North Koreans and visitors to the country can now make mobile payments in foreign currency through a prepaid card, an instructional poster for the country’s Narae card seen by NK News at the Yanggakdo International Hotel in April shows.
Customers can use their “electronic payment card” to pay for items at “all units using foreign currency in the country”, the sign says.
The Narae card, which was introduced in 2010 by North Korea’s Foreign Trade Bank, must be topped up with foreign currency in order to make mobile payments.
North Korea’s Foreign Trade Bank has significantly upgraded the services available to card holders, with mobile payment and transfer services having been made available since 2011.
The brochure also says that money can be transferred between Narae card holders through a wire transfer.
“Payments with a mobile phone is the service that enables [people] to pay for the mobile phone bills or services charges ‘at any place’ by using the cellphone,” the brochure adds.
A North Korean defector and former student at the Wonsan Jong Jun Thaek University of Economics argued that mobile payment services in local currency are already available through the Jonsong prepaid card and that this service had evidently been expanded to allow foreign currency payments through the Narae card.
“Users can use mobile payment services as well as make an online payment through the intranet,” Kim Young-hee, team head of the North Korean Economy Department at the Korea Development Bank (KDB), told NK News.
The state-run DPRK Today in March last year announced the launch of the Jonsong card, operated by the country’s central bank, claiming that all cardholders can “quickly and accurately” pay, as well as transfer money to other cardholders and withdraw cash.
International mobile manufacturers like Samsung and Apple have launched digital wallet services, which work through near-field communication (NFC) and allow users to pay for items through a mobile app, but North Korea doesn’t yet appear to have developed this kind of technology.
North Korean businesses have scrambled to expand mobile phone services and encouraged locals to pay using their cards, Dr. Lim Eul-chul, a professor at the Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES) of Kyungnam University, told NK News.
In 2015, the North launched an e-commerce service for both PC and mobile phones called the “Okryu online store,” selling locally made products and delivering them to customers.
Both Kim and Lim also said the new mobile services are related to the management of the hard currency, with Lim arguing that foreign currency control is a “significant” policy objective for the government.
“[Mobile payment services] are implemented through a bank, and therefore the North Korean authorities can manage the circulation of hard currencies more easily and improve transparency,” Lim told NK News. “And this is why they keep on recommending the use of the services.”
Lim doesn’t believe the use of these services is too common, but said that mobile payment services could be a “starting point” to making the technology more widely used.
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured Image: DPRK Cash Debit Card by Ray Cunningham
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