Use of the North Korean Currency

The North Korean Won (KPW) has been in circulation since December 1947. It replaced the colonial era Korean Yen as the official North Korean currency following liberation.

Like many socialist states, North Korea had separate currencies for North Koreans and for visitors. The colour of the currency exchange certificate changed depending on your nationality. Visitors from socialist countries used the red won and capitalist countries use the blue/green won.

This system was done away with in 2002 in favour of foreigners bringing and spending hard currency directly.

What is the value of the Won?

Historically the won was tied to the USD with a symbolic rate of 2.16 (the birthday of Kim Jong Il) This rate was abandoned in 2001 and the current rate is closer to 9,000 won to 1 USD.

Common banknotes in circulation are the ₩100, ₩200, ₩500, ₩1000, ₩2000, ₩5000

Coins still exist but are extremely rare and have been all but phased out.

Currency Revaluation

The North Korean currency was revalued in November 2009 for the first time in 50 years. This came out of the blue for North Koreans and they were given only 7 days to change up to 150,000 in hard cash – only about $45 USD. The move wiped out people’s savings and created unprecedented unrest amongst the populace. The revaluation was seen as an attempt by the government to control price inflation, private markets and black market money traders.

The old notes were withdrawn on November 30th and it wasn’t until December 7th until the new notes were introduced. This shut down the country for a week and led to a collective panic.

The current series of bank notes are from this revaluation in 2009. Let’s take a look at some of them.

North Korean 50 won note
North Korean currency, 50 won note showing Party Foundation Monument

On the front of the ₩50 note there is an intellectual, worker and farmer. They represent the workers party of Korea.

On the back shows the Party Foundation Monument. Perhaps Pyongyang’s most iconic monument. The hammer sickle and brush are also representative of the intellectual, worker and farmer.

North Korean currency,500 won note showing the arch of triumph
North Korean currency - 500 won note

The front of the ₩500 won note featues the arch of triumph in Pyongyang – the largest of its kind in the world. It was built to commemorate liberation from Japanese rule in 1945.

The back simply shows the value of the note.

North korean 1000 won note
North Korean currency - 1000 won note

The front of the ₩1000 note features the birthplace of Kim Jong Suk – wife of President Kim Il Sung. She is revered as an anti-Japanese heroine and hails from northern Hoeryong on the Chinese border.

On the back is Lake Samji with the sacred Mount Paektu in the background. Also situated on the Chinese border.

North Korean currency, 2000 won note showing birthplace of Kim Jong Il
North Korean currency, 2000 won note showing Paektu mountain

On the front of the ₩2000 note shows the Mount Paektu Sectret Camp. It was here that Kim Il Sung waged a guerrilla war against the Japanese invaders. It is also where Kim Jong Il is said to have been born.

On the reverse we see again a larger picture of Mount Paektu.

Older 5000 North Korean won note featuring President Kim Il Sung

The ₩5000 won note which has been in circulation since 2009. A new 5000 note was released in 2014 without the portrait of Kim Il Sung. Apparently is was released to combat counterfeiters. It depicts Mangyongdae Native home – Kim Il Sung’s birthplace. Both old and new 5000 won notes are in circulation.

Can I use this money in North Korea?

There are only a couple of places in Pyongyang where foreigners can use the North Korean currency. Notably the Kwangbok and Daesong department stores. All our tours visit Kwangbok so you’ll be given the opportunity to exchange foreign currency into local and spend it at the department store. It’s a fascinating place to spend an hour or two – it has 3 different floors including a food court and beer bar buzzing with locals.

Another place in North Korea where you can access the local currency is up in Rason – North East Korea. This is a special economic zone where you can visit local markets and haggle! You can also open up a bank account at the Golden Triangle bank in Rajin town.

Can I take this money out of the country?

Technically it is not permitted to leave the country with the North Korean currency. Your guides will politely ask you to spend it all. You can give the leftovers to them as an added extra to your tip after your tour or “forget” some notes at the bottom of your luggage 😉

There’s also plenty of collections of souvenir money to be purchased in country. Make sure you buy these in North Korea and not at the knock off stores on the border in China.

What currency should I bring In?

Chinese RMB, USD & Euro are all widely accepted. Perhaps the easiest to use is the Chinese currency. Due to the high number of Chinese visitors they usually have better supplies of change on hand. It’s the most convenient for small purchases. For large purchases like souvenirs or concert tickets, Euro works best and usually the prices will be in Euro for these items.

For Euro & USD try and bring small denominations as changing 50 or 100 notes will be excruciatingly difficult.

Check out some more info on our North Korea Tours and start planning your trip today!

Rocky road travel founder Shane Horan at the DMZ


When Shane is not endlessly writing award winning content for Rocky Road, he’s usually kayaking to and from work along Berlin’s River Spree.