North Korea: the land of Kim Jong Un, nuclear weapons, military parades, and endless lists of bizarre facts.
But have you ever considered what people do every day? In other words, what are people's jobs in North Korea?
We've put together a list of what seems like the only 15 viable jobs (though still pretty bizarre) in North Korea.
Keep reading to find out more what does it take to get a job in the communist dystopia.
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Military Parades happen regularly to celebrate the country's various holidays. Image courtesy of The Telegraph.
If you join the army, you'll have one of the most highly regarded jobs in North Korea. It's estimated the government spends around 25% of the country's budget on the military despite its ongoing difficulties to fund healthcare or rural development.
You will have the opportunity to join one of the world's largest militaries, consisting of nearly 1.3 million active personnel. This accounts for about 5 percent of the total population.
Beware, you'll have to undergo a demanding training, which is mandatory for all men and women in North Korea. Every man has to serve a ten-year term when he turns 18 years old.
These are some of the military jobs in North Korea:
- Cyber Warfare specialist. Your job would include hacking South Korean banks, governmental organizations as well as the president's office.
- Member of the submarine fleet, serving on one of the 75 submarines (the US has only 70 submarines).
- Missile launch officer. Be ready to deal with Kim Jong Un's temper tantrums.
- Special forces. You would take part in activities such as digging tunnels to South Korea.
2. Traffic security officers
One of the most coveted jobs in North Korea involves working as a human traffic light in the streets of Pyongyang.
If you want to become one of Pyongyang's 300 "traffic ladies", officially known as traffic security officers, you'll have to meet the following requirements:
- Under 26 years old,
- Attractive looks,
- Undergo demanding training where you'll master elegant moves and improve your endurance.
You'll work in a blue uniform which consists of a knee-length pencil skirt, blue fitted military-style jacket with a belt, white socks in heels, a distinct high-peaked hat, and white gloves. In winter, your uniform will be embellished by fur complements and a thick hat.
- Direct traffic with the use of orange halters and a whistle,
- Act in place of traffic lights,
- Represent the nation's capital,
- Pose for tourist photos,
- Collaborate with a team of 400 male colleagues stationed at roundabouts.
If you're not a fan of busy city life, get a job in the rural parts of North Korea and enjoy the misery of staying outdoors all day.
The monthly income is $1-$2 a month. However, you'll be able to enjoy the recently introduced benefit of keeping a share of your crops before handing over the majority of it to the state.
Your tasks will include:
- Feeding the hungry nation,
- Giving a substantial share of your crops to the state,
- Tending to cows, pigs, and goats,
- Working the land with oxen,
- Contributing to the production of cereal rations on which 16 out of 25 million people rely.
4. Music teacher
As a music teacher, you'll never lack work in North Korea, especially when it comes to accordions.
During the 1990s, all teachers had to learn the accordion. Many say this requirement remains to this day.
Accordions are often called "the people’s instrument". If you can't quite imagine anyone being this crazy about accordions, check out this North Korean take on A-Ha's Take On Me.
Keep in mind that as a music teacher you'd be required to make your students truly master their instrument. For a reference of the students' abilities, here's a video of North Korean children mastering the guitar. Creepy or cute?
5. Tour Guide
Being a tour guide is one of the jobs in North Korea that require most responsibility.
Over the past few years, tourism has been on the rise in North Korea. It's estimated, that every year, around 6,000 Western tourists visit the secretive country.
Still, tourists aren't allowed to explore the coutnry on their own. They're forced to rely on a tour guide.
As a tour guide, you'd essentially be the keyholder. It'd be your responsibility to watch every move the foreign visitors make and show them the country in the best possible light.
You'd have the following responsibilities:
- Ensuring tourists don't take any photos of the military or pictures reflecting poverty,
- Sticking to the designated routes,
- Making sure no tourists leave their hotel unescorted,
- Admire the dear leaders and all their accomplishments during the tours,
- Ensure that tourists bow to the statues and the bodies of former leaders Kim Il Sung ad Kim Jong Il.
If you're looking for a job in the fashion industry, get ready to get busy.
Between 2016 and 2017, North Korea exported $166.82 million worth of men’s waterproof jackets alone.
North Korea exports a lot of clothes, but at the same time they're always looking for local fashion designers to design clothes that comply with the state regulations.
If you were to design clothes for casual wear in North Korea, you'd have to follow these job guidelines:
- Eliminate any influence of Western fashion such as short skirts, design brands, bright colors, or indecent patterns.
