National service in Switzerland

National service in Switzerland

Switzerland has a conscripted army that has existed since the founding of the Swiss confederacy, with over 1,8 million soldiers eligible to be mobilised in under 24 hours. This is possible because of the Swiss national service. All male Swiss citizens are conscripted to perform national service, which can range from multiple military roles to roles in the civilian service.

Who must do Swiss national service?

All male citizens of Switzerland are conscripted to do some form of Swiss national service, although women can still volunteer if they choose to. Typically, you are conscripted between the ages of 18 and 35 years old, although in some extreme cases, people have been conscripted at 50 years of age to perform medical operations.

If you have recently obtained Swiss citizenship and are between the ages of 18 and 35, you will still be expected to do national service.

How long do I have to do Swiss national service for?

Traditional service in the Swiss military lasts for a minimum of 21 weeks. During the initial few weeks, you will receive basic training on operations in the military. For the remaining weeks, you are expected to be trained in the specialism that is assigned to you. This can include special forces training, medical training or paratrooper training.

When does your Swiss national service end?

Once your basic training is complete, you are expected to keep your weapon for as long as your service lasts, or have it stored in a local armoury for use should you be called up again. Recruits who choose the short conscription of 21 weeks are recalled briefly every year for additional training and refresher courses. When you are recalled is based on your division and can be found on the military conscription board that is in the centre of your local council (Gemeinde) or at any railway station in Switzerland.

Achieving a higher rank in the Swiss army

If you choose, you can remain in the Swiss army for a longer time, to allow for more training and experience, and to allow you to rise to a higher rank:

  • Corporals require 5 additional weeks of training.
  • Sergeant requires 6 weeks of training and 8 weeks on active service.
  • Sergeant-majors need 14 weeks of additional training and 15 weeks of “frontline” service.
  • Applicants for lieutenant must pass several exams and field tests, provide 30 weeks of additional service and 4 weeks of training.

Your requirement to attend military service ends at 50 years old for officers and 34 years for non-commissioned officers and privates.

Completing Swiss national service quickly

Six in every 100 people conscripted by the Swiss military can choose to perform long service, in order to “get it over with”. This is where you commit an entire 300-day service to the military and are put on reserve for 10 years. Once this is concluded, you will no longer be called up to serve.

How much are Swiss soldiers paid?

Instead of a direct salary, Swiss conscripts are given compensation for their time in the military. This allows for those who have found a job in Switzerland to be adequately compensated for their absence. The total amount paid can be summarised as:

What are the exceptions to national service in Switzerland?

Although mostly mandatory, there are certain exceptions you can apply for in order to be exempted from Swiss national service. These are:

  • Enrolment in a university in Switzerland or abroad, proved by a confirmation of study letter. However you will be conscripted once your higher education ends if you live in Switzerland.
  • Living abroad, although you will be conscripted should you return to live in Switzerland before the age of 35.
  • Having dependents that rely on you having a sustainable career.
  • Not passing eligibility requirements.

Eligibility requirements for Swiss national service

According to the Swiss definition of “aptitude of service”, a recruit must “satisfy physically, intellectually and mentally; requirements for military service or civil protection service and be capable of accomplishing these services without harming oneself or others". In practice, this means that you must pass basic medical, physical and mental examinations.

Physical exam for Swiss national service

The physical tests given by the Swiss military are designed to show whether you are able to handle the physical strain of military training, although they should be achievable for most adults. What is involved in the tests varies depending on your county (canton), but some more general exercises are:

  • Jumping from a standing start
  • Sit-ups and press-ups
  • Throwing heavy objects such as a shot-put or a medicine ball
  • Balance exercises
  • Short jogs or long hikes

Medical exam for national service in Switzerland

Alongside these physical tests, you are also required to attend a full medical examination. This will make sure that your life is not endangered by performing Swiss national service. The test is done by a doctor and will determine whether you have any condition that may prevent you from meeting the criteria for active service. These tests may include:

  • Blood tests
  • Lung capacity examinations
  • Physical examinations
  • Allergy tests

Mental examinations for Swiss national service

The final part of the examination process will be an analysis of your mental health and aptitude for certain tasks. This is the final step to determining whether you are fit for service in the military. Some more common tests are:

  • Language tests to test understanding one of the languages of Switzerland.
  • Personal interview to assess mental state.
  • Basic tests to demonstrate intelligence.

It is at this stage that you can talk through your options with the Swiss military as to where you would like to serve and which branch of the military you wish to serve in. It will also be an opportunity to voice your conscientious objection to fighting.

Not fulfilling eligibility requirements for Swiss national service

If you have not fulfilled the full requirements of Swiss national service, for instance by failing the medical or physical exam, or if you have voiced your conscientious objection to serving, you will have to take a non-combat role, some of which carry certain penalties, as detailed below.

Note that those who have been deemed unfit for service due to mental illness, invalidity or those who are receiving disability insurance in Switzerland do not have to perform national service.

Weaponless service

This option is for those who have passed all other examinations for the military but have objected to the idea of serving in a combat role. In weaponless services, you will be asked to perform military service in a non-combat role. These are usually roles in the army medical service, administration services or in research and development divisions. The length of service is the same as regular service.

Swiss civilian service (Zivildienst)

If you have not fulfilled the requirements for active service in the military, you will be placed with the Swiss civilian service (Zivildienst). These roles are associated with development projects, healthcare, construction of walking paths in Switzerland or construction of community projects. The time you are required to serve in the civilian service is double that of military service.

Financial contributions instead of serving in the Swiss military

The final option for those who have not fulfilled the eligibility requirements or have objected to service is financial contributions. This is a compensation payment to the government for the lost labour, had you been able or willing to serve. This amounts to 3 percent of your annual salary up until the age of 37.

You will not be asked for financial contributions if you were deemed unfit for service due to mental illness or invalidity.

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