What’s Life Like In North Korea

Life in North Korea is unlike anything many of us can imagine. While the country is shrouded in mystery and few outsiders are allowed to visit, there are some facts that provide some insight into what it is like to live there.

The North Korean government offers a single narrative for the country’s citizens about the world: that North Korea is a socialist paradise, surrounded by hostile forces attempting to undermine its greatness. To ensure loyalty to the state, the government uses an ‘ideology of fear’ that encourages citizens to remain vigilant against these hostile forces while simultaneously glorifying the country’s leader, Kim Jong Un.

This extraordinary degree of control is underpinned by a pervasive security apparatus. Citizens are thoroughly monitored and obedience to the state is heavily enforced. This includes severe restrictions on freedom of expression, press, and opinion. North Korea has been rated one of the most oppressive governments in the world, with almost all citizens living in poverty.

In most parts of the country, the daily grind ranges from difficult to back-breaking. Citizens are required to complete mandatory labor in order to contribute to the state’s economy, while they face the constant challenge of finding enough food to get by in an agricultural economy that is plagued by cyclical starvation. For many, a life of extreme hardship is the only option.

An estimated 2.6 million people in North Korea are living in extreme poverty, without access to clean water or basic healthcare. Diseases related to diet or malnutrition are common and resources are often scarce. Those caught crossing the borders illegally are subject to public executions.

The government maintains complete control over the communication infrastructure. Access to the internet and any form of media from the outside world is strictly prohibited. Those found to be in possession of banned materials such as South Korean movies and TV shows face severe punishment.

The ruling family is responsible for the living conditions in North Korea, with the majority of the wealth concentrated around them. The ruling elite lives in luxury, while the rest of the population lives in squalor with few opportunities to escape. Despite the incredibly difficult conditions, the citizens of North Korea are resilient and determined to survive.

The Economy

North Korea currently has a command economy, where the government manages the production and distribution of goods. The economy is heavily reliant on foreign aid, with much of the resources coming from China and Russia. Due to international sanctions, the country has limited access to many goods, leading to a chronically underdeveloped economic infrastructure.

The majority of the population works in agriculture, while the few industries have to cope with a chronic shortage of materials and equipment. Much of the population lives in extreme poverty, facing difficulties in obtaining basic necessities such as food and medical care. Despite this, there are some opportunities for entrepreneurial citizens to profit from the limited resources available, often at the expense of their own safety.


Education in North Korea is mandatory for all citizens and is largely state-run. The curriculum is heavily focused on political education, emphasizing the role of the ruling family in North Korean society. The schools are free, and students receive free meals and learning materials, but the quality of the education is generally low. Those who attend universities face the challenge of finding employment after graduation, as many jobs are not open to those without an ideological background.

North Korea has a very limited academic exchange program, with only a handful of universities offering international scholarship programs to students from abroad. The majority of those who do attend an international university face difficulties adapting to the different cultural norms, often having to adjust to both language and social barriers.

Culture And Arts

North Korea has a distinct cultural identity that is closely monitored by the state. All forms of art, music, and literature must go through a thorough censorship process before being released in order to ensure compliance with socialist ideals. Despite this, the country has produced some notable works of literature, theatre, music, and visual art.

Live performances, however, face severe restrictions due to government regulations that limit the number of participants in any given event. Private singers, dancers, and actors are not allowed to perform in public, as this would be seen as “unsanctioned” artistic expression. As a result, many performances are limited to state-sanctioned events such as sports and parades.


Religion is strictly prohibited in North Korea, and any form of religious activity is heavily punished. The state has replaced traditional beliefs with its own ideology, which is focused on promoting loyalty to the ruling family and country. There is little room for any form of criticism or dissent, as this is seen as a threat to the stability of the state.

Religious artifacts and texts are banned, and those who practice or preach a faith face imprisonment or even execution. For those who are able to practice a faith in private, they face the challenge of finding ways to discreetly live out their beliefs without being detected.


North Korea is one of the least connected countries in the world, with almost no access to the internet or other forms of new media. The majority of those who do have access are state-employed or part of the ruling elite. For those without access, information and communication is severely limited.

The lack of access to new technology has kept the country behind the times in many regards. The majority of citizens are still using outdated phones and computers, with some access to radio and television programs. Those looking for outside news are often relegated to listening to foreign broadcasts on shortwave radio.

Cassie Grissom is an American journalist and author living in Seoul, South Korea. She has been studying the Korean peninsula since 2011, and her work focuses on understanding human rights issues in North Korea. In addition to her work as an author, Cassie is an active advocate for human rights in North Korea. She regularly shares stories about life in North Korea with international audiences to raise awareness of the plight of its citizens.

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