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North Korea: Doing business and staying in touch

Doing Business in North Korea

If you somehow find yourself on a business trip to North Korea, it is important to remember that formality is valued highly here. Suits are required at all times and colleagues or clients should be greeted with a firm handshake and perhaps a slight bow. Expect to be introduced by a third party, rather than directly, and have business cards ready to exchange on meeting.

Note that business transactions generally take place outside the office in the evenings, as foreign visitors are not permitted to enter North Korean workplaces.

Office Hours

Generally Mon-Sat 0800-1700. However, workers are often required to arrive at work earlier and leave later in order to undertake community reading and exercise sessions.


Until 1971, North Korea had a similar GDP per capita to its neighbour South Korea. But today, while South Korea has one of the world's largest economies, North Korea is recognised as one of the poorest and least developed nations anywhere on earth.

This downturn is down to several factors. One is a considerable loss of trade with the former Soviet Union in the 1990s. Another is a series of serious floods and natural disasters which have wreaked havoc on the country in recent years. And a third is stagnation – North Korea has yet to adopt the political or economic reforms seen in its neighbours China and Russia.

Economic data is hard to come by. In 2012 the Bank of Korea estimated that the GNP of North Korea at that time was US$21.8 billion, while America's Central Intelligence Agency estimated US$40 million. The North Korean government purports to have a full employment rate, though swathes of the population live in extreme poverty with up to a third of children suffering malnutrition.

Pyongyang isolationism has led to a lack of trade with the US and its allies in Europe and beyond. However, there is believed to be around US$300 million of trade between North and South Korea, and an even more crucial $6.6 billion of trade across the border with China.


US$40 billion (2012, estimated).

Main exports

Minerals, textiles, agricultural and fishery products, coal and iron ore.

Main imports

Petroleum, coking coal, machinery, textiles and grain.

Main trading partners

China and South Korea.

Keeping in Touch in North Korea


Some hotels in Pyongyang provide direct international calls although this may be expensive.

Mobile Phone

Limited GSM 900 network. SUNNET is the only network provider.


Access to the Internet is unavailable.


Radio and TV sets in Korea (Dem Rep) are pre-tuned to government stations with Kim Jong-un propaganda. Press outlets and broadcasters are all under direct state control. The country's economic hardships or famines are not reported. However, after the historic Korean summit in Pyongyang in 2000, media outlets toned down their fierce denunciations of the Seoul government. Ordinary Koreans (Dem Rep) caught listening to foreign broadcasts risk harsh punishments, such as forced labour.


Services are extremely slow and limited outside the capital. Airmail takes about 10 days to reach Western Europe.

Post Office hours

Mon-Sat 0900-2100.

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