How to get a U.S. amateur radio license

AK9R

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Since we seem to get many questions on this topic, let's use this thread as repository of information relative to the thread title. I plan to make this a "sticky".

In the United States of America, the Amateur Radio Services (ARS) is regulated by the Federal Communications Commission as a wireless telecommunications service. The FCC requires that you have an amateur radio license in order to transmit in the ARS. You do not need a license to own amateur radio equipment or to listen to amateur radio frequencies, but you do need a license to transmit. The FCC makes the rules for amateur radio, issues the licenses, and, sometimes, enforces the rules.

The FCC currently issues licenses for three different amateur radio classes of license:
  • Technician -- this is the easiest license to get as you only need to pass a 35-question test. This license will allow you to use any of the amateur radio frequencies or modes above 30 MHz and allows some very limited privileges below 30 MHz.
  • General -- this license also requires passage of a 35-question test. This license allows you to use almost all of the amateur radio spectrum, as defined by the FCC.
  • Extra -- this license requires passage of a 50-question test and it allows you to use all of the FCC-defined amateur radio spectrum
There is no Morse code requirement in order to get an U.S. amateur radio license, though Morse code is still used on the air.

The tests for these licenses build on the other. You must take and pass the Technician license test before you can take the General license test. And, you must take and pass the General license test before you can take the Extra license test.

The question and answers, known as question pools, for all three license classes are available in book form and online.

The amateur radio license tests are administered by amateur radio operators who have qualified to be Volunteer Examiners. Test sessions are usually sponsored by a local club and the VEs work through a Volunteer Examiner Coordinator. A list of VECs can be found here. When you take your test, the VEs at your test session will forward the results to their VEC who will transmit the necessary information to the FCC. Some VECs do this task faster than others. As a result, its possible that if you take a test on a Saturday, that your license and callsign will be issued on Monday. Though not all VECs process test results this quickly, so there could be some delay.

The VEs who administer the tests are allowed to charge up to $15.00 as determined by their VEC. Some VECs don't charge anything. Some charge the full $15. This fee is to help the VECs and VE team offset the costs of administering the tests. The fee does not go to the FCC.

Starting sometime this year, the FCC will start charging $35.00 for new or modified licenses. This is a new decision and we don't know exactly how it will be handled.

Also, starting in June 2021, the FCC will require that you provide them with your email address.

Most amateur radio operators highly recommend that you study for the test before you go to the test session. And, they recommend that you try to understand the material rather than just memorize the answers. The question pools have 300 to 500 questions, so memorizing all the answers will be a lot of work. But, if you understand the material, you should be able to work out the answer. Many local amateur radio clubs offer amateur radio license classes where the test material is discussed.

There are several websites that provide online practice tests or drills. HamStudy, HamTestOnline, and HamRadioPrep are three such sources for practice tests, but there are others.

The American Radio Relay League (ARRL) and the W5YI Group publish study manuals. You can find listings of their publications here:
You may be able to find these books at your favorite online book dealer. But, make sure you are getting a current copy.

Traditionally, amateur radio license tests are conducted in person. The VECs mentioned above usually maintain a list of test sessions and I suggest you check with them for a session in your area. Starting this year, with the COVID-19 restrictions, the FCC has allowed some test sessions to be conducted online. I don't have any experience with the online test sessions, so I'll let someone else describe how they work.
 

edweirdFL

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One of the requirements when applying for a license is to furnish a US mailing address where you can receive mail from the FCC. I don't think there's any indication that this requirement is going away even if they want to be able to communicate using e-mail. The address provided need not be a station's location and it will become part of a record that is publicly available. Privacy minded individuals may wish to consider which postal address they will use as it will remain on record, even if changed at a later time to a different address. For this reason some may wish to get a PO Box before their first interaction with the FCC or filing out a form at a testing session that asks for it.

The license application also asks for either a Social Security Number OR an FRN account number the applicant has created before hand on the FCC's website. Privacy minded folks may not wish to place their SSN on the VEC paperwork and if this is the case should create and make a note of their assigned FRN number and have it available when taking any tests.
 

k6cpo

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One other slight correction: There is no requirement to take the license examination in the Technician, General, Extra order. They can be take in any order. HOWEVER, a General license will not be issued until both the Technician and General exams are padded and an Extra license will not be issued until all three exams have been passed. Most VE teams will not allow someone to take the exams out-of-sequence because of this progression.

