Country Reports

North Korea Country Report

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Risk Level

Very High


Executive Summary

High-level summits between North Korea and China, South Korea, or the United States are positive indicators of reduced near-term risk of interstate war. They do not, however, indicate a shift in the states' underlying motivations or strategic interests. North Korea is almost certain to remain unwilling to "denuclearise" unilaterally. Although all-out conflict remains unlikely, ambiguity around North Korea's – and importantly the United States' – redlines drives the very high risk of interstate war. IHS Markit assesses that the most probable scenario for 2019 is a breakdown in North Korea-US diplomacy, further constraining North Korea-South Korea efforts at rapprochement, and triggering renewal of the exchange of military threats and open weapons testing by NorthKorea. North Korea's authoritarian structure, repression through its extensive security forces, and purges of opponents impose stability to its political system. Since Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un succeeded his father in December 2011, the ruling Korean Workers' Party has consolidated its power relative to the military. Kim's core policy points to continued weapon development and acceptance of limited use of market mechanisms. The domestic economy remains weak. During recent years, North Korea had managed a 1% growth rate because of increased trade with China. However, a qualitative and quantitative expansion of UN sanctions in 2016 and 2017 caused GDP to fall 3.5% in 2017. Trade with South Korea, which had been growing until 2014, remains negligible. Trade and labour exports to China remain the key source of hard currency earnings under sanctions. Real GDP is expected to contract a further 1.2% in 2018. Assuming North Korea further develops its ability to evade sanctions, marginal growth in 2019 appears probable. Inflation seems to have stabilised, based on reports of the price of rice. The informal exchange rate likewise has stabilised, but this is based on indirect evidence from tourists willing to engage in black-market currency conversion. © 2019, IHS Markit Inc. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited.
Last update: January 19, 2019

Operational Outlook

North Korea is among the countries with the highest operational risk scores. Government efforts to introduce more market-oriented policies have consistently stalled, or 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 will likely 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 26, 2019



There are no known domestic or transnational terrorist groups in North Korea. The government has sponsored or carried out terrorist-style attacks on South Korean targets and (most recently) the assassination of the North Korean supreme leader’s half-brother in Malaysia in February 2017. 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: December 29, 2018

War Risks

The risk of interstate war on the Korean Peninsula is reduced largely due to ongoing diplomacy between North Korea, South Korea, and the US. In 2017, a sixth nuclear test and multiple long-range missile launches by North Korea (in addition to bellicose rhetoric from North Korea and the United States) contributed to the brinkmanship that increased the risk of miscalculation and escalation towards conflict. A return to this relatively risky exchange of threats and violent incidents is highly probable if high-level talks fail. Specifically, North Korea and the United States will probably continue to disagree on the definition, specific steps, and timeline for “denuclearisation” of the peninsula.

Last update: December 29, 2018

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 on South Korea will probably foment political dissatisfaction, although not enough to instigate an uprising.

Last update: December 29, 2018

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