Everything you need to know about marriage in North Korea

20 Jun 2023·18 min to read
Everything you need to know about marriage in North Korea 01

North Korea is an Eastern Asian country officially referred to as the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. The country is popular for its reputation for isolating itself from the rest of the world. Marriages in the country are generally performed civilly. There is not a lot of diversity when it comes to the religion or ethnicity of North Koreans. The country practices dictatorship, and this does not afford most couples the flexibility or freedom present in marriages or general life in most other countries in the world. Marriages may be performed traditionally; however, they hold no legal grounds of their own. 

Religious marriages are also not generally performed because most people living in the country are either atheists or followers of the traditional folk religion. Getting married usually involves the presence of government officials during the actual wedding ceremony. Arranged marriages have been known to be the norm in North Korea. The responsibility of choosing a suitable partner falls on the shoulders of the parents of the bride and groom. When a groom reaches the legal age for marriage and is ready to get married, the parents are often on the lookout for suitable brides. Most times, they look for potential brides in other families with a similar standing regarding marriage. 

Both families often meet to discuss the terms of marriage and the best interests of their children. During this time, both families evaluate each other to determine their level of compatibility and make sure they are the right fit. Nowadays, love marriages are becoming quite common in North Korea. Spouses now court each other and fall in love before contracting marriages; however, the consent and approval of parents are often required. The rest of the article will help you learn more about marriage traditions in North Korea.

Civil marriages 

Civil marriages are the only types of marriages that are recognized and protected under the laws of North Korea. Most times, civil marriages are only performed by native North Koreans protected under the laws of North Korea. Most times, civil marriages are only performed by native North Koreans. Not a lot of foreigners get married in the country because of the high level of isolation. Even most other Asians do not contract marriages in the country due to how unstable and volatile the state of the country is. The legal age for marriage in North Korea is 18 years for men and 17 years for women. 

However, most spouses get married in their late twenties or early thirties. In North Korea, the average age of marriage for men and women is 29 and 25 years, respectively. A major influence on the reason why North Koreans get married later than most other countries is that most spouses spend several years pursuing higher levels of education. Military and work obligations also account for late marriages, and this generally reduces the fertility rate in the country. The country imposes strict rules and requirements on foreigners planning to contract a marriage in North Korea. 

This generally discourages marriages between North Koreans and foreigners. Spouses must be single at the time of marriage registration, and if they were previously married, there must be clear evidence that such a marriage was dissolved and legally terminated in the country. Civil marriages are contracted in registries in North Korea, and there are rarely recorded cases of native citizens of the country getting married in another foreign country. People who are related to each other are not allowed to legally contract marriages in the country, and those who violate the laid-out laws will face legal consequences. The documents that must be submitted by spouses before their marriage is registered are stated below.

Documents Required 

  • A valid means of identification. North Koreans must provide a national ID card, and foreigners are required to submit a valid passport.
  • Divorce or death certificates may be provided by spouses who were previously married. This document will serve as evidence that such a marriage was legally terminated as a result of the separation or death of a former spouse.
  • Passport-size photos must be submitted as required by the marriage officer.
  • Copies of the birth certificates of both spouses may be required.

Traditional marriages 

Marriages conducted traditionally in northern Korea are neither legally binding nor protected under the laws of the country. More than 70 percent of the total population of North Korea are atheists with no religious affiliations. Other religions include the traditional Korean religion, folk, Chondosim, Buddhism, and Christianity. If a traditional marriage is to be performed in the country, it must be preceded by a civil marriage. Since most people are atheists, the number of religious and traditional marriages is quite low. 

There are several unique traditions and ceremonial rites performed during customary marriages, which are stated below. Most of these traditions are unique to the country and are generally not common in most other countries in the world. Traditionally, the families of both the bride and groom play an active role in the marriage procedures, from all the pre-wedding ceremonies to the actual marriage.

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Marriage traditions in North Korea

Traditional Hanbok dresses

It is customary for North Koreans to wear a traditional Hanbok, which refers to the traditional attire of Koreans. The hanbok consists of the jeogori and chima, and the attire is often kept simple without the use of too many jewelries.

Paying respect at the statue

In North Korean weddings, newlyweds often pay respects to the statue of the supreme leader of the country, Kim Jong-Un, after the ceremony is completed. The law does not make this compulsory; however, it is mandatory for most spouses.

Stuffed Chicken 

Food plays a huge role during wedding receptions and parties in North Korea. Traditionally, dates and flowers are stuck in the jaws of the hen, while the beak of the rooster is filled with red chili. This ritual is still performed at many weddings in the country.

Marriage enforcement in North Korea

  • If a man or his parents and other family members offer money, properties, or other means of exchange to the bride and her family so as to perform a marriage, compulsory labor of less than a year will be imposed on the man.
  • If a person marries below the legal marriage age in North Korea, they will also face compulsory labor for less than a year.
  • A person who enters into multiple marriages faces mandatory labor and fines of up to 20,000 won or more.
  • Those who enter marriages due to threats, coercion, fraud, etc. will face up to two years' imprisonment or more.

Same-sex marriages

Two people of the same sex are not allowed to conduct a marriage in North Korea. The status of homosexuality in the country is legal; however, LGBT members face a lot of legal restrictions and challenges that are not experienced by non-LGBT members. Same-sex couples are not allowed to adopt children, and they enjoy no protections from discrimination.

