Every Time I Enter North Korea Customs I Feel Like a Criminal

Daily NK
Kim Min Se
8/31/2007

There is one place that traders curse every time they pass through North Korea and China. That is towards the corruptive and fastidious North Korean customs officers.

It is widely known that North Korean customs officers blatantly seek bribes and extort goods justifying it is for inspection.

As more and more citizens became disgruntled by the security at customs, North Korean authorities enforced strict investigations towards customs officers. However, tradesmen who travel in and out of North Korea comment that the corruption occurring at customs is still prevalent.

Wang Hae Dong (pseudonym), one tradesman who has been bringing goods manufactured in China into North Korea for the past 10 years said on 29th, “It’s becoming harder and harder to bring goods into the country because of the demanding customs officers” and “There is nothing left if you bring 100,000 yuan amount of goods as there are now many tradesmen who have been specifically sent from North Korea to acquire items manufactured in China.”

Wang, a Chinese merchant born in North Korea has been living in North Korea for over 20 years and now runs a trading company which sends items for daily living to North Korea.

Wang said, “Not only is it becoming harder to earn money but when customs officers speak rudely and undergo picky inspections, I don’t want to trade anymore and want to give everything up.” He said, “What’s more annoying is the fact that goods disappear every time inspections are made and yet there is no where to make complaints.”

“Losing one or two items of clothing is nothing. I am lucky not to get bundles of clothing taken away from me” he said.

He said, “I barely make a profit of 0.2~03 Yuan from a piece of clothing bought for 10 Yuan. I import about 5 tons of goods in 3 trucks in one go (worth 1million Yuan) but after I sell all of the goods, I’m left with about 3~40,000 Yuan. After delivery fees and taxes, there are many times I’m left with only 10,000 Yuan but when one or two bundles of goods disappear, the work becomes worthless.”

Irrespective of importing or exporting goods to and from China, all items must undergo thorough inspection at customs. Nothing is exempted from goods transported by car or containers to individual pockets and even purses.

Local traders describe the scene of North Korean customs officers opening and inspecting every piece of item as pandemonium.

Many goods also become damaged despite have been well packaged as they are roughly handled by officers. Losing one or two items is common, though there are cases where even whole boxes are lost.

Wang said, “As of 2 years ago, money was given to Chosun superintendents with an import license to clear goods because Chosun customs was so selective yet still goods went missing. What can I do? I still take goods to Chosun once a week, 4 times a month. Don’t I just have to accept the fact that I can’t redeem the lost money?”

Regarding the reasons why North Korean customs officers scavenge through all the goods like searching for lice, Wang said, “Isn’t so they can find another reason to collect extra money?” and “I think that’s what they live off.”

He added, “Every time I pass through Chosun customs, the customs officers seem like the prison guards and I feel like a criminal who is paying for his crime.”

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  • Jake

    I took a train from Pyongyang to Beijing in August and experienced this sort of thing. Luckily I had an old DPRK customs man who just wanted to see my camera. Some unlucky people had everything searched including their wallets and every item in their bags. My friend had to show a customs officer 2,000 photos he took on his tour, and the officer made him delete all his pictures of the traffic ladies (for some reason).


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