Could you be the Choson one?

Pyongyang skyline

Keen on seeing a part of the world that is a little different from the usual? How about North Korea? Yes, everyone’s favourite foe. Most people get no further than the DMZ, excitedly sharing the “experience” with their Instagram followers.

If you apply today, Choson Exchange can get you in on an official visa this August, meaning a line on your CV like no other. Registered as a non-profit in Singapore (where of course the North Korean leader and Trump recently signed something vague, shook hands and grinned boyishly before the world media), Choson Exchange offers business training to ambitious people in the DPRK – and is looking for experienced professionals to provide it.

The organisation’s next trip is over 18 – 24 August 2018, and  includes site visits in Pyongyang to understand entrepreneurship in the DPRK and a three-day workshop to help local business people succeed. Applications close on 15 June (today), which includes a “donation” of 2,200 USD (about 1,600 pounds), though flights and accommodation are paid for.

As for what Pyongyang is actually like as a place to visit, Choson Exchange have helpfully shared tourist attractions that include a local brewery (wow), the Pyongyang Circus (why not) and Gold Cup Food Processing Plant (I’m in). There’s also the famous Ryungong Hotel that looks a little like the Shard, and I hear the cold noodles are rather nice.

But tourism aside, the key question on most people’s lips is: is North Korea safe? It’s fair to say that country doesn’t enjoy the best of reputations. Choson Exchange have answered this more and on their FAQs page (apparently you can wear blue jeans, so don’t worry about that). On a side note, many countries that have a dreadful reputation aren’t actually that unsafe – you’re probably more likely to be a struck by a falling window pane on the streets of London.

But while it all sounds like a bit of an adventure, it’s wise not to do anything silly – something that many Brits have a habit of doing, whether shagging on a Dubai beach or going on a drunken rampage. Which is why it’s sensible to heed FCO advice on North Korea:

While daily life in the capital city Pyongyang may appear calm, the security situation in North Korea can change with little notice and with no advance warning of possible actions by the North Korean authorities. This poses significant risks to British visitors and residents.

You should follow the political and security situation very closely and stay in touch with your host organisation or tour operator.

That’s a green light to me (go, but don’t do anything stupid). You can apply today on the Choson Exchange website.

Asia’s world cities are the most expensive expat destinations, says Mercer’s Cost of Living Survey

Tokyo skyline

Asia remains an attractive place for work opportunities in 2017, especially amidst Brexit uncertainty and what not, but several of its more established expat destinations are also proving the most expensive anywhere in the world, relative to New York.

The latest Cost of Living Survey from Mercer shows that Asia’s financial hubs Hong Kong, Tokyo and Singapore are among the top 5 priciest locations worldwide, with Shanghai and Seoul also appearing in the top 10. This won’t be a surprise to many; there has been plenty of media coverage lately over the astronomical cost of housing in Hong Kong and Singapore.

Top of Mercer’s survey of more than 400 cities, however, is a destination considerably less iconic than Asia’s shiny metropolises – Luanda:

  1. Luanda
  2. Hong Kong
  3. Tokyo
  4. Zurich
  5. Singapore
  6. Seoul
  7. Geneva
  8. Shanghai
  9. New York
  10. Bern

The Angolan capital, still more likely to be the subject of a pub quiz question than rolling off the tongue of your average traveller, has seen increased demand for quality housing against a limited supply through expats pouring in over the past decade.

With Luanda also lording over the list in 2014 and 2015, like a perennial Champions League winner, it’s unlikely that other cities – microapartments and all – will knock it off its perch any time soon.

Another world city, London, has meanwhile seen a plunge in its cost of living to 30th place from 17th. Unsurprisingly Brexit is named as the cause of this, because of the pound weakening before and after the EU referendum. This comes after a similar report in March from the EIU showed a fall in London’s cost of living.