The license application also asks for either a Social Security Number OR an FRN account number the applicant has created before hand on the FCC's website. Privacy minded folks may not wish to place their SSN on the VEC paperwork and if this is the case should create and make a note of their assigned FRN number and have it available when taking any tests.
Some VECs will require the candidate to have their FRN BEFORE taking an examination and will not allow SSNs to be used on the paperwork.
 

AK9R

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Some VECs will require the candidate to have their FRN BEFORE taking an examination and will not allow SSNs to be used on the paperwork.
Could you expand on the process of getting an FRN? Where to go and what information is required?
 

wa8pyr

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Could you expand on the process of getting an FRN? Where to go and what information is required?
 

AA3RR

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One of the requirements when applying for a license is to furnish a US mailing address where you can receive mail from the FCC. I don't think there's any indication that this requirement is going away even if they want to be able to communicate using e-mail. The address provided need not be a station's location and it will become part of a record that is publicly available. Privacy minded individuals may wish to consider which postal address they will use as it will remain on record, even if changed at a later time to a different address. For this reason some may wish to get a PO Box before their first interaction with the FCC or filing out a form at a testing session that asks for it.

The license application also asks for either a Social Security Number OR an FRN account number the applicant has created before hand on the FCC's website. Privacy minded folks may not wish to place their SSN on the VEC paperwork and if this is the case should create and make a note of their assigned FRN number and have it available when taking any tests.
The FCC's rules (47 CFR, Part 1, Subpart W Section 1.8003) have required applicants for a license of any kind to provide an FRN since 3 Dec 2001. Due to a temporary loophole made available in 2000, the VECs chose to continue accepting SSNs in lieu of an FRN. A few VECs and more importantly many VE teams refuse to accept SSNs which is smart.

Also the requirement to furnish a US mailing address will be deleted effective 29 June 2021 per the pending change in FCC rules.

Since we seem to get many questions on this topic, let's use this thread as repository of information relative to the thread title. I plan to make this a "sticky".

In the United States of America, the Amateur Radio Services (ARS) is regulated by the Federal Communications Commission as a wireless telecommunications service. The FCC requires that you have an amateur radio license in order to transmit in the ARS. You do not need a license to own amateur radio equipment or to listen to amateur radio frequencies, but you do need a license to transmit. The FCC makes the rules for amateur radio, issues the licenses, and, sometimes, enforces the rules.

The FCC currently issues licenses for three different amateur radio classes of license:
  • Technician -- this is the easiest license to get as you only need to pass a 35-question test. This license will allow you to use any of the amateur radio frequencies or modes above 30 MHz and allows some very limited privileges below 30 MHz.
  • General -- this license also requires passage of a 35-question test. This license allows you to use almost all of the amateur radio spectrum, as defined by the FCC.
  • Extra -- this license requires passage of a 50-question test and it allows you to use all of the FCC-defined amateur radio spectrum
There is no Morse code requirement in order to get an U.S. amateur radio license, though Morse code is still used on the air.

The tests for these licenses build on the other. You must take and pass the Technician license test before you can take the General license test. And, you must take and pass the General license test before you can take the Extra license test.

The question and answers, known as question pools, for all three license classes are available in book form and online.

The amateur radio license tests are administered by amateur radio operators who have qualified to be Volunteer Examiners. Test sessions are usually sponsored by a local club and the VEs work through a Volunteer Examiner Coordinator. A list of VECs can be found here. When you take your test, the VEs at your test session will forward the results to their VEC who will transmit the necessary information to the FCC. Some VECs do this task faster than others. As a result, its possible that if you take a test on a Saturday, that your license and callsign will be issued on Monday. Though not all VECs process test results this quickly, so there could be some delay.

The VEs who administer the tests are allowed to charge up to $15.00 as determined by their VEC. Some VECs don't charge anything. Some charge the full $15. This fee is to help the VECs and VE team offset the costs of administering the tests. The fee does not go to the FCC.

Starting sometime this year, the FCC will start charging $35.00 for new or modified licenses. This is a new decision and we don't know exactly how it will be handled.

Also, starting in June 2021, the FCC will require that you provide them with your email address.

Most amateur radio operators highly recommend that you study for the test before you go to the test session. And, they recommend that you try to understand the material rather than just memorize the answers. The question pools have 300 to 500 questions, so memorizing all the answers will be a lot of work. But, if you understand the material, you should be able to work out the answer. Many local amateur radio clubs offer amateur radio license classes where the test material is discussed.

There are several websites that provide online practice tests or drills. HamStudy, HamTestOnline, and HamRadioPrep are three such sources for practice tests, but there are others.

