An increasing number of North Koreans in the Sino-North Korean border region are earning money through Chinese cell phone rental businesses, a source told Daily NK recently. 

“As more and more people are trying to do business with China, Chinese cellphone ‘renters’ have been making money these days,” a North Pyongan Province-based source told Daily NK on June 17. “Many people seek out such lenders to make phone calls to South Korea, too.”

Cross-border traders have long allowed others to borrow their Chinese cellphones, but “rental services” for the phones only started about three to four years ago, the source said. 

It costs between RMB 50 to RMB 200 (USD 7 to USD 28) to rent a Chinese phone in North Korea, with costs varying by region. Rental prices increase depending on the dangers involved in renting out the phones. 

“If lenders are caught lending phones to people, they have to pay bribes [to local security officials] so it’s only natural they charge rental fees,” the source explained. “Rental prices have more or less become fixed, which means renters know that they won’t get access to the phones if they complain about the price.”

Cell phone rental businesses were dealt a blow due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but trading companies are now restarting their cross-border operations and rentals are increasing again, according to the source. 

“Even though security authorities are determined to crackdown on such activities, it’s very difficult for them to track down every single individual using a Chinese cell phone,” the source said. “In fact, residents living in border areas don’t seem too bothered by the possibility of crackdowns.”

*Translated by Gabriela Bernal

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Kang Mi Jin
Kang Mi Jin is a North Korean defector turned journalist who fled North Korea in 2009. She has a degree in economics and writes largely on marketization and economy-related issues for Daily NK. Questions about her articles can be directed to