10 Differences Between Serving NS in Singapore & Serving NS in South Korea


Last Updated on 2023-03-13 , 8:35 pm

Most men, women, and even children in Singapore would be familiar with serving National Service (NS) in Singapore.

While some might claim to know quite a bit about the South Korean version of NS because of K-dramas, please allow me to shatter your illusions of grandeur of the South Korean military.

1. Military’s Mindset

The Korean War ended in a cease-fire, not a peace treaty, which means the North and South are technically still at war. The South Korean Defence Ministry constantly assumes that there will be another Korean War.

In Singapore’s case, the military serves mainly as a deterrence to hostilities and aggressors.

2. Basic Military Training (BMT) Duration

Singapore’s BMT lasts for a minimum of three months and that is only if you are PES A/B1 and pass with a silver in the National Physical Fitness Test before enlistment.

For the obese, BMT lasts between 15 to 26 weeks based on their obesity levels; PES C and C1 undergo a 9-week programme; and a 4-week programme for PES E recruits.

This varying BMT duration is vastly different from South Korea’s standardised 5-week training – it doesn’t matter whether you’re 50 kg or 150 kg.

3. Duration of NS in Singapore & S.Korea

Based on the calculation, the shortest duration for NS in Singapore is about 1 year and 10 months or 22 months, that is if you have a silver/gold award for your fitness test prior to enlistment and have good conduct.

For South Korean chaps, military service is 21 months (Army/Marines), 23 months (Navy), and 24 months (Air Force).

4. Reservist After NS in Singapore & S.Korea

Groan… Singapore has a statutory age cap of reservist obligation up to 40 years for non-commissioned officer ranks and age of 50 for commissioned officers.

This actually depends on the number of High Key and Low Key n-Camp-Trainings you had completed. Each ICT ranges between a week to two weeks.

In Korea, for enlisted service members, they are made part of the reservist force for 8 years after they are discharged from military service.

Officer reservists are recalled for 20 days a year. Mobilisation reserve personnel attended regularly scheduled training about one day a month and also participated in an annual field exercise that lasted about one week.

Better yet, there is a nationwide reserve force training system is operated in which reservists can be trained at the location of their choice.

5. Exemptions From NS in Singapore vs Korea

In South Korea, holders of masters degrees in engineering can choose to serve their military service in a research facility. Other methods of “keng-ing” out of the military service include young men starving themselves in order to fail the medical examination, spotting large tattoos to indicate their unsuitability due to organised crime membership, or using extended overseas studies as excuses.


There is almost no way to wiggle out of serving NS in Singapore unless you are mentally ill, have multiple physical and/or mental disabilities, or are a national sportsman (which you will only be eligible for deferment rather than full exemption).

6. Annual Leave and Trade-offs

Ok. This will get your attention.When you serve NS in Singapore, you can get 14 days of annual leave while their South Korean counterparts get 28 days, which is double of ours. But hold your metaphorical horses.

According to the Straits Times, prior to September 2014, recruits can only meet visitors on weekends or holidays and mobile phones are banned. This change in military culture came about after a series of hazing and abuse cases, which led to suicides and a shooting spree.

At least the SAF’s Red and Green zones are not so bad after all, ya?

7. Quality of Meals

Be it NSF, NSmen, or even Regulars, we have heard of nightmarishly unpalatable and at times inedible meals dished out by the cookhouses in SAF camps and bases. To us, this is somehow a cardinal sin to Singaporeans who live for delicious food. Even if the lunch menu is bad once a week due to the SAF’s emphasis on healthy diet, we can at least be guaranteed that the military will not be a cheapskate.


While the SAF spends approximately $5-6 per meal (excluding snacks), the South Korean military spends only S$2.50 (USD1.85 or 2,051 won). Next, let’s see how ‘appetising’ the South Korean army’s food is.

8. Variety of Field Rations

For years, until late 2015, the South Korean military field rations have been complained by many soldiers as bland and lacking in variety. Troops said some dishes are similar to each other and there are no options for vegetarians, despite having 11 meal option that is categorised according to their method of heating up the packaged food.

In Singapore’s case, pork and beef are absent from all 6 menus (featuring 12 entrees and 6 desserts) to accommodate the dietary restrictions of Muslims, Buddhists, and Hindus. Though their taste and texture are debatable, I think SAF fared better in this department.

9. Suicides

Occasionally, the SAF reports the death of a few recruits now and then due to accidents and mishaps, but at least it has yet to reach a hundred deaths a year.

In South Korea, government figures reported an astonishing approximate of 800 suicides in the past decade and that is excluding deaths from accidents during training!

10. Singaporean Tekan vs. Korean Bullying

In any camp or base, there will be the Encik (aka Warrant Officer) or Sergeant (of whatever rank) tekaning a recruit here and there. A couple of push-ups, laps, or additional paperwork, such local practices are usually mild and rarely overboard because those mean Regulars would still want to protect their rice bowls and pension.


But in South Korea, bullying in the military has reached fatal levels. In April 2014, according to The Global Post, a conscript (the equivalent of a Singaporean NSF) was flogged and kicked for months, forced to lick phlegm off the floor, covered in bruises, and eventually choked to death while being force-fed and beaten.

Do that in Singapore and the Internet warriors all be called up immediately, no?