- Your main material will be vynalon. A stiff, synthetic fiber created in North Korea in the 195o's. This material is used for both uniforms and casual clothes.
- Remember, no denim is allowed, as jeans represent the capitalist USA.
Tailors have one of the most useful jobs in North Korea. Especially, when you consider the number of uniforms that has to be made every year.
People in North Korea wear uniforms regardless of their age and gender. Children wear pioneer uniforms, students wear school uniforms, and understandably, the military requires thousands of uniforms for its members.
As a hairdresser in North Korea, your creativity would be somewhat limited. You would be required to have a perfect knowledge of the 28 state-approved hairstyles.
Allegedly, only 18 hairstyles for women and 10 for men are allowed in North Korea.
Here's a few basic rules you'd have to learn before the interview:
Single ladies are allowed to keep their hair longer, while married women must cut their hair short.
As for men, they have to keep their hair no longer than 2 inches. Older men, however, can get away with 3 inches.
As a hairdresser, don't even think about copying the leader's look. Kim Jong Un has put a trademark on his side-shaved swept-back style.
Overall, this is a boring job. You'll have a multiple options as to what statues to create. Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong Il or Kim Jong Un.
On the other hand, you would never run out of job opportunities. There’s 34,000 statues of Kim Il Sung, the country's founder, making it one for every 750 citizens.
If you want your artworks to be treated with respect, then becoming a sculptor in North Korea might be the perfect job for you! Everyone who passes the leaders' monuments has to bow three times to the statues.
On top of that, when a tourist wants to take a photo of these statues, they have to fit the entirety of the statue in the picture. Otherwise, you risk punishment for accidentally cropping of Kim Jong Il's feet from your photo.
Current job openings:
- Lecturer of North Korean patriotism at the western-funded Pyongyang University of Science and Technology;
- Accordion teacher at the Hamhŭng University of Education;
- Lecturer in Surveillance Technologies at the Huichon University of Telecommunications;
- Conductor at the National Accordion Ensemble at the Pyongyang University of Music and Dance.
If you're looking to dive into academic research in North Korea, get ready for the following restrictions:
- You'll have to make do with limited resources.
- No international research teams. North Korean academics will be your only colleagues.
- All academic articles have to be submitted to North Korean journals.
- Academic articles (both humanities and sciences) have to include at least one quote from a member of the Kim family.
10. Kim's PR
If you're looking for a truly creative job in North Korea, or perhaps have some previous experience with PR, marketing, or even fiction writing, this might well be your dream job!
Your job would be to constantly work to improve Kim's personal brand and support the strong standing of the past and present leaders of the country. As a PR officer, you have to present the Kim dynasty as almighty superhumans.
Your tasks, should you get the job, would include:
- Cover up for Kim Jong Un's failing results from his school years in Switzerland. He is known to have been particularly bad at maths and sciences.
- Disclaim any rumors about Kim Jong Un's plastic surgery that he allegedly got to resemble his grandfather Kim Il Sung.
- Inform the world about Kim Jong Il's unprecedented achievements: “Amazing news! Kim Jong Il learns to walk when 3 weeks old and uttered his first words just 8 weeks after being born”.
- Spread the word about the leader's superhuman capabilities: "Kim Jong Un drives at the age of three".
- Ensure that all schoolbooks teach kids that Kim Jong Il invented the 'double bread with meat' (a.k.a. sandwich).
- Further support the state propaganda with claims that Kim Jong Il never used the toilet, as he doesn't need to defecate.
- Perpetuate the myth that Kim Jong Il could control the weather with his mood.
- Work on texts for schools, such as "Kim Jong Un's Revolutionary Activities", which teaches kids essential life facts, such as the leader's victory at a yachting race at the age of 9.
11. Foreign currency-earning organization workers
Working in foreign currency-earning organizations has become one of the most sought-after positions in North Korea in recent years since their establishment in the early 2000s.
Their primary purpose is to export North Korean resources to foreign countries and generate funds for the government.
It’s a workplace where individuals garner respect, much like employees of renowned companies such as Samsung in South Korea.
What can you expect as a worker in a foreign currency-earning organization?
- Tough competition. It can be challenging to get a job in these organizations. Usually, you need to have a strong family background or enough money to be considered.
- More than basic pay. As a worker, you'll receive a standard ration as well as additional income opportunities based on your performance.
