaving behind religious materials;
- Engaging in unsanctioned political activities;
- Traveling without authorization, even for short distances;
- Having unauthorized interaction with the local population;
- Exchanging currency with an unauthorized vendor;
- Taking unauthorized photographs;
- Bringing pornography into the country;
- Shopping at stores not designated for foreigners; and
- Removing or tampering with political slogans and signs or pictures of political leaders.
Numerous foreigners have been held in North Korea for extended periods of time without being formally charged with a crime. Detained foreigners have been questioned daily for several weeks without the presence of counsel and have been compelled to make public statements and take part in public trials.
The DPRK funnels revenue from a variety of sources to its nuclear and weapons programs, which it prioritizes above everything else, often at the expense of the well-being of its own people. It is entirely possible that money spent by tourists in the DPRK goes to fund these programs. We would urge all travelers, before travelling to the DPRK, to consider what they might be supporting.
The DPRK remains one of the most heavily sanctioned countries in the world. U.S. citizens traveling to North Korea should familiarize themselves with all applicable sanctions relating to the country, particularly U.S. sanctions. To learn more about U.S. sanctions on the DPRK, see the Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) page.
The Department of State remains deeply concerned about the DPRK’s ongoing, systematic, and widespread human rights violations. To learn more about North Korea’s deplorable human rights situation, see the DPRK Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 2016.
The United States and the United Nations Security Council have expressed grave concern regarding North Korea’s recent nuclear tests, ballistic missile launches, and other activities prohibited by United Nations Security Council Resolutions. In response to North Korea’s actions, on September 11, the international community succeeded in achieving unanimous adoption of UN Security Council Resolution 2375, including by China and Russia, which imposes the strongest sanctions on the DPRK to date. UN Security Council statements from September 2017 are posted on the UN website.
As a result of concerns arising from unannounced missile launch activities and GPS navigation systems interference and/or disruption, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has issued a Prohibition and Advisory notice to U.S. airmen and operators, Special Federal Aviation Regulation (SFAR) 79 which prohibits U.S. civil aviation from flying in the Pyongyang Flight Information Region (FIR) west of 132 degrees east longitude, and the FAA has advised those flying in and around the Pyongyang (FIR) east of 132 degrees east longitude to be aware of possible GPS interruptions. On November 3, 2017, the FAA expanded its flight prohibition to include all operations in the Pyongyang (ZKKP) FIR East of 132 degrees East Longitude which were previously allowed under special Federal Aviation Regulation No. 79. For more information, consult the Federal Aviation Administration’s Prohibitions, Restrictions and Notices.
For further information:
- See the Department of State’s travel website, travel.state.gov, for current Worldwide Cautions, Travel Warnings, Travel Alerts, and Country Specific Information for North Korea.
- Enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to receive important safety and security messages via email (though you may not have access to email while in North Korea). Enrollment also makes it easier to locate you in case of an emergency.
- U.S. citizens who plan to travel to North Korea are strongly encouraged to inform the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, China by enrolling in STEP. U.S. citizens residing in China can contact the U.S. Embassy directly. The Embassy is located next to the Ladies’ Street (Nuren Jie) and Laitai Flower Market, near the Kempinski Hotel and Lufthansa Shopping Center on Tianze Road near the Liangmaqiao subway stop:
U.S. Embassy in Beijing
American Citizens Services Unit
No. 55 An Jia Lou Road
Beijing, China 100600
Telephone: (86-10) 8531-4000
Emergency after-hours number for U.S. citizens: (86-10) 8531-4000
- U.S. citizens who obtain a special validation to travel to North Korea are also strongly encouraged to contact the Embassy of Sweden by email prior to travel. Please provide the Embassy of Sweden with your name, date of birth, dates of your trip, and emergency contact information:
The Embassy of Sweden Pyongyang (U.S. Protecting Power in North Korea)
Telephone: (850-2) 3817 485 (reception)
(850-2) 3817 904, (850-2) 3817 907 (Deputy)
Telephone: (850-2) 3817 908 (Amb.)
Facsimile: (850-2) 3817 663
If you provide information to the U.S. Embassy in Beijing or the Swedish Embassy in Pyongyang, officials will be able to locate you more easily in an emergency. Take note of the contact details for the Swedish embassy in case of an emergency.
- U.S. citizens can obtain current information on safety and security conditions by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll-free in the United States and Canada or 1-202-501-4444 from other countries from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).
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