Work and Travel in North Korea
VOLUNTEER AND PAID WORK OPPORTUNITIES IN NORTH KOREA FOR TRAVELLERS
North Korea is an enclave that has cut itself off from the world. Naturally, that has engendered a huge amount of interest in the concept of work and travel in North Korea. The problem is you’re not going to find many travel guides to North Korea with regards to staying there for longer than a few days.
And that’s led to the belief that it’s physically impossible to take anything but a guided tour to the country. Well that’s not true because if you have formal qualifications you can find work in North Korea. It’s difficult and you’ll have to go through a long application process to stand a chance of getting a position.
But bear in mind that the process, even if you’re qualified, is far from easy and you won’t find the usual array of unskilled backpacker jobs here.
So what exactly can you do in North Korea?
1. Teach Tourism Students
North Korea is increasingly reliant on its tourism industry as UN sanctions cut off other areas of its economy. That’s why the North Korean government put out a call for English-speaking foreigners who can teach their people about building up a tourism business and better serving foreigners.
But you must have qualifications and experience in building a tourism business. Like all other volunteering opportunities in North Korea, you must get prior approval from the government via a long application process.
2. Show North Koreans How to Build a Business
Entrepreneurship is alive and well in this country, even if it’s tightly controlled. There’s an increasing need for foreigners who know how to build a business.
Programmes like this involve businesspeople from the West coming to North Korea to give presentations and workshops on things like building lean startups. In other words, you’ll be helping their people to create their own jobs and to use their creativity.
It’s possible to secure this position without formal qualifications, but you must be a successful businessperson to have a chance of convincing the North Korean authorities that you’re the right person for the job.
3. Support North Korean Refugees
This usually takes place in South Korea, but we recommend it because you’ll get a real insight into life in North Korea. Work and travel in North Korea itself usually won’t give you a view into the reality of life in the country. Nobody is going to speak out for fear of their life and the lives of their family members.
Supporting North Korean refugees involves giving them essential skills so they can adapt to life beyond the heavily fortified borders of their home country. In exchange you’ll receive a unique insight behind the dark curtain of North Korea.
VOLUNTEER WORK VISA / PERMIT REQUIREMENTS FOR NORTH KOREA
North Korea requires a visa for every country in the world. There are no exceptions, except for Chinese ID card holders who can stay in the border provinces for up to two days. You also need a valid invitation and booking from an accredited North Korean tour agency. This is why tourists can only enter the country on a guided tour.
For anyone who wants to work in the country, they must have the approval of the relevant body, which differs every time. Luckily, if you’re accepted for a position they will guide you through the process. It’s just a matter of dealing with the massive amount of paperwork.
Securing one of the volunteering opportunities in North Korea requires you to wait for months to complete the process. So remember that this is not the type of role you can pick up on a whim.
SEASONAL BACKPACKER SKILLS NEEDED IN NORTH KOREA
Volunteering opportunities in North Korea are so rare and difficult to get that they can’t be defined by the seasons of the country. Due to the fact that you can’t travel in the country independently it’s impossible to adjust your travel plans based on the time of year.
In terms of backpacker skills, every position will require you to have professional qualifications. Generally, it’s the most qualified people who get these positions. Conventional backpackers fresh out of university are unlikely to find any such positions here.
However, the good news is that North Korea is trying to diversify its economy. This is why it even has a small winter ski resort. Foreigners are likely going to be in higher demand soon enough because ordinary North Koreans lack the skills necessary to establish various industries.
The government, through its actions, has made it clear that it wants to welcome more foreigners to North Korea, albeit in a controlled manner. Expect to see even more volunteering opportunities popping up in the next few years, especially if UN sanctions continue or intensify on North Korea’s coal, textile, and agricultural markets.
But even then it’s unlikely that as long as the dictatorship remains you’ll be able to simply waltz into the country and find volunteering work in North Korea independently.
The work that is needed by hosts in the summer in North Korea
What kinds of work are there in North Korea in autumn? Maybe it's harvest time, but do people need the help of foreigners for either cheap labour or expertise? This is the kind of thing we need to know here.
Skiing in North Korea - does it exist? Are there plenty of opportunities for people to get work in North Korea in the winter? What kind of skills are needed at this time of year? Please update this section and let fellow travellers know what you have learned if you have worked in North Korea in the winter or if you are a host and live here and can share your knowledge.
ATTITUDE TO FOREIGNERS WORKING OR VOLUNTEERING IN NORTH KOREA
In North Korea you never really know what the locals think of foreigners in their presence. Yes, they’re curious, but they won’t interact with you. Many visitors to the country find that locals are embarrassed if visitors try to interact with them. They’re afraid of saying something they shouldn’t or doing something that could compromise the regime, which would lead to harsh reprisals.
Understand that the locals typically act like this to protect themselves from harm. And they can’t communicate as only the elite of North Korean can speak a foreign language.
But overall your main point of contact will be the people minding over you. These are usually a combination of soldiers and accredited tour guides. Bear in mind what you say particularly when it comes to politics and culture as these people always report back to their superiors.
You can be arrested for anything you say. Foreigners have been arrested and imprisoned in horrific conditions many times in the past for trivial offenses.
With that in mind, are you strong enough to work and travel in North Korea?
- Edited on Jan 22 2018 by Yara