A lot of the world’s countries may have strange laws and traditions that seem outlandish to us, but North Korea is something else. It is thought to be the most mysterious and controlling place on earth, and recent news events have done nothing to diminish the country’s image.
Because North Korea operates such a deeply totalitarian regime, many of the rights and everyday activities we take for granted in the western world are strictly prohibited there. Basic things like owning a car, choosing any haircut you like, or accessing the internet? Forget it. If you live in North Korea, you have no option but to abide by these bizarre laws.
Added to the crazy laws the North Korean people must adhere to at all times is the fact that their supreme leader must be revered...in every possible way. Children are conditioned to view leader Kim Jong-un as a godlike figure and are expected to worship him daily for the rest of their lives. All these insane laws and more exist in North Korea, and sadly, its citizens know no other way of life.
19 You Can’t Leave The Country At Your Own Free Will
Most of us have the freedom and basic right to come and go as we please and this includes dropping everything to go on vacation or leaving the country to pursue a different career path. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this is not what North Korea has in mind for its people. Anyone wishing to even pay a visit to South Korea for a few days can only do so with express government permission.
Those found attempting to flee the country are either sent to a labor camp (if they’re lucky) or executed. North Korea makes it hard for people to enter the country and nigh-on impossible for anyone to leave. More than 1,000 desperate citizens try to defect every year.
18 In The Event Of A Fire, Citizens Must Save Pictures Of The Leaders Before Their Own Belongings (Or Lives)
By law, every household in North Korea must display framed photos of the three great leaders: Kim Jong-un, Kim Jong-Il, and the original and eternal supreme leader, Kim Il-sung. When citizens are not bowing beside the portraits and statues of the “Dear leaders,” they must do so in their own home, even if this means treating them like living family members.
The law calling for the North Korean people to revere their leaders is so strict, it even states that these home portraits of the three “supreme” Kims must be saved in the event of their house burning down. Only after that can they save their personal belongings and loved ones. Seriously messed up.
17 Failing To Vote Is Not Allowed
In North Korea, it is illegal not to vote, despite the people’s vote making no difference in the outcome. In true dictatorship fashion, North Korean elections rarely feature any other candidate other than the supreme leader, Kim Jong-un, and if there is a second guy to choose from, he’s usually an actor hired by the regime to deliberately lose.
In context, only 55% of U.S. citizens turned out to vote in the 2016 election, so if this was the case in North Korea, effectively 45% of the population would likely face some type of severe punishment.
16 Donning A Pair Of Blue Jeans Is Forbidden
In line with North Korea’s attempt to reject anything and everything about the outside world, the simple act of wearing blue jeans is strictly forbidden. Traditional blue denim jeans are a symbol of capitalism and, specifically, American values. (And despite a recent sow of amity between the two nations, this law isn’t likely to change anytime soon.)
The denim jeans worn by North Koreans (if any) are normally black. An exception to the blue jean rule is for tourists visiting the country. But even then, they are forced to change into black jeans or pants if the plan it to visit the past leader’s memorial site.
15 Wearing Haircuts “Approved” By The Government
Hairstyles are a way of expressing ourselves, so it’s nice to have the option whenever we visit the salon, whether we’re feeling extreme mohawk vibes or wanting to emulate a trending celeb haircut. Unfortunately, the people of North Korea have no such freedom when it comes to their tresses.
There are are a total of only 28 hairstyles (10 for men and 18 for women) that have officially been sanctioned by the state, so don’t expect to see any hipster man buns or mermaid braids in North Korea! This bizarre law was only enacted in 2013 when Kim Jong-un first took office (though, thankfully, no one is forced to sport his haircut).
14 Being In Possession Of The Bible Will Get You Locked Up
As a brutal dictatorship, North Korea is not exactly big on the notion of their people discovering (and much less worshiping) a higher power. As a result, anyone in the country who is found to have a copy of the Bible in their possession can be imprisoned or even executed.
Citizens, after all, have their own amazing religion pumped into them in childhood. From an early age, North Korean school children are taught that Kim Jong-un was a child prodigy who could drive at 3 years old and that his late father, Kim Jong-il, wrote 1,500 books at a university and invented the hamburger.
13 International Calls Are A Big No-No
Kim Jong-un’s brutal regime, like his father’s before him, makes it clear that his people must never be allowed contact from the outside world unless it is with express permission from the government. Outsider contact can be in the form of anything from internet access to smuggling in Western movies, but one law in particular that must be obeyed is that no one can make an international call.
Calls made outside the secretive state are only permitted by top government workers, but naturally, this hasn’t stopped a handful of unlucky people from falling foul of the law. A man was shot dead in 2007 after he was discovered to have made several international phone calls.
12 There Are Only 3 TV Channels
With Sky boxes and Netflix at our fingertips, thousands of channels and millions of programs are available at the click of a button. Even our grandparents’ generation enjoyed a wider range of TV channels than those currently living in North Korea, who are sadly only limited to 3 government-controlled news stations.
The North Korean propaganda machine likes to ensure that its citizens are getting their daily dose everywhere they go. Broadcasts typically boast about the country’s infrastructure and farming industry (all false), portray other world countries as dystopian wastelands, and intersperse all this with images and songs that praise the past and present leaders...all day, every day.
11 Citizens Have Virtually No Internet Access
Next time your wireless router is down for a few hours or you find yourself impatiently waiting on a loading screen, take a moment to feel for the citizens of North Korea who have pretty much no access to the internet as we know it, and therefore no access to the outside world.
