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.
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The old notes were withdrawn on November 30th and it wasn’t until December 7th until the new notes were introduced.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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.