Can Americans Travel to North Korea?

Korea-1-500 Text by Alyson Sheppard

With this morning’s safe return of American journalists Euna Lee and Laura Ling (sister of former National Geographic Explorer host Lisa Ling) from a prison sentence in North Korea for entering the country illegally, ADVENTURE wants to know: Can Americans get in legally? And why would they want to?

Lee and Ling were imprisoned in June for allegedly entering the totalitarian Democratic People’s Republic of Korea illegally, and were sentenced to 12 years of hard labor. They returned to the U.S. today after months of diplomatic negotiations and a surprise appearance by former president Bill Clinton to take them home. Their scenario was nothing new; the U.S. State Department strongly warns Americans against visiting North Korea because of the strained relationship between the two countries and the DPRK’s tendency to accuse foreign tourists of being spies. But a handful of curious American tourists can and do visit North Korea every year, with some hefty stipulations.


North Korea is one of the most isolated countries in the world, and wants to keep it that way. Journalists are not allowed inside, period. But if you are a non-notebook scribbler, you may enter the county from mid-August to the end of September, which coincides with the country’s famed choreographed Mass Games. This is the only time Americans are legally allowed into the country. Prepare for all of your actions to be strictly regulated—emphasize strictly—from the pictures you take (you may not photograph soldiers, check points, poverty, scenery, and basically anything candid) to how much reverence you show the Great Leader (you are expected to bow before his statues) to what you say (phone lines are not considered private and cells are usually confiscated). And if you do get in trouble, don’t expect Bill to bail you out.

Still interested? Tour groups only enter through China, and the U.S. does not keep an embassy in North Korea, so you better find a tour company you trust, and prepare for the worst case scenario. Koryo Tours offers five-day American group tours to Pyongyang for $2,300.

Read about the return of the American journalists here.

Read the Department of State’s rules for Americans going to North Korea here.

Read about Koryo Tours here.

Photographs by Alan Hay


  1. Gina
    January 21, 2010, 8:27 pm

    I am south korean and everyone always asks what north korea is like. Well, I think it is a cruel place, but it is really up to their BABO ruler.

  2. Ayu-Chan
    November 18, 2010, 7:53 am

    I watch when there a doctor came to help people in north korea because of blind illness, and see that there is like live in year 70s, with their cloths and everything else and so poor, can u imagine that their leader have 100 limosine and their people very poor…??? I can imagine….!!!

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    February 2, 2012, 12:08 pm

    Why go and risk your life in such a country? Go somewhere else, were you can enjoy.