- Powerful connections. Many of these organizations are linked to important government agencies or the military, which gives them significant influence.
Working in a foreign currency-earning organization grants a distinctive status in North Korean society.
That’s why many of those employed in these organizations are the children of high-ranking party officials or executives from prosperous foreign currency-earning organizations.
If you're seeking a career path with ample opportunities in North Korea, look no further than becoming a doctor.
Due to limited (or non-existent) emigration options, doctors are plentiful in the country. Unlike nurses who seem to be in short supply.
Here's a glimpse into the world of doctors in North Korea:
- Large number of doctors. Thanks to the low salaries, North Korea boasts an abundance of doctors. However, due to a shortage of nurses, the doctors often have to perform routine procedures that typically fall under nursing responsibilities.
- Emphasis on preventive medicine. Due to the constrained resources, North Korea's healthcare system places a bet on preventive strategies, leaving rigorous conditions at the mercy of a hit-or-miss system.
- Return to roots with traditional Korean medicine. Since 1979, traditional healing methods have taken center stage, creating a charming although somewhat necessary blend with modern medical practices. So, hello herbs and acupuncture.
- Telemedicine network. In 2010, the country made a landmark leap in modernizing its healthcare sector with the launch of a national telemedicine network, linking the famous Kim Man-yu Hospital in Pyongyang to ten provincial hospitals across the country.
While North Korea takes pride in its abundance of doctors and nurses, it's worth noting that citizens are prohibited from leaving the country.
This prevents the usual scenario seen in other developing nations, where highly skilled healthcare workers often seek opportunities abroad.
As a result, North Korea can maintain a comprehensive healthcare system, with each "household doctor" responsible for approximately 130 families.
13. Taxi driver
As more cars fill the roads in the capital, Pyongyang, driving a taxi is becoming a top career choice for people in North Korea.
There are two main benefits to being a taxi driver in North Korea:
- It's a comfortable job. Unlike other workers who have to work outside in all weathers, taxi drivers can stay cool in the summer and warm in winter inside their cars.
- It's a good way to earn foreign money. In North Korea, taxi fares are often paid in U.S. dollars or Chinese yuan. Both these currencies are worth a lot more than the local money.
But getting this job isn't easy. With the profession in high demand, the use of connections and discreet exchanges of 'motivations' (read: bribes) have become the standard selection method.
Also, taxi companies don't advertise jobs. Instead, they hire new drivers through word-of-mouth.
Taxi drivers also have to pay some money to the authorities. This is a sort of tax they pay to keep their driving license and operate legally.
Lately, though, the government has been encouraging more people to use public transport, which means the public isn't as keen on the taxi business anymore. Plus, there are more taxis now, so it's harder for drivers to make good money.
14. Fashion police
In the unique world of North Korea, one job that stands out is that of the fashion police.
Yes, you read that correctly. This isn't a metaphorical term for style critics but actual officers monitoring and enforcing the government's strict dress code regulations.
Stationed at various crossroads in conventional Korean dresses called hanboks, these patrol units of the Women's Union aren’t shy about using their whistles.
They're vigilant about inspecting women who may be defying the government's fashion guidelines. This could be anything from:
- revealing skirts
- pants rolled up past the knee
- long hair
Your tasks will include:
- Upholding socialism through fashion. One of the significant tasks for these officers involves ensuring everyone follows the dress code that fits the "socialistic way of living," as featured in the state magazine Choseon Ryusung.
- Enforcing punishment. Offenders face discipline, which can range from small fines to short-term imprisonment.
- Giving the green light to modest styles. Fashion police officers endorse modest, loose-fitting attire. Hair should be mid-length or shorter, with no room for foreign trends or styles.
Therefore, if you've ever fancied a job that connects passion for fashion with a desire to uphold government rules, wearing the badge of North Korea's fashion police just might be your calling.
15. Stone polishers
A fascinating job that actually exists in North Korea is that of being a stone polisher.
These workers are hired by the government with one goal: keeping the country's public spaces, especially the numerous statues and memorials, clean and gleaming.
Despite attracting the lowest count of Western tourists globally, North Korea is dedicated to making a strong impression on its visitors.
Typically, poorer people do this job, usually not by choice. Their relentless efforts keep North Korea's streets gleaming throughout the year.
The efforts of these stone polishers play a significant role in promoting North Korea's image. They aim to captivate tourists with the sheer perfection of the country's infrastructure, such as the Victorious War Museum in Pyongyang.
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