Polygamous marriages

Polygamy is illegal in North Korea. Marriage with multiple spouses is illegal in the country. Marriage is expected to be a union between a single man and another single woman. Anything outside the box started under the laws of the country is liable to legal consequences, such as imprisonment.

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Marriage Laws and Rights, Costs and Duties


North Korea is one of the countries in Asia with the strictest laws and rights, and those governing the act of marriage are not exempted. Marriage in North Korea is only permitted between a man and a woman who are both single, implying that bigamy is prohibited and there must be no legal impediment to marriage from either party. While the law does not expressly state that same-sex activities are allowed in the country, it also does not specify whether they are illegal; therefore, performing same-sex activities is at the couples' risk. The legal marriage age in the country is 18 years for males and 17 years for females. However, men are obligated to go through mandatory military service for at least 10 years of their lives before they can be permitted to marry.

Marriages in North Korea are performed civilly, and they must be conducted by an authorized representative of the law before they can be legally binding. Traditional marriages can be performed in the country, but they do not hold any legal value. The concept of polygamy is strictly prohibited under the law in North Korea; a man is not permitted to marry more than one wife at the same time, nor is the woman allowed to do the same. Marriage between persons who are related either by a direct blood link, by marriage, also known as an "alliance link," or by adoption is prohibited under the law. Before marriage can be allowed to take place, the bride and groom must be in a stable state of mind to be able to give consent to marriage. Consent must be given willingly and without the use of force or violence. 

If it is perceived that one of the couples is not capable of contracting marriage, such a marriage would be prevented from taking place. Once marriage is contracted between a man and a woman, it must be registered with the concerned authorities, and they are both required by the law to go to the nearest statue of the president of the country and pay respect. If one or both couples have been married in the past, it is mandated by law that they provide a certificate of dissolution of marriage, which can be in the form of a certificate of divorce or death in the event of widowhood.


Both men and women are believed to have access to equal rights in North Korea; this also applies to the institution of marriage in the country. All married couples have equal inheritance rights, property rights, divorce rights, custody rights, and visitation rights. All these rights are stated in the supreme constitution of the country. Couples have the right to file for divorce; however, the grounds upon which the divorce is finalized are not based on the statements or testimonies given by the couple in court; they are decided by the court itself. 

The process of contracting divorce is very difficult, and as a result, many couples refuse to exercise this right. Both parties decide on the couple's custody and visitation rights while keeping the children's best interests in mind. Under inheritance rights, the female surviving spouse has the same rights as the male surviving spouse to acquire all properties, both real and personal, of the deceased spouse. Both the husband and wife are granted the right to perform their roles as the legal guardians of the children and are also conferred the right to exercise parental authority over the children when necessary. 

The right to work is granted to both the husband and the wife, as the government decides the jobs of all citizens, both married and unmarried, and all workers are treated fairly irrespective of age or sex. Both the husband and wife have the right to be involved in politics and any government-related activity. All citizens have the right to enter into marriage once they have reached the legal age for marriage; they are also granted the right to choose whom they wish to be married to. Despite the communist nature of the country, many people are marrying for love.


In the past, wedding ceremonies were much more expensive and extravagant due to the various customs and traditions that had to be observed. However, in more modern times, this cost has been reduced, but certain customs such as exchanging gifts, marriage proposals, and wedding feasts are still practiced. There is no specified average amount for hosting a wedding in North Korea, but couples should expect to spend around 30 million North Korean won. Couples easily earn this money back through gifts given by party members and supreme leaders at the ceremony. 

Marriage in North Korea is not only a personal matter for the couple but also for the country as a whole. The attire of the couple is made from fabric given by the state. Couples from rural areas do not have large celebrations; they often spend little or nothing on this celebration. Weddings in North Korea have been a medium for wealthy citizens to show off their financial status by giving monetary gifts in dollars to the couple. There is no such thing as a honeymoon in North Korea; therefore, this cost is excluded from the overall wedding budget.


The duties of the husband and wife in an average family in North Korea are unequally distributed. Once married, the wife is expected to be in charge of all domestic activities, while the husband is expected to be in charge of all outdoor activities for the family. The duties and responsibilities of the couple are according to traditional gender roles, which assign the roles of cooking, cleaning, and ensuring the proper management of the material and non-material resources of the family to the wife and assign the roles of providing and dominating to the husband. 

The wife is obligated to be subservient to her husband and obey him at all times; she is not allowed to question his authority in the home. She is obligated to carry out reproductive duties and ensure that all household-related work is completed on a daily basis while working at her state-given job. They both have a duty to ensure that the children grow up in a conducive environment fit for their development. The educational upbringing of the children is a duty that rests on the shoulders of both the husband and wife in the family. They must be able to provide basic amenities and meet the needs of the family.

Final Thoughts

North Korea has a reputation for having very strict marriage laws, and spouses are required to perform a civil marriage before they can be regarded as being legally married. Before entering into a marriage in the country, men are generally encouraged to devote ten years of their lives to military service.

The laws of the country emphasize equality between men and women in terms of marital rights and responsibilities. Spouses are free to join any religious group of their choice, provided the principles of such a religion do not contradict the laws of the country. This article is a full guide to everything you need to know about marriage in North Korea.