Can you leave the army if you don’t like it?

After the first few months you are ‘locked in’ to the army for at least four years, sometimes longer.

This site is the only place online that spells out when you can and can’t leave (the army site doesn’t do this). Read carefully!


Joining aged 16 or 17

If you join the army aged under 18 then:

  • You can leave in the first SIX MONTHS (but NOT in the first six weeks).
  • After the first six months, you can still leave if you apply in writing before you turn 18, but you might have to wait three months before the army lets you out.
  • If you turn 18 and you’ve been in the army for more than six months, you’ll have NO RIGHT TO LEAVE UNTIL YOUR 22nd BIRTHDAY.

If you apply to leave the army before you’re 18 then it’s called Discharge as of Right (DAOR) and the army can’t call you up again.

But as soon as you turn 18, which is also the point at which the army can send you to war, you’ll lose your right to leave and you will have to stay in the army for the next FOUR YEARS. And after that the army can still call you up to train or fight at any time for the next SIX YEARS (some veterans who had left the army were called up to fight in Iraq or Afghanistan – so it does happen).

Still thinking of joining up? Then also check out:


Joining aged 18 or over

If you are 18 or over and join the army for the FIRST time, then:

  • You can leave in the first THREE MONTHS (but NOT in the first six weeks).
  • After the first three months you have no right to leave until you have served for FOUR YEARS.

If you leave in the first three months it’s called Discharge as of Right (DAOR) and the army can’t call you up again afterwards. But as soon as the first three months are up you’ll have to stay in the army until you’ve been in for FOUR YEARS. And after that the army can still call you up to train or fight at any time for the next SIX YEARS.

Important: If you join aged over 18 and it’s not your first time in the army then you have no right to DAOR and so no right to leave at all for FOUR years from the day you re-join.


What if I just leave anyway?

If you leave when you don’t have a right to leave, then you’re ‘AWOL’ – Absent Without Leave – which is a military offence.

If you’re caught then you can be sent to military court (a court martial) and get time in the military prison in Colchester for up to two years (or more if you leave when you’re being sent to war).


Can’t I just buy myself out?

You used to be able to pay to get out of the army (called ‘buying out’) but not any more.


I’m in the army already and want to leave – how?

If you’re already in the army and want to leave, go to ‘leaving the army‘ to work through your options.


A mate is thinking of joining up – what should I tell them?

Share this page with them now to make sure they know these rules before they sign up.

Or just share on social media so all your mates have the info.


How do I know this is right? Can I check the facts?

The rules for leaving aren’t on the army website – they are only shown to recruits on the day they enlist.

But we have a copy of the army’s own document and the relevant section on the right to leave in the first few months is shown below.

(If you want to check that the source is genuine, you can go straight to the full document here.)