Contrary to popular belief, it’s quite easy to get a tourist visa to North Korea, or as their citizens call their country, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). All nationalities need a visa to enter, except for Malaysia and Russia. Foreign tourists are not allowed to travel within North Korea independently — whether alone or a group, we must go through an authorized travel agency.
There are direct flights to North Korea from Malaysia (seasonal) and Russia, but the most common entry/exit point to/from North Korea is China. There are many travel agencies based in China that specialize in North Korean tours, but I picked Dandong Jinhua International Travel Service (DDCTS) for our trip last month. DDCTS is located in Dandong, a Chinese city that borders North Korea. They’re cheaper compared to other agencies (only CNY 4950. 00 for their regular 4D3N tour) and served the purpose of getting us tickets (sold separately at CNY 800. 00) to the famous Arirang Festival mass games, our main reason for going to North Korea. Their regular tour includes round-trip Dandong-Pyongyang-Dandong train tickets, which we preferred because my mother didn’t want to fly in aboard Air Koryo, the “world’s worst airline”. There are also travel agencies based in Beijing whose tours include round-trip train tickets straight from the capital and back, but we planned to visit other Chinese cities on the way, so DDCTS it was.
Getting a North Korean tourist visa through DDCTS is a simple and straightforward process. You simply email them at firstname.lastname@example.org no later than 8 days before your desired tour start date with the following:
- A scan of the information page of your passport
- A scan of a photo of you (no specifications, only that it is a clear headshot)
- Your home address
- Your company name and address
- Your phone number
And that’s pretty much it. Unlike other agencies, DDCTS does not require advance payment. We simply showed up at their office on the day of our departure, and paid the total cost for the tour then. They accept Chinese renminbi, euros, and US dollars. Our tour group had two North Korean guides — one Mandarin-speaking for the Chinese majority, and one English-speaking for the rest of us.