40 year’s to obtain a DPRK passport?

A Passport Worth 40 Years of Earning
Choi Jeon Ho

On Sept. 15, in 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 was showing 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 passport; in other words, it is almost impossible for the North Korean people to travel abroad.

– What is the procedure to obtain a passport?

There are two required procedures; an unofficial one before submitting document and official document submission. Because we need permission of the security officer in charge to get out official documents passed, it is most important to have a ‘good relationship’ during the unofficial process.

Even during official process, it requires a ‘good relationship’ with local security office’s external affairs bureau official. 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 contract. One is to bring one million won (400 dollars) worth 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.

Security officer in charge then submits the letter of invitation to the External Affairs Bureau (EAB) of local security office. Officials in the bureau would decide whether somebody is permitted to visit China or not.

The EAB official asked me one million one (400 dollars) worth bribe during decision process. If I don’t pay that, documents cannot be passed. So far is 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 family, specifically. EAB official verifies the form through People’s Safety Agency (NK police organization) registration office, and my company’s bosses and party secretary agree on, then local security chief permits my travel. To get permission, it requires vis-à-vis meeting with local security chief.

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

Visa application fee is 30 euros, 240 thousands won (100 dollars). Since the average monthly wage for a (North) Korean worker is 2 thousands won, we have to save our wages for 12 years without spending a penny. And even the monthly wage is often delayed. 240 thousands won is obviously a huge amount of money. Moreover, security officers ask some bribes. Therefore, about 40 years earning is spent to get a 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 a 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 same. Personal bribery differs depending on the region, too. Residents of Pyongyang, South Pyongan Province, North and South Hwanghae and Kangwon provinces pay much more for bribery.
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 full three months.

– Is there any instruction before visiting relatives in China?

Of course there is. At local party committee’s Propaganda Bureau.

– What kind of contents?

They educate the possible visitors that even though China is richer than (North) Korea, we must not be blinded by money. China is differed from us, they teach.

And, we are taught not to meet the South Koreans in China. If we meet them, we are instructed to boast about our country (NK) and be proud of. It is emphasized not to accept any of their (South Koreas’) offers. And if there is an encounter with a South Korean, we are required to report that fact to the National Security Agency.


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