National service forces: How does Singapore compare to South Korea and Taiwan?

PHOTO: The Straits Times

All male Singaporean citizens and second-generation permanent residents must serve in the Singapore Armed Forces for at least 24 months.

While many gain valuable lessons from their service, such as teamwork, responsibility, and time management, it is true that one receives minimal compensation and experiences limited freedom.

However, how does Singapore's obligatory military service actually compare to those of other countries?


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Singapore National Service provides the most vacation days, something that all soldiers look forward to. Specifically, Singaporean soldiers can utilize up to 28 days of vacation throughout their 24 months of service. In addition, barring training exercises and special circumstances, most soldiers are allowed to go home during the weekends. On the other hand, Korean soldiers receive 21 vacation days for 21 months of service and are mandated to stay at their respective bases even on weekends. Taiwanese soldiers do not get time off except on weekends; however, the duration of their military service is the shortest at 4 months.


Though there has been an increased backlash and scrutiny into safety recently, the Singapore National Service is very safe. In 2018, Singaporean Armed Forces mortality rate stood at 0.007% (5 deaths out of 72,000 active personnel), which is lower than 0.014% of Korea and 0.008% of Taiwan.

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It is important to also note that Singapore's military may face less risk than South Korea and Taiwan's given that it does not have direct military tensions. These countries are at times involved in tense military confrontation with North Korea and China, respectively. Additionally, Korea seemed to be plagued with suicides as it accounted for the majority of total deaths. In contrast, training accidents were the main cause of fatalities in Singapore's army.


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Singapore’s monthly allowance is the highest at face value. Currently, Corporal First Class, the highest rank for enlistees, receives S$670 a month. In comparison, in Korea and Taiwan, equivalent ranks receive S$487 and S$317 respectively. However, when comparing monthly allowance to GDP ratio, it becomes evident that Singapore’s salary structure is lower relative to its average income. For example, relative to its GDP, Singapore’s ratio stands at 9.6%, which is significantly lower than Korea’s 13.1% and Taiwan’s 12.4%. In other words, Singaporean soldiers have less purchasing power compared to their counterparts in Korea and Taiwan.


In sum, some aspects of the Singaporean National Service appear to be favorable compared to in South Korea and Taiwan. For example, Singapore's military provides a higher quality of living and safety for its soldiers than South Korea or Taiwan. It also pays the highest allowances, before considering GDP per capita. With that said, it is difficult to know how individual experiences vary between each programme.

  • Please note that this article has been updated to reflect the official and most up-to-date information provided by the Singapore Ministry of Defence.