The American Radio Relay League (ARRL) and the W5YI Group publish study manuals. You can find listings of their publications here:
You may be able to find these books at your favorite online book dealer. But, make sure you are getting a current copy.

Traditionally, amateur radio license tests are conducted in person. The VECs mentioned above usually maintain a list of test sessions and I suggest you check with them for a session in your area. Starting this year, with the COVID-19 restrictions, the FCC has allowed some test sessions to be conducted online. I don't have any experience with the online test sessions, so I'll let someone else describe how they work.
Regarding the $35 application fee... Payment of the fee will be made by the applicant via CORES according to the FCC FCC Pay Fees
 

wa8pyr

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Also the requirement to furnish a US mailing address will be deleted effective 29 June 2021 per the pending change in FCC rules.
Actually that's not correct. . . read the R&O in the Federal Register; the new Section 97.23 specifically states that each license must show the grantee’s correct name, mailing address, and email address. We've been requiring both of all candidates to our test sessions.


Regarding the $35 application fee... Payment of the fee will be made by the applicant via CORES according to the FCC FCC Pay Fees
Officially it hasn't been determined yet how and when new applicants will pay the fee; for our VE team I'm withholding judgement until there's an official policy.

The whole application fee process will be a nightmare. We require all applicants at our test sessions to obtain an FRN prior to the test session so we don't have to deal with their SSN at all. but requiring applicants to pay the FCC for an application for a test they haven't taken yet would be an administrative nightmare; likewise paying a fee for a successful test result which is pending with the VEC but hasn't yet been entered into the FCC system.

I think it would make more sense for VE teams to collect that fee and forward it to the VEC which would in turn forward it to the FCC.
 

AA3RR

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Actually that's not correct. . . read the R&O in the Federal Register; the new Section 97.23 specifically states that each license must show the grantee’s correct name, mailing address, and email address. We've been requiring both of all candidates to our test sessions.




Officially it hasn't been determined yet how and when new applicants will pay the fee; for our VE team I'm withholding judgement until there's an official policy.

The whole application fee process will be a nightmare. We require all applicants at our test sessions to obtain an FRN prior to the test session so we don't have to deal with their SSN at all. but requiring applicants to pay the FCC for an application for a test they haven't taken yet would be an administrative nightmare; likewise paying a fee for a successful test result which is pending with the VEC but hasn't yet been entered into the FCC system.

I think it would make more sense for VE teams to collect that fee and forward it to the VEC which would in turn forward it to the FCC.
Actually that's not correct. . . read the R&O in the Federal Register; the new Section 97.23 specifically states that each license must show the grantee’s correct name, mailing address, and email address. We've been requiring both of all candidates to our test sessions.




Officially it hasn't been determined yet how and when new applicants will pay the fee; for our VE team I'm withholding judgement until there's an official policy.

The whole application fee process will be a nightmare. We require all applicants at our test sessions to obtain an FRN prior to the test session so we don't have to deal with their SSN at all. but requiring applicants to pay the FCC for an application for a test they haven't taken yet would be an administrative nightmare; likewise paying a fee for a successful test result which is pending with the VEC but hasn't yet been entered into the FCC system.

I think it would make more sense for VE teams to collect that fee and forward it to the VEC which would in turn forward it to the FCC.
In my comment I specifically stated "...the requirement to furnish a US mailing address will be deleted effective 29 June 2021..."

Here is the current wording from Part 97, section 97.23:

"Each license grant must show the grantee's correct name and mailing address. The mailing address must be in an area where the amateur service is regulated by the FCC and where the grantee can receive mail delivery by the United States Postal Service. Revocation of the station license or suspension of the operator license may result when correspondence from the FCC is returned as undeliverable because the grantee failed to provide the correct mailing address."

Here is the wording from the Report and Order regarding the pending change to Part 97, Section 97.23:

"Each license grant must show the grantee's correct name, mailing address, and e-mail address. The e-mail address must be an address where the grantee can receive electronic correspondence. Revocation of the station license or suspension of the operator license may result when correspondence from the FCC is returned as undeliverable because the grantee failed to provide the correct e-mail address."

Notice that the second sentence in the current text in Section 97.23 has been replaced with "The e-mail address must be an address where the grantee can receive electronic correspondence."? .

Regarding payment of application fees, the FCC has established a ne Payment Portal within CORES so applicants can pay their application fee.

Here is a link to a tutorial on how to use this new Payment Portal: FRN Financial
 

wa8pyr

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In my comment I specifically stated "...the requirement to furnish a US mailing address will be deleted effective 29 June 2021..."

