How to Get a Ham Radio License

After reading this article you will know the exact steps you need to take to get your ham radio license.

Using a ham radio is a wonderful way to communicate with other people, especially in an emergency or a grid-down situation. 

I know that a lot of people have questions about how to get a ham radio license, which is why I put together this short guide to make it easier for you to not only understand the process, but also to help you get your license when you are ready.

Types of Ham Radio Licenses

There are three types of licenses that you can choose from, if you decide to get your ham radio license. They are the technician license, general license, and amateur extra license.

Technician License

This is the entry-level type of license that all people who want to learn how to operate a ham radio will start with. There are only 35 questions on the technician ham radio license exam, and they cover a wide variety of topics.

Some of the types of questions that you will have to answer include operating practices, radio theory, and radio regulations. 

When you gain your technician license you will have access to amateur radio frequencies that are about 30 megahertz.

This means that with your technician license you will be able to easily communicate with others who are local to you. 

In addition, you can communicate with other people who are in North America, and you will gain some privileges to short wave bands that are in use for international communications.

General License

When you are ready to upgrade the type of license that you have from a technician license, then you need to prepare to take the general license tests. 

Holding a general ham radio license makes it easier for you to communicate with others around the world.

Just like with the technician license examination, there are 35 questions on this test. 

As long as you already hold a technician license and you can pass this exam as well, you will be able to earn your general license.

All operating modes and most of the amateur spectrum that are below 30 MHz will be available for you to use. 

There are many resources available to help make studying for this exam as easy as possible.

Amateur Extra License

This is the highest level of licensing that you can have when you operate a ham radio. 

To gain this license you have to have already passed your technician and general license tests and then be able to pass the test for this license. 

There are 50 multiple choice questions included on this test, making it the longest and most difficult of the three. 

However, you do not have to know Morse Code to be able to hold this license as this requirement was dropped.

This test covers radio equipment design, obscure regulations, special operating practices, and more. 

When you pass this test, you will be allowed to operate on all frequencies that have been allocated to amateur use. 

If you really enjoy operating a ham radio as a hobby or for necessity, and want to better communicate with others, then you will want to consider working towards this license.

Benefits of Ham Radio Licensure

Now is a great time to get your ham radio license

Being licensed will allow you to enjoy a number of benefits not only now, but if there is an emergency situation in your area.

When you have your ham radio license, you will be aware of local emergencies before they hit the news. 

This can mean the difference between stuck in traffic due to a multi-car pileup or being able to avoid the congested areas in town.

Additionally, ham radios make it a lot easier for you to stay connected to other people when you are faced with a disaster. 

Natural disasters can strike quickly and can easily knock out communications to entire areas of the country, leaving people who live there stranded and unable to reach out for help. 

Ham radio users will still be able to communicate with each other even when other communications aren’t working.

Finally, I think that getting your ham license now, before you feel a real need for it, is important. 

Using a ham radio takes practice, and you don’t want to be stuck trying to learn the ins and outs of amateur radio when you are dealing with an emergency situation, which is why getting your license now and practicing is a good idea.

Licensing Requirements

Most people who prepare for the exams, take time to study, and are informed about different frequencies do not have much trouble with the exams. 

Each exam has a question pool, and the pool has to have at least 10 times the amount of questions that are required for each type of examination.

The question pools can be changed and updated at any time, and generally stay valid for just four years. 

Per a rule from the FCC, there can only be one question pool for each type of exam.

Both the technician and general class licenses have 35 questions on the test with a minimum passing score of 26. 

– The amateur extra class, however, has 50 questions and a minimum passing score of 37. 

If you decide to take more than one exam at a time to try to get more than one license, then you can only continue testing as long as you have passed the prior required exam. 

One major change to the requirements that someone needed to fulfill to earn their ham license was in 2006 and 2007 when the FCC eliminated the need for amateur operators to have to know Morse Code. 

This made it a lot easier for people who were interested in getting their license, but weren’t comfortable with Morse Code to finally take and pass the exam.

What Will You Be Tested On?

In all types of tests you won’t just have to know the differences in frequencies and which ones you are legally allowed to use, but when you take a test for your ham radio license you will need to understand your equipment, problems you may have, as well as what the legal uses for using Amateur Radio Service are.

If you want to take a test for a general or amateur extra license you will first need to pass the prior exams. This means that you will need to be able to remember the information covered on them and be able to understand and answer additional questions.

Check out this excellent video covering the technician training class exam.

Here is a great video covering the general license test

And below is a helpful series on the amateur extra license test

License Type Differences

The main differences in the types of licenses is that they will determine what radio frequencies you are allowed to use. A technician license greatly limits the frequencies that you can access, while general class will have more, and then finally the amateur extra license has the most.

If you are looking to get your license or already have your technician license and are thinking about testing for your general, then I think that it’s a good idea to compare the frequencies that you will have access to. 

One major difference is that technician licenses, while they will allow you access a number of bands and frequencies, will limit you to 200 watts, unless you are about 50 MHz.

