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Travel Warning & Consular Information Sheet for North Korea

North Korea - Consular Information Sheet
June 12, 2001

COUNTRY DESCRIPTION: The Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North Korea or DPRK) is a highly-centralized Communist state. Tourist facilities are not widely available. Tourism in North Korea is permitted only in officially organized groups authorized by the Government of North Korea. Independent tourism is not permitted. Telephone and other communications are limited. In recent years, North Korea has experienced lower crop production and other economic difficulties, which have resulted in serious shortages of food, electrical power, clean water and medicine. A broad spectrum of countries, including the United States, has contributed to international relief efforts.

INTERIM CONSULAR PROTECTING POWER: The United States does not maintain diplomatic or consular relations with North Korea. The U.S. Government therefore cannot provide normal consular protective services to U.S. citizens in North Korea. On September 20, 1995, a consular protecting power arrangement was implemented, allowing for consular protection by the Swedish Embassy of U.S. citizens traveling in North Korea. In this capacity, the Swedish Embassy in the capital city Pyongyang endeavors to provide basic consular protective services to U.S. citizens traveling or residing in North Korea who are ill, injured, arrested or who may die. Since 1998, four U.S. citizens have been detained by North Korean authorities. Consular access has not always been granted readily, and there have been allegations of mistreatment while in custody, as well as the requirement to pay large fines to obtain release. U.S. citizens should therefore evaluate carefully the implications for their security and safety when deciding whether to travel to North Korea. See "Consular Access" section below for further information.

ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS: U.S. passports are valid for travel to North Korea. North Korean visas are required for entry. The U.S. Government does not issue letters to private Americans seeking North Korean visas, even though in the past such letters have sometimes been requested by DPRK embassies. Prospective travelers to North Korea must obtain in advance a Chinese visa valid for at least two entries prior to their arrival in the region. A valid Chinese visa is essential for both entry into China en route to North Korea, as well as departure from North Korea by air or land to China at the conclusion of a visit or in an emergency. Travel across the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) between North and South Korea is not permitted. U.S. citizens who arrive in North Korea without a valid U.S. passport and North Korean visa may be detained, arrested, fined or denied entry. Payment for travel costs by Americans in North Korea must be made in U.S. dollars at inflated prices. Payment may be required as well for the costs of security personnel assigned to escort foreign visitors.

U.S. citizens traveling to North Korea should carry only valid U.S. passports bearing the proper North Korean visa. Under no condition should U.S. citizens bring with them to North Korea any document that identifies them as citizens or residents of either the Republic of Korea (South Korea) or the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North Korea). There is currently no way to replace a lost or stolen U.S. passport in North Korea.

There is no North Korean embassy or consulate in the United States. U.S. citizens and residents planning travel to North Korea must obtain North Korean visas in third countries. For information about entry requirements and restricted areas, contact the North Korean Mission to the United Nations in New York. Address inquiries to the Permanent Representative of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea to the United Nations, 820 Second Avenue, New York, New York 10017, tel: (1-212) 972-3105; fax: (1-212) 972-3154, or contact the North Korean embassy in a country that maintains relations with North Korea.

U.S. citizens traveling to North Korea usually obtain their visas at the North Korean Embassy in Beijing, China, which will only issue visas after authorization has been received from the North Korean Foreign Ministry in Pyongyang, the capital city. Prior to traveling to the region, travelers may wish to confirm with the North Korean Embassy by telephone at (86-10) 65321186, 65321189, 65325018, 65324308, or 65321154 (fax: 65326056), that authorization to issue visas has been received from Pyongyang.

In an effort to prevent international child abduction, many governments have initiated procedures at entry/exit points. These often include requiring documentary evidence of relationship and permission for the child's travel from the parent(s) or legal guardian not present. Having such documentation on hand, even if not required, may facilitate entry/departure.

