Will a trip to North Korea cause me problems when entering the U.S.?
April 5, 2007 7:47 PM   Subscribe

Will a trip to North Korea cause me problems when entering the U.S.?

I am very fond of visiting exotic places. The other day I was reading about North Korea and I thought of speding a week there, just to satisfy my curiosity, as I like studying Political History in my spare time, specially focusing in communist states and dictatorships.

However, I have to go to the U.S. every 2 months due to job assignments, so my question is: will an eventual tourism trip to DPRK cause me problems the next time I have to enter the U.S.? I will need a DPRK visa so I'm afraid of something going wrong when US immigration officers look at my passport and say "WOW, WHAT DO WE HAVE HERE, A LITTLE COMMIE?"

I have had a U.S. business Visa for the last 15 years, never had any problems getting in the country, and I definitely don't want to start having problems now that I need to go every couple of months in business trips.
posted by dcrocha to Travel & Transportation around (15 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
My understanding after reading a lot of DPRK travelogues over the years is that their stamps are removable from the passport. This prevents this problem. I think you can Google a lot about this.
posted by calhound at 7:48 PM on April 5, 2007

What country is your passport from? I've found that that tends to make a bit of difference in how the US views you (plus which countries you've been too).
posted by divabat at 8:18 PM on April 5, 2007

Response by poster: My passport is from Brazil, and in the last 10 years I went to Europe five or six times (mainly Finland) and to the U.S. over 20 times.
posted by dcrocha at 8:28 PM on April 5, 2007

Quite frankly, the U.S. is completely paranoid and lots of people are denied entry for much worse. If your livelihood depends on you being able to visit the U.S. on a regular basis, I'd pass on the North Korea trip. I'm sure that it would be fascinating and a wonderful opportunity, but the U.S. is skittish and Bush and his ilk don't look kindly on contact with charter members of the axis of evil.
posted by HotPatatta at 8:50 PM on April 5, 2007

I don't know what North Korean customs are like, but I know from many "rogue" travellers that you can often ask that your passport not be stamped. I know a few Americans who have visited Cuba this way. Also check different ports of entry. North Korea has few allies, but, in many countries, certain border crossing are often more lenient than others--see Canada to U.S. as compared to Mexico to U.S.

Also, a third thought, could you replace your passport after going to N. Korea?

And finally, have you looked to see what The Lonely Planet has to say?
posted by Dr. Lurker at 9:08 PM on April 5, 2007

Response by poster: Dr. Lurker, I can replace my passport for a new one, indeed, but the U.S. visa is still valid for 5 years, so I would to carry both passports so the visa could be checked on the old one and my permission to enter stamped on the new one. I have lived this situation (2 passports) before, so I know it wouldn't work.
posted by dcrocha at 9:16 PM on April 5, 2007

Maybe it's because I'm a US citizen but they never seem to look at my passport. Customs seems very in-out sort of thing. Then again, that's how I've found in most countries.

Maybe I've just been lucky but I've never been in a situation where a customs officer looked in detail at my passport stamps. Hell, with some of the new passports, all they need to do is swipe it and that's it.
posted by champthom at 9:18 PM on April 5, 2007

champthom, it's because you are a US Citizen. It's very different to return to the US as a citizen no matter where you've travelled than it is to come in to the US with a passport from a different country with a passport stamp from one of the Axis of Evil countries. That's what those seemingly bored agents are looking for.
posted by Dr. Lurker at 9:40 PM on April 5, 2007

From what I've read, a visit to North Korea requires a visa, which is usually on a separate piece of paper from your passport. The visa is stamped, your passport is not. When you are finished with your travels what you do with that piece of paper is your business. It can go in a scrapbook or it can go in the trash.

I would highly, highly recommend you ask a travel agent who has organized trips to DPRK before to help you with this. Travel and activities in North Korea are severely limited (to both foreigners and their own citizens). You won't have a very good time if you don't make arrangements beforehand regarding what you'd like to see.

The Lonely Planet Korea guide has a pretty extensive section in the back on travel to DPRK, including an interesting first-person account and a list of agents who can arrange this trip for you. If you go, have fun, and congrats on having more balls than me to satisfy your curiosity.
posted by Brittanie at 11:07 PM on April 5, 2007

Sadly, being a US citizen is no guarantee against extended scrutiny.

I'm American, have iived in Europe for about ten years, and rarely visit the US. Once I'd been out of the country for about three years, and flew to Chicago for a business meeting.