General class licenses allow you to have access to many more additional bands, as well as the ones from the technician class.

Practice Testing for Ham Radio Licenses

I think that the best way to prepare for your ham radio test is to take practice tests. 

Not only will these tests introduce you to the type of questions that you are going to be asked, but they will help you better understand the wording of possible questions and help you to prepare.

The great thing about the National Association for Amateur Radio (ARRL) is that they offer online resources where you can take randomly generated questions to practice for your upcoming exam. 

The questions that are included are the same ones that are actually used in exams. 

Everyone who wants to get their ham radio license needs to take advantage of this incredible resource. 

Not only is it free, but you don’t have to be a member of the ARRL to take practice questions. All you must do is set up an account so that you can monitor your progress.

This review is great because it doesn’t limit you to only being able to study for one type of license – it actually includes questions from all three of the examinations that you may want to take in the future. 

You can choose from a few different review options, making it easy to find one that fits your needs.

Because you can choose to study questions from a specific chapter in the ARRL manual or by topic, it’s easy to narrow down your weak areas and improve them. 

Finally, this software will allow you to create and then print multiple practice exams so that you can take as many as you would like until you feel comfortable for the real thing.

I highly recommend you take the written test and sit down with you ham radio. Hands on learning is proven to be more effective than relying solely on memorizing written material.

Where to Take a Ham Radio License Test

By searching on the ARRL website you can quickly find tests that are near you by entering your zip code. 

This allows you to quickly find the closest test to you, which means that you won’t have to travel long distances to take your exam.

It’s important for you to remember that you will likely have to pay a small fee to take the exam. 

This fee will be set by the Volunteer Exam Coordinator and is usually under $15. 

Before your exam session, you will want to contact the administrator to make sure that you know how much you need to pay for your fee and to verify any documents that you need to bring.

What to Bring on Test Day

To make sure that you can take your test on your desired day, you need to make sure that you have a number of different items with you.

The first thing that you need to bring is a legal photo ID to prove who you are. 

Two great options are a valid passport or your driver’s license. If you do not have a valid photo ID, then you can bring two alternate forms of identification with you, including:

        Library card

        Social security card

        Birth certificate

        Non-photo driver’s license or state ID

        Utility bill

        Bank statement

Students or minors who are going to be taking the test can bring any of the types of ID already listed or a school ID, work permit, a recent report card, or can be accompanied by a legal guardian who is willing and able to present a valid photo ID.

Because the Volunteer Exam Coordinator is required to submit your Social Security Number or your Federal Registration Number to the FCC, you need to bring this information with you, as well. 

Some people do not want to provide their SSN on the day of the exam, and they can register using their SSN before the exam. 

When you have been issued a Federal Registration Number by the FCC, you will not need to use your SSN in the future.

If you have a current Amateur Radio license, then you need to bring a copy of this, as well. 

Other copies you may want to bring include ones of your Certificates of Successful 

Completion of Examination that you may hold from prior tests that you have taken.

To be able to take the multiple choice test and fill in your answers, you will need to have a pen and two number two pencils that have erasers. You’d be surprised how many people I’ve heard that overlook bringing these with them!

You are allowed to bring a calculator with you into the exam, as long as the memory and all formulas have been erased. Never try to bring papers showing calculations or notes that you have made or try to use your smartphone, tablet, or other electronic devices, even if they have a calculator as a function.

The last thing that you need to bring with you for your exam is cash, check, or a money order that will cover the fee of your test.

How to Maintain Your License and What to Do After Licensure

It’s important that you always keep an eye on when your ham license is going to expire so that you can make sure that you renew it before that happens. 

Before Your License Expires

I love that you can renew your license within 90 days of your license expiring, which makes it easy to plan ahead and to make sure that you don’t accidentally miss the expiration date.

There are a few methods that you can use to renew your license. 

Renewing online through the FCC is the fastest and easiest way to renew your license, and I like that you don’t have to pay a fee to do this. 

The only catch with this type of renewal is that if you don’t have your ULS password, then you won’t be able to log in and renew.

You can also renew through the ARRL via mail, but only if you are a member. 

Members can print NCVEC Form 605 and mail it to the ARRL for a free renewal, as long as you are a current member. 

This process will only take a few days once they have received your request.

If you want to renew via the FCC, but not online, then you can print Form 605 and mail it in. The time-frame that it takes for your license to be renewed will depend on the workload at the FCC and this can actually take a few weeks. Plan ahead so this is not an issue.

Finally, if you are going to upgrade your license, then you can easily renew it at the same time. 

After Your License Expires

If your license has already expired without being renewed, then your renewal process is going to be a bit different. 

A license that is still within the two-year grace period can easily be renewed via the above options. 

However, if your license has passed the two-year grace period, then you cannot have it renewed or reinstated and will have to take the appropriate tests again to become licensed once more.

Conclusion

Getting your ham radio license is an important step in preparing for potential emergencies. Having your license also opens up the great hobby of ham radio while helping you become a better operator. While it takes time and effort to secure your license, the work and preparation are well worth it.

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