Here is the current wording from Part 97, section 97.23:

"Each license grant must show the grantee's correct name and mailing address. The mailing address must be in an area where the amateur service is regulated by the FCC and where the grantee can receive mail delivery by the United States Postal Service. Revocation of the station license or suspension of the operator license may result when correspondence from the FCC is returned as undeliverable because the grantee failed to provide the correct mailing address."

Here is the wording from the Report and Order regarding the pending change to Part 97, Section 97.23:

"Each license grant must show the grantee's correct name, mailing address, and e-mail address. The e-mail address must be an address where the grantee can receive electronic correspondence. Revocation of the station license or suspension of the operator license may result when correspondence from the FCC is returned as undeliverable because the grantee failed to provide the correct e-mail address."
Yes, I read that; you're playing with words, and it's pretty clear that there's still a requirement to provide a valid mailing address. 97.23 as amended clearly states in the first sentence that a license grant requires a mailing address, and Section 97 is pretty clear in other places that when necessary legal documents will be sent to the mailing address. Essentially what they're stating in the R&O (with typical government bureaucratic BS) is that the license grant will no longer be sent via postal mail but will instead be sent via email, in accordance with the Paperwork Reduction Act and other government edicts ad infinitum.

Of course, this means that the FCC is doing even less (not that they did much before) to earn the $35 license fee they're going to charge amateur applicants.

Regarding payment of application fees, the FCC has established a ne Payment Portal within CORES so applicants can pay their application fee.
Bully for the FCC. What's not been decided is exactly when applicants are to make payment. If this were a simple matter of a GMRS license which nearly anyone can get, paying the fee through that portal would be all well and good, but we're dealing here with people who have to take and pass an examination before a license grant would be made. Technically they aren't even applying for a license grant until their application is filed with the FCC by the VEC, so the fee wouldn't even be due until then.

I continue to maintain that it would be easier and more accurate for us (as VEs) to collect the $35 and forward that to the VEC, which would in turn forward it to the FCC.
 
Last edited:

AA3RR

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The procedures for paying the application fee will be similar to the procedures used to pay the application fee for a Vanity call sign prior to 2015.

Step 1 - Following the exam session the Applicant's application is submitted to the FCC by the VEC that coordinated the exam session. Once submitted, it is given a File Number. Once the File Number is issued, the results of the exam session are returned to the VEC in a "Response File". The response file contains the result of each application: Rejected due to an error, Granted, or Pending

a. If the application was rejected, the Response File will indicate the specific reason via an Error Code, The application can be resubmitted after the error is corrected.​
b. If the application was granted the Response File will contain the letter "G" near the end of the line for that application. If the applicant earned a new license or changed their call sign, the applicant's new call sign will be displayed in the line.​
c. Once the application is submitted to the FCC, the application passes through several checks (e.g., Red Light, Name Change, Alert List, and Basic Qualification Question aka the Felony Question). If the application is stopped at any of these check points, the application is assigned a status code "2". This means the application is taken off line pending resolution of the issue.​
d. ULS processes applications every hour on the hour, Monday through Friday, except for Federal Holidays, starting at 0415 EST or 0515 EDT and ending at 10pm EST or 11pm EDT.​
(1) Response files are sent to VECs about 1-2 minutes after the hour except for the first hour.​
(2) I don't know how many VECs forward the Response File to their VE teams.​
e. My VEC transmits our Response Files via an automated e-mail to the applicable team leader about 2-3 minutes after receiving the Response File from the FCC.​
(1) Our team leaders share the Response File information with their applicants via e-mail or by phone.​
(2) In the near future, we will offer team leaders the optional ability to create semi-automated personalized e-mails for each applicant informing them of their application status.​
(3) This e-mail will include attachments as applicable with instructions for the applicant who answered the felony question "Yes" and once fees are implemented, instructions on how to make the payment.​

Step 2 - Once application fees are implemented, all applications that were not rejected due to a format error will be issued a File Number and all these applications will be stopped at the Red Light checkpoint.

a. The FCC will send a Response File to the VEC and each application will be assigned a Status Code of "2"​
b. Once the File Number is assigned, the applicant will have 10 days to make their payment.​
(1) This appears to be the standard payment period for other services so I don't expect the amateur service to receive special treatment.​
(2) This was the same payment time frame for applicants seeking a Vanity call sign​
(3) Applicants make their payment via a CORES website and use one of four acceptable credit cards or via their bank account. They can also pay by personal check, cashier's check, or money order.​
(4) The new payment process is operational​
c. If the applicant makes their payment within the 10-day period and the application is not stopped at any other checkpoint in the process, the application will be granted. A second Response File will not be created for the VECs.​

How will the applicants know when their File Number was granted and where to find it? I can't speak for any VEC other than mine, whose processes I described above.

