Travellers to North Korea are required to pay for everything in advance. It is exactly as the travel guides say: payment in full before you are even allowed to set foot on the plane from Peking to Pyongyang. If you have ever taken any kind of pre-arranged package tour or a cruise, you may have felt the dent in your wallet before you had even left on your holiday. The advantage of paying for everything up front is that you don’t come home to credit card bills. When you travel to the DPRK, you might as well leave your credit card at home anyway, because you cannot use them anywhere in the country.
Hotels, meals, transportation and attraction admission charges are all covered in the tour fee. I am supposed to pay half of my fee to Koryo Tours before I leave Canada and the other half in person when I visit the office in Peking. I could also pay the full amount for my entire tour from Canada via bank transfer if I wish. I am considering this option, since my first payment of 50% is due soon and for peace of mind and my own security, I would rather not have so much cash on my person when I arrive in China.
Tourists use hard currency when they want to buy souvenirs or anything that is not on the official expenses list. Chinese renminbi, American dollars and euros are all accepted. Prices are listed for tourists in euros, so it is recommended to bring euro bills in small denominations. I would love to get my hands on a roll of 1- and 2-euro coins so I’m not constantly forking over 5-euro bills whenever I want to make a small purchase (like an ice cream from a sidewalk vendor, for example). Souvenir stores might not even have the appropriate change to give you, so all the more reason to have euro coinage.
Unfortunately, there is always the chance that the tour will be cancelled. When dealing with North Korea, anything can happen and the Dear Leader Kim Jong Il has in the past closed off the country to all tourists without any advance notice. The provocation for such drastic actions was delinquent tourist behaviour–and I mean serious violations of North Korean law by tourists. One bad apple could spoil it for all of us, regardless of the tour operating company. So while my group from Koryo Tours could be exemplary and well-behaved, one nutcase from another tour company could jeopardize the holidays for everyone else. The tour guides are there to make sure no one goes off on his own or commits faux pas of disrespect to the regime or its leaders. However there are rare cases where tourists have flouted the law, flagrantly ignored the guides and even crossed over the DMZ. These tourists have ended up in prison, at least one was executed, and every other tourist visiting at the time was deported. Koryo Tours guarantees a refund if anything like this should happen which is beyond their control.