Location: East Asia
Capital: Pyongyang

Time zone: GMT/UTC plus 9 hours
Daylight savings time: no
Current time: 19:27
Population: 25,155,000
Currency: North Korean won
Dialling code: +850
Internet suffix: .kp

The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK/North Korea) is a heavily militarised state that shares the Korean peninsula with South Korea.

With a rich culture and world-renowned heritage sites it is considered a very appealing tourist destination, but heavy restrictions mean that annual visitor numbers are extremely limited and most tourist experiences are carefully managed by the authorities.


Overall security situation: stable but there are issues to consider
Crime rate: very low
Murder rate: moderate
Gun ownership levels: very low
Kidnapping hotspot: no
Maritime piracy hotspot: no
Do landmines/unexploded munitions pose a significant risk in parts of the country: no

The day-to-day security environment in North Korea is stable, but there are notable issues to be aware of. Significant parts of society may have very strong grievances but they are tightly controlled by the authorities.

While institutions in general are underfunded, law enforcement bodies and the military are strong and highly visible, acting as a deterrent to any domestic security threats. As long as the Kim dynasty retains the loyalty of the armed forces, this situation will likely continue.

The border with South Korea is particularly tense, although there is a degree of pragmatism in the relationship between the two countries and military tensions tend to fluctuate in line with political developments. There is occasionally strong rhetoric issued by both sides which can cause widespread alarm but actual military engagements are fairly rare, and those that have occurred in recent years have been limited to skirmishes in specific flashpoint border areas.

While landmines and unexploded ordnance do not pose a significant risk in most of the country, they can be a concern in many border areas.

The crime rate is low with limited petty crime, infrequent violent crime and generally good police coverage, especially in areas being visited by foreign nationals. Most issues foreigners face stem from falling foul of the country’s tight restrictions on foreigners’ movements and involvement in political and religious activities.


Aviation safety levels: grounds for concern
Annual road fatality rates: moderate
Vehicles drive on the: right
Infrastructure quality: major deficit
Urban ATM availability: very limited
Electricity supply: 220V 50Hz
Electricity supply reliability: very poor
Plug types: C

Plug type C (2 round pins, not grounded/earthed)


Is tap water drinkable: no
Healthcare quality: very poor
Infectious disease prevalence: moderately high

Vaccinations

Travellers should consult a medical practitioner prior to their trip but the following vaccines may be considered before travelling to the country, depending on factors such as specific destination, planned activities, intended time and length of stay as well as personal medical conditions (in some cases no additional vaccines may be required at all):

  • Hepatitis A
  • Hepatitis B (not always needed)
  • Japanese encephalitis
  • Rabies (usually only for long-term stays, or for those spending time in isolated areas or coming into contact with animals)
  • Tick-borne encephalitis (usually only for those spending time in at-risk forested areas)
  • Typhoid
  • Standard vaccinations (ie those commonly used in the developed world, such as diphtheria, measles, mumps, polio, rubella, tuberculosis and tetanus)

Disease presence

Malaria risk: moderate
Yellow fever presence: no
Dengue fever prevalence: rare/non-existent
Rabies prevalence: high risk
HIV prevalence in society: not known
Hepatitis A prevalence: high
Hepatitis B prevalence: high
Hepatitis E prevalence: not highly endemic
Cholera status: low risk
Chikungunya virus presence: not present

Zika virus presence: not recently reported
Japanese encephalitis presence: yes
Cutaneous leishmaniasis presence: non-endemic
Visceral leishmaniasis presence: non-endemic
Onchocerciasis presence: non-endemic
Schistosomiasis presence: none
Tick-borne encephalitis status: possible risk
Chagas disease presence: none

Typhoid fever presence: endemic
African trypanosomiasis presence: none
Plague status: not thought to be present
Rift Valley fever status: not present
Lassa fever status: not present
Polio status: not endemic
Ebola outbreaks: no
Meningococcal meningitis hotspot: no


Climate: temperate, with rainfall concentrated in summer; long, bitter winters
Terrain: mostly hills and mountains separated by deep, narrow valleys; wide coastal plains in west, discontinuous in east
Natural disaster risk: moderate
Natural hazards: late spring droughts often followed by severe flooding; occasional typhoons from July to August/September)
Tropical storms: occasional
Volcanic activity: Changbaishan (elev. 2,744 m) (also known as Baitoushan, Baegdu or P’aektu-san), on the Chinese border, is considered historically active
Previous earthquake(s) with over 1,000 fatalities: no


Government type: Communist state dictatorship
Socio-economic development score: 2/10 (very low levels of socio-economic development)
Adult literacy rate: 100%
Unemployment rate: very high
Civil liberties: highly restricted
Investment rating: not rated
Corruption levels: extremely high
Same-sex sexual activity: legal
Death penalty: in use
Languages: Korean
Ethnic groups: ethnically homogeneous; there is a small Chinese community and a few ethnic Japanese residents
Beliefs: traditionally Buddhist and Confucianist, some Christian and syncretic Chondogyo (Religion of the Heavenly Way); note that autonomous religious activities now almost non-existent; government-sponsored religious groups exist to provide illusion of religious freedom

