Are non-Korean tourists in North Korea discouraged from communicating in Korean?

Wikivoyage mentions that tour guides can speak a number of languages, but doesn't explicitly say whether or not it's ok to use Korean. I'm wondering whether it may be viewed with suspicion, because tour guides may want to use the language barrier to restrict what tourists can say to locals and vice versa.

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    The only travelers I know personally who went to NK said they were asked from the start by their "tour guides" not to talk to any of the normal locals at all, no matter in which language, because the locals might get scared and throw things at the tourists. So, anyone you might have an opportunity to talk to will be a "tour guide" themselves. Commented May 12, 2016 at 4:53
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    Regardless of what anyone says here, I wouldn't risk showing that you're anything more than "American Joe" in a country full of lunatics.
    – JonathanReez
    Commented May 12, 2016 at 6:24
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    @JonathanReez as they might assume you're a spy?
    – Golden Cuy
    Commented May 12, 2016 at 6:36
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    @AndrewGrimm exactly.
    – JonathanReez
    Commented May 12, 2016 at 7:14
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    @O.R.Mapper at first I thought that'd be ridiculous, but then I thought about Japanese civilians committing suicide as Americans captured Japanese territory in WWII, fearing what they'd do to them, and it doesn't seem so implausible now.
    – Golden Cuy
    Commented May 12, 2016 at 11:33

3 Answers 3


I went on a North-Korea trip 2 years ago, and in the tour group was a Chinese girl of Korean descent who spoke Korean. Everything went fine, I did not even see tension on the subject. On the contrary, the guides looked rather excited.

As already sent in the comments you'll almost exclusively talk to guides and hotel personnel anyway, you don't mix with locals a lot, definitely not enough for any in-depth conversation.


Went to Pyongyang a couple years ago on a 3-day tour.

  • locals (the real ones instead of those in the travel industry) were hesitant to talk to tourist. Except young people that can speak english so long as tour guides were not watching.
  • I don't speak Korean myself, but I think the tour guides would be elated to speak Korean to those that can understand. The guides are not oblivious to their country's situation. They're specially chosen because it's unlikely for them to defect.
  • there are Chinese business people that stay in Pyongyang. They typically speak Korean.
  • tour guides might suspect you're a spy if you can speak Korean and try sneaking off away from the group.

If you're visiting consider bringing gifts for the guides. They specially like western media like a magazine. The guides are also into seeing the real outside world. Bring photos of your camping trip or other travels on your phone and I guarantee the guides will open up to you.

If you're adventurous bring in a few USBs crammed with movies and TV shows and trade it with people in the tour industry (tour guides, hotel staff, etc.). They love that stuff, but you might get in trouble if you're caught with 20 USBs.

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    While this is a great answer I would defs not dare bring in USBs (or even magazines) as this might get you into some serious trouble when caught by the wrong person. And I can't imagine North Korean labor camps to be that nice of a 10-year vacation.
    – mts
    Commented May 15, 2016 at 19:38
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    This is a useful answer, but I can't give it a green tick with the last two paragraphs.
    – Golden Cuy
    Commented Jun 3, 2016 at 2:33
  • "[the guides] specially like western media like a magazine." - uhm ... maybe procedures over there change from time to time, but be aware that at least sometimes, NK border guards check every written document you carry, e.g. novels, page by page, apparently to make sure there are no pictures of the outside world hidden in there. In contrast, the "guides" sometimes seem to be oddly well-informed and appear to have access to foreign media. Commented May 18, 2017 at 11:21

As with any country I visit I spoke some basic local language (Hello, good morning, goodbye, thank you etc) to the guides, bus drivers and the small number of 'locals' I encountered as I believe this is the courteous and polite thing to do when visiting someone else country. They all seemed pleasant enough with me attempting their language and one guide even helped me with my pronunciations.

There was no one in my group who could speak Korean, or no one who would admit to it but the guides were very proficient in English, Mandarin and knew basic Spanish (enough to hold a basic conversation but I had to cross translate sometimes)

In reality the guides did want to improve their English by talking to you about all sorts of things. You have very little contact to anyone who is not part of the tour group or affiliated to them somewhere. You are literally guided round in groups by guides with possible 'minders' hovering around watching both you and the guide. The city areas can be very sparse and unless you are around for a public holiday there are very few people around when you are outside.

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