Entry & Exit Formalities
Once you’ve obtained a visa, entering North Korea is straightforward, even if the welcome at immigration tends to be rather frosty. Your guides will take your passport for the duration of your stay in the country. This is totally routine, so do not worry about it being lost.
North Korean customs procedures vary in severity from general polite inquiries to thorough goings-over. You will normally have to present all books on arrival for inspection, and the Lonely Planet Korea guide and other books about the country will usually be confiscated, although it's not always common for bags to be searched. All electronic goods, including cameras, laptops, e-readers, tablets and phones, will also need to be presented. Cameras of almost any size and nonprofessional video recorders are fine, though huge zoom lenses and enormous tripods are not allowed.
People of all nationalities need a visa to visit North Korea. At present North Korea bans only citizens of South Korea and Malaysia from visiting, while since 2017 the US government has banned all its citizens from travelling to the DPRK.
Restrictions have relaxed somewhat for visa applicants, and you currently just have to supply the name of your employer and your job. If you work in the media, human rights or any other potentially controversial professions, you might not be offered a visa. Each visa needs approval from Pyongyang, so apply at least one month before you travel. Your travel agency will normally handle the application for you, and in most cases the visa is a formality if you travel with an established agency.
Tour groups usually have visas issued in Běijīng the day before travel, so don’t worry about leaving home without one in your passport. It does mean that you need to spend 24 hours in Běijīng before going on to Pyongyang, but you won’t have to go to the embassy yourself in most cases. Individual visas can usually be issued at any North Korean embassy around the world.
The embassy visa charges (€50 in Běijīng) are included in some, but not all, tour packages. North Korean visas are not put into passports, but are separate documents taken from you when you exit the country. If you want a souvenir, ask if you can make a photocopy or take a photo (and obey your guides if they say no). No stamp of any kind will be made in your passport.
Bear in mind that in most cases you will need to travel through China to enter and leave North Korea. This means that you'll either need to get a dual-entry visa for China, or – much simpler – use the 144-hour visa-free transit scheme, for which you simply need to show an onward air ticket out of China within that time period.
Needed by everyone and normally issued the day before you travel by the North Korean embassy in Běijīng.