In 2002 Foreign Exchange Certificates FEC were abolished and along with them went all the different coloured currencies. Now there is just the standard North Korean won, which officially trades at approximately 95 per 1USD or 131 per 1 euro August 2011. Black market rates especially in far northern Korea, near the Chinese border may easily be 20 times the official rate, but importing or exporting Korean won is strictly forbidden. Conversely, were you to sneak out some won, they are practically worthless outside the country, but make unique souvenirs.
In reality, foreigners are expected to use Euros or as an alternative Chinese RMB, US Dollars, or Japanese Yen. Getting the local money is possible, but it is difficult to use as many shops want foreign currency. Currency handling is often bizarre, with a frequent lack of change and a number of rule-of-thumb conversions leading to highly unorthodox transactions. So be sure to bring lots of small change. On the other hand, since you will already have paid in advance for your hotel, transportation, and meals, your only expenses will be bottled water, souvenirs, snacks, drinks at the bars, laundry at the hotel which is as expensive as in Europe, and tips for your guides.
Prices will be given in Won, and you'll then have to ask, "How much is this in Euro? And in Dollars?". In August 2012, Euro got you the best value for your money. Bring some small change, there's not always enough.
In any case, the only shops you will be likely allowed to visit are the state-run souvenir shops at your hotel and at the various tourist attractions. It is generally impossible to visit a real local shop which serves the local population, though you might get lucky asking your guide if he/she trusts you enough.
There are numerous hard-currency only souvenir shops at tourist sites. Interesting souvenirs include propaganda books and videos, postcards and postage stamps. At some tourist sites such as King Kongmin's tomb, you can purchase freshly finished paintings with your name and the artist's name at the bottom. And if you are very lucky you might be able to get hold of some socialist realism paintings, although customs officials are not keen on these things going out of the country, so do beware.
On the tour to Kaesong tourists are warned not to purchase anything that could be construed as North Korean propaganda including any images of North Korean leaders such as stamps or postcards. No biographies or books are permitted back into South Korea. This is a South Korean restriction. It does not apply to border crossings with China. If you are leaving the country via flight to Beijing or train via Dandong you should encounter no problems bringing home any North Korean merchandise for your own personal enjoyment.
You are, however, allowed to buy post cards and send them to yourself in any country except South Korea which apparently will not deliver them.
Some excellent paintings on silk or linen were available in Kaesong directly from the artist. Haggling for price is not permitted but the prices are very low.
You will pay for most things up-front as part of your tour. Most sights have a shop associated with them where you can buy bottled water, souvenirs and snacks. These are reasonably priced. In August 2007, large bottles of local beer cost US$2 at the hotel bars in Pyongyang. If you haven't planned on spending money on gambling at the casino at Yanggakdo Hotel, â¬200 for one week should be enough to cover your costs of water, drinks at the bars, souvenirs and tips for the guides.