Personal Finance

National Service Forces: How Does Singapore Compare to South Korea and Taiwan?

Singapore is one of the few countries in the world with compulsory military service. We were curious how Singapore's National Service compared to similar military experiences in the region. In this article, we compared the pay, quality of life and safety of Singapore, Taiwan and South Korea's military services.

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?

Best Welfare: Most Vacation Days & Weekends Off

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.

CategoriesSingaporeKoreaTaiwan
Number of Vacation28 days21 days-
Weekend Time OffOXO
Service Period24 months21 months4 months

Lowest Mortality Rate

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.

2018 Military Deaths

CategoriesSingaporeKoreaTaiwan
Deaths58615
Active Personnel72,000599,000186,000
Mortality Rate0.007%0.014%0.008%

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.

Highest Monthly Allowance

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.

National Service Monthly Salary

RankSingaporeKoreaTaiwan*
PrivateS$560S$367S$267
Private First ClassS$580S$398S$292
CorporalS$630S$439S$317
Corporal First ClassS$670S$487-
Monthly GDP per capitaS$7,000S$3,715S$2,560
Ratio9.57%13.11%12.39%
*Based on 2016 figures

Parting Thoughts

In sum, many aspects of the Singaporean National Service appear to be favorable compared to South Korea and Taiwan. For example, Singapore's military provides a higher quality of living and safety for its soldiers than South Korea's or Taiwan's. 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.
William Hofmann

William is a Senior Research Analyst at ValueChampion Singapore, focusing on banking and SMEs. He previously was an Economic Consultant at Industrial Economics Inc.

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