Young Pioneer Tours

North Korean money: the currencies of socialism

Introduction to North Korean Money

Much like the two currencies of Cuba, the North Korean currency is a complicated topic. Let us guide you through the full understanding on how spending North Korean money works. Cuba previously announced unifying of its currencies. This truly leaves North Korean currency as one of the most unique left on the planet!

What is the North Korea currency? – The DPRK Won

The official currency of the DPRK is the North Korean Won, with the currency code being KPW. The KPW was made the official currency of North Korea on December 6th 1947, when it replaced the Korean Yen that was in circulation during the Japanese occupation of Korea during World War II.

The official currency is known in Korean as: 조선민주주의인민공화국 원 or ₩. Since the inception of the won there have been three incarnations in total.

North Korean Currency – first issue of the Won (KPW)

During the first incarnation the DPRK won it was intended that only local North Koreans would use the local currency. Any foreigner visiting the country would be given another form of the currency to use. However, this would be divided depending if you’re a visitor from a socialist or a capitalist country.

The currency for those from socialist nations would use red notes, and those from capitalist countries were to use green and blue notes. This was not dissimilar to pre-reform China, which had a similar system up until the 1990s.

Second issue of North Korean currency

The second incarnation of the DPRK won was to be pegged to the US value of 2.16 won to the dollar. This value was chosen as 2.16 represents the 16th of February, the birthday of Kim Jong Il. This value was removed during 2001.

During 2002 the use of foreign won currency was officially nullified, with the government making a decision that all foreign visitors would use foreign currency.

Current North Korean currency

The third and current incarnation of the DPRK won was brought about as a result of a 2009 revaluation of the currency. This revaluation was to prove extremely controversial and contentious.

The North Koreans were informed they had only seven days in which to exchange a maximum of ₩100,000 (at the time was valued at $40USD), which was further raised to ₩150,000 in hard cash and ₩300,000 within bank accounts.

Old notes were no longer legal tender on November 30th 2009 and onward. The new North Korean won notes didn’t start circulation until December 7th 2009.

In 2014 the highest denomination Korean won note, the ₩5000 (valued at 65 US cents) was redesigned to remove the face of Kim Il Sung and replace it with his native birth house in Manggyongdae and the International Friendship Exhibition located at Mt. Myohyang.

North Korean old & new currency

During your stay in North Korea you will see two DPRK won currencies. The old currency mentioned above which is available to buy at souvenir stores and presented as a collectors edition. Coins starting from ₩1 up to a ₩5000 note. Purchasing the old currency within North Korea will mean it is 100% legit. Buying it in China, most commonly found in the Chinese border city of Dandong will most likely be a fake copy – cheap for tourists visiting the area. The new currency is currently being used in North Korea. More on how to obtain new currency below.

North Korean Money During the Cold War

During the Cold War and much like how was done in China, North Korea essentially worked with more than one currency, although in different “colours”, The way this worked was that how much it cost you to buy Korean Won depended on which currency you used to buy it.

During this period there were three tiers, western countries, developing countries and socialist states. This would mean that for example, 4 people from 4 countries, lets say the USA, India, East Germany and North Korea could also spend 5 Won on a drink, but the drink would have cost a different amount for each person (as they had purchased it at different rates).

Thankfully those days are over and North Korean money is relatively simple….

How to get North Korean money?

North Korean money can be obtained two ways. In Pyongyang you may visit the Kwangbok Department Store where you can exchange your foreign currency into new North Korean won currency and purchase items within the store. It is not possible to use this currency outside of the store.

The second method of obtaining DPRK won is visit Rason – Special Ecomomic Zone. It is located in the northeast of the country and borders both China and Russia. It is permitted for foreign visitors to explore private markets and open a bank account at a North Korean bank. Creating your own account will entitle you with a local debit card which can be used at ATMS and shops around the city. Openly spending DPRK won within this zone is completely fine.

Can I use North Korean money in North Korea?

Despite the won being the national currency, the Chinese RMB is used widely within North Korea and much preferred by the locals. It is also easier receiving change in RMB. EURO and USD are accepted in most places however your change may be given back to you with RMB, euro or a mixture of the above. In recent years it has become easier to get and use Korean Won at places such as Kwangbok Supermarket.

What currency should I bring to North Korea?

We highly recommend bringing RMB to make your travels easier and more convenient. Euro coins are not always accepted in North Korea. If your note is torn, dirty, old or faded you will encounter issues with locals accepting it. Clean and crisp notes are preferred by the North Koreans. Do not be surprised if you receive a $2 USD note in Pyongyang as change.

Japanese yen used to be the chosen currency in the eastern port city of Wonsan but as Japanese tourism died down in the 1990s and so did the demand for the yen. For more information on how much you should bring to North Korea follow our FAQ guide.

North Korea won exchange rate in 2024

The unofficial rate of the North Korea won is not what you’d find on, below are the rates since January 2020.

$1 USD to KPW is ₩8200
‎€1 to KPW is ₩8800
¥1 Japanese Yen to KPW is ₩70
¥1 Chinese RMB to KPW is ₩1130

100,000 Won in USD

OK, so if you are a mathematician, or merely have a calculator you will be able to work this out, but lets do three versions of 100,000 Won in USD

100 000 won in USD official exchange rate = $467

100000 won in USD black market rate = $12.91

100 000 won in USD South Korean Won = $90.18

Can I take North Korean money outside of North Korea?

Technically it is not permitted to take North Korean currency out of the country. If it is found on your person or in your luggage by the DPRK immigration, the officers will politely inform you it’s not allowed and you will need to forfeit the cash. However, it’s not uncommon for tourists to take cash out of North Korea as a souvenir.

Why can’t you spend North Korea won in North Korea?

This is due to the demand within the economy of North Korea. Socialist countries have ‘soft’ currencies (in this case, the won) that cannot be exchanged with ‘hard’ currencies (such as USD, EURO or Chinese RMB). This means that socialist countries need a way of generating foreign ‘hard’ currency in order to trade internationally. In North Korea, the euro was chosen over the more expensive, hard-to-get USD. The United States famoulsy charging Cuba a premium to “buy” its currency.

Rowan holding the new 5000 won north korean bill
YPT Rowan Beard holding the new ₩5000 note

Check out North Korean currency yourself on one of our tours, or travel to Rason and get yourself a local North Korean debit card!

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