Conscription in Switzerland
Switzerland name of one of the Swiss cantons. ; ; ; or ), in its full name the Swiss Confederation , is a federal republic consisting of 26 cantons, with Bern as the seat of the federal authorities. The country is situated in Western Europe,Or Central Europe depending on the definition....

 has mandatory military service for all able-bodied male citizens, who are conscripted
Conscription is the compulsory enlistment of people in some sort of national service, most often military service. Conscription dates back to antiquity and continues in some countries to the present day under various names...

 when they reach the age of majority
Age of majority
The age of majority is the threshold of adulthood as it is conceptualized in law. It is the chronological moment when minors cease to legally be considered children and assume control over their persons, actions, and decisions, thereby terminating the legal control and legal responsibilities of...

, though women may volunteer for any position.

People determined unfit for service, where fitness is defined as "satisfying physically, intellectually and mentally requirements for military service or civil protection service and being capable of accomplishing these services without harming oneself or others", are exempted from service but pay an additional 3% of annual income tax
Income tax
An income tax is a tax levied on the income of individuals or businesses . Various income tax systems exist, with varying degrees of tax incidence. Income taxation can be progressive, proportional, or regressive. When the tax is levied on the income of companies, it is often called a corporate...

 until the age of 30, unless they are affected by a disability
A disability may be physical, cognitive, mental, sensory, emotional, developmental or some combination of these.Many people would rather be referred to as a person with a disability instead of handicapped...


Almost 20% of all conscripts were found unfit for military or civilian service in 2008; the rate is generally higher in urban cantons such as Zurich
Canton of Zürich
The Canton of Zurich has a population of . The canton is located in the northeast of Switzerland and the city of Zurich is its capital. The official language is German, but people speak the local Swiss German dialect called Züritüütsch...

 and Geneva
Canton of Geneva
The Republic and Canton of Geneva is the French speaking westernmost canton or state of Switzerland, surrounded on almost all sides by France. As is the case in several other Swiss cantons The Republic and Canton of Geneva is the French speaking westernmost canton or state of Switzerland,...

 than in the rural ones. Swiss citizens living abroad are generally exempted from conscription in time of peace, while dual citizenship by itself does not grant such exemption.


Service in the army or civil protection usually begins at the age of 20, but recruitment may commence as early as 16 for those interested in preparatory courses, which are a precondition for gaining access to some sectors of the armed forces.

After the first written communications, all the male conscripts (for which attendance is mandatory) and female volunteers are convoked for an information day , usually taking place near the municipality of residence of the attendants. During this day they are given a presentation of the army, the civil protection, Switzerland's security policy
Security policy
Security policy is a definition of what it means to be secure for a system, organization or other entity. For an organization, it addresses the constraints on behavior of its members as well as constraints imposed on adversaries by mechanisms such as doors, locks, keys and walls...

, an overview of their rights and duties and administrative directives.

On this occasion conscripts are issued a Service Record
Service record
A service record is a collection of either electronic or printed material which provides a documentary history of a person's activities and accomplishments while serving as a member of a given organization...

 book, used to attest the fulfillment of military obligations. As it is not possible to postpone service to continue studies, conscripts are advised to either carry out their service in a single long stretch or to fraction their time by undergoing recruit training
Recruit training
Recruit training, more commonly known as Basic Training and colloquially called Boot Camp, is the initial indoctrination and instruction given to new military personnel, enlisted and officer...

 first and serving in a later phase.

Recruitment itself takes place over a period of two or three days in one of the six Recruitment Centres spread across Switzerland (Windisch
Windisch is a municipality in the district of Brugg in the canton of Aargau in Switzerland.-History:Windisch is situated at the site of the Roman legion camp Vindonissa. In 1064 the current municipality was mentioned as Vinse, and in 1175 as Vindisse. Until the 19th Century the official name was...

, Lausanne
Lausanne is a city in Romandy, the French-speaking part of Switzerland, and is the capital of the canton of Vaud. The seat of the district of Lausanne, the city is situated on the shores of Lake Geneva . It faces the French town of Évian-les-Bains, with the Jura mountains to its north-west...

, Sumiswald
Sumiswald is a municipality in the district of the Emmental administrative district in the canton of Bern, Switzerland.-Geography:Sumiswald has an area, , of . Of this area, or 47.9% is used for agricultural purposes, while or 46.3% is forested...

, Monte Ceneri, Rüti
Rüti, Zürich
Rüti is a municipality in the district of Hinwil in the canton of Zürich in Switzerland. Jona river flows through the municipality.-History:In 807, Rüti's quarter Fägswil was first mentioned in a document of the Abbey of Saint Gall...

, Mels
Mels is a municipality in the Wahlkreis of Sarganserland in the Seeztal, canton of St. Gallen, Switzerland.-History:Mels is first mentioned in 765 as Maile though this comes from a later copy of the original document. In 1018 it was mentioned as Meilis.-Geography:Mels has an area, , of...

). Recruits are assigned different positions according to their physical fitness, intellectual capabilities and aptitude.

