Is travel to North Korea safe?


Is travel to North Korea safe?

Ryugyong Hotel Pyongyang North Korea

Bloomberg and the Wall Street Journal run a story about the dangers of going to North Korea. A trip to North Korea is high on my list and I was surprised that North Korea actually detained 4 American citizens during the last couple of years.

More U.S. citizens are visiting North Korea as Pyongyang aggressively ramps up tourism as a source of hard currency for its troubled economy. Tourist hotels are springing up around the country, while North Korea has poured the country's limited resources into constructing leisure infrastructure, most prominently a massive ski resort that the regime frequently employs as a metaphor for its economic ambitions.
The country is planning to open air routes between Pyongyang and Southeast Asia, Europe and Chinese cities like Shanghai and is in the middle of a major upgrade to Pyongyang's aging airport.

The US State Department generally advises against all travel to North Korea. North Korea is particularly sensitive about contacting 'citizens illegally'.

Travel by U.S. citizens to North Korea is not routine, and U.S. citizens crossing into North Korea, even accidentally, have been subject to arbitrary arrest and long-term detention. Since January 2009, four U.S. citizens have been arrested for entering North Korea illegally, and two U.S. citizens who entered on valid DPRK visas were arrested inside North Korea on other charges. The Department of State has also received reports of DPRK authorities arbitrarily detaining U.S. citizens and not allowing them to depart the country.

The Government of North Korea has not only imposed heavy fines on, but has also detained, arrested, and imprisoned persons who violated DPRK laws, such as entering the country illegally or attempting to contact private DPRK citizens without government authorization. Travelers to North Korea must enter the DPRK with a valid passport and valid DPRK visa. Foreign visitors to North Korea may be arrested, detained, or expelled for activities that would not be considered criminal outside North Korea, including involvement in unsanctioned religious and/or political activities (whether those activities took place inside or outside North Korea), unauthorized travel, or unauthorized interaction with the local population.

North Korean security personnel may regard as espionage unauthorized or unescorted travel inside North Korea and unauthorized attempts to speak directly to North Korean citizens. North Korean authorities may fine or arrest travelers for exchanging currency with an unauthorized vendor, for taking unauthorized photographs, or for shopping at stores not designated for foreigners. It is a criminal act in North Korea to show disrespect to the country's former leaders, Kim Jong Il and Kim Il Sung, or to the current leader, Kim Jong Un.

This is certainly something to watch.

Picture courtesy of openbuildings.com.