North Korea’s Rich Kids Live Life Just Like Kim Jong Un and America’s 1%

We all know life in North Korea is a lot different than in the United States. A North Korean’s favorite foods aren’t staples in the U.S. You wouldn’t recognize most of North Korea’s national holidays. Even the morning commute is drastically different. Yet there is one thing the United States and North Korea share. North Korea’s rich kids live just like their leader, Kim Jong Un, and America’s 1%.

North Korea’s elite aren’t spending close to $1 million a year on coffee like Kim Jong Un. They probably don’t have billions in the bank like America’s richest people. So yes, there’s a slight difference in the ways America’s 1% and North Korea’s rich kids live, but on a relative scale, it’s similar. Coffee shops, water parks, and workout routines are all a part of life for North Korea’s rich kids.

The official salary is $10 a month

a hairdresser poses in a salon in North Korea
Even ‘good’ jobs aren’t great. | Ed Jones/AFP/Getty Images
  • Poverty is way of life for most North Koreans

What you’ve heard is definitely true: Most North Koreans barely earn enough money to survive. Even the good jobs aren’t all that great. Some experts believe the per capita income is roughly $10 per month and somewhere between $1,000 and $2,000 per year, according to the BBC. With the Korean Won worth roughly ₩1,075 per $1, that’s a little over 1 million North Korean won per year.

Next: North Korea’s capital is just like any other city.

A North Korean’s average salary isn’t enough for city life

Pyongyang North Korea skyline from the landmark Juche tower
Most can’t afford life in the city. | Ed Jones/AFP/Getty Images
  • There’s city living, and then there’s everything else

In the North Korea capital of Pyongyang, 1 million won per year doesn’t go very far. Just like any other big city, things are more expensive.

Monthly rent for a 900 square-foot apartment in a regular part of town is 2.8 million won. A fast food lunch costs 1,000 won, and a monthly train ticket is 54,000 won. Only the elite are able to afford life in Pyongyang. Meanwhile, the rest of the country struggles just to make ends meet.

Next: Masters of the trade

The donju know what they’re doing

North Korea economy wealthy
The wealthy live incredible lives compared to the rest of the population. | Ed Jones/Getty Images
  • The rich have mastered a very specific skill

Needless to say, North Korea’s richest are taking home far more than 1 million won per year. Even the lucky North Koreans who make $62 per month building products for South Korean companies aren’t considered truly rich. The North Korean term is donju, and they are masters of money, and in relative terms, they live just like the rich and famous 1% in America.

Next: The rich are paying attention to how the country does business.

How are the elite getting rich?

A skier at the Masikryong ski resort
Many people work in the black or gray market. | Ed Jones/AFP/Getty Images
  • Kim Jong Un wouldn’t like it

So how are North Korea’s rich elite padding their bank accounts? The same way North Korea does, just on a smaller scale. Some people who escaped the country tell the Washington Post of their smuggling, drug dealing, and illicit trading to earn extra money.

Those methods of earning cash are risky. They aren’t totally legal and they could draw the ire of murderous leader Kim Jong Un, but that extra income helped finance their escapes. Not only that, but Pyongyang is home to a growing gray market that helps put some extra won in the pocketbook for the donju who know how to work the system.

Next: North Korea’s rich kids spend money just like their U.S. counterparts.

24-hour coffee shops

North Korea lifestyle beer
They love luxury coffee and beer. | Kim Won-Jin/AFP/Getty Images
  • They don’t have a Starbucks, but they love their luxury coffee

There’s no word on whether North Korea’s rich kids go crazy for pumpkin spice lattes, but they do enjoy their specialty coffee. Apparently, there is no shortage of places in Pyongyang serving up luxury lattes. The drinks cost $4 each or more, but the richest North Koreans don’t mind shelling out. Though a $4 coffee is nothing to most Americans, in North Korea it’s a luxury only the 1% can afford.

Next: One way to live just like Kim Jong Un.

Dining out at steakhouses

North Korea lifestyle restaurant
Or in some cases a private table outside the restaurant. | Ed Jones/Getty Images
  • The North Korean elite get to eat almost like Kim Jong Un

North Korea’s rich kids may not dine exactly like Kim Jong Un. Chances are they’re not eating cured meats and drinking expensive champagne, but the wealthy are coming close.

Steakhouses serve $50 cuts of meat, and kimchi and beer are on the menu at hotspots throughout Pyongyang. While rural peasants are slaving to survive, the urban elite are living a life luxury akin to America’s 1%.

Next: Everyone needs one


Phones are incredibly expensive. | Ed Jones/AFP/Getty Images)
  • Everyone who’s anyone in North Korea needs a cell phone

There’s no Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter, but the North Korean elite are falling in love with smartphones. In Pyongyang, the eyes of North Korea’s rich kids are glued to smartphones just like any other big city in the world.

Up to 3 million people subscribe to cell service in North Korea, and the luxury is reserved for North Korea’s version of the 1%. Each phone is rumored to cost $400, but the actual cost is much higher. According to one researcher, the phones offer a prime way for the government to spy on its citizens.

Next: Cue the Billy Mays voice.

Coffee, dinner, and phones are just the tip of the iceberg

North Korea lifestyle water park
Pyongyang has a waterpark for the rich. | Ed Jones/Getty Images
  • There’s even more that North Korea’s rich people spend their money on

This is where we call on former infomercial salesman Billy Mays to tell you, “But wait, there’s more!” In addition to coffee, steaks, and smartphones, there’s so much more North Korea’s rich kids spend their money on. They buy gym memberships and work out religiously. The gym is a place to see and be seen in something other than conservative clothes.

All that gym time pays off when it’s time to hang out at Pyongyang’s sprawling waterpark, which is something only North Korea’s 1% can afford. And when it’s time to tie the knot, the bride and groom should be prepared to shell out $500 an hour minimum for a banquet hall.

Next: A slice of the United States in North Korea

Department stores offer everything North Korea’s rich kids could want

A North Korean traffic policewoman, dire
Despite the sanctions, an Audi luxury car still ended up in North Korea. | Mark Ralson/Getty Images
  • Watches, whiskey, and perfume — for a price

Even a communist country like North Korea has some capitalist leanings. According to a report from CNN, North Korean department stores in Pyongyang are selling luxury goods to anyone who has enough cash.

The downside is the money funds North Korea’s nuclear program, which is killing its own people. The upside is being able to flash the latest fashion trends and other status symbols around town.

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