North Koreans are technically allowed to travel abroad, but they’re subject to multiple restrictions, including needing to have government approval to travel internationally.

In practice, the North Korean government rarely permits citizens to travel abroad.

At most, government officials, high-ranking military personnel, athletes, and artists, are allowed to travel internationally only for work.

The North Korean passport gives access to 8 countries for visa-free travel, and citizens can visit another 42 countries on an e-visa or visa on arrival.

North Koreans Need Government Approval to Travel

North Koreans are permitted to travel abroad with their government’s permission.

Technically, North Korean citizens have no official restrictions from traveling to other countries. But it’s still difficult for them to leave. 

The North Korean government rarely permits citizens to leave the country for any reason. They also tightly regulate travel between North Korea and the rest of the world.

So while North Koreans are allowed to travel abroad on paper, they’re rarely given the opportunity or approval to do so. 

Some North Korean Citizens Can Travel Abroad

The North Korean government permits only a small number of citizens to travel abroad, mostly for work purposes.

North Korean athletes, artists, and officials are permitted to travel abroad for work purposes only, but even they are subject to tight regulation and rarely get to leave. 

It’s even rarer, but not impossible, for North Korean citizens to travel abroad as long as it is for medical or educational purposes, although a few are able to do so.

Overall, a very small percentage of the North Korean population is permitted to travel abroad. 

North Koreans Can Travel to Almost Anywhere in the World

North Korean citizens can travel anywhere in the world where they have a valid visa, and their government permits them to go.

North Koreans cannot go to Sri Lanka or Japan as they are completely banned from these two countries.

Countries North Koreans Can Travel to

North Korean passport holders are given visa-free travel to the following eight countries: 

  1. Dominica 
  2. The Gambia 
  3. Guyana 
  4. Haiti 
  5. Kyrgyzstan 
  6. Micronesia 
  7. Palestine 
  8. St. Vincent and the Grenadines 

North Koreans also have eVisa and visa on arrival in another 42 countries.

The Process for North Koreans Who Want to Travel

There is no official or public information on the process for North Korean citizens who want to travel abroad.

But there is some information out there.

North Korean citizens who are issued passports are normally expected to have clean backgrounds. Most high-ranking members of the country’s armed forces and government receive these. 

Ordinary North Koreans are less likely to receive passports in most instances.

Some North Koreans get a visa for a labor program with Russia. They’ve also recently begun issuing certificates to travel to China for merchants. These certificates permit a stay in China for up to 4 days without a visa. 

Why North Koreans Aren’t Allowed to Travel

North Koreans aren’t allowed to travel for geopolitical and historical reasons.

North Korea is a traditional ally of China and an enemy of western countries, plus Japan and South Korea.

Most other countries don’t have diplomatic relations with North Korea. And the country is one of the world’s most isolationist. 

The North Korean government also prevents citizens from traveling abroad to avoid defections and loss of power.

Many North Korean citizens attempt to flee the country every year, which worries the government.

So they prevent citizens from leaving to hold onto power. 

You Can Visit North Korea as a Tourist

Tourists are allowed in North Korea, subject to multiple restrictions by the government.

All tourism is state-controlled in North Korea.

So all tourism businesses in the country are also state-owned bureaus.

This includes the Korea International Travel Company (KITC), the Korean International Sports Travel Company (KISTC), and the Korea International Youth and Children’s Travel Company (KIYTC). 

All tourists in North Korea are required to be part of guided tours, so tourists cannot freely wander the country.

Most of these tours are also restricted to the capital city of Pyongyang

In conclusion:

  • North Koreans are allowed to travel internationally if their government approves it, but this approval is rarely given to most citizens.
  • The North Korean government rarely lets citizens travel abroad due to political reasons.
  • The country’s government fears defections and a loss of control if citizens are allowed to travel freely.
  • Tourism is still permitted in North Korea, but it’s highly regulated.
  • All tourists are required to participate in state-approved guided tours. They cannot freely move in the country or travel wherever they want.
  • Most of these tours have also historically been restricted to the country’s capital, Pyongyang. 

Ella Dunham, a Freelance Travel Journalist and Marketing Manager, boasts an impressive career spanning eight years in the travel and tourism sectors.

Honored as one of "30 Under 30" by TTG Media (the world’s very first weekly travel trade newspaper), a "Tour Operator Travel Guru" and "Legend Award" winner, Ella is also a Fellow of the Institute of Travel, a Member of the Association of Women Travel Executives, has completed over 250 travel modules, and hosts travel-focused segments on national radio shows where she provides insights on travel regulations and destinations.

Ella has visited over 40 countries (with 10 more planned this year).