As a highly secretive nation, North Korea is practically walled off from the rest of the world. That isolationism even extends to shipping packages to what’s officially known as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
“Understandably,” according to Worldwide Parcel Services, “North Korea is one of the destinations where not many parcels have been sent for a variety of reasons … .”
If for some reason you’re wanting to send something to this dictatorship — and its nearly 25 million residents — it can be done, but the shipping limitations are very strict.
Avoid sending it from the U.S.
According to the U.S. Postal Service, the U.S. Treasury Department and the U.S. Commerce Department “administer sanctions that restrict the mailing of items to certain destinations and recipients, including a broad embargo on items to and from North Korea.”
The U.S. does not maintain diplomatic ties with North Korea and under the federal sanctions, not a single piece of merchandise can be sent to the country from the U.S. Also prohibited are valuables such as cash, coins, traveller’s checks and jewellery, as well as precious metals like platinum, gold and silver.
However, the U.S. government does allow first-class letters, first-class postcards and materials for blind people to be mailed to North Korea.
Citing the U.S. sanctions, shipping giant UPS doesn’t make deliveries to or from North Korea. In 2011, UPS said those sanctions forced it to “suspend service completely” to North Korea, blocking both imports and exports.
On its website, UPS rival FedEx says it’s not providing service in North Korea “until further notice.”
DHL leads the way
German-owned DHL does serve North Korea, though, as it isn’t required to obey U.S. sanctions. Why does DHL ship to countries like North Korea — the likes of Iran, Sudan and Syria?
“We do [it] because we are the leader in express shipping and we go everywhere that the law allows,” a DHL spokesman told the Reuters news service in 2009. “U.S. law permits DHL Express to transport documents and informational material to these countries and we intend to continue doing so.”
Shipping a package via DHL to North Korea does come at a steeper price, however. DHL’s 2017 rate guide shows that the company adds a “restricted destination” charge to any non-document shipments headed to North Korea and 10 other countries that are subject to trade restrictions imposed by the U.N. Security Council.
When DHL’s entry into North Korea was announced in 1997, The Associated Press reported the government-run Korea Foreign Transportation Corp. would work with DHL “to deliver commercial documents and other parcels to foreign joint ventures and other customers … .”
According to BBC News, the North Korean government invited DHL to operate there. DHL sees itself as contributing to the nation’s “slow but increasingly visible” economic reforms, BBC News says. In the book “Capitalist in North Korea: My Seven Years in the Hermit Kingdom,” author Felix Abt wrote that “the highly visible yellow DHL vehicles … seemed at times to be just everywhere in Pyongyang,” the capital of North Korea.
What can you send?
DHL highlights these items that North Korea does not allow to be shipped there:
- Dangerous goods, such as hazardous materials
- Precious metals and stones
- All items from South Korea
North Korea does permit a long list of “document commodities” to be shipped there, according to DHL. (Keep in mind that U.S. sanctions may take precedence.) These items include:
- Airline tickets
- Blank checks
- Credit cards
- Sheet music
Items that North Korea might permit to be sent there include nonprescription drugs, films, military equipment, phones and TVs. However, since no merchandise can be sent from the U.S. to North Korea, an American wouldn’t be able to ship any of these “non-document commodities.”
If DHL does ship an item from the U.S. to North Korea (as well as Iran and Syria), it must be accompanied by what’s known as a Sanctions Warranty and Indemnity Letter. The letter essentially represents a promise from a person or entity that no U.S., U.N. or European Union rules are being broken in entrusting DHL with the shipment.
All in all, it’s complicated to ship something from the U.S. to North Korea, since the communist nation “remains one of the most heavily sanctioned countries in the world,” the U.S. State Department says in a travel warning to U.S. citizens.
Jake Rheude is the Director of Marketing for Red Stag Fulfillment, an eCommerce fulfillment company with national coverage across the U.S.