Facts About The North Korean Passport
This is one of the most rare modern documents a collector can get – if not the rarest at all. Here are some facts, stories and pictures.
The Daily NK obtained a North Korean passport, a new version since 2000, from an informant in China.
The informant reported that every North Korean traveling abroad must bring a passport, an international certificate of health for travelers, and an international certificate of HIV antibody control. Previous version of North Korean passport is made of vinyl with red color.
Kim Tae San, a former director of Czech-N. Korean Shoe Joint-Stock Company who defected North Korea, said that North Korea passport’s quality was so bad due to lack of foreign currency and technology that every time I entered another country, immigration officials checked my passport as if I was possessing a fake one. And especially since North Korea is labeled as a terrorist-supporting country, Kim continued, North Korean passport holders are meticulously inspected. According to Kim, the health and HIV certificates are tradition of communist countries. However, in reality, because of shortage of medicine, certificates are provided without actual vaccination.
To ordinary people in North Korea, passport is never issued.
Even those who travel abroad for official reasons have to be verified by corresponding government and local party offices, officers’ bureau, National Security Agency, Social Safety Agency, Ministry of Foreign Trade, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and appropriate departments of the central party office for three months, and receive more than a week of Foreign Ministry’s dispatch abroad preparation education.
North Korea’s passport is classified into three; diplomat’s passport, official passport and ordinary passport. Diplomat’s passports are issued to high officials of the Foreign Ministry, the central party and other subordinate offices of the KWP. For the rest of bureaucrats, only vice ministers or higher can receive diplomat’s passport. Trade and other economic bureaucrats traveling abroad receive official passports. Ordinary passports are single passports used by laborers and technicians who visit foreign countries. Ordinary passports are withdrawn by Foreign Ministry after being used. The other two types of passports are expired in five years, and must be returned after each travel. Returned passports are kept in the Foreign Ministry passport office and given back to the person if he/she visits foreign country, again.
Passports are printed in the Social Safety Agency mint, which is suspected for printing fake dollar bills, in Pyongsung, South Pyongan Province. Those who travel overseas must provide ‘temporary certificate of ration suspension’ before receiving passport. The certificate is gained from the related ration office and should be turned in to the office after travel to resume ration. So double ration can be prevented, and also all of the passports are withdrawn.
Less than thirty thousands North Koreans are blessed to receive passports in one year. Therefore, every year, only a small fraction of North Korea population enjoys a certain level of freedom for a few days.
Another article of The Daily NK tells this story…
A Passport Worth 40 Years Of Earning
Bansi, Jilin Province of China, I was encountered by Mr. Choi, a 48-year old resident of Sariwon, North Hwanghae Province of NK. Mr. Choi had been visiting his relative in China for two months. As he was showing me his passport, Choi told me that the passport was worth what he earned for about 40 years.
According to Choi, ordinary residents have to save their earnings for 40 years to get passport; in other words, it is almost impossible for the North Korean people to travel abroad.
– What is the procedure to obtain a passport?
There are two required procedures; an unofficial one before submitting document and official document submission. Because we need permission of the security officer in charge to get out official documents passed, it is most important to have a ‘good relationship’ during the unofficial process. Even during official process, it requires a ‘good relationship’ with local security office’s external affairs bureau official. Good relationship means bribery.
– How much does a security officer ask for bribery?
In my case, the officer in the National Security Agency suggested two terms of contract. One is to bring one million won (400 dollars) worth cash or home appliances. Another one is a letter of invitation from my relatives in China. In most cases, invitations to a wedding ceremony or 60th birthday banquet are acceptable.
Security officer in charge then submits the letter of invitation to the External Affairs Bureau (EAB) of local security office. Officials in the bureau would decide whether somebody is permitted to visit China or not. The EAB official asked me one million one (400 dollars) worth bribe during decision process. If I don’t pay that, documents cannot be passed. So far is unofficial procedure.
Then, the official would give me an application form, in which I have to write about my relatives in China, my current job and family, specifically. EAB official verifies the form through People’s Safety Agency (NK police organization) registration office, and my company’s bosses and party secretary agree on, then local security chief permits my travel. To get permission, it requires vis-à-vis meeting with local security chief.
Afterward two visas, one from NK National Security Agency and the other one from Chinese embassy. Chinese embassy checks whether my relatives are currently living in China. After receiving the two visas, a passport is given.
Visa application fee is 30 euros, 240 thousands won (100 dollars). Since the average monthly wage for a (North) Korean worker is 2 thousands won, we have to save our wages for 12 years without spending a penny. And even the monthly wage is often delayed. 240 thousands won is obviously a huge amount of money. Moreover, security officers ask some bribes. Therefore, about 40 years earning is spent to get a passport.
– How long does it take to issue a passport?
At least 3 months to more than 6 months. And even this is impossible without bribery. (North) Korea is a Bribery Republic of Korea. Maybe that is why national elites don’t want the regime to be changed.
– What is the difference between the border area residents’ passports and the regular passports?
Border area residents don’t need their passports to be approved by the National Security Agency. The rest of the procedures are same. Personal bribery differs depending on the region, too. Residents of Pyongyang, South Pyongan Province, North and South Hwanghae and Kangwon provinces pay much more for bribery. Also, although my passport is officially valid for 3 months, in reality, I have to come back in two months. However, border area residents can stay in China for full three months.
– Is there any instruction before visiting relatives in China?
Of course there is. At local party committee Propaganda Bureau.
– What kind of contents?
They educate the possible visitors that even though China is richer than (North) Korea, we must not be blinded by money. China is differed from us, they teach. And, we are taught not to meet the South Koreans in China. If we meet them, we are instructed to boast about our country (NK) and be proud of. It is emphasized not to accept any of their (South Korea’s’) offers. And if there is an encounter with a South Korean, we are required to report that fact to the National Security Agency.
And here is the gallery of DPRK travel documents. Enjoy!