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Military service in South Korea

If you have any Korean male friends, you may already know that in South Korea, military service is compulsory for them. Maybe some of your favorite male idols have also completed their mandatory military service. They often say they don't like to talk about it, but you'll still hear them talk about it a lot because it's such a big part of every young Korean man's life.

Although military service is not compulsory for women, South Korea allows them to enlist. But what exactly is South Korean military service? Let's take a look now!

Korean military service

Age of enrollment

As soon as a Korean man turns 18 (Korean age), his compulsory military service begins . However, he is not obliged to start his service immediately. It is possible to delay the start date until the age of 28.

With the exception of idols and famous actors, who usually wait because it could harm their careers, most Korean men complete their military service in their early 20s. They usually graduate from high school first and do a year or two of college before starting military service . In rare cases, they wait until they graduate from university before starting their military service.

Is everyone serving on active duty?

forest korea army

All physically healthy males are expected to serve in active duty. However, it is possible to perform military service outside of active service , for example by performing police duties .

Likewise, people who are not in good health are allowed to perform their military service outside of active duty. This may be social work or other services for the government .

Finally, people with debilitating illnesses, such as diabetes or other conditions, may be exempted from military service altogether. Similar exemptions may also be granted to those with exceptional skills.

For example, some violinists, pianists and ballet artists may be exempt from service. Similarly, athletes who have won medals at the Olympics, or more specifically a gold medal at the Asian Games, are exempt from active duty .

These people will instead follow the 4 weeks of basic military training , and then they can continue their career provided they do so for 42 months. Once this period is over, they will undergo a few days of military training each year for the next six years, but that is the full extent of their service.

Son Heung Min , who plays for Spurs from Tottenham , received an active duty exemption in 2018, after South Korea won gold at the Asian Football Games.

Objection to military service, for any reason, is not permitted and carries a prison sentence. Dual citizens must also choose citizenship before their 18th birthday, and will not have to perform military service if they revoke their Korean citizenship .

However, from then on, they will be considered full foreigners by the Korean government. This is why many Koreans living abroad choose to retain their nationality and return to Korea sometime in their twenties to perform their military service.

How long is military service?

korean army boat

The length of military service depends on a number of factors. The branch of the military one is in, active or non-active duty, all play a role. The length of service is 21 months for the Army , 23 months for the Navy , and 24 months for the Air Force .

As for non-active service, it is 24 months for people working in the field of social work or international cooperation, 34 months for industrial technical personnel and 36 months for people who complete their service as doctors. , lawyers, veterinarians or expert researchers.

The duration of military service in South Korea is long, in fact it is among the top four in the world . It is second only to North Korea (where service is compulsory for both men and women, with the longest length of service in the world), Israel (where it is compulsory for women for 24 months and for men for 32 months) and Singapore (compulsory for men for 24 months).

Although there have been discussions about the possibility of shortening the period of military service, due to relations with North Korea, there are no immediate plans to do so.

Controversies surrounding military service

Over the years, and especially since the early 2000s, Korean military service has been the subject of some controversy. Generally, these controversies and scandals target Korean celebrities .

Although they were not completely exempt from active service, there was once a specific, easier military branch in which they could perform their service. However, due to ongoing issues with celebrities even in this branch, as well as outrage from the general population who disagreed with the preferential treatment of celebrities, this branch has since been disbanded.

However, this only led to controversies over active duty exemptions for athletes. Some are outraged that athletes get an exemption but not actors and singers , while others favor dropping the idea of ​​exemption altogether. This means that all celebrities and athletes would do their active military service like all other Korean men.

The debate over compulsory military service is likely to continue in the near future . Maybe until there is some sort of change in the way it is implemented, or until the relationship between the two Koreas changes.

What do you think of military service in Korea? Should celebrities and athletes get preferential treatment over the general public? What are the laws relating to the army in force in your country? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!

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