General guidelines

  • The following advice has been compiled by travel safety specialists and ex-special forces personnel.
  • However, please note that it is of a general nature only and may not reflect the reality of your circumstances.
  • Ensure you have proper insurance cover in place.
  • Select good quality accommodation and properly prepare for any tasks, excursions or other activities you have to undertake.
  • Be mindful of local laws and cultural norms, bearing in mind that they might be different to what you are accustomed to.
  • Consider conducting or obtaining a risk assessment specific to you, your profile and your trip, task or operation.
  • This should take into account the likelihood of potential risks affecting you, as well as the likely impact they will have, and will help you decide, depending on your risk appetite and implementable risk mitigation measures, whether or not you should proceed.

Attitudes and laws

  • Exercise sensitivity in societies which place a high value on perceived morality, even if it goes against personal beliefs and values.
  • Research what local cultural practises, attitudes, values and especially laws you will need to be mindful of before travelling.
  • Bear in mind that punishments for any transgressions can be severe, not just for you, but also potentially for local residents who might have interacted with you.
  • Note that some subjects may be taboo so avoid discussing them with people if you think it might cause offence.

Foreign government warnings

  • Pay attention to the advice issued by your government and/or other countries (such as the US or UK).
  • For most travellers, it will be very much advisable to avoid any areas deemed to be high-risk by official government bodies.
  • For those who need to travel to these locations for work, personal or other essential reasons should consider the risks likely to be present and take appropriate measures.
  • Insurance may not be valid for travel undertaken to these areas, so it is advisable to check with your provider before travel.
  • Note that areas of official high-risk might change at short notice.

Infrastructure

  • Be prepared for potentially poor-quality roads and other forms of transportation.
  • This can make it difficult to get around.
  • Consider obtaining a high-quality vehicle that can handle difficult terrain if you intend to travel anywhere with particularly bad-quality roads.
  • Bear in mind that traffic safety conditions may be poor.
  • Try to ensure that any accommodation or workplace is located in a good quality building.
  • Bear in mind that in the event of an accident or emergency, the emergency response services may have very limited resources available.

Healthcare

  • Bear in mind that healthcare facilities and services may be significantly less extensive than more developed countries.
  • There may be very limited facilities, staff, techniques and medications available, especially in more isolated or underdeveloped areas.
  • There may not be adequate reliable blood supplies in local hospitals.
  • Pharmacists and other sources of even basic medical products may be difficult to find.
  • Aim to be as medically self-sufficient as possible, taking basic medical supplies.
  • Research whether or not certain medications are legal in your destination(s).
  • Take extra supplies of any routinely-taken medicines.
  • It may also be advisable to have them accompanied by a note from your doctor.
  • Avoid carrying medication for other travellers.
  • In the event of serious illness or injury it may be necessary for a patient to be evacuated out of the country.
  • Ensure that there is sufficient medical insurance in place to cover such an event.

Aviation safety

  • Try to use reputable airlines.
  • Check the safety records of any companies you use to charter flights.
  • Check the weather forecast in advance of travel – particularly for domestic flights.
  • Consider delaying your trip or using an alternative means of transport rather than taking a risky flight.

Weather

  • If rainfall, flooding, extreme temperatures or other types of severe weather are a concern, check the local weather patterns to find out if there are times of the year where the risk is much higher.
  • Consider avoiding travel to at-risk destinations during these times.
  • Try to stay in good quality accommodation.
  • Take appropriate clothing and footwear.
  • Take appropriate protection for any sensitive equipment you wish to bring.
  • Note that storms, flooding and other types of harsh weather can overload infrastructure, lead to traffic jams and power cuts.
  • Flooding and heavy rainfall can also raise the risk of landslides, as well as insect- and water-borne diseases in some parts of the world.
  • As such, be prepared to delay, alter or even cancel travel plans to affected or high-risk areas.

Volcanic activity

  • In at-risk areas, pay attention to official warnings and observe exclusion zone orders.
  • Know your evacuation routes and the location of your nearest shelters and medical facilities.
  • Familiarise yourself with any official warning systems.
  • Ensure that you have sufficient supplies (such as food, water, medications and fuel) as well as good working vehicles so you can leave very quickly if needed.
  • Be prepared to react to evacuation orders and actual eruptions at short notice.
  • Be prepared for possible travel disruption in the event of an eruption, which could affect flights and lead to congested roads and fuel shortages.
  • Depending on the level of risk, consider having a shelter in your accommodation and/or place of work if it is in an area which could be affected by heavy ash fall, as this could provide you temporary shelter in the event of an eruption.