United States Passports Invalid for Travel to North Korea as of September 1, 2017

As was expected, all United States passports will become invalid for travel to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea — otherwise known as North Korea — as of Friday, September 1, 2017.

United States Passports Invalid for Travel to North Korea as of September 1, 2017

Rex W. Tillerson — who is currently the secretary of state of the Department of State of the United States — declared the new travel restriction on Friday, July 21, 2017 and was released earlier today. He stated the intention for the travel ban is to apply “peaceful pressure” on Pyongyang — with an offer to “sit and have a dialogue” — and he said in a briefing to the press that “We do not seek a regime change; we do not seek the collapse of the regime; we do not seek an accelerated reunification of the peninsula; we do not seek an excuse to send our military north of the 38th parallel. And we’re trying to convey to the North Koreans we are not your enemy, we are not your threat, but you are presenting an unacceptable threat to us, and we have to respond.”

Exceptions to the travel ban to North Korea include journalists and aid and humanitarian workers, as American citizens will be required to obtain a passport with a special validation in order to travel to or within North Korea for certain limited humanitarian or other purposes.

The Main Reason Behind the Travel Ban

While visiting North Korea, Otto Warmbier — who was 22 years old — was sentenced last year to 15 years of hard labor as punishment for attempting to steal a propaganda poster. After being released on humanitarian grounds, Warmbier returned to the United States on Tuesday, June 13, 2017 while in a coma. The cause and circumstances of his death on Monday, June 19, 2017 are still not clear — including the reasons why he lapsed into a coma.

As a result of that incident — as well as due to the plight of three American citizens who are currently detained in North Korea — the following verbiage was included in the official declaration:

The Department of State has determined that the serious risk to United States nationals of arrest and long-term detention represents imminent danger to the physical safety of United States nationals traveling to and within the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), within the meaning of 22 CFR 51.63(a)(3). Therefore, pursuant to the authority of 22 U.S.C. 211a and Executive Order 11295 (31 FR 10603), and in accordance with 22 CFR 51.63(a)(3), all United States passports are declared invalid for travel to, in, or through the DPRK unless specially validated for such travel, as specified at 22 CFR 51.64. The restriction on travel to the DPRK shall be effective 30 days after publication of this Notice, and shall remain in effect for one year unless extended or sooner revoked by the Secretary of State.

The rogue country has also increasingly become a security challenge with its nuclear and missile programs.


At least two schools of thought with opposing views result from the official declaration: restricting the freedom of travel for people holding only an American passport supposedly does little to improve the current tension between North Korea and the United States towards more diplomatic relations; and curtailing travel to North Korea helps to stem the flow of dollars which support the current regime there.

If you hold an additional passport other than one issued by the United States, you can still visit North Korea — but you will most likely be required to be part of a tour group.

Korean Demilitarized Zone and Joint Security Area

The border which separates South Korea from North Korea is that strip of raised concrete on the ground halfway down the length of the building. Photograph ©2014 by Brian Cohen.

Otherwise, the only way for American citizens to legally visit North Korea is to cross the border for a few minutes at the Korean Demilitarized Zone and Joint Security Area, as I did almost three years ago. I intend to post more articles — with photographs — of my experience in the future.

I personally would not be surprised if the declaration is a necessary action portending eventual military conflict; but I hope that the increasingly strained relationship between the two countries never does escalate to that level.

Photograph ©2014 by Brian Cohen.

4 thoughts on “United States Passports Invalid for Travel to North Korea as of September 1, 2017”

  1. Mark Murzilka says:

    Brian- nobody wants or likes wars. War is a tragedy. However, there are instances where military intervention is the best and only choice.

    1. Brian Cohen says:

      Sadly, Mark Murzilka, I cannot argue with what you wrote — but one can only hope military intervention is not necessary…

  2. Tony says:

    Travel restriction is necessary. With a country that is bred to hate America so much, why would you willingly travel there at great risk to yourselves? I guess some Americans, like Otto, had an invincibility complex and thought they were safe. Let me go jump in freeway traffic and blame the guy who hit me for my death.

    1. Brian Cohen says:

      Your comment reminded me of my first trip to Honolulu, Tony.

      The taxi cab in which I was a passenger was heading southwest on Lunalilo Freeway from the international airport when it suddenly encountered traffic which was at a complete dead stop for a long time.

      The cause of the traffic jam was that someone jumped from an overpass onto the freeway…

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