Money in North Korea
Miscellaneous: I have put this review here under "What to pack" for want of a "General Tip" category
My reader will perhaps be rather perplexed by why my first picture in a North Korean money review is that of some Euro’s and my second is of a Chinese and an American note while the local currency of North Korea, the won, is relegated to picture three.
The answer to this conundrum is very simple. It is illegal for foreigners to possess or use the local currency in North Korea or take it out of the country.
The preferred currency in North Korea is the Euro followed by the Chinese Yuan and then the US Dollar. Yes, the North Korean dislike of the US ( see my separate review – “Americans in North Korea” ) does not extend to the US dollar!
There are a few matters related to money that you need to be aware of before going to North Korea:
• There are no ATM machines (cash dispensing machines) in North Korea
• You cannot have money transferred into North Korea
• You cannot change travellers cheques or any other form of normally negotiable instruments in North Korea
• Credit cards cannot be used anywhere in North Korea.
The above means that you must bring in cash (in one of the currencies mentioned) in sufficient quantity for the duration of your trip. Do bring notes of as small a denomination as you can find (euro coins can be used) as change is hard to come by.
As you will be on an all expenses pre-paid trip the amount of money you need is limited to what you want to spend on additional drinks, extras such as pizza, fun park rides, dog meat, souvenirs, special events entrance fees e.g. mass games and tips for your guides. Outside, special event fees, tips and souvenirs and allowing a couple of beers a day you can easily get by on around 10-20 Euros a day. Your tour company will advise you re tips and special event entry fees.
While I indicated above that the possession (and export of) North Korean won is illegal you can normally acquire a small amount for souvenir purposes at the Yanggakdo Hotel (where the vast majority of tourists stay in Pyongyang). Ask your guide to assist you with this. Once in possession of your won do not attempt to spend it (you won’t get much opportunity in this regard anyway) as not only will you get in trouble but so too will the person you try to buy something from.
This restriction is clearly an attempt stifle the limited black market which does exist. While the official exchange rate is around 130 won to the US$ a rate of around 7000-8000 won to the US$ can be achieved on the back market. Perhaps this rate is indicative of the risks involved in dealing on the black market in North Korea. As I have already indicated, once in possession of your won, as tourist you wont be able to spend it anyway so don’t go there!
The rules around spending hard currency outside the hotels, shops and restaurants you will be brought to seemed a little unclear. One of our group tried to procure and ice cream from a stall outside a flower-show we attended. While the vendor seemed interested in transacting business our guides quickly brought the transaction to an unsuccessful end by indicating that it would be easier to buy an ice ream at our next stop – North Korea’s one and only ten pin bowling alley as it was. The vendor immediately lost interest in the sale when the guide intervened and the tourist was guided away to our bus.
Customs declaration says it all
Clothing/Shoes/Weather Gear: Obviously, you can bring clothing, but would refrain from bring anything with offensive prints. Shorts and tee shirts are acceptable, but the locals will typically be wearing long pants and shirts of various darker and earth tones.
The only reason to bring any formal attire is for the day your tour may visit the tomb of Kim Song Il. It is customary for men to wear shirt and tie, while women should wear an appropriate dress.
Toiletries and Medical Supplies: Any toiletries and medical supplies will be allowed. For these, the airlines would be the most strict about what can and cannot be taken.
Photo Equipment: Video and cameras are allowed. Extremely high quality zoom may result in your escorts watching you more closely, but will not interfere. Your guides will tell you what you are allowed to take photos.
Miscellaneous: See the customs declaration. You should avoid bringing any of these if you can. A laptop computer will be allowed, but might be searched for any type of wireless connector.
Cell phones and GPS devices will be confiscated at entry point and only returned upon your departure. Similarly, your guides will hold your passports during your entire visit.
Any books and/or art that you are carrying 'may' be searched for content. They seem to do that at random.
Essentials, euro’s, dollars, RMB
Miscellaneous: Even though it is possible to exchange for North Korea won, you can't actually spend it anywhere. Take with you Euro's, US dollars or Chinese RMB and take these in small denominations as it can be quite an event to get the right change back (basically in whatever they have lying around). Practically everything was priced in Euro's. Also take with you any medical items, sanitary items, batteries and memory cards for your camera. Camera's are not confiscated upon arrival but mobile phones are (you get these back at the end of your trip). One guy on my tour was allowed his lap-top. iPod's etc are also no problem as well as guide books as I got my Lonely Planet Korea through the airport check.
