I was booked on a Beijing to Pyongyang flight which is slightly different to other flights because it’s trickier to book a flight to North Korea. In theory, you could just go onto Expedia or Skyscanner and book a flight between Beijing to Pyongyang, however it’s more efficient and economical if you go through a local tour company.
Air Koryo (the North Korean airline) flies from Beijing to Pyongyang and have been doing the route for years.
In the Beijing International Airport, you’ll be departing (typically) out of Terminal 2 after you pass through Passport Control.
It is no different to any other airplane check in counter, however they might ask if you have a visa to re-enter China (which you should have anyway in advance of this trip). On exiting China, you’ll get a standard exit stamp at immigration and they will also check your North Korean Tourist Card, which is a foldable 4 page visa you are given the day before your trip. Every visitor to North Korea requires one of these Tourist Cards. Get your stamp and you’re good to leave China for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (some might call it DPRK, NK, or just Korea) but we’ll just refer to it here as North Korea.
After immigration and bag checks, you can actually grab a can of Tsingtao beer for a measly 6RMB pr 70 cents before boarding your flight. Upon arrival in North Korea, you should be given everything you need on the plane from the Air Koryo flight attendants.
1. Custom’s Declaration in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea
This form asks for your personal details (name, date of birth, nationality etc.) and then asks for what currencies you have on you and what possessions you have on you. This is straight forward stuff. Just put a bag of clothes, declare your electronic goods if you have them and also declare any books.
2. Health and Quarantine Declaration Card
For experienced travelers, this will be a piece of cake.
3. Entry and Exit Card
You will need to know the details for the entry and exit card in advance. Notably “Name of delegation” (your touring company) and “Invited by” (KITC).
North Korean magazines all had English translation inside them as well and included Korea Today, Foreign Trade and a Sports Magazine.
The toilets on an Air Koryo flight is no different than any other aircraft toilet except that you will hear North Korean music behind closed doors.
They served a tasty minced pork roll and you have your regular offerings of beer, soda, tea and coffee.
All the drinks are North Korean, from North Korean beer to North Korean blueberry wine.
We passed a lot of grassy fields and pastures right before our final descent and landing into Pyongyang International Airport was smooth and efficient.
As you go through immigration in Pyongyang International Airport, you should turn off your cameras, video cameras and phones with any photo or video functions. Interestingly enough, you don’t get a stamp on your actual passport here.
Immigration is essentially a small queue in an old hall, which makes the whole experience a bit surreal. Everything occurs in one large room: the queue, immigration, the baggage claim, the customs declaration and the Quarantine Declaration. The Health and Quarantine declaration was taken from us before immigration, and the customs declaration was the last thing to be taken, after baggage reclaim.
Upon arrival, you’ll find a small stall selling souvenirs, including badges, stamps and flags. Payment is accepted in RMB, US Dollars, Euros and North Korean Won. While cameras, iPods and laptops are okay but you should declare them as well as any device with GPS baked into it.
By the way, I made the decision to fly in and get the train out to experience both modes of transportation. If you are from the USA however, you won’t have that option – you have to fly in and fly out.
Here is a little video from crossing the border from China to North Korea by flight:
Flying from Beijing to Pyongyang: