North Korea, also known as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, is one of the most secretive and mysterious countries in the world. However, thanks to spies, military, and a very select amount of tourists, we’re able to get a glimpse of how the people of North Korea live.
If you happen to find yourself in North Korea, you’ll want to browse through this list – or you could end up in jail.
Here are 37 everyday activities that most of us find normal – but, in North Korea? They’re very illegal.
So, whether you’re curious about their culture or curious about visiting, you’ll want to keep reading.
1) Making international phone calls
You’ll find that nearly all of these laws are things we take for granted. Like, making international phone calls, for example. In 2019, we’re a very global world, but if you make calls outside the country in North Korea, you could be punished by death. People have been killed for simply calling relatives in South Korea.
2) Owning an iPhone
Are you someone that likes to stay up-to-date on the latest iPhone? Or maybe you still have an old iPhone 4. Either way, if you were in North Korea? That would be a crime. Oh, the same would apply if you had a tablet or a computer.
3) Removing or taking down a propaganda poster
In western countries, you’ll find posters for events, politicians, and random pieces of freedom of speech plastered on city walls, telephone poles, and other places. You’re free to put them up, you’re free to take them down. But, as US student Otto Warmbier found out, in North Korea, messing with state propaganda will get you decades of hard labor.
4) Calling it “North Korea”
“Given that it sees itself as the only true Korea, the official name is Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. And that is the name you had better use while in the country,” says List 25.
You won’t find two or three cars at the households in North Korea. The government does not want its people to be able to move around the country freely. In fact, there is less than one car per 1,000 people. Compared to 439 in the U.S.
6) Speaking negatively about the government
In America, we have the great right of the freedom of speech. We’re allowed to say whatever we’d like about our government, whether it’s good or bad. Granted, it doesn’t mean it’s free of consequence, but you’re allowed to say it! In North Korea, if you speak negatively about their government, you’ll be headed straight to a “re-education camp.”
7) Drinking alcohol
Happy hours, a beer on the porch, or a glass of wine at dinner are all normal activities for most of us. But in North Korean, they’re a big no-no – unless it’s on one of the designated the government allows you to. And they aren’t messing around. In 2012, a military officer was executed with a mortar for drinking during the 100-day mourning of Kim Jong II.
8) Leaving the country
If your passport allows you to travel the world freely, you’re much luckier than a citizen of North Korea. If you’re caught leaving the country, you’ll most definitely be executed. Not to mention, your family could be punished too.
Porn may or may not be your thing, but if you’re into it? It’s not a crime to watch it in most western countries. But, in North Korea, it can get you killed. And to show that he was serious, Kim Jong Un had his ex-girlfriend executed in front of her family because she made the grave mistake of making a sex tape.
10) Using the internet
Most Americans can’t go more than a few minutes without checking their phone, getting on social media, or browsing the internet. It’s a major part of daily life. In North Korea though, they can only access state-sponsored websites. If they somehow break beyond that – you can guess what happens.
11) Wearing denim
For millions of people, wearing jeans for everyday attire is commonplace – and that’s exactly why North Korean hates them and has made wearing them illegal. Denim is associated with America and that’s just not going to fly in the DPRK.
12) Escaping prison
Alright, this is obviously illegal in every single country, but in North Korea, if you were to escape prison, your entire family would be punished up to four generations. That means, your crime would get your kids, parents, and grandparents killed.
13) Making mistakes at a job
Making even the tiniest mistake at your job could land you in hot water in North Korea. Recently, a journalist was executed because they made a typo in an article.
14) Having an opinion
Having an opinion about anything – food, the infrastructure, your job, your housing, anything at all – should be kept only to yourself. Because generally, the government will tell you what to think, what is good, and what is bad.
15) Non-government issued music
Imagine living in a place where you can’t listen to, or might not even know of, bands you love today. In North Korea, no foreign music is allowed or you can be executed. Citizens can only listen to music that “glorifies the regime.”
16) Dishonoring the leader
If you thought talking negatively about the government was bad, try talking negatively about the leader, Kim Jong Un – you’ve pretty much put a curse on your entire family.
17) Taking photos
This law is mostly applied to tourists. If you’ve been granted access into the country, you’ll most likely be followed around by a government officer. They’ll let you know what you can and can’t take photos of, and it won’t be the good stuff.
Sarcasm isn’t illegal, however, their culture does not have, know, or understand sarcasm whatsoever. So, what you say will be taken very literally and could land you in big trouble if you jokingly say something that would otherwise be offensive.
19) Asking about Kim Jong-un’s birthday
No one really knows how old Kim Jong-un is, and apparently, he never wants people to know. Don’t ask how old he is, don’t ask when his birthday is, it’s just nobody’s business according to him. The North Korean authorities said he was born January 8, 1982. South Korea says it was a year later. And the U.S. has his birthdate as January 8, 1984 – which was confirmed by Dennis Rodman. What’s the truth? Who knows.
20) Having a unique haircut
Want to dye or cut your hair in a fun new style? Not if you’re in North Korea! All haircuts and styles must be government approved. There are 28 of them to choose from.
21) Living in the city of Pyongyang
When it comes to capital cities, that’s where the highest density of people can usually be found. But, in the capital city of Pyongyang, only the few, the select, and the elite are chosen to live here.
“As an atheist state, North Korea doesn’t take kindly to practice of religion. In 2013, 80 Christians were publicly executed in a stadium because they were in possession of Bibles,” says List25.
23) Opting out of voting
There is no such thing as “opting out” to vote. Voting is 100% mandatory in North Korea. If your vote is not counted, you can expect some serious consequences.
24) Watching television
If you’re not allowed to go on the internet, you can be certain that you won’t be watching TV either. Once again, the citizens of North Korea are only allowed to watch state propaganda. Hundreds of people have been executed for sneaking South Korean channels.
If you can’t browse the internet or watch TV, you can read, right? Wrong! Unless the book has been written and approved by the government, any other piece of reading material is called foreign propaganda which is punishable by, you guessed it, death.
26) Western fashion
Jeans are a big no-no, but basically, any sort of Western-style attire is going to get you into some trouble. It’s becoming a problem because of the major fashion industry in their southern neighbor spilling over in the underground market.
27) Drinking Coke or Coca-Cola products
There was a major trade embargo placed on Coca-Cola products for North Korea which makes them very difficult to find. However, it’s rumored that some upscale shops in Pyongyang have imported bottles from Coke that was produced in China.
28) Sanitary pads
Sanitary pads are not allowed or available in North Korea. Instead, those poor women have to use reusable, washable pads.
Condoms, and all other types of birth control, are completely prohibited in North Korea. Trying to find a condom proves to be a very difficult task in their country.
Desinger shoes are going to be impossible to find in North Korea, unless you’re in the regions bordering China where you might be able to find some knock-offs. All shoes and clothing is made and/or approved by the North Korean government.
32) Christmas trees
No religion? No Christmas trees! It is strictly forbidden to display or possess a Christmas tree or any Christmas decorations whatsoever. Bah humbug.
Starbucks can be found in just around 80 countries – but, surprise! North Korea is obviously not one of them. A US company? Yeah, right. However, Pyongyang is known to have their own famous coffee shops.
34) Music concerts
“Very few foreigners are allowed to perform in North Korea. Thus, going to a concert of your favorite musician is out of the question. The only band that was allowed to perform was a Slovenian band called Laibach. They had a concert in Pyongyang back in 2015. Instead, people can attend local bands’ concerts,” says Brightside.
35) Using local currency as a tourist
If you end up as a tourist in North Korea, you won’t be exchanging your money for theirs. Foreigners are not allowed to possess or use North Korean local currency. US dollars, yuans, euros or South Korean won, must be used as cash and tourists are not allowed to buy anything for a local Korean.
36) Wandering alone as a tourist
Walking around wherever you’d like in North Korea is strictly prohibited for tourists. Foreigners must be with an escort even if it means going across the street from your hotel to the store buy something. Even sightseeing is only allowed with an escort at authorized locations only.
37) Talking with the locals
If you’d like to strike up a conversation with any locals in North Korea, you’ll first need to receive special permission from the special service representatives. If you try talking to a local without it, they’ll most likely avoid you.
North Korea is a pretty interesting country, right? Would you ever want to somehow go inside and sneak a peek at how the locals live? What law did you think was the craziest?