Facts: The North Korean (DPRK) Passport

The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) passport is one of the rarest travel documents a collector can get. 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. North Korean (DPRK) Passport
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. The previous version of the North Korean passport was vinyl with red color.

Kim Tae San, a former director of Czech-N. Korean Shoe Joint-Stock Company defected from North Korea said that the North Korean 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 possessed a fake one.

And especially since North Korea is labeled a terrorist-supporting country, Kim continued, North Korean passport holders are meticulously inspected. According to Kim, health and HIV certificates are a tradition of communist countries. However, in reality, certificates are provided without actual vaccination because of the shortage of medicine.

To ordinary people in North Korea, a 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 Korean (DPRK) Passport

North Korea’s passport is classified into three; diplomat’s passport, official passport, and ordinary passport. Diplomats’ passports are issued to high officials of the Foreign Ministry, the central party, and other subordinate offices of the KWP. Only vice ministers or higher can receive a diplomat’s passport, for the rest of the bureaucrats. Trade and other economic bureaucrats traveling abroad receive official passports.

Ordinary passports are single passports used by laborers and technicians who visit foreign countries. The Foreign Ministry withdraws regular passports after being used. The other two passports expire in five years and must be returned after each travel. Returned passports are kept in the Foreign Ministry passport office and returned to the person if they revisit a foreign country.

Passports are printed in the Social Safety Agency mint, suspected of printing fake dollar bills, in Pyongyang, South Pyongyang Province. Those who travel overseas must provide a ‘temporary certificate of ration suspension’ before receiving a passport. The certificate is gained from the related ration office and should be returned to the office after travel to resume the ration. So double percentage can be prevented, and all passports are withdrawn. North Korean (DPRK) Passport

Less than thirty thousand North Koreans are blessed to receive passports in one year. Therefore, every year, only a tiny fraction of the North Korean 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 showed 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 a passport; in other words, it is almost impossible for North Korean people to travel abroad.

What is the procedure to obtain a passport? North Korean (DPRK) Passport

There are two required procedures; an unofficial one before submitting the document and official document submission. Because we need the permission of the security officer in charge to get our official documents passed, it is most important to have a ‘good relationship’ during the unofficial process. Even the official process requires a ‘good relationship’ with the local security office’s external affairs bureau official. A 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 the contract. One is to bring one million won (400 dollars) worth of 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.

The security officer in charge then submits the letter of invitation to the local security office’s External Affairs Bureau (EAB). Officials in the bureau would decide whether somebody is permitted to visit China or not. The EAB official asked me for one million one (400 dollars) worth bribe during the decision process. If I don’t pay that, documents cannot be passed. So far, is an 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 my family precisely. EAB official verifies the paper through the People’s Safety Agency (NK police organization) registration office, and my company’s bosses and party secretary agree. The local security chief permits my travel. Getting permission requires a vis-à-vis meeting with the local security chief. North Korean (DPRK) Passport

Afterward, two visas, one from NK National Security Agency and the other from the Chinese embassy. The Chinese embassy checks whether my relatives are currently living in China. After receiving the two visas, a passport is given.

The Visa application fee is 30 euros, 240 thousand won (100 dollars). Since the average monthly wage for a (North) Korean worker is two thousand won, we have to save our wages for 12 years without spending a penny. And even the monthly salary is often delayed. 240 thousand won is a huge amount of money. Moreover, security officers ask for some bribes. Therefore, about 40 years of earnings are spent to get a passport. North Korean (DPRK) 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 the 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 the same. Personal bribery differs depending on the region, too. Residents of Pyongyang, South Pyongyang Province, North, and South Hwanghae, and Kangwon provinces pay much more for corruption. 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 a full three months.

Is there any instruction before visiting relatives in China? North Korean (DPRK) Passport

Of course, there is at the local party committee Propaganda Bureau.

What kind of content?