CONSULAR ACCESS: U.S. citizens are encouraged to carry photo-copies of their passport data and photo pages with them at all times so that, if questioned by DPRK officials, proof of U.S. citizenship is readily available to DPRKauthorities and Swedish protecting power officials. The U.S.-North Korea Interim Consular Agreement provides that North Korea will notify the Swedish Embassy within four days of an arrest or detention of an American citizen and will allow consular visits within two days after a request is made by the Swedish Embassy. In practice, however, consular access has not been readily granted. In one case in 1998, an American was held for nearly two months and was finally expelled from the DPRK without ever having been seen by Swedish authorities, despite repeated requests for access. In another case of an American detained in 1999, a consular visit was not permitted until more than a month into the detention, the American was not permitted to speak English during the visit, and his Korean-language statements were mistranslated by North Korean security personnel. In cases where consular access has been granted to a U.S. citizen detained for the long term, however, DPRK authorities have typically permitted consular visits as frequently as requested to ensure the prisoner's welfare. The interim consular agreement also provides that the detainee may be given parcels containing food, medicine, clothing, and reading and writing materials. These services are also provided by the Swedish Protecting Power.

CRIMINAL PENALTIES: While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and do not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses. Persons violating the law, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs are strict, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and fines.

Unescorted travel by Americans to any region of North Korea without explicit authorization may be viewed by North Korean security personnel as espionage. Foreigners are subject to fines or arrest for unauthorized currency transactions or for shopping other than at stores specially designated for use by foreigners. It is a criminal act in North Korea to show disrepect to the country's current and former leaders, Kim Jung-Il and Kim Il-Sung.

DUAL NATIONALITY: U.S. citizens of North or South Korean ethnicity may be considered by North Korean officials to be dual nationals or even North Korean (DPRK) citizens and may therefore be treated more harshly under DPRK laws. These laws may impose special obligations upon North Korean nationals, such as military service or taxes. U.S. citizens of North or South Korean origin may be charged with offenses allegedly committed prior to their original departure from North Korea. U.S. citizens should refer to the paragraph on consular access regarding their rights. For additional information, see the Consular Affairs home page on the Internet at http://travel.state.gov for our Dual Nationality flyer.

INFORMATION ON CRIME: The North Korean government does not release statistics on crime. Foreigners residing in Pyongyang report that street crime is rare; however, there have been some reports of petty theft, especially at the airport in Pyongyang. Worsening economic conditions may result in increased crime rates. Lost or stolen passports should be reported to the local police and to the Swedish Embassy as interim U.S. protecting power. Useful information on safeguarding valuables and protecting personal security while abroad is provided in the Department of State pamphlet, A Safe Trip Abroad, available from the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C. 20402, or via the Internet at http://www.access.gpo.gov/su_docs.

MEDICAL FACILITIES AND INSURANCE: Persons with medical problems should be aware that, because of continuing economic hardship, the level of medical care falls far below U.S. standards, and medical care for Americans who become ill or injured in North Korea, including emergency medical evacuation, is generally not available. Hospitals in Pyongyang and other cities often lack heat, medicine, and even basic supplies, and suffer from frequent power outages. Hospitals do not have food for patients. Functioning telephones are not widely available, making it difficult to summon assistance in a medical emergency. Americans should not bring personal medications to North Korea without written authorization from the North Korean Embassy in a third country or the North Korean Mission to the United Nations in New York. Absent such permission, persons requiring regular medication should not travel to North Korea. Hospitals will expect immediate U.S. dollar cash payment for medical treatment.

