Yough Pioneer Tours

North Korean money: the currencies of socialism

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.


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.

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.

The second incarnation of the 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.

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 and onwards. The new North Korean won notes didn’t start circulation until December 7th, 2009.

In 2014 the highest denomination Korean won note, the ₩5000, 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.

WHAT CURRENCY IS USED IN NORTH KOREA?

Generally speaking, you will not use North Korean won in the DPRK during your stay except at the Kwangbok Department Store and Kwangbok Supermarket. despite it being the national currency.

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. Some areas in North Korea give the exchange rate of 10RMB to 1USD or 1 EURO.

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 Koreans accepting it. Clean and crisp notes are preferred by the Koreans. Don’t be surprised if you receive $2 USD notes in Pyongyang.

Japanese yen used to be the chosen currency in the eastern port city of Wonsan but as Japanese tourism died down in the 90’s so did the demand for the yen.

For a full guide on how much to bring to North Korea you may follow the link.

NORTH KOREAN EXCHANGE RATE

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

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

NORTH KOREAN OLD CURRENCY & NORTH KOREAN NEW CURRENCY

During your stay in North Korea you will see two DPRK won currencies. The old currency mentioned above is available to buy at souvenir stores as a collection in a nearly presented folder. Coins starting from 1 Won up to a 5000 Won note. Buying this in Korea will mean being 100% certain it is legit. Buying this folder in China, most commonly found in the Chinese border town of Dandong will most likely be fake and copied prints of the notes.

The new currency is currently being used in North Korea. For more information and details about how to get North Korean currency continue reading below.

CAN I TAKE NORTH KOREAN MONEY OUTSIDE OF NORTH KOREA?

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 officers will politely inform you it’s not allowed and you will need to forfeit the cash to them.

Best way to avoid this is to ”forget” the currency deep in your luggage. It’s a great gift for friends and family back home.

NORTH KOREA’S SPECIAL ECONOMIC ZONE

The DPRK has a small zone which basically allows capitalism to some extent. The Rason Special Economic Zone located North East of the country allows for foreign visitors to visit private markets and create a bank account at a North Korean bank. In doing so you’ll receive a debit card which can be used at ATMs and shops around the city. Openly spending DPRK Won within this zone is completely fine.

WHY CAN’T YOU SPEND NORTH KOREAN MONEY 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.

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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