What to pack for a trip to North Korea

Going to North Korea? Below are some hints and advise on what to bring:


Camera equipment – photography enthusiasts should bring the best equipment they can get their hands on, along with extra batteries, and plenty of extra flash card memory. Official rules state that 200mm is the maximum size lens allowed, but Koryo Tours says you can bring anything in as long as it does not scream that you are a professional. I brought in a 300mm lens with no problem. What is a problem is if your camera has GPS hardware. Get an eraser and try to scrub the GPS label off, if found North Korean customs officials will hold your camera at the airport. I brought about 80 gigs in flash card memory and actually ran out of space by the end of the trip – I shoot in RAW and my camera shoots at 12 shot per second, I had a LOT of pics!

A flashlight – outside Pyongyang there is no guarantee your hotel will have power at night.

Laptop – this is allowed but do you really need one there?

Ipad and/or Ipod – Allowed! Load them up with games and foreign movies and let your guides play with them. Our guides went absolutely bonkers for our hand held Apple products, confiscating them to watch Dumb and Dumber and to play games.

Cellphone/Iphone – no foreign cell phones are allowed in North Korea. You can bring your cell phone but it WILL be collected, held for you, and given back on your departure.

Kindle – not sure about this, I didn’t bring mine. I brought a single paperback but was so busy I never cracked it. But if you do bring reading material obviously do not bring books that are critical of the North Korean government, read those before you come.

Books – see above.

Dress code – its very hot and muggy in North Korea in the summer, and while I wanted to dress smart in slacks, I gave up on it and fell back to wearing my shorts. At our Koryo Tours orientation meeting in Beijing we were told that “North Koreans already think foreigners are strange, so might as well play it up and be comfortable in your shorts”. You will need at least one set of dress cloths, including a tie for men, for the visit to the mausoleum to pay respects to Kim ll-sung.

Alcohol – North Korean beer is cheep and readily available but bring a bottle of wine or your favorite spirit if you so desire.

Gifts for children – you will not be able to give gifts directly to children.

Gifts for the guides – it is recommended you bring gifts for the guides. Beijing airport has a large duty free section and is a good place to stock up on a nice bottle of whiskey and a couple cartons of cigarettes. North Koreans like their cigarettes strong, full strength Camels or Marlboro Reds would be a good choice. A nice selection of makeup or skin creams would make a good gift for the female guides. Quality over quantity is suggested.

Coffee – bring your own supply of instant packages.

10 responses

  1. Pingback: East Asia Blog Round-Up : 4/3/2012 | Eye on East Asia

  2. Ah great post! 🙂 This will definitely help. I am going to set up a facebook event with some friends that all want to plan to go there in 2013, I’ll post this in the event. 🙂

    I did not even think about the flashlight, that was a great addition. As well as the gifts.

    March 5, 2012 at 7:39 am

  3. We also do facebook events for organizing and planning for the trip – just remember that facebook is blocked in China so it will be useless for those last few days as everyone arrives there.

    March 5, 2012 at 11:43 am

  4. I would also recommend that a group would pool together and bring a Polaroid type instant camera to take pictures and give as gifts to the locals you have interaction with.

    March 5, 2012 at 11:48 am

  5. Yeah the facebook thing is more of an “ahead of trip planning organization thing”.

    Ah, good idea with the Polaroid.
    What’s their take on film cameras? Guessing it wont be a problem?

    March 5, 2012 at 12:31 pm

  6. I recommend bringing some types of food to augment North Korean cooking, which we found monotonous. The orange I ate on the last day tasted like the best orange ever, so I’m bringing more fresh fruit. Ingred’s spicy paste (what was it called?) helped *a lot*. You can buy it in North Korea, but why count on it? I’m going to bring something from Beijing.

    March 5, 2012 at 6:52 pm

  7. Here’s the spicy sauce Ingred brought that tasted great on many things and brought variety to things — http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gochujang

    March 8, 2012 at 1:02 pm

  8. blursquirrel

    i’m pretty curious about this. you mentioned lending the guides your apple products, but I also heard that there are minders accompanying tourists on tour groups. Was this actually allowed?

    great blog, by the way. I hope this goes a long way in giving the outside world a better image of north korea!

    April 2, 2013 at 6:01 pm

    • We gave a gift of a tablet loaded with American movies to our favorite guide. We played Gangnam Style while there, our guides often asked us to dance Gangman Style. You have guides, not minders while there, and the guides I work with are my close friends.

      April 6, 2013 at 5:07 am

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