What to take...
Clothing/Shoes/Weather Gear: If you travel between June and August you should have an umbrella for the wet weather.
If you visit some holy places or monuments appropriate clothing must be worn. Especially when you visit the Mausoleum - Kumsusan Memorial Palace (to pay homage to the embalmed body of the country’s eternal leader, Kim Il Sung).
Toiletries and Medical Supplies: Take with you all medicines that you normally use. It is a good idea to have some stomach medicines.
Photo Equipment: Laptops are ok to take in, as well as MP-3 players. All sort of cameras too.
Miscellaneous: Foreigners are not allowed to pay with or buy any local currency (North Korean Won). All transactions are made in Euros, US Dollars, or Chinese Yuan.
It would be nice if you took with you some little presents/souvenirs for the guides and local children. Men appreciate cigarettes (most Korean men smoke) and women like inexpensive cosmetics.Related to:
- Road Trip
Photo Equipment: Well, there's seemed to be no more restriction on the zoom lens as previously indicated, of course don't try to bring a huge tele lens, I had mine a 300mm without arousing any problems .. and my roommate was using a 12x Panasonic Lumix.
Luggage and bags: Your luggage will be carried and transportet amlost every day. A suitcase or hardcover bag rather than a backbag.
Clothing/Shoes/Weather Gear: Bring good shoes as you will walk quite a lot and bring warm clothes if you go in winter. It is very cold in buildings, too!
Toiletries and Medical Supplies: Bring all you might need! You will not have the chance to get anything else than toothpaste!
Photo Equipment: Do not bring a professional camera... it might causes problems at custom. I had a Canon EOS 20 and had no problem at all.
Miscellaneous: Do not bring your cell phone (might be kept at the custom or put in a sealed bag), any recording device or tapes and CD's. Do bring some cigarettes, chocolates and other presents for your guides.
Mobile Phones, GPS receivers etc.
Clothing/Shoes/Weather Gear: It can rain, in particular in summer.
Toiletries and Medical Supplies: Bringing sufficient medical supplies for all possibilities is certainly a good idea.
Photo Equipment: Bringing photo equipment is ok.
Miscellaneous: Mobile phones, GPS receivers etc. are not allowed. Best is to bring no electronic gadgets at all.Related to:
- Arts and Culture
Luggage and bags: I would propose a hard bag like a Samsonite or something like that, especially if you take the train from Beijing to Pyongyang.
Clothing/Shoes/Weather Gear: In Winter it can be veeeery cold. Winter 2000 it was once in Pyongyang -20 degrees. Summers are very hot. Take with you everything you need, I have never seen Clothing or something to buy...
Toiletries and Medical Supplies: They are available at the Hotel but prices are relatively high and maybe the thing you need is not available.
Photo Equipment: At Yangakkdo Hotel there is even a place to develop Films. I would propose too, to take everything from Home. It's might be better quality and better price.
Camping/Beach/Outdoor Gear: Camping? Forget about. Beach, maybe in Wonsan, but I don't think that everyone will go to Northkorea for the Beach ;-)
Miscellaneous: As above, I would take everything I need with me, even Magazines (take care what kind of Magazine you take with you). Handphone you have to leave at the customs at Pyongyang Airport and they will give it back to you witout any problems.
Clothing/Shoes/Weather Gear: Good nice walking shoes. You will be travel by car probably more than you would like.
Photo Equipment: A video camera can be very useful - I had my old video camera with me. Some sources claim that it is not allowed, but only once my North Korean fellow thought I am a journalist when I was using it in the train.
Clothing/Shoes/Weather Gear: Good walking shoes and rainwear - it can get chilly. Leave your disco gear at home.
Toiletries and Medical Supplies: Take everything you need - medical supplies are non-existent.
Photo Equipment: You will not be permitted to take in any video cameras, binoculars or recording equipment. Camera are permitted but must be used only with the guides permission. Don't try to pretend your video is just a camera - it's been tried before and the border guards are far from stupid and extremely thorough.
Camping/Beach/Outdoor Gear: You won't need any. The beaches are mined against potential South Korean attack anyhow.
Miscellaneous: Bring fruit, chocolates and other items to thank the many, many guides you will encounter - stamps, postcards etc. etc. This is a country that never, ever sees western consumer goods and is in the grips of a major famine - what would you want to be given as a gift?
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