Border Crossings into North Korea
This article explains the different overland border crossings into North Korea from China and Russia currently open to third country nationals. I’ll go over where the borders are, how to cross, and what to expect when crossing.
Dandong - Sinuiju Crossing
This bus and rail crossing is the most used access point for goods and people between China and North Korea. Daily trains run between Dandong and Pyongyang, departing at 9:30am and arriving in Pyongyang around 6:30pm (about 270 RMB one-way). Four times per week, this train continues on to / or connects from Beijing.
Additionally, an irregular short train connects Dandong with Sinuiju, the border city, which is especially common in the summer months, when tourism between the DPRK and China is at its peak. Domestic connections from Sinuiju Youth Railway Station to Pyongyang are easy enough to arrange, as not only does a regular domestic train make this trip daily, but also in the summer a tourist train adds additional seats to this route.
Multiple buses between Dandong and the North Korean border city of Sinuiju cross the land bridge in the mornings. These buses are operated by the DPRK’s Myohyangsan Travel Company. Bus options are regularly used in the summer to help tourists cross the border when train tickets between Dandong and Sinuiju and Dandong and Pyongyang are sold out. The bus will drop passengers off at the customs and immigration post and then to Sinuiju Railway Station to catch connections to Pyongyang.
One can expect relatively long wait times, especially in the summer and on weekends at this border, as Chinese tourists cross in large numbers then. The Dandong (or Beijing) to Pyongyang train is the fastest, as it will stop for only about 1.5-2 hours for customs and immigration clearance at Sinuiju Station. You do not need to get off the train if taking the direct international train from China.
You can expect significant customs inspections upon entry and exit from the DPRK, including a bag search, currency search, and metal detectors. However, the process is straightforward and customs officers are decently friendly.
This border is open seven days a week.
Tumen - Namyang Crossing
This remote border post connects the Chinese city of Tumen in Jilin Province with the North Korean town of Namyang in North Hamgyong Province across the friendship road bridge on the Tumen River. A nearby rail connection also connects these towns, but is for freight trains only. Currently, this border crossing is open seven days a week and may be crossed on food by third country nationals with a valid DPRK visa with Namyang specified as a valid entry point (must be requested separately).
This is the access point for North Hamgyong Province, as you can continue on to Onsong, Hoeryong and Chongjin counties from here. Tourists may use this crossing to get to any of those points, as well as Mount Chilbo and the Rason Special Economic Zone, but only via Chongjin. For direct access to the Rason SEZ, another crossing may be used (see below).
In order to cross the border, you walk across the birdge after clearing customs and immigration. If you are travelling to or from Pyongyang using this crossing, note that it is much easier to organize a trip that enters the DPRK from Pyongyang or Sinuiju and uses this crossing as an exit point. The oposite, i.e. entering at Namyang and attempting to travel to Pyongyang, is far more difficult.
Quanhe - Wonjong Crossing
This remote border post is situated only about an hour’s drive from the Tumen crossing on the Chinese side, and is the only direct access between China and the DPRK’s Rason Special Economic Zone. A DPRK visa is not required to cross this border if you are only staying within the Rason SEZ; however, an entry letter is needed issued by the Rason SEZ representative office in Yanji, China in order to get across. This costs the same as a DPRK tourist visa— around 300 CNY.
Shuttle buses make the trip across the Tumen River bridge in a couple minutes and cost about 10 RMB. Walking across the bridge is not permitted.
You can continue onto North Hamgyong province (Chongjin) from this crossing; however, in this case you will need a valid DPRK visa. This may be issued to tourists in Rajin city in about two days time with a passport photo and 300 RMB cash.
Like the Tumen / Namyang crossing, this crossing is not usable for trips going to Pyongyang unless under special circumstance. However, travelling from Pyongyang to Rason and exiting this crossing into China is possible.
Khasan - Tumangang Crossing
This is the only land crossing between Russia and North Korea, connecting the village of Khasan in Primorskiy Krai in the Russian Far East with the town of Tumangang in the DPRK’s Rason Special Economic Zone. The crossing is a rail only crossing and it is necessary to cross by an irregular Russian train travelling between Tumangang and the Russian city of Khabarovsk (occasionally this train continues all the way to Moscow, and to Pyongyang as well).
Trains typically cross 2-4 times per month and the schedule changes regularly, so it’s only possible to reserve tickets in Tumangang or Khasan (or Ussuriysk) up to 3 months in advance. In order to enter of exit the DPRK at this point, Tumangang must be listed on your DPRK visa’s entry/exit points.
It is now possible to take the train between Tumangang and Pyongyang, but this journey is far easier to arrange from Pyongyang to Tumangang, as opposed to from Tumangang to Pyongyang. It is always easier to enter the country in Pyongyang and Sinuiju and use the smaller border posts to exit than vice versa. However, any of the three northeastern border points may be used quite easily when only travelling in Rason SEZ and North Hamgyong province.
Along the Chinese-DPRK border there are several other crossing locations, of which four of them are considered to handle more significant passenger traffic— those being Changbaixian - Hyesan, Sanhe - Hoeryong, Nanping - Musan, and Ji’an - Manpo. While these crossings are not yet open to third country nationals (including Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan residents), we anticipate this to possibly change over the next few years, giving foreigners several additional entry points into the DPRK. Currently, the major blocker to these openings is the Chinese side, as these borders have been designated as local border crossings only (meaning only for Chinese and DPRK nationals).
The borders with the greatest likelihood of being opened to 3rd country nationals first would probably be the Changbaixian - Hyesan and Sanhe - Hoeryong crossings, as both regions on the DPRK side have tourism infrastructure already in place and already accept Chinese tour groups.