Information on South Korean Military Service

Note: The information on these pages, taken from the Republic of Korea’s Embassy and Consular websites, is provided as a guide to UC San Diego students, not as a substitute, overall guide, or final reference.  Please pursue additional resources if you have further questions. 

General guidelines

South Korean men over the age of 18, including American citizens of Korean descent, are subject to compulsory military service.

All Korean males who were born in the U.S. to Korean parents but are not registered in the Korean Family Registrar are not subject to the military duty.

Korean males who have obtained U.S. citizenships by birth and are registered in the Korean Family Registrar must either postpone the military duty, or renounce the Korean nationality before they reach 18.

In order to avoid the imposition of the military duty, all postponements should be made before January 15 of the year they turn the age of 18, whereas renouncements must be made before March 31 of the year they turn 18.

The following dual citizens are eligible to postpone the military duty until the age of 35, after which they obtain full exemption:

  • Those who reside in the U.S. with parents who are U.S. citizens
  • Those who have resided in the U.S. with parents since the age of 17
  • Those who have resided in the U.S. for 10 consecutive years (parents should not reside in the Republic of Korea (ROK))

Adoptees

The Government of the ROK does not permit dual citizenship after the age of 21 (except in the case of adoptees, where the male adoptee completes his military service).

Men who were born in the ROK but adopted by parents of United States citizenship are not subject to military duty in the ROK, only if they were naturalized before the age of 18. These individuals must register the loss of their Korean nationality in their own family register through Korean Consulate General.

If an individual was not naturalized before the age of 18, he must apply to postpone his military duty.

Dual citizenship

The Government of the ROK does not permit dual citizenship after the age of 21 (except in the case of adoptees, where the male adoptee completes his military service).

A dual national may not be allowed to abandon his ROK (ROK) nationality until he finishes his military service, or has received a special exemption from military service.

Males with dual citizenships who are registered in the Korean Family Registrar are required to fulfill their military obligations, unless they postpone or obtain exemption before they reach the age of 18. Koreans who acquired the US citizenship by naturalization are not considered dual citizens; they are U.S. citizens not subject to the Korean military duty.

Only those who acquired their foreign citizenships by birth are able to have dual citizenships until the age of 22, at which time they are required to choose a nationality.

All Korean males who were born in the US to Korean parents but are not registered in the Korean Family Registrar are not subject to the military duty.

Korean males who obtained US citizenships by birth and are registered in the Korean Family Registrar must postpone the military duty or renounce Korean nationality before they reach 18.

In order to avoid the imposition of the military duty, all postponements should be made before January 15 of the year they turn the age of 18, whereas renouncements must be made before March 31 of the year they turn 18.

When applying for the renouncement of dual citizenship, all dual citizens subject to military duty must submit documents, such as a copy of their parents' permanent residency cards (Green cards), proof of their parents' US citizenships, or the proof of their parents' application for permanent residency or US citizenship.

Previously postponed or exempted service due to emigration

Even if a person whose military service obligation has been postponed or exempted for the reason of emigration such as overseas birth, acquisition of citizenship, etc., if the person falls under any of the following categories below, postponement or exemption will be cancelled, and military service will be imposed on the person along with a travel ban:

  • If a report of permanent return from abroad has been filed in accordance with the provisions of the Emigration Act
  • If a person who was born abroad, resides in the ROK upon filing his resident registration
  • If a person stays in the ROK for a total of six months or more within a period of one year
  • If a person who studies at a domestic academic institute, stays in the ROK for a total of six months or more within a period of one year after graduating from the respective school (including completion, temporary absence from school, withdrawal, expulsion, etc.), or his father, mother, or spouse stays in the ROK for a total of 6 months or more within a period of one year
  • If a person engages in moneymaking activities that fall under any of the following, such as employment in the Republic of Korea, etc.
  • A person who receives wages, such as salary, compensation, remuneration, annual allowance, and other payments pursuant to a continuous employment relationship
  • A person who operates certain businesses such as farming, industry, trade, fishery, etc.
  • Entertainer, artist, athlete, etc. who earns income through activities such as performance, broadcasting, films, CFs, etc., and stays in the Republic of Korea for a total of 60 days or more in a year
  • A person who has a yearly income of KRW 10 million or more in return for provision of other personnel service and stays in the Republic of Korea for a total of 60 days or more in a year

Travel ban/restrictions

Any person with an obligation to serve in the military who has not completed military service or is not exempted from military service will not be granted an overseas travel permit if they fall under any of the following categories:

  • Evaded military service or had escaped from service
  • Departed from the Republic of Korea without obtaining a permit for overseas travel, or failed to return to the Republic of Korea within the permitted period
  • Failed to obtain a permit while staying abroad until the year during which the person turned 18 years old, upon departing from the ROK before he was 17 years old
  • Postponed or exempted military service for the reason or emigration such as overseas birth, acquisition of denizenship, etc., and a disposition of permit for overseas travel or postponement of military service (exemption) has been cancelled because the respective person has stayed in the Republic of Korea for a total of 6 months or more within a period of one year, or engaged in moneymaking activities, such as employment in the ROK
    • In such case, if a report of permanent return from abroad has been filed in accordance with the provisions of the Emigration Act, the permit shall not be restricted.