Mag. Balazs Esztegar LL.M.
Attorney-at-law Vienna

Piaristengasse 41/10
1080 Vienna, Austria
Tel. +43 1 997 4102
Fax +43 1 997 4102-99

Military service and civilian service

General compulsory military service exists in Austria. All male Austrian citizens who have reached the age of 17 and have not yet reached the age of 50 are subject to compulsory military service. For officers, non-commissioned officers and special forces for a relevant function in the operational organisation, particularly in the fields of technology, medical services, pastoral care and foreign languages, compulsory military service only ends when they reach the age of 65. However, it is also possible to perform civilian service instead of military service. 

Military service

The obligation to perform military service is regulated in the Military Service Act 2001 (WG 2001). Accordingly, only Austrian citizens who have reached the age of 18 and have the necessary physical and mental aptitude to serve in the armed forces may be accepted as soldiers. Persons who have reached the age of 17 and otherwise fulfil the admission requirements may be admitted to the armed forces as soldiers ahead of time on the basis of voluntary registration.

Conscription is generally perceived as the obligation to perform military service - usually basic military service. However, compulsory military service includes the obligation to take part in the physical examination (Stellung), during which fitness for military service is determined. In addition, compulsory military service also includes certain reporting obligations, for example during longer stays abroad. 

Basic military service

If you have been assessed as fit for military service as part of your position, you will have to perform basic military service (Grundwehrdienst). The call-up takes place by means of a call-up order in accordance with the respective military interests. The call-up order for basic military service may not be issued before six months have passed since the conscript's suitability for military service was first established. This means that you will not be called up before six months have elapsed following the initial assessment of your fitness for military service, unless you have consented in writing to being called up earlier (which is already possible in the course of your enlistment). The call-up order must also be issued no later than four weeks before the call-up date for basic military service. You can appeal against the call-up order to the administrative court, but this has no suspensive effect. This means that you must - initially - enlist despite ongoing appeal proceedings. 

Deferment and exemption from basic military service

Conscripts who can prove that they were in an ongoing school or university education or other vocational preparation programme at the beginning of the calendar year in which the position in which their fitness was first determined or, in the case of temporary unfitness or unfitness determined in the meantime, their fitness was again determined, are excluded from conscription for basic military service. This exclusion shall apply (in the absence of the conscript's express consent to the call-up) until the end of the respective vocational preparation, but at the latest until the end of 15 September of the calendar year in which the conscript reaches the age of 28.

Furthermore, fit conscripts can be exempted from basic military service for particularly worthy economic or family reasons. However, case law assumes a so-called harmonisation obligation: If the conscript is aware that he will have to fulfil his military service obligation, he is obliged to organise his economic dispositions in such a way that he is able to fulfil his military service obligation. This obligation to harmonise economic dispositions with the obligation to perform military service exists from the point at which the conscript can be required to refrain from actions that could frustrate or jeopardise the fulfilment of the military service obligation associated with citizenship. However, this can be particularly difficult in the case of self-employed persons or owners of companies (self-employed sole proprietors, co-owners or partners in the case of the operation of the company by a company, company tenants, etc.), which is why such persons are more likely to have an economic reason worthy of consideration. 

Finally, unless military interests dictate otherwise, conscripts may, upon application, be granted a deferment for the start of their basic military service if

  1. they were not called up for basic military service on a date within one year of their respective eligibility for basic military service and they would suffer a significant disadvantage as a result of an interruption to school or university education or other vocational preparation that has already begun, or
  2. they have commenced further education or training before the legally binding call-up for basic military service and an interruption of this education or training would cause extraordinary hardship.

Such a deferment may be granted until the completion of the respective vocational preparation, but at the latest until the end of 15 September of the calendar year in which the conscript reaches the age of 28.

Staying abroad and Austrians living abroad

Conscripts who move abroad for more than six months must report this immediately to the military command responsible for them. In addition, conscripts who stay abroad for longer than six months must report their place of residence abroad to the Austrian representative authority (consulate) responsible for that location. This representative authority must forward such reports to the Vienna Military Command.  

However, if the conscript returns to Austria, he must report this to the military command within three weeks, unless his/her permanent unfitness for military service has already been established or he/she has completed his/her basic military service.

A breach of these reporting obligations constitutes an administrative offence and can be punished with a fine of up to EUR 700.00

Civilian service 

Civilian service is a substitute service for military service. The obligation to perform civilian service is therefore linked to the obligation to perform military service: Conscripts who are fit for military service can declare that they are unable to fulfil their compulsory military service because - with the exception of cases of personal self-defence or emergency aid - they reject the use of armed force against people for reasons of conscience and would therefore be in distress of conscience if they were to perform military service and therefore wish to perform civilian service (declaration of civilian service). 

It is possible to submit a declaration of civilian service during the recruitment process. However, the right to submit a declaration of civilian service exists for at least six months after the conclusion of the recruitment procedure in which fitness was first declared. The only exception to this rule is if - for example during the recruitment process - the conscript has expressly waived this deadline in writing (which is therefore not advisable). 

It should be noted that the right to submit a declaration of civilian service can no longer be exercised from the second day before being called up for military service until discharge from military service or until the call-up order is cancelled. If basic military service is completed after the call-up, the right is also suspended for three years, calculated from the day for which the conscript was called up. 

The declaration of civilian service must either be submitted in writing immediately after the enlistment procedure to the enlistment commission, otherwise to the military command responsible for the conscript's main place of residence, or given verbally for the record. If a declaration of civilian service is submitted to the Civilian Service Service Agency within the 6-month period, this shall also be deemed to be a timely submission. When a declaration of alternative civilian service is submitted without defects, the conscript is released from compulsory military service and becomes liable for alternative civilian service. Assignment to perform civilian service is carried out by the Civilian Service Agency. 

From the time the declaration of civilian service is submitted, the person subject to civilian service may express a wish to be assigned to a specific institution. This wish shall be taken into account in accordance with the requirements of the civilian service. All persons subject to compulsory civilian service who have not yet reached the age of 35 are obliged to perform ordinary civilian service. Persons obliged to perform community service for whom the duration of their regular community service extends beyond the age of 35 from the day of assignment are obliged to perform this community service in full.

Exemption and deferral from civilian service 

Persons subject to compulsory civilian service are no longer required to perform ordinary civilian service if they have completed at least two years of development aid service abroad and this has been confirmed by the federal minister responsible for development cooperation. Agreements with an organisation recognised under the Voluntary Service Act on participation in a continuous voluntary social year, voluntary environmental protection year or memorial service, peace or social service abroad lasting at least ten months must also be taken into account.

Similarly to the Military Service Act, persons obliged to perform alternative civilian service can be exempted from performing ordinary alternative civilian service on application for reasons of special economic, family or registered partnership interests. A deferment due to education that has already begun can also be applied for under the same conditions as for basic military service. 

Civilian service and dual citizenship 

Persons obliged to perform alternative civilian service who, in addition to Austrian citizenship, also have the citizenship of another country ("dual citizens") and have completed their military or alternative civilian service in the other country are no longer required to perform ordinary alternative civilian service pursuant to Section 12a (2) ZDG.

Advice from a lawyer

As issues relating to military service and civilian service are closely linked to citizenship law, Balazs Esztegar as a lawyer specialising in citizenship law, also provides ongoing advice on issues relating to compulsory military service and compulsory civilian service. Particularly in the case of dual citizenship and multiple citizenship, but also for Austrians living abroad, important questions arise here. These include, among others, the question of whether one can avoid compulsory military service by renouncing citizenship. In addition, the law firm offers support with applications for deferment or exemption from military service or civilian service.