How to get into the SAS: a step-by-step guide to applying

Updated 6 April 2023

The Special Air Service (SAS) is a world-renowned special forces unit of the British Army that's famous for its rigorous training and elite soldiers. Joining the SAS can be a challenging and rewarding career in the military. Becoming an SAS soldier demands effort, dedication and physical and mental fitness, so understanding the process is essential if you're thinking of pursuing this path. In this article, we explain what the SAS is, give you a step-by-step guide on how to get into the SAS, provide a list of tasks you can expect and describe life in the service.

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What is the SAS?

The SAS is a special forces unit of the British Army that was formed in 1941 during World War II and has since become one of the most renowned and elite military units in the world. The service specialises in covert operations, counterterrorism and reconnaissance and has a rigorous selection process and intense training programmes. It operates both domestically and internationally, often in high-risk environments and in support of other military units.

The SAS comprises highly skilled soldiers who train to operate in a wide range of situations and environments, including urban, jungle, desert and mountain terrain. It's one of the most effective special forces in the world, and SAS soldiers are among the most well-respected in the military community.

Related: SAS training in the UK: how to join the special forces and what to expect

How to get into the SAS

Here's a step-by-step guide on how to get into the SAS:

1. Meet the basic requirements

The very first step for selection into the SAS is meeting the basic requirements, which include:

  • Age: Candidates are at least 18 years old. Although there is no upper age limit, candidates over 32 years of age have less likelihood of getting in.

  • Nationality: Candidates are citizens of this country or a Commonwealth country. The SAS makes certain exceptions for foreign nationals who have lived in this country for a specific period.

  • Education: There are no specific educational requirements for joining the SAS, but candidates are able to read, write and speak English fluently.

  • Fitness: Candidates are in excellent physical condition and have high levels of strength, stamina and endurance. They are able to pass a series of physical and endurance tests as part of the selection process.

  • Mental aptitude: SAS candidates possess excellent problem-solving skills and are able to work well under pressure and in stressful situations.

  • Clean criminal record: Candidates have a clean criminal record and no convictions for serious offences.

  • Commitment: Joining the SAS demands a high level of commitment and dedication and the willingness to serve in challenging and sometimes dangerous environments.

It's important to note that meeting these basic requirements doesn't guarantee entry into the SAS, as the selection process is highly competitive and demanding.

2. Join the British Army

Because the SAS is part of the British Army, it's necessary for candidates to first join the army and serve for a minimum of three years before applying to the SAS. During this time, they undergo basic military training and gain experience in a variety of army roles. It's advisable to choose a unit that prepares you for the gruelling demands of SAS training, such as the Parachute Regiment or the Royal Marines.

3. Choose a specialism

The service has different units and specialisms, such as the SAS R (Reserves), 22 SAS (Regular) and 21 SAS (Artists). Each of these has its own selection process and training programme. It's crucial to research each specialism thoroughly and choose the one that best suits your skills and interests.

Related: 13 types of jobs in the British Armed Forces (and salaries)

4. Pass the selection process

The SAS selection process is notoriously challenging and tests your physical fitness, mental resilience and teamwork skills. It includes several phases, such as a fitness test, an endurance march and a series of aptitude tests. This process selects the most physically and mentally apt candidates, and only a small percentage make it to the next phase.

Related: 34 Royal Air Force (RAF) interview questions with answers

5. Complete the training programme

Once you have passed the selection process, you take part in an intensive training programme. This includes specialised training in areas such as close-quarters combat, survival skills and foreign languages. Learning these skills prepares you for an SAS soldier's demanding operational duties, which are physically and mentally challenging.

Related: What is an armed forces training and education officer?

6. Join a squadron

After completing the training programme, you can join an SAS squadron and begin operational duties. This may include serving in conflict zones, counterterrorism operations and other high-risk environments. SAS soldiers are famous for their ability to operate independently and as part of a team and often perform complex and dangerous missions.

Related: What is an armed forces operational officer? (With skills)

7. Maintain physical and mental fitness

The SAS expects its soldiers to maintain a high level of physical fitness and mental toughness throughout their careers. This includes ongoing training and development and regular fitness assessments so they can adapt to changing circumstances and operate effectively in a variety of environments and situations. The specific fitness requirements may vary depending on the specialism you pursue, but you can expect to meet the following standards:

  • Cardiovascular fitness: You can run at least 1.5 miles (2.4 km) in under nine minutes and 30 seconds and ideally in eight minutes or less. You can complete a 12.4-mile (20 km) loaded march carrying a minimum weight of 25 kg (55 lbs) in under four hours.

  • Strength and endurance: You can perform a minimum of 44 press-ups and 50 sit-ups in two minutes for each and at least six pull-ups. You can carry heavy loads over long distances, crawl on your hands and knees and climb ropes and obstacles.

  • Mental resilience: In addition to your physical fitness, the SAS selection process tests your mental resilience and may ask you to complete a range of mentally challenging tasks and assessments, demonstrate your ability to remain calm under pressure and work effectively as part of a team.

Related: How to become an air marshal (with a list of air force ranks)

Tasks you can expect in the SAS

Working in the SAS involves a wide range of tasks and responsibilities, depending on your specific role within the unit. Some of the main duties of SAS operatives may include:

  • Special operations: SAS operatives receive training so they can conduct special operations, including reconnaissance, surveillance and intelligence gathering, often in hostile or high-risk environments. This can involve working in small teams or individually.

  • Counterterrorism: The SAS also performs counterterrorist operations, including hostage rescue and anti-terrorism activities. SAS operatives may work with other law enforcement and military units to prevent or respond to terrorist threats.

  • Training and advising: The SAS can provide training and advisory services to other military and law enforcement units in this country and abroad. This may involve training personnel in specialist skills, such as close-quarters combat, marksmanship and survival.

  • Foreign operations: The SAS may deploy operatives for foreign operations independently or as part of a larger international force. This can entail working in challenging and unfamiliar environments, such as deserts, jungles or mountains.

  • Intelligence analysis: SAS operatives may also perform intelligence analysis and planning by providing strategic and tactical insights to support military operations and decision making.

Related: Army vs marines: comparing careers and jobs in both services

Serving in the SAS

Life in the SAS is highly challenging and demanding both physically and mentally. SAS soldiers undergo extensive training before deployment on a wide range of missions in this country and around the world. These missions can include counterterrorism operations, hostage rescue, reconnaissance, intelligence gathering and sabotage. The service has a high level of discipline, with strict rules and regulations governing every aspect of the soldiers' lives. When you join the SAS, you live and work on military bases and receive a certain amount of leave depending on your missions and operational requirements.

It's worth noting that the nature of the job means spending extended periods away from your family and loved ones, which can be challenging. The SAS has support mechanisms in place to help soldiers and their families cope with the demands of their service, including counselling and financial assistance. Despite the challenges and demands of life in the service, many soldiers find it highly rewarding and fulfilling. They are part of a close-knit community of highly skilled and motivated individuals and often form lifelong bonds with their fellow operatives.


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