A picture of the foreign currency vouchers currently in circulation in North Korea. (Daily NK)

A year has passed since North Korean authorities issued cash vouchers, or donpyo, to bolster the state’s ailing finances. Daily NK understands, however, that only companies and government agencies continue to use the donpyo as a means of payment.

According to a Daily NK source in North Korea on Tuesday, it is hard to find individuals using donpyo nowadays in Pyongyang and other major cities.

North Korean authorities have been encouraging the circulation of donpyo as a means for individuals to pay for goods at foreign currency shops, department stores and elsewhere.

People are supposed to exchange their foreign currency or local currency for donpyo at a bureau de change and use the vouchers to purchase goods.

However, few people change their foreign or local currency into donpyo, at least voluntarily, due to low levels of trust in the vouchers, according to the source. 

The source said North Korean authorities had circulated small numbers of donpyo on a trial basis in major cities like Pyongyang, but most of the supply was redeemed because so few vouchers were issued, and people usually spent the vouchers immediately after exchanging them for cash. After that, the authorities issued no more donpyo for use by individuals. 

However, enterprises and government agencies continue to use KPW 50,000 donpyo — issued by the authorities specifically for corporate and government use — as a replacement for cash. 

In fact, North Korean authorities earlier this year ordered provincial enterprises ranked class 4 and below to actively use the newly issued donpyo.

When buying supplies or products, North Korean enterprises had generally used cashless bank slips, or haengpyo, that allow the transfer of money within a set collateral limit. 

Because of this, many potential users criticized the donpyo as being similar in function to the cashless haengpyo.

Nevertheless, North Korea appears to have circulated donpyo for companies to use, focusing on making up for the haengpyo’s shortcomings to prevent the abuse of the bankslips, as well as the resulting corruption and waste of resources.


North Korean authorities are reportedly planning a new means of B2B payments that supplements the negative aspects of existing haengpyo.

According to Daily NK’s source, the State Planning Commission and North Korea’s Central Bank are designing a haengpyo “booklets” with slips that users tear out whenever they need them. The booklets will replace the previously loose-leaf bankslips.

The source said the authorities will likely print the new haengpyo with unique issuance numbers from the Central Bank and fixed face values, just like donpyo.

The government has had a hard time calculating with precision how many existing cashless haengpyo are in circulation. If North Korea were to begin issuing haengpyo with Central Bank issuance numbers and fixed face values, government officials could take a close look at the circulation of this cashless means of payment, making the circulation of the haengpyo easier to control. 

Even if the government moves to issue the haengpyo booklets as a new method of facilitating business-to-business payments, it is not yet clear whether the authorities will stop issuing KPW 50,000 donpyo for use by companies, or whether donpyo will continue to be issued alongside the haengpyo as is current practice.

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