Official: US Passports Not Valid for Travel to North Korea Effective September 1

A week and a half ago we learned that the federal government planned to ban US citizens from traveling to North Korea.

Today the State Department’s notice on “United States Passports Invalid for Travel to, in, or Through the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea” was published in the Federal Register. (.pdf)

The Department of State is declaring all U.S. passports invalid for travel to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) unless the travel meets certain criteria.

The restriction on travel is in place for one year “unless extended or sooner revoked by the Secretary of State.”

North Korean Dictator Kim Jong Un Visits Pyongyang’s Airport

North Korea becomes the only country I am aware of where US passports are considered not to be valid for travel by the U.S. government. There are countries the US makes is difficult to visit, such as via OFAC restrictions, but not impossible.

In the past restrictions on use of US passports have been in place precluding US citizens from traveling to countries such as Iraq and Iran, as well as certain communist-controlled countries and territories.

This rule allows the Department of State to offer special validation of passports for North Korea travel if “determined to be in the national interest” and the person seeking to travel is a professional journalist traveling to “”obtain, and make available to the public, information about the restricted area,” if the person is representing the Red Cross on an official mission, if the trip is “justified by compelling humanitarian considerations” or if the trip “is otherwise in the national interest.”

In North Korea Only Kim Jong Un Can Afford to Fly

I’ve reached out to the State Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs Office of Legal Affairs to determine if they’ve in fact established a process yet to evaluate these requests and what guidance they’ll be using in making any decision. They’ve promised to get back to me but haven’t offered any timeline for doing so. I will update this post if that happens.

I believe this restriction will do as much to advance US foreign policy interests as would the subversive power of dance.

(HT: ‘Every Passport Stamp’ Facebook Group)

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Gary, loathe though I am to see any restriction on international travel or to trust in the Trump administration’s decisions, this move nevertheless strikes me as sensible. The reason is not only or mainly to advance U.S. foreign policy interests, but to protect Americans. Yes, indirectly, foreign policy becomes involved in that the United States sometimes gets involved with meetings or compromises with North Korea in response to imprisonment of our citizens. But the core concern here is people’s safety. And that concern becomes all the more salient as tensions with North Korea increase and the possibility of its holding Americans hostage increases.

  2. The Administration probably doesn’t want Americans in NK in the event serious action has to be taken against that regime. “Tourism” is likely a secondary consideration.

  3. This is a meaningless move. The only way the passport actually becomes invalid for travel to North Korea is if North Korea determines that they won’t accept it for travel to North Korea. The US may ban its citizens from travel and punish them for traveling but they can’t stop North Korea from admitting someone based on their US passport. It will deter people and make insurance claims impossible, but it doesn’t mean they can’t travel.

    The real question is whether Dennis Rodman will get the special validation for his humanitarian missions.

  4. The State Department already offered a harsh warning about the dangers of North Korea travel. Those dangers have been heavily broadcast in the news. It’s hard to imagine any of the ~ 1000 or so US citizens who travel to North Korea are unaware [although a rule could require tour providers to warn anyone going].

    Suggesting that this is being done to protect people from their own decisions is… concerning.

    The US government doesn’t ban travel to the West Bank, South Sudan, Caracas (despite new sanctions against Venezuela), Afghanistan… US passports haven’t been declared invalid for travel to Syria. Or Yemen.

    There are active conflict zones, in which the US participates, where US citizens aren’t banned from travel.

  5. …. yet. The slope is slippery, and the Admin wants it to be.

    I would be shocked if the Admin doesn’t try to take the same approach with US citizens visiting some Muslim-majority countries. Iran next?

  6. Few people actually pay attention to state department warnings, and until recently tour groups advertised how safe it was for Americans to visit the DPRK. Banning travel will absolutely be far more effective at deterring Americans from going there. There are many places in the world where travel is actively dangerous, but the DPRK is the only government with a proven track record of state-sponsored detention of American citizens to be used as bargaining chips in their nuclear ambitions. This isn’t just about protecting citizens from making bad decisions, but trying to avoid the ransoms and concessions necessary to retrieve our citizens who are kidnapped by the regime. Put another way, citizens who travel to the DPRK aren’t just harming themselves, but all of us.

  7. I guess I don’t get what the State Department declaring a passport invalid for travel to North Korea really does. Isn’t this entirely based upon the country that you’re entering/leaving? It seems to me like China and Russia (the only places where you can get flights to North Korea) isn’t going to care. It’s not like they can cancel an American’s ability to not come back to the US, nor can they detain a US citizen (since it’s technically not against the law…I think).

    Any thoughts Gary?

  8. This will be hard to enforce. As someone who has visited the DPRK, I can confirm that customs officials won’t stamp a U.S. passport but will instead provide and stamp a blue paper “passport,” meaning that there is no evidence of travel in the U.S. passport. Israel uses a similar process to avoid causing problems for travelers who might later travel to certain Arab or other Muslim-majority countries.

    @Hunter: Upon reentry into the United States, a traveler is required to identify countries to which he or she has traveled. Lying about countries visited is a potential crime.

  9. The sky is falling, the sky is falling. Because DJT.

    Maybe we should take the same tact with the Norks as BHO did (?).

  10. Imagine the uproar from the “freedom fighters” if this had been enacted by the “black guy”.

    It would have been the act of a dictator…

  11. **ding, ding, ding**
    Congratulations, CJ! That kind of reach would be difficult for even Stretch Armstrong….

    I’m always amazed at how some people can find a way to throw that tattered and overused race card into ANY discussion.

  12. Travel isn’t completely banned. Humanitarian workers can still be approved to go. 16 people have been detained in NK for the most trivial reasons. We don’t have a diplomatic relationship with the country, so how can we help our people if they’re detained indefinitely? There is no reason to visit this country anyhow.

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