China differs from us; they teach. They educate the possible visitors that even though China is more prosperous than (North) Korea, we must not be blinded by money. And, we are taught not to meet the South Koreans in China. We are instructed to boast about our country (NK) and be proud of it if we meet them. It is emphasized not to accept any of their (South Korea’s) offers. And if there is an encounter with a South Korean, we must report that fact to the National Security Agency.

North Korean (DPRK) Passport

Pretty Best Friends: North Korea and the GDR


FAQ Passport History
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1. What are the earliest known examples of passports, and how have they evolved?

The word "passport" came up only in the mid 15th Century. Before that, such documents were safe conducts, recommendations or protection letters. On a practical aspect, the earliest passport I have seen was from the mid 16th Century. Read more...

2. Are there any notable historical figures or personalities whose passports are highly sought after by collectors?

Every collector is doing well to define his collection focus, and yes, there are collectors looking for Celebrity passports and travel documents of historical figures like Winston Churchill, Brothers Grimm, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Read more...

3. How did passport designs and security features change throughout different periods in history, and what impact did these changes have on forgery prevention?

"Passports" before the 18th Century had a pure functional character. Security features were, in the best case, a watermark and a wax seal. Forgery, back then, was not an issue like it is nowadays. Only from the 1980s on, security features became a thing. A state-of-the-art passport nowadays has dozens of security features - visible and invisible. Some are known only by the security document printer itself. Read more...

4. What are some of the rarest and most valuable historical passports that have ever been sold or auctioned?

Lou Gehrig, Victor Tsoi, Marilyn Monroe, James Joyce, and Albert Einstein when it comes to the most expensive ones. Read more...

5. How do diplomatic passports differ from regular passports, and what makes them significant to collectors?

Such documents were often held by officials in high ranks, like ambassadors, consuls or special envoys. Furthermore, these travel documents are often frequently traveled. Hence, they hold a tapestry of stamps or visas. Partly from unusual places.

6. Can you provide insights into the stories behind specific historical passports that offer unique insights into past travel and migration trends?

A passport tells the story of its bearer and these stories can be everything - surprising, sad, vivid. Isabella Bird and her travels (1831-1904) or Mary Kingsley, a fearless Lady explorer.

7. What role did passports play during significant historical events, such as wartime travel restrictions or international treaties?

During war, a passport could have been a matter of life or death. Especially, when we are looking into WWII and the Holocaust. And yes, during that time, passports and similar documents were often forged to escape and save lives. Example...

8. How has the emergence of digital passports and biometric identification impacted the world of passport collecting?

Current modern passports having now often a sparkling, flashy design. This has mainly two reasons. 1. Improved security and 2. Displaying a countries' heritage, icons, and important figures or achievements. I can fully understand that those modern documents are wanted, especially by younger collectors.

9. Are there any specialized collections of passports, such as those from a specific country, era, or distinguished individuals?

Yes, the University of Western Sidney Library has e.g. a passport collection of the former prime minister Hon Edward Gough Whitlam and his wife Margaret. They are all diplomatic passports and I had the pleasure to apprise them. I hold e.g. a collection of almost all types of the German Empire passports (only 2 types are still missing). Also, my East German passport collection is quite extensive with pretty rare passport types.

10. Where can passport collectors find reliable resources and reputable sellers to expand their collection and learn more about passport history?

A good start is eBay, Delcampe, flea markets, garage or estate sales. The more significant travel documents you probably find at the classic auction houses. Sometimes I also offer documents from my archive/collection. See offers... As you are already here, you surely found a great source on the topic 😉

Other great sources are: Scottish Passports, The Nansen passport, The secret lives of diplomatic couriers

11. Is vintage passport collecting legal? What are the regulations and considerations collectors should know when acquiring historical passports?

First, it's important to stress that each country has its own laws when it comes to passports. Collecting old vintage passports for historical or educational reasons is safe and legal, or at least tolerated. More details on the legal aspects are here...

Does this article spark your curiosity about passport collecting and the history of passports? With this valuable information, you have a good basis to start your own passport collection.

Question? Contact me...