Everything You Need to Know About Getting a Ham Radio License

Do you want to know how to get a ham radio license? You can’t just buy a ham radio from the nearest store and start using it. You see if you want to legally operate your ham you will be required to get your very own ham radio license.

Some may think that it’s just a radio and anybody should just be able to use one. But there are very important reasons why you need to get a license to operate a ham radio.

Remember that amateur radio uses the same airwaves as other emergency services—which is why the use of ham radios is regulated. You don’t want anyone messing around with the emergency transmissions.

Read our best handheld ham radio units blog post if you are looking to buy ham radio unit.

Do You Need a License to Operate a Ham Radio?

You need to earn your license if you want to operate a ham radio. Remember that under the Communications Act of 1934, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has been mandated to regulate amateur radio in the country.

If you want to be a ham radio operator you need to get your license from them. The exam and licensing is in accordance to numerous international agreements.

Now, you might say that CB radio is free to use and so is the FRS, right? Yes, it is true that these two US radio services are free. However, take note that there are restrictions on both the number of frequencies these radios can use and also in power. For example, CB radio is only limited to 12 watts of power and only 40 channels.

What if you open one and give it a boost? If you do that, you might find the FCC knocking on your door really soon.

Amateur radio is more powerful than CB or FRS. The airwaves they use are also the same ones used for emergency and other essentials services. That is why the FCC is keeping a close watch on how ham radios are used.

Types of Licenses

There are three types of licenses and each one has a different ham radio certification. The license types include the following:

  • Technician
  • General
  • Amateur Extra

Ham Radio Technician License

The technician license is the first one that you will try to get. This is also known as the entry level license. It’s the one that beginners and hobbyists use.

With this ham radio license you will get access to all available ham radio frequencies above 30 MHz. These frequencies allow you to communicate within your local area and pretty much everywhere else in North America.

This license also allows you to use the HF band though only in a limited capacity. At least you have a way to communicate internationally.

To be certified for this amateur radio license, you need to pass an exam that has a total of 35 questions on it. The subjects covered in these tests include ham radio operating practices, your knowledge of regulations, and radio theory.

Note that the 35 questions that you need to answer are pooled from a total of 400 questions. In order to pass this exam, you need to correctly answer at least 26 questions (74% passing rate).

The General License

The general license is the next step up from the technician license. To get certified for this license you need to pass a secondary level exam. If you get certified for this license, you’ll get all the privileges that come with a technician license, and then some.

For instance, you will be allowed to access worldwide communications. Those who have this license are also allowed to emergency frequencies and communicate with emergency teams. This will be quite useful especially when regular communication lines are down.

To pass the exam for a general license, you will also need to answer 26 out of the 35 questions on the exam. The passing rate is also 74%.

Amateur Extra License

The amateur extra license is the most advanced ham radio license that you will ever take. It is also the one that is most difficult to get. There are more questions that you need to answer to get certified—50 questions pooled from an original total 500 questions.

The passing rate for the exam in an amateur extra is also 74%, which translates to answering at least 37 questions correctly.

In case you are able to get certified for this license, you will be able to use all the available modes in all of the available bands used by ham radios. You can communicate in all available channels locally, nationally, and internationally.

Amateur Radio Licensing Exam

Observe that in order to get your ham radio operator license you need achieve a 74% passing rate. The questions you will answer are randomly selected (i.e. pooled) from a larger set of questions (e.g. 500 for the amateur extra).

You can study all 500 questions since they are published to the general public. That allows you some time to study the material before you take the test. The questions are formulated by the National Conference of Volunteer Examiner Coordinators (NCVEC).

Note that the test questions are updated every 4 years. The question pool was last released to the public on July 1, 2018. This means it will be valid until June 30, 2022.

Can I Take the Ham Radio License Test Online?

The people who facilitate these ham radio exams are actually NVCEC volunteers or Volunteer Examiner (VE) team. They report to different testing centers around the country. The usual fee to take a ham radio exam is $15 on average—but the fee can be bigger depending on the testing center.

The rule of thumb here is to call a testing center to inquire about the exam schedules and the corresponding fees.

The next question is whether or not you can take the exam online. The good news is that VE teams facilitate online ham radio exams. Please contact a testing center to get the details.

Ham Radio License Requirements

Here are the requirements so you can take an exam for your ham radio license:

  • Legal ID (driver’s license, state photo card, passport, school ID, etc.)
  • Pen, eraser, and a pair of number 2 pencils
  • Your social number or federal registration number
  • A calculator
  • Money for the exam fee
  • If available, photocopies of previous ham radio licenses

Before you take the text, you should download the test question pool, study the material, and prepare the best way you can. There are self-guided and classroom training available if you wish to try that. They’re not a guarantee that you will pass but at least they give you a better chance at being better prepared for the test.

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