Become a Ham
So, you want to be a Ham...
To become a Ham, you must first be licensed. Here in the U.S., the FCC handles licensing. A license is good for ten years and there is no testing required to renew your license before it expires.
Currently, the FCC offers three classes of licenses in the U.S. for new or upgrading hams.
The Technician class license is the entry-level license of choice for most new ham radio operators. To earn the Technician license requires passing one examination totaling 35 questions on radio theory, regulations and operating practices. The license gives access to all Amateur Radio frequencies above 30 megahertz, allowing these licensees the ability to communicate locally and most often within North America. It also allows for some limited privileges on the HF (also called "short wave") bands used for international communications.
The General class license grants some operating privileges on all Amateur Radio bands and all operating modes. This license opens the door to world-wide communications. Earning the General class license requires passing a 35 question examination. General class licensees must also have passed the Technician written examination.
The Amateur Extra class license conveys all available U.S. Amateur Radio operating privileges on all bands and all modes. Earning the license is more difficult; it requires passing a thorough 50 question examination. Extra class licensees must also have passed all previous license class written examinations.
Studying for your exam
There are many resources available free, or for a price for those wishing to study for their Amateur Radio license. These include books, websites, and other online media.
There are quite a few videos on YouTube from a number of hams that can help you study and learn the process of testing.
Taking for your exam
Exam sessions are conducted by volunteers working under the direction of the FCC and a Volunteer Exam Coordinator (VEC). There will likely be a charge for taking the exam. The exam fee is set by the VEC and is usually $15. Contact the exam session administrator to determine the fee that applies to the exam session you plan to attend, the documents required and to verify the session date and time.
The FCC does not charge a fee to issue an initial license or for standard changes to a license. However, there may be fees for other FCC services.
What to Bring to an ARRL Exam Session:
- A legal photo ID (driver’s license, passport)
- If no photo ID is available, two forms of identification
- non-photo ID/driver's license (some states still have them)
- birth certificate (must have the appropriate seal)
- social security card
- library card
- utility bill, bank statement or other business correspondence that specifically names the person; or a postmarked envelope addressed to the person at his or her current mailing address as it appears on the Form 605.
- Students/minors may bring any of the above items and/or a school ID, minor's work permit, report card, or a legal guardian may present a photo ID.
- Social Security Number (SSN) or your FCC issued Federal Registration Number (FRN); VEC’s are required by the FCC to submit either your SSN or your FRN number with your license application form. If you prefer not to give your SSN at the exam session, then you may register your SSN with the FCC before exam day. Once you have a FCC issued FRN, you may no longer use your SSN on the application. For instructions on how to register your SSN with the FCC and receive a FRN, visit the FCC's FAQ page and the FCC's registration instructions page. Please note that some exam teams will only accept a valid FRN on your application. Check with your local exam team before exam day.
- If applicable, bring either a photocopy of your current Amateur Radio license or a reference copy printed out from the FCC website, the license information printed from ARRL website or QRZ website, or the original(s) and photocopy(s) of any Certificates of Successful
- Completion of Examination (CSCE) you may hold from previous exam sessions. If your license has already been issued by FCC, the CSCE showing license credit is not needed. The photocopy(s) will not be returned.
- Instructions on how to obtain an official FCC license copy are on the ARRL Obtain License Copy web page.
- Two number two pencils with erasers and a pen.
- A calculator with the memory erased and formulas cleared is allowed. You may not bring any written notes or calculations into the exam session. Slide rules and logarithmic tables are acceptable, as long as they're free of notes and formulas. Cell phone must be silenced or turned off during the exam session and the phones' calculator function may not be used. In addition, iPhones, iPads, Androids, smartphones, Blackberry devices and all similar electronic devices with a calculator capability, may NOT be used.
- Bring a check, a money order or cash to cover the exam session fee(s).