Public transport is not freely available to residents. Long-distance travel other than daily activities such as commuting and shopping is restricted. For example, if you are traveling more than 40 kilometers away, you must obtain a travel certificate from the People’s Security Office (police station). (Koichi Ishizaka, Chapter 51 to Know North Korea)
As Korean culture researcher Koichi Ishizaka explains, North Koreans cannot move freely. If you are away from your area of residence, you will need to have the police issue a certificate called a travel permit or pass. However, if you apply for a moving permit / pass, it will not be issued unconditionally. As you can see from the quote below, the application will not be submitted unless there are relatives at the destination.
Musan County’s Safety Department has approved Musan has a friendship and is willing to do so. I was contacted and safely went to the department to get a Musan pass. On the left side of the square toll, the word “Yodok County Social Security Division 2” was stamped, and on the left side, the approval number was stamped. There was also a blue line on the diagonal.
It turns out that the pass to the border was marked with a blue line and the pass to Pyongyang was marked with a red line. “If you lose this, it’s going to be a trip without permission, so be very careful.”
(Kang Cheol-Hwan, An-hyuk “Escape from North Korea”）
Pyongyang is a special city, so I could not freely get a pass or enter. Mihu and I were issued a pass to Pyongyang just because my aunt’s husband was working as Technical Advisor on the Second Economic Committee. (Ibid.)
But it is different for foreign countries. Even if there are relatives in foreign countries, passports will not be issued until they reach a certain age.
In North Korea, even if relatives live in foreign countries, it is difficult to hold a passport until the age of 40-50. This is especially difficult for college students. Authorities believe that there is a danger that youth will change their minds when they go abroad, and that there is a greater danger of becoming a dissident if they can make the right decision by looking at foreign realities. (Antetsu brothers, “North Korea seen by a secret camera”)
As the North Korean defector Park Young-mi has testified, issuing a travel permit requires paying a doctor in advance to write a fake medical certificate, and also paying the police for bribes.
In North Korea, travel is severely restricted, and you will need a lot of paperwork to get out of your town. My father must first get permission to leave the factory where he works.
He told the doctor that he had to pay a bribe to write a medical certificate that he was ill, take it to his boss, and leave the town for a few days for treatment.
Your boss will then give you that certificate. Next, go to the police, pay the bribe again, and have your travel permit issued (Park Young-mi, “The Choice to Live”)
After a famine in North Korea after the 1990s, travel restrictions were virtually eliminated.
The famine disrupted travel permits and millions of people traveled around the country in search of food. The government pretended to look at it. From around 1997, it was possible to travel without de facto permission, except in Pyongyang and certain confidential areas.
Authorities have begun to tighten restrictions on the internal movement of people and goods since the mid-2000s. Frequent inspection of luggage on trains, buses and trucks has been performed. (Andrey Lankov, North of the DMZ: Essays on Daily Life in North Korea,)
People shopping for food and traveling often refer to cigarettes as “tickets.” Riding a car with cigarettes was something that was not possible before 1990. However, after the nation’s distribution ceased, it became very difficult to issue travel cards and get train tickets due to the rapid increase in purchasers.
Therefore, instead of taking the time and effort, it was convenient to get on a lorry, and this method spread nationwide. (Antetsu brothers, op.cit.)