#InterKoreanSummit: What does a potential reunification mean for travelers?
ON APRIL 27, 2018, millions of Koreans and millions more around the world watched with bated breaths as the highly anticipated Inter-Korean summit 2018 was live telecast.
Led by South Korean President Moon Jae In and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, the historic meet brought on talks of complete denuclearization, signing a peace treaty to formally end the war, and becoming one.
“There is no reason why we should fight each other – we are one nation,” Kim Jong Un said in a joint statement with Moon Jae In.
It also marked the first time a North Korean leader has set foot on South Korean soil since the end of the Korean War more than half a century ago.
It has always been said that full reunification will be difficult, as the countries have become politically and economically different over the decades.
This week, however, the summit buzz continues with news of North Korea rejoining South Korea’s time zone in a conciliatory gesture. Kim Jong Un had reportedly found it “heartbreaking” to see the two wall clocks hanging in the summit room showing different times for the two neighbors.
It spurred talks about the countries potentially reunifying sooner than expected.
“Unification is certainly in the offing, but it may take more than a decade to move from reconciliation to normalization, to full unification,” a group of foreign-policy authorities told The Atlantic back in 2008. A decade later, here we are.
North Korea would benefit greatly from the union, of course. After all, Kim Jong Un once said he wanted to develop his nation’s backward economy.
South Korea is relatively small but it has the 11th largest GDP in the world (US$1.4 trillion, according to the latest ranking by the World Bank). It is also home to one of the best airports in the world and has recorded pretty impressive tourism numbers in the past decade.
What does this mean for travelers?
Domestically, this would ease travel between the two lands. North Korea would definitely see an influx of South Korean visitors trekking across the border to meet the families they were separated from for more six decades since the Korean War. South Korea currently does not permit its naturalized citizens to travel to North Korea.
But perhaps international travelers can benefit from it too.
The hermit country has strict visa requirements and travelers cannot organize their North Korean visa themselves, while South Korea maintains a visa waiver agreement list and a designated visa-free entry list for over 117 jurisdictions.
Upon reunification, as one Korea, they could finally relax their visa rules.
Additionally, this could also lead to more freedom for travelers to move around North Korea, and perhaps better laws or protection for tourists.
As of now, tourists to North Korea must be on an approved, guided tour organized by a North Korean state-sanctioned tour operator. It is impossible to travel independently to North Korea.
The free and technologically-savvy South Korea, on the other hand, has close to no travel restrictions save for the occasional weather (typhoon season from June to November) or health (yellow dust in Spring) travel notice.
While a full reunification between the two nations doesn’t seem like it’s on the horizon just yet, it is the “someday, one day” dream.