Upon entry the Immigration Officer asked, while scanning my passport, how long I'd been out of the country. I stammered, trying to remember - I didn't recall they asked this question upon entry, I'd just taken a long flight from the UK and generally wasn't that alert as it was late for me, living on GMT and being used to waking at bankers hours (that's 5AM folks).

He caught onto my confusion pretty quickly and followed up with several other questions including the gem "What other countries have you visited before entering the US?"

Well, that did it. I travel constantly, both for business as well as holidays, and that year I'd been spending a lot of time in Sub Saharan Africa. I explained that I travel a great deal, but he knew this as my passport had two extension booklets sewn into it; the damn thing was perhaps 1/2" thick and generally beaten to hell. I asked him how far back he wanted me to go but he did not appreciate the dialog. At all. In fact, I seemed to confuse him.

So he called a colleague over and they reviewed the visa stamps in my passport and, for some reason, were particularly interested in my one year, multiple entry Nigerian visa. They actually went through the passport, and wrote down the various entry / exit stamps and Visas. I have no idea what they did with that little inventory. At one point they directly asked me why I was spending so much time in Eastern Africa.

They didn't take me into a room, however this entire exchange did take well over fifteen minutes, perhaps longer. Twice they conferred privately.

Having been detained in the past by Immigration in a couple of African countries - Immigration Officers are all the same all over - I know I was damn close to being asked to step aside for "a word".

So long winded answer but suggest keeping the stamp out of your passport, by whatever means necessary.
posted by Mutant at 12:57 AM on April 6, 2007

Quite frankly, the U.S. is completely paranoid and lots of people are denied entry for much worse. If your livelihood depends on you being able to visit the U.S. on a regular basis, I'd pass on the North Korea trip.
This is scaremongering. Talk to your government about doing what every government does for its citizens who have to visit both Israel and various countries that are hostile to Israel; it should be easy to get two passports.
posted by Aidan Kehoe at 2:15 AM on April 6, 2007

… it should be easy to get two passports.
Oops, that should have been ‘it should be easy to get two passports that are concurrently valid, use one for your North Korean trip, and use the other for your US trips.’ If the US never sees the passport the North Koreans do, and you don’t tell them you’ve been there, they won’t know.
posted by Aidan Kehoe at 2:29 AM on April 6, 2007

My story is similar to mutant's. I dread it when travel via the US is necessary, as I have a massive collection of Central Asian 'stan visas. I get the big long quiz EVERY SINGLE TIME. As a Brazillian citizen I am guessing you would get even less benefit of the doubt than I do with a Canadian passport.

On the other hand, both mutant and I are talking about hassle at immigration - not denied entry, not a trip to Guantanamo. If you are ready and willing to go through the extended dialogue with Mr. Customs Man, and have legitimate explanations, chances are they'll let you in after the extra scrutiny.
posted by Meatbomb at 6:20 AM on April 6, 2007

Quite frankly, the U.S. is completely paranoid and lots of people are denied entry for much worse. If your livelihood depends on you being able to visit the U.S. on a regular basis, I'd pass on the North Korea trip.

As a gov't policy, alas, it is true, but many, many people come to the US with stamps in their passports from countries we don't want to play with. If you are flying into JFK, then I doubt you'd have a problem, expecially since you have a multi visa and have flown into the US before and never overstayed or anything like that. You could get unlucky and get the tough-guy, anything is possible. From what furriners in my company tell me when they come to the home office, New York customs inspectors tend to see a wider array of people than other places - they are less likely to play mini tough-guy cop because of where you had travelled to. MIA and LAX might be similar. Really, it ain't Belarus yet! (Is it?)

Note this doesn't apply if the exotic country is Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, Syria or other Muslim countries and you are not a white westerner (or probably even IF you are a white Westerner) - then you might want to practice your squat and cough.
posted by xetere at 8:57 AM on April 6, 2007

You're wasting your time asking here. You'll get lots of guesses and presumptions about the U.S. Bush police state, but no one really knows what the Customs and Border Protection policy is on visitors to North Korea.

Ask over at the "thorn tree" bulletin board, thorntree.lonelyplanet.com, they'll know right off.

My hunch is that the US authorities won't care too much about an NK visit by itself. I'd be surprised if they even noticed.
posted by Brian James at 12:38 PM on April 6, 2007

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