Young Pioneer Tours

What’s it like to live in North Korea?

A lot has been written about North Korea. Some of it is true, but a great deal of it is exaggerated at best and outright lies at worst.

We at YPT strive to balance out the more scurrilous articles that pervade the internet with the unvarnished truth, and that is what we’ll do today with the topic of North Korean ‘expats’.

I’ve previously written about how many foreigners live in North Korea but what’s daily life like for a foreigner who lives full-time in North Korea?

Expats in Pyongyang

The majority of foreigners that live in North Korea tend to be diplomats, UN folk, or people involved in the aid industry (that’s right, I said ‘industry’). There is a specific area of Pyongyang that houses foreign residents, located in the diplomatic district. Rent is not cheap – whilst not exactly set in stone, foreign residents can expect to pay around 2000 euro per month for their apartment. In addition – and contrary to popular belief – foreigners do, indeed, have internet access.

Foreigners in North Korea – be they businessmen or diplomats – are required to hire local staff, with whom they spend a lot of time. Again, contrary to popular belief, foreigners living in Pyongyang are free to go where they please, visit whichever restaurants they like, and generally live a relatively normal life. Foreign residents are not given rations, however, and do their grocery shopping in hard-currency stores like Kwangbok Department Store.

In terms of nightlife, options are obviously quite limited, and there are essentially two choices: YPT favourite the ‘Diplo’ and the ever-infamous Random Access Club, which is run from the UN compound.

Foreigners can also travel around much of North Korea, but need to apply for – and receive – permission to travel to other cities such as Wonsan.

Expats outside of Pyongyang

Discounting Rason (which I’ll cover momentarily), there are few foreigners living outside of Pyongyang. The one exception to this is Hamhung, where a large NGO community stay in the Majon Hotel (one of the nicest in the country)!

Rason Special Economic Zone

Rason was the first (and basically the only) SEZ in North Korea. It is also technically visa-free (although a travel permit is still needed). Foreigners living in Rason have an enormous amount of freedom in comparison to other parts of the country, and can roam around and largely do as they wish. Though with that being said, very few foreigners live here (we know of one American and a Ukrainian family).

Want a taste of what life in North Korea is like for yourself? Join us on one of our many tours there!

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