Contrary to the myths the media perpetuate, North Korea is safe. Although there have been issues with U.S citizens, for everyone else, the risk is minimal and lies solely upon your own actions.
North Korea does not randomly or indiscriminately target tourists, thousands of westerners visit the country (and even multiple times) without incident.
Nonetheless, this does not mean that there are not “rules” which are needed to kept. A western tourist heading to North Korea for the first time will discover a unique set of regulations and standards you will not find on any other country. For basic courtesy and respect, these regulations need to be kept to avoid not only getting yourself in trouble, but your tour guides too. In this article, we have listed the basic “rules” that you need to follow, as you keep these rules, we promise that you will be build a better relationship with your guides, they will trust you more and you will get to know them better as people.
1. Do not attempt to wander off
Outside of the hotel, do not attempt to wander off without your guide’s permission. This will not only create problems, but it will bring bigger repercussions on them if anything goes wrong. Always stay within some distance of your guide and the group, it doesn’t have to be close up, but don’t leave their supervision. If you do so, you will be amazed at how quickly locals notice and report it. Likewise, do not attempt to leave the hotel at night.
2. Do not take photos of the leader’s statues and pictures with the limbs cut off
When taking photos of anything involving Kim Jong Un, Kim Jong-Il and Kim Il-Sung you are expected to ensure the whole of their body is inside the photo. Photos with parts of their limbs cut off and out of the picture are considered disrespectful. There are no penalties for doing so, but it is considered disrespectful and you may be asked to delete your photo if it is seen.
3. Do not take photos of soldiers without permission
Being prohibited from taking photos of soldiers is not something unique to North Korea, it is the same in many countries including even South Korea. If nobody has gave you the authorization to take photos of soldiers, don’t do it. In the DMZ, where the soldiers interact with tourists, you have authorization to take photos here with the soldiers when you are told you can do so.
4. Do not criticize the regime or attempt to influence people against it
Common sense tells you not to criticize the North Korean regime to the guides or attempt to influence any local person against it. You have no obligation to agree with or endorse everything you see and hear, but it is best simply stay silent and be respectful. Do not bring any literature in the Korean language or critical of the regime into the country. Failure to comply with these standards will bring severe repercussions.
5. Do not attempt to steal anything
Common sense tells you stealing is wrong, in any context. Just because “it’s North Korea” does not make it fair game to engage in theft, especially of the regime’s “slogans” or “banners” located pretty much anywhere.
6. Do not leave anything in the hotel room… or anywhere for that matter
The guides in North Korea continually emphasize that on leaving the country, do not leave anything behind in the hotel room, or anywhere for that matter. This coincides with point number 4, if you accidentally leave sensitive material in the room or anything unauthorized that could fall into the hands of a local, this could also have consequences.