I'm a marathon runner with qualification times well under the Pyongyang requirements. I understand the risks and huge issues with visiting North Korea obviously, but despite that, it's something that I've wanted to do for a long time. The DPRK leadership has long loved sports, and given the number of foreigners who have participated already without a hitch I'm somewhat confident that I'll be alright.

The United States currently has a travel ban against visiting North Korea, and North Korea has closed its borders due to Covid-19, but their websites are indicating that they will be reopened in 2024. I'd like to compete in it in the 2-5 year range, depending on the obstacles I'll have, but it seems unlikely that the US lifts its travel ban unless something big changes. Does anybody have any wisdom on this subject? Is my best bet to get a dual citizenship somewhere and use my secondary passport to get in? The last thing that I want is for the DPRK to feel that I'm deceiving them, so this seems kinda risky (in addition to costing significant time or money)

Has anyone raced in it before or been on one of the sponsored tours? Any advice is welcomed other than telling me to change my mind.

  • 5
    USA may be lifting its travel ban to N Korea in 2024 too. See The Associated PressThe ban makes it illegal to use a U.S. passport for travel to, from or through North Korea, unless it has been specifically validated in the case of a compelling national interest. It will remain in place until Aug. 31, 2024, unless it is extended or rescinded. Jan 13 at 21:49

1 Answer 1


First, a technical point: the obvious answer to Can I run the Pyongyang Marathon with just a US passport? is no. You'll need:

  1. A Chinese visa, at least double-entry (but US citizens usually get a 10-year multiple-entry visa). Or possibly a Russian visa, as there were, before Covid, Vladivostok-Pyongyang flights, and the first tour in 2024 to NK will be from Russia.
  2. A North-Korean visa.
  3. A booked tour to NK – one does not travel independently there[*]. In order to go to North Korea you must go through a travel agency appointed by the DPRK tourism authorities. It can be a private tour – ie just you, or you and companions, and not part of a larger group – but it is still a tour, and you will have a couple of minders with you, at all times.

With that being said, everything related to the trip is kept on separate paperwork – a visa is issued for all members of the group, which in your case would be just you – and while your passport will be taken away when you arrive in Pyongyang, until you go back to China/Russia, it will not be stamped. So there's no way for the US government to know you were there – at least on the basis of your passport. Of course, if you participate in a public event, and your face and name end up on a TV screen / news report, oh well...

Also, regarding Is my best bet to get a dual citizenship somewhere, this is kind of cute. How would you propose to do that? Unless you have oodles of money and can buy one of those "citizenship by investment" deals, getting a new citizenship takes time and dedication...

Follow-up re: a question in the comments.

Transit in China is not an option, at least on the way to NK. Visitors have to go to the appointed travel agency and submit themselves to a briefing on the dos and donts, mostly donts. And the visa, common to all participants, is applied for, and held by, the travel agency. Going to NK means abandoning all individuality and freedom for the duration.

The agency collects the travelers, and passports, briefs them, and hand-delivers them to the NK authorities. And receives them back in China when they come back - I believe the passports are handed back to their owners after landing on China.

[*] I know people who have, but that's not something that's publicized.

  • Can't OP transit via China visa-free?
    – JonathanReez
    Jan 14 at 5:26
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    It’s probably worth mentioning that one can hardly deviate from the tour, so one would have to request a custom tour which includes the marathon (and get approval for that). Naturally, if you have any chance of winning you can certainly forget about it.
    – jcaron
    Jan 14 at 7:54
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    @jcaron, if he had any chance of winning, he could expect the VIP treatment with lots of propaganda photo opportunities, I guess.
    – o.m.
    Jan 14 at 8:21
  • @o.m. No chance of winning the marathon event, the DPRK has a pretty impressive athletics program and their top runners have some crazy times... with that being said if the 2019 results are good indicators, the 5k and 10k events could be pretty easily won by anyone with serious training as there are only Amateur sections.
    – coderunner
    Jan 14 at 16:51
  • This is helpful, thank you. I knew about the visas and booked tours, I guess better phrasing would have been asking if the tour groups or authorities in Pyongyang would allow me passage with a US passport given the ban.
    – coderunner
    Jan 14 at 16:54

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