Country Reports

North Korea Country Report

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Risk Level

Very High


Executive Summary

North Korea’s authoritarian structure, repression through its extensive security forces, and purges of opponents lend stability to its political system. Kim’s core policy points to continued weapon development and acceptance of limited marketisation.North Korea’s poor healthcare institutions are likely to struggle to contain and treat coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). International non-profits in North Korea have criticised delays to essential medical imports since the imposition of punitive sanctions in 2017.The risk of interstate war remains very high because of ambiguity around North Korea’s – and importantly the US’s – redlines. High-level summits between North Korea and China, South Korea, or the United States do not indicate a shift in underlying motivations or strategic interests. North Korea is almost certain to remain unwilling to “denuclearise” unilaterally and will therefore continue to demand reciprocal measures from South Korea and the US such as (from most to least likely to be taken) cancellations of military exercises, withdrawal of US troops from the peninsula, and alleviation of sanctions. Nonetheless, conflict remains unlikely. North Korea is highly likely to carry out more grey-zone or military actions to improve its perceived negotiating position with the US and its allies. If North Korea believes it would improve its position, it will probably carry out another demonstration of its long-range ballistic missile or nuclear weapon capabilities in the lead-up to the US election in November 2020. The domestic economy remains weak. During recent years, North Korea has managed a 1% growth rate because of increased trade with China, which will be jeopardised by North Korea’s border closure since the outbreak of COVID-19. Trade and labour exports to China remain the key source of hard currency earnings under sanctions. Another widely reported and alleged source of income is cyber attacks aimed at stealing bitcoin or foreign currency, such as the February 2016 attack that secured USD81 million from Bangladesh Bank.
Last update: March 24, 2020

Operational Outlook

North Korea is among the countries with the highest IHS Markit operational risk scores. Government efforts to introduce more market-oriented policies have consistently stalled, or have been suspended or reversed. Despite ongoing construction, mainly in the capital Pyongyang, physical infrastructure is poor and substantial improvement is unlikely, including in special economic zones. International sanctions because of North Korea’s nuclear and missile programmes are likely to continue to hinder foreign investment or operations beyond the one-year outlook. All labour is controlled by the government, posing the risk of withdrawal of workers in addition to the arbitrary seizure of assets, as happened in the Kaesong Industrial Zone in April 2013 and February 2016.

Last update: March 17, 2020



There are no known domestic or transnational terrorist groups in North Korea. The government has been widely reported to have allegedly sponsored or carried out terrorist-style attacks abroad on South Korean targets or North Korean defectors, such as the assassination of the Supreme Leader's half-brother in Malaysia in February 2017. According to international media, the North Korean government and military also support international terrorism by selling technology, training, and weapons to state and non-state actors, including chemical weapons to the Syrian government and small-arms and anti-tank weapons to militant groups, such as Hamas.

Last update: March 17, 2020


There is little petty crime in North Korea's tightly controlled state. Closely monitored foreign visitors are highly unlikely to be affected by criminal activity. The primary state authorities responsible for overseeing law and order are the People's Safety Agency (PSA) and National Security Agency (NSA). North Korean government involvement in international criminal activity, however, has been evidenced in multiple, well-sourced investigations. This includes allegations of cyber attacks and methamphetamine trafficking, which reportedly generate millions of dollars for the government. Increasingly, the state and its overseas organisations have also been widely reported to be involved in for-profit cyber crime.

Last update: March 17, 2020

War Risks

The risk of interstate war on the Korean Peninsula is largely dependent on ongoing diplomacy between North Korea and the US, as well as other regional actors. The failure of the North Korea-US summit in February and subsequent weapons tests by North Korea since April indicate a return to the relatively risky exchange of threats and weapons demonstrations of 2017, which increased the risk of miscalculation and escalation towards conflict. This is likely to culminate in an intercontinental ballistic missile test unless the US alters its negotiating position by North Korea's deadline of end-2019.

Last update: March 17, 2020

Social Stability


North Korea’s ubiquitous and strict domestic security and intelligence services minimise the risk of social unrest. Most people with strong anti-government leanings are more likely to attempt to defect from North Korea rather than to rebel. Food or fuel shortages would be the most probable trigger for protests, but these would probably be sparsely attended because of repressive security forces. They will probably use force and mass detention, if not public execution, to disperse and end any protests. In the long term, increasing information about foreign countries, particularly South Korea, will probably foment political dissatisfaction, although not enough to instigate an uprising.

Last update: March 17, 2020

Health Risk


Vaccinations required to enter the country

Proof of vaccination against yellow fever is required if traveling from a country with risk of yellow fever transmission and over one year of age.

Routine Vaccinations

Hepatitis A: A vaccine is available for anyone over one year of age. The vaccine may not be effective for certain people, e.g. those born before 1945 and who lived as a child in a developing country and/or have a past history of jaundice (icterus). These people can instead get a shot of immune globulin (IG) to boost their immunity against the disease.

Hepatitis B: A vaccine is available for children at least two months old.

Diphtheria-Tetanus-Polio: A booster shot should be administered if necessary (once every ten years).

Other Vaccinations

Typhoid Fever: If your travels take you to regions with poor sanitary conditions (for children two years old and up).

Rabies: For prolonged stays in an isolated region (for children from when they can walk).

Japanese Encephalitis: For stays of longer than one month in a rural zone during the rainy season (for children over the age of one). The vaccine is administered in a local medical facility.

For Children: All standard childhood immunizations should be up-to-date. In the case of a long stay, the BCG vaccine is recommended for children over one month and the MMR (measles-mumps-rubella) vaccine for children over nine months.

Last update: April 5, 2019

Practical Information


Autumn is sunny and dry. Winters are quite harsh but still sunny and dry. Spring is often foggy and rivers remain frozen until mid-April. Summer, monsoon season, is hot (30°C) and very rainy.

Useful Numbers

Country Code: +850

There are no emergency services in North Korea.


Voltage: 220 V ~ 50 Hz


Last update: April 5, 2019