The only thing different between the old payment process for Vanity call signs and the new application fee payment process appears to be the payment website.

I hope this helps

73
Bob
 

widowmaker6

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Quick question... and it may have been addressed earlier but I didn't see anything regarding this...
If the first test is not passed, how long does one have to wait to retest, and is the number of retests capped for a certain period?

Cheers!
Bill
 

n5ims

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Quick question... and it may have been addressed earlier but I didn't see anything regarding this...
If the first test is not passed, how long does one have to wait to retest, and is the number of retests capped for a certain period?

Cheers!
Bill
That depends on what your VE group's policy is. If you missed by a large margin they'll make you go back and study and then schedule another exam later. If you just missed by a question or two they may let you take the exam (different questions from the same question pool though) again immediately. As to the number of retests, that also depends on the VE group's policy. Most often if you missed by even a small number of questions several times they'll make you go back and study some more and then schedule another exam later.

The general rule is that you are expected to have passed several sample tests by 90% or better prior to scheduling your test session. While this isn't a hard requirement, it's good practice since that generally indicates you're ready to take and pass your test. While you don't need to pass your actual test with a score of 90% or better, this helps give you confidence and room to overcome the nerves from actually taking your test.

What has changed since this thread was created is now it is common to have remote testing where (with strict security requirements) you test on your computer at home (or other secure location). This makes it possible for folks that must drive several hours to a testing session or have other issues that make it difficult to attend an in person testing session. A local group successfully tested a person that wanted to upgrade to General but since they were the sole provider for their spouse and lived 2+ hours away from where sessions were typically held so to upgrade they would have to pay for a home healthcare nurse to watch their spouse for a full day to take their test. Using remote testing, they upgrade at home without needing to pay for a full day of nursing care. This worked so well for them that several weeks later they scheduled and passed their Extra exam using remote testing.

To find a remote (or even in-person) testing sessions just go to Ham Study . org (HamStudy.org: Cutting edge amateur radio study tools) and click on the "Find a Session" link on the right part of the screen. Be aware that the remote session doesn't generally have to be in your area but can be anywhere in the US (those that restrict users by location will indicate that on the session's information area). Quite often you may schedule a session with a group from one area and discover that the VEs are spread out all across the nation.
 

widowmaker6

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That depends on what your VE group's policy is. If you missed by a large margin they'll make you go back and study and then schedule another exam later. If you just missed by a question or two they may let you take the exam (different questions from the same question pool though) again immediately. As to the number of retests, that also depends on the VE group's policy. Most often if you missed by even a small number of questions several times they'll make you go back and study some more and then schedule another exam later.

The general rule is that you are expected to have passed several sample tests by 90% or better prior to scheduling your test session. While this isn't a hard requirement, it's good practice since that generally indicates you're ready to take and pass your test. While you don't need to pass your actual test with a score of 90% or better, this helps give you confidence and room to overcome the nerves from actually taking your test.

What has changed since this thread was created is now it is common to have remote testing where (with strict security requirements) you test on your computer at home (or other secure location). This makes it possible for folks that must drive several hours to a testing session or have other issues that make it difficult to attend an in person testing session. A local group successfully tested a person that wanted to upgrade to General but since they were the sole provider for their spouse and lived 2+ hours away from where sessions were typically held so to upgrade they would have to pay for a home healthcare nurse to watch their spouse for a full day to take their test. Using remote testing, they upgrade at home without needing to pay for a full day of nursing care. This worked so well for them that several weeks later they scheduled and passed their Extra exam using remote testing.

To find a remote (or even in-person) testing sessions just go to Ham Study . org (HamStudy.org: Cutting edge amateur radio study tools) and click on the "Find a Session" link on the right part of the screen. Be aware that the remote session doesn't generally have to be in your area but can be anywhere in the US (those that restrict users by location will indicate that on the session's information area). Quite often you may schedule a session with a group from one area and discover that the VEs are spread out all across the nation.
Awesome!!
Thanks for the great info!! It's nice to know the government is finally loosening things to help accommodate folks.

I've got a great few contacts that I discovered this morning from my lodge that are going to help me along the way. Ask and ye shall receive i guess lol!!

Thanks for your info and time!!

Cheers!!
 
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