Only top political leaders and elite university students have access to it. As for regular citizens who just feel like using the computer, even these are (surprise, surprise) heavily state-controlled. In place of normal operating systems like Mac and Windows, there is only ‘Red Star’ OS in North Korea. (We can’t be sure, but we’re guessing the only wallpaper options are that of the supreme leaders.)
10 Only Government Officials Can Own/Drive A Car
Something you quickly notice about North Korean life when you see photos of their roads and city streets is that the landscape is startlingly empty. This is because there are hardly any cars on the road, and if there are, they are only being driven by top male government officials. Even female traffic officers do not have access to a car.
Only 1 in 100 people in North Korea own a car, and unlike those in western society, virtually nobody can afford one. The average price of a second-hand car in North Korea is around 20 million NK Won (the equivalent of about $40,000).
9 A Tourist Visit Will Be Controlled By A Government Official
Besides visas and certain passport restrictions, the majority of world travel is fully open to tourism. And surely, the best part about traveling is the fact that you’re free to explore a location at your leisure—even venturing off the beaten track if you want to. Good luck trying to do the same in North Korea.
There are many parts of the country that their own citizens are prohibited from entering in North Korea, so if you fancy a visit here, expect to behave your every step, selfie, and visit to an attraction overseen and approved beforehand by a government official.
8 You Need Permission To Live In The Capital
One of the basic freedoms we perhaps take for granted elsewhere in the world is the fact that we can choose to up sticks and move to the nearest city either for better career prospects or simply to get a change of pace. And normally, we can do all this when we choose to.
For ambitious North Korean citizens, however, moving to the capital is not so easy. Anybody wanting to live in the capital city of Pyongyang first needs to get state permission. This is why most tourists rarely see the capital for themselves since even their own citizens have such restricted access.
7 Women Are Forced To Reuse Sanitary Products
Unlike most countries where sanitary products are available, North Korea doesn’t give women much of an option in that area. A basic right as a woman to stay hygienic down there and feel comfortable is pretty much stripped away in the deeply totalitarian state.
North Korean women are restricted to wearing reusable cotton sanitary pads, not dissimilar to the type worn by women in the Victorian era. Sadly, while most of the female world moved on to disposable pads for greater comfort and hygiene, North Korean women are still forced to go old-school (and are even told to wash them out of sight of men).
6 Citizens Can’t Buy Real Estate In North Korea
Most of the grand building and architecture you come across when you see pictures of North Korea are more or less ornamental and ceremonial than anything else. Aside from the various statues and portraits of the three “dear leaders,” North Koreans have also commemorated them in apartment blocks and hotels.
Apartments in North Korea are not for sale, as citizens have homes distributed to them by the government. The ‘Mansudae’ apartment complex in Pyongyang was built to commemorate the 100th birthday of Kim Il-sung and only the privileged few in the country have the honor of living within its walls.
5 Daily Newspapers Are Displayed, But Can’t Be Bought
One of the first things many of us take for granted in the morning is checking our phones for news updates or grabbing a newspaper and coffee on our way to work. The citizens of North Korea have no such luxury. Any reading material their people have access to is incredibly restricted, so much so that their “daily” paper sits in display stands in Pyongyang’s subway stations.
You cannot expect to find a newspaper archive anywhere in North Korean libraries either. Newspapers printed years ago contained details about the fact that the Worker’s Party Of Korea can change its policies—something that the public can never be privy to.
4 No One Can Take A Hot Shower At Home
A sad truth about North Korea is that its nuclear weapons program is more advanced and plentiful than its own electricity supply is. Because of poor energy production, North Korea is often in near darkness as you can see from eerie satellite pictures online. Frequent power failures mean that citizens in North Korea don’t have access to that basic amenity most of us have in the home: a hot shower.
As well as lacking in a hot water supply, there is also no central heating throughout homes and school buildings in the country. To stay warm, North Koreans use wood furnaces instead.
3 Showing Improper Levels Of Grief On Days Of Mourning
One of the saddest scenes to come out of North Korea over the years has been images of their people mourning the death of past leaders Kim Jong-il and Kim Il-sung. But this isn’t because of the somber atmosphere surrounding their death. It’s because the outpouring of grief by the people is so obviously orchestrated and over-the-top.
Footage of North Koreans wailing hysterically over the deaths of their great leaders looks extreme for a reason—they’re doing so to avoid punishment by torture and even death. Punishment falls hard on anyone who shows improper grief on days of mourning, making it even a crime to smile on June 8th, the day remembering “eternal leader” Kim Il-sung.
2 Falling Asleep During The Supreme Leader’s Speeches Could Cost You
We have surely all been guilty of drifting off during a long work meeting or almost falling asleep in a college lecture after a long night, but when we use the term ‘guilty,’ we mean it solely as a figure of speech. Enter North Korea.
It’s one thing to disrespect your boss at work, but when you’re the supreme leader of a dictatorship, a warning and a little extra paperwork won’t cut it where punishment is concerned. When the North Korean Defense minister was found to have fallen asleep during one of Kim Jong-un’s addresses, he was executed with an anti-aircraft gun. Terrifying but true.
1 Your Path Is Chosen For You
In western society, we’re surrounded by positive platitudes that tell us we can be anything we wish to be if we only put our minds to it (okay, so that’s largely in Disney movies), but we mostly have the option to strive for the kind of career we want in life.
Unfortunately, this is another area where North Koreans are unable to express themselves (in all honesty, where can they truly express themselves?). Once citizens come of working age, it’s the government that decides what their job will be for the good of the country—not unlike an ant colony performing different duties for the Queen.