U.S. medical insurance is not always valid outside the United States and usually does not cover medical evacuations. The Medicare/Medicaid program does not provide payment for medical services outside the United States. Supplemental medical insurance with specific overseas coverage, including provision for medical evacuation, may prove useful, although medical evacuation from Pyongyang to China would require several days to arrange and evacuation by air from other areas of North Korea is often not feasible. The Embassy of Sweden, acting as protecting power for the United States, would attempt to arrange flight clearances when needed for air ambulances performing emergency medical evacuations, a time-consuming process. Medical evacuation by regularly scheduled airlines would be limited to the very small number of flights that currently operate from Pyongyang to Beijing, Dalian, Shenyang, and Macau. Chinese visas for injured foreigners and any escorts must be obtained in advance of travel from North Korea to China, even in a medical emergency. Evacuation across the DMZ to South Korea is not a viable option.

In 1999 an injured South Korean national was transported from Pyongyang to China and then to Seoul by SOS International (U.S. telephone: (1-800) 468-5232; China telephone: (86-10) 6462-9100), using a Chinese-registered air ambulance based in Beijing, at a cost of over US$80,000. Other reputable medical evacuation providers in China with access to the same Chinese-registered ambulance aircraft include Medex Assistance Corporation (U.S. telephone: (1-800) 537-2029; China telephone: (86-10) 6465-1264), and GlobalDoctor (China telephone: (86-21) 64311541, (86-21) 64311537, (86-10) 83151914). Travelers may wish to contact these or other emergency medical assistance providers for information about their ability to provide medical evacuation insurance and/or assistance for travelers to North Korea. A list of travel insurance companies is also available on the State Department's web page at http://travel.state.gov. (The Department of State can assume no responsibility for the professional ability or reputation of these companies, and cannot pay for the medical evacuation of private U.S. citizens.)

General information on medical emergencies abroad, including overseas insurance programs, is provided in the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs brochure, Medical Information for Americans Traveling Abroad, available via the Bureau of Consular Affairs home page at http://travel.state.gov, and autofax service at (1-202) 647-3000.

OTHER HEALTH INFORMATION: All needed vaccines should be administered prior to traveling to North Korea. Vaccine recommendations and disease prevention information for traveling abroad are available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's International Travelers' Hotline, which may be reached from the United States at 1-877- FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747), via its toll-free autofax number at 1-888-CDC-FAXX (1-888-232-3299), or via the CDC Internet site at: http://www.cdc.gov/. In addition, travelers should bring food with them to North Korea as the few restaurants available to foreigners are often closed for lack of supplies and in any case have limited menus that lack variety and nutritional adequacy.

TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS: While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning North Korea is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or situation.

Safety of Public Transportation: Poor
Urban Road Conditions/Maintenance: Good
Rural Road Conditions/Maintenance: Poor
Availability of Roadside Assistance: Nonexistent

Foreigners are not allowed to drive in North Korea. Streets are often unlit due to electricity shortages. Taxis are not generally available, and cars are often in dangerous disrepair. Pyongyang has a functioning subway; however, city buses are often idled due to lack of fuel. Roads outside of cities are extremely hazardous. North Korea is dependent on rail transportation; however, rail delays are frequent, including on the line from Pyongyang to Dandong (China). Bicycles are unavailable for rental or purchase. Local citizens may be unwilling to assist Americans injured in road accidents for fear of repercussions following any unauthorized interaction with foreigners.

AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT: As there is no direct commercial air service by local carriers at present, or economic activity to operate such service, between the U.S. and North Korea, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed North Korea's Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with international aviation safety standards for oversight of North Korea's air carrier operations. For further information, travelers may contact the Department of Transportation within the U.S. at (1-800)322-7873, or visit the FAA Internet home page at http://www.faa.gov/avr/iasa. The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) separately assesses some foreign air carriers for suitability as official providers of air services. For information regarding the DOD policy on specific carriers, travelers may contact DOD at (1-618)-229-4801.

On February 11, 1998, the FAA approved an Amendment to Special Federal Aviation Regulation (SFAR) 79 to allow U.S. carriers to overfly a sector of North Korean oceanic airspace on commercial routes into Seoul, South Korea. The SFAR Amendment permits only overflight and not landing privileges. In the remote event that a U.S. air carrier flying in North Korea's oceanic airspace should have to make an emergency landing in North Korea, the Swedish Protecting Power would endeavor to provide assistance to U.S. citizens.

