North Korea has recently strengthened barriers to movement inside the country by making the travel certification process more complicated.

This appears to be a New Year’s follow-up measure to North Korea’s designation of emergency quarantine efforts against COVID-19 as the state’s top priority during the Fourth Plenary Meeting of the Eighth Central Committee late last year. 

According to a Daily NK source in North Hamgyong Province on Wednesday, the authorities in Hoeryong issued an order through the city’s inminban (people’s units) declaring new changes to the process for issuing the certificates residents need to travel to other regions.

Accordingly, movement has grown even more difficult.

In principle, North Korea has banned movement outside your city or county of residence. To travel, you need either a “business trip certificate” or a “travel certificate.”

Business trip certificates are issued by your workplace or neighborhood office, while travel certificates are issued only when there are marriages or deaths in your immediate lineage.

From the 2000s, however, North Koreans had been able to obtain certificates pretty easily with a small bribe. This was due to the growing marketization of the country.

covid quarantine
Disease control officials testing drivers for COVID-19 symptoms in Pyongyang’s Manggyongdae District last year. / Image: Rodong Sinmun

But things began to change after the COVID-19 pandemic emerged in 2020. This is when the authorities began requiring administrators to sign the certificates.

For example, if a resident of Hoeryong wanted to travel to Hamhung, South Hamgyong Province, he needed to provide a specific reason and get signatures from the head of the inminban, head of the neighborhood office, the police officer in charge, and the security official in charge, and finally his people’s committee and relevant branches of the Ministry of Social Security and Ministry of State Security.

You also needed a “check up verification” that proved you carry no diseases. However, there were cracks even in this quarantine system. Reportedly, a bribe could still get you a certificate on the sly without the complicated hassle.

However, from this year, the certification process has grown considerably more difficult, now requiring signatures from the deputy chiefs of the relevant branches of the Ministry of Social Security and Ministry of State Security, the deputy head of the Political Department, the head of the Political Department, and finally the director of the local Emergency Anti-epidemic Division.

Accordingly, some North Koreans worry that travel to other regions has grown even more difficult than in years past. Others worry that getting a certificate will now require bigger bribes.

The source said some people even believe the measure is a tactic to control the people, complaining that the authorities issue only violent and coercive policies focused on blocking what people see and hear.

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