Planning a North Korea trip? Don't, says the State Dept.

Story highlights

  • State Department says that 14 U.S. citizens detained there in last 10 years
  • Latest travel warning is especially blunt because of increasing tensions

Washington (CNN)The State Department is urging any American thinking of a trip to reclusive North Korea to think again. And they're doing it in an unusually blunt and direct fashion.

The agency usually issues travel warnings every six months on a variety of countries, but recent legislation now requires it to issue travel warnings about North Korea every 90 days. The department issued its first travel warning under the new law Friday and doubled down with a four-page statement that makes it clear that Americans travel to North Korea at their own peril.
    The State Department strongly urges U.S. citizens to avoid all travel to North Korea, the warning states, before going on to list all the ways it is possible to get into trouble, including "showing disrespect" to the country's current or former leaders, taking unauthorized photographs and shopping at stores not designated for foreigners.
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    "It was a little bit more specific and a little bit more blunt in some ways," said State Department spokesman John Kirby. "I think that's reflective of the increased tensions that we're seeing there on the peninsula and certainly the way, the manner in which the regime has acted out against foreigners on travel to North Korea."
    In recent months, a series of nuclear and missile tests by North Korea, along with belligerent rhetoric from its young leader Kim Jong-un, have raised tensions on the Korea Peninsula. Pyongyang has said the blame lies with the U.S. and South Korea. The two countries recently conducted their largest-ever joint military exercises, which partly involve targeting North Korean leadership.
    At least 14 U.S. citizens have been detained in North Korea in the last decade, including people traveling on their own and visitors in the country as part of a group tour. In January, Otto Warmbier, a 21-year-old student at the University of Virginia, became the most recent when he was arrested during a backpacking tour for allegedly stealing a propaganda sign. He reportedly has been sentenced to 15 years' hard labor.
    Because the U.S. does not have formal diplomatic relations with North Korea, the State Department has no way of providing consular help to travelers in distress and works through the Swedish Embassy.
    The new State Department warning makes clear that if Americans do enter the country against the agency's advice, they should "have no expectation of privacy." All electronic and multimedia devices, including USB drives, CDs, DVDs, phones and tablets are subject to search, the department said.
    If North Korea authorities allow you to keep your mobile phone while in the country, it will simply enable them "to monitor your calls," the State Department said.