NORTH KOREAN CUSTOMS REQUIREMENTS: DPRK authorities may seize documents, literature, audio and video tapes, compact discs, and letters that they deem to be pornographic, political, or intended for religious proselytizing. Persons seeking to enter North Korea with religious materials in a quantity deemed to be greater than that needed for personal use can be detained, fined and expelled. Information concerning laws governing items that may be brought into North Korea may be available from the North Korean Mission to the United Nations or from a North Korean embassy or consulate in a third country.

SECURITY: The activities and conversations of foreigners in North Korea are closely monitored by government security personnel. Hotel rooms, telephones and fax machines may be monitored, and personal possessions in hotel rooms may be searched. Photographing roads, bridges, airports, rail stations, or anything other than designated public tourist sites can be perceived as espionage and may result in confiscation of cameras and film or even detention. Foreign visitors to North Korea may be arrested, detained or expelled for activities that would not be considered crimes in the U.S., including involvement in unsanctioned religious and political activities or engaging in unauthorized travel or interaction with the local population. Since 1998, four U.S. citizens have been detained by North Korean authorities. Consular access has not always been granted readily, and there have been allegations of mistreatment while in custody, as well as the requirement to pay large fines to obtain release.

U.S. GOVERNMENT ECONOMIC SANCTIONS AGAINST NORTH KOREA: On June 19, 2000, the U.S. implemented an easing of economic sanctions against North Korea. The easing of sanctions allows a wide range of exports and imports of U.S. and North Korean commercial and consumer goods. Imports from North Korea are allowed, subject to an approval process. Direct personal and commercial financial transactions are allowed between U.S. and North Korean citizens. Restrictions on investment have also been eased. Commercial U.S. ships and aircraft carrying U.S. goods will be allowed to call at North Korean ports.

The easing of sanctions does not affect U.S. counterterrorism or nonproliferation controls on North Korea, which prohibit exports of military and sensitive dual-use items and most types of U.S. assistance. Statutory restrictions, such as U.S. missile sanctions, remain in place. Restrictions on North Korea based on multilateral arrangements also remain in place.

Regulations effecting the easing of sanctions have been issued by the Departments of Treasury, Commerce and Transportation, are published in the June 19, 2000, Federal Register, and can be found on the Internet at http://www.nara.gov./fedreg. For additional information, consult the U.S. Department of the Treasury, Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) home page on the Internet at http://www.treas.gov/ofac or via OFAC's Info-by-Fax service at (1-202) 622-0077, which is available by telephone or by using a fax machine phone, the U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of Export Administration at http://www.bxa.doc.gov, and the U.S. Department of Transportation at http://www.dot.gov.

CHILDREN'S ISSUES: For information on international adoption of children and international parental child abduction, please refer to our Internet site at http://travel.state.gov/children's_issues.html, or telephone (202) 736-7000.

EMBASSY LOCATION AND REGISTRATION: There is no U.S. embassy or consulate in North Korea. The Embassy of Sweden, which acts as U.S. Protecting Power, is located at: Munsu-Dong District, Pyongyang. The telephone and fax numbers, which are frequently out of order due to poor telecommunications in the DPRK, are: Tel: (850-2) 381-7908; Fax: (850-2) 381-7258. U.S. citizens contemplating living in or visiting North Korea are encouraged to register in person, by telephone or fax with the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, China, and to obtain updated information on travel and security within North Korea. The Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy in Beijing is located at 2 Xiushui Dongjie, Beijing 100600; telephone: (86-10) 6532-3431; after hours: (86-10) 6532-1910; fax: (86-10) 6532-4153; e-mail AmCitBeijing@state.gov. It is also possible to register from the United States via the Internet through the U.S. Embassy's home page at http://www.usembassy-china.org.cn.

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