Army service

Boot camp

Boot camp
Recruit training
Recruit training, more commonly known as Basic Training and colloquially called Boot Camp, is the initial indoctrination and instruction given to new military personnel, enlisted and officer...

 lasts 18 or 21 weeks. In the first seven weeks recruits receive the "general basic instructions"; after this period, some recruits leave boot camp as they are presented with an opportunity to advance to cadre school.

The second phase of six weeks is devoted to function-specific basic instructions, where recruits learn skills specific to their job. In the third phase, called "instruction in formation", battlegroups
Battlegroup (army)
A battlegroup , or task force in modern military theory, is the basic building block of an army's fighting force. A battlegroup is formed around an infantry battalion or armoured regiment, which is usually commanded by a Lieutenant Colonel...

 and battalions are formed.

Every Swiss soldier used to be issued with a sealed box of ammunition, but following a Swiss Federal Parliament decision to discontinue the practice in 2007, ammunition have been withdrawn starting in early 2008. Conscripts who are unwilling to carry a weapon on moral grounds may apply for weaponless service.

Recruits seeking higher ranks will require further training:
  • the grade of corporal
    Corporal is a rank in use in some form by most militaries and by some police forces or other uniformed organizations. It is usually equivalent to NATO Rank Code OR-4....

    , assigned exclusively to specialists, requires 5 weeks of rank-specific instructions;
  • the grade of sergeant
    Sergeant is a rank used in some form by most militaries, police forces, and other uniformed organizations around the world. Its origins are the Latin serviens, "one who serves", through the French term Sergent....

     requires 14 weeks of rank-specific instructions, 6 weeks of practical training and 8 weeks of practical service;
  • the grade of sergeant-major requires 14 weeks of rank-specific instructions and 15 weeks of practical service;
  • the grade of lieutenant
    A lieutenant is a junior commissioned officer in many nations' armed forces. Typically, the rank of lieutenant in naval usage, while still a junior officer rank, is senior to the army rank...

     requires 30 weeks of rank-specific instructions and 4 weeks of practical training.

The age when military obligations end also varies with rank, ranging from 30 for enlisted men and NCOs
NCOS was the graphical user interface-based operating system developed for use in Oracle's Network Computers. It was adapted by Acorn Computers from its own , which was originally developed for their range of Archimedes desktop computers...

 to 50 for general officers.

Long service

Conscripts choosing long service fulfill their entire military obligations in a continuous 300-day service, after which they are incorporated in the reserve
Military reserve
A military reserve, tactical reserve, or strategic reserve is a group of military personnel or units which are initially not committed to a battle by their commander so that they are available to address unforeseen situations or exploit suddenly developing...

 for the following ten years. A maximum of 15% of conscripts of any age class has the possibility to choose this path.


All personnel are paid a basic salary ranging from 4 Swiss francs a day for a recruit to 30 for a corps commander. This is further supplemented by an additional salary ranging from 5 to 80 Swiss francs for non-commissioned officers or officers undergoing training.

During military service, an employee is further paid a compensation of 80% of his regular salary by the state. Most employers, however, continue to pay the full salary during military service. In this case, the compensation is paid to the employer. Employers cannot fire a person in service by law, although there is no specific provision preventing a conscript from being fired before or after a period of service, other than the catch-all law against wrongful termination.

Students, independents or unemployed persons are further paid an income-loss insurance (German
German language
German is a West Germanic language, related to and classified alongside English and Dutch. With an estimated 90 – 98 million native speakers, German is one of the world's major languages and is the most widely-spoken first language in the European Union....

, EO, Erwerbsersatzordnung; French
French language
French is a Romance language spoken as a first language in France, the Romandy region in Switzerland, Wallonia and Brussels in Belgium, Monaco, the regions of Quebec and Acadia in Canada, and by various communities elsewhere. Second-language speakers of French are distributed throughout many parts...

, APG, Allocation pour perte de gain) approximately 10 times the basic salary: 62 for basic soldiers, 97 for non-commissioned and commissioned officers during undergoing training. This "EO" can be further improved to 174 if one has children.

Alternatives to military service

Since 1996, conscripts who are found to be sufficiently fit for regular military service, but who object for reasons of conscience, can apply for civilian service
Civilian service
Civilian service is service to a government made as a civilian, particularly such service as an option for conscripted persons who are conscientious objectors and object to military service...

. This service consists of various kinds of social services, such as reconstructing cultural sites, helping the elderly and other activities removed from military connotations. Civilian service lasts 340 days, 50% longer than a soldier's regular army service.

Conscripts found to be sufficiently unfit for regular military service, but not for exemption, take part in civil protection, where they may be called on to assist the police, fire or health departments, as well as natural disaster relief and crowd control during demonstrations or events with large attendances.

Further reading

  • McPhee, John
    John McPhee
    John Angus McPhee is an American Pulitzer Prize-winning writer, widely considered one of the pioneers of creative nonfiction....

    . La Place de la Concorde Suisse New York: Noonday Press (Farrar, Strraus & Giroux), 1984. ISBN 0-374-51932-3. A non-fiction narrative which goes inside the Swiss Army and explores the relationship between the militia and Swiss society.
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