Why And When Do You Need A Ham Radio License? (Explained!)

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cover image - ham radio licenses and examsThere are many misconceptions about ham radios, but one of the most common is that you don’t need a license to use one.

You may have heard someone tell you that all you need is a pair of headphones and some wires to get started with this hobby.

But if it’s so simple, why do we have licensing at all?

Let’s take a look at ham radio licenses, what they are used for today, when they are required, how hard the exam is, and more!

About Ham Radio Licenses

Ham radio licenses are a form of licensing that was introduced in the 1940s. There were many different reasons for this, but one was to monitor who is operating a ham radio. Ham radio operators are asked to register with their country’s regulatory body for this purpose. The licence was also created because there were so many individuals using ham radios for commercial purposes, which could lead to interference with essential communication systems.

Today they are required for a reason that is more like the original: to monitor who uses ham radio and for what purposes.

The license was originally intended as an entry-level exam, but it has since become rather difficult with many questions regarding regulations and how they apply in different situations such as emergencies or when operating at special events (like races, etc…).

Do you need a ham radio license?

You would not need a license to only listen (this can even be done by simply connecting computer via the internet), but if you ever want to transmit, you would need a license.

Do you need to renew your ham licenses?

A ham radio license is good for 10 years, after that period you need to it and provide proof of continued proficiency. If you do not pass the renewal exam then you will be dropped back down a grade (e.g. if an Advanced class operator fails their upgrade examination they would drop back down to General Class). You are allowed three attempts per year to pass the exam.

Does ham radio license cover GMRS?

According to the US Department of Transportation, a GMRS license is not required for an amateur radio operator providing “communications assistance” (such as relaying messages) on behalf of another ham. However, if you are using your equipment in such a way that it would interfere with other operators then this may be considered illegal and you could receive hefty fines.

Types of Ham Radio Operator licenses

There are 3 main levels of ham radio license: Technician, General, and Extra. They all require passing an exam for each level before moving up (with some exceptions).

The higher-level license allows more privileges such as operating on frequencies that allow faster data rates and using additional modes of communication such as voice.

Technician Class License

The Technician level is the entry-level license that most people begin with, which allows you to operate only on VHF frequencies (between 30MHz and 300MHz). This includes repeaters, so if these are available in your area it’s a good way to get started!

Who can take the technician exam?

Typically anyone is 14 years of age and older.

How many questions are in the technician exam?

There are 35 questions in the Technician exam.

Is the technician exam multiple choice?

Yes, there are four possible answer choices for every question.

What is the passing score for the technician exam?

75% (26 correct answers required)

What does passing the Technician Exam include?

Upon passing the Technician exam, you are authorized to operate on VHF.

Can I upgrade my license?

Technicians can be upgraded to General

When will I get my primary call sign after taking my exam?

Your call sign will be sent to you within three months after taking your exam.

General Class License

The general ham radio license is for people who want to get into the hobby of amateur radios and just have a good time, it has some benefits

The general is suitable for beginners and those who want to make contacts with other ham radio operators. The exam only needs to be taken once and it costs $14. It takes around 25 questions in three different sections including written, multiple-choice and operating practices.

Do you need to have a technician license to take the general class exam?

No, you do not need to have a technician license to take this exam.

How many questions are in the general class exam?

The general test has 35 questions in three sections including multiple-choice, written and operating practices. In the multiple-choice section, there are ten questions, in the written section there are five questions and in operating practices, there is ten.

Is it better to take the general or technician license exam?

It is better to take the general license exam. The test has fewer questions than the technician one and it costs $14, compared to the $15 for the technician.

What is the passing score for the general exam?

75% (26 correct answers required)

What does passing the general exam include?

Passing the General Exam includes a license for life, full privileges on all amateur bands and modes.

Amateur Extra Class License

The amateur extra type license is the top level license and is much more difficult than the technician and general exams.

It is designed for those who want to start working as a professional or commercial operator. The exam process is much more demanding and you will be expected to know a lot of theory. You can apply for an extra license if:

  1. You hold the foundation or technician grade;
  2. You have passed the basic examination paper in your foundation, technician, or general class;
  3. You are at least 18 years old (some exceptions may apply).

The extra license gives you operating privileges to all amateur bands and modes with up to 200 watts of power. You will also be able to use frequencies above 30 MHz. To get this license you need to pass a tough theory exam with 35 questions, a multiple-choice test, and an operating practice.

Do I have to take the technician or general class before taking the extra?

You must first of all be at least 18 years old (some exceptions may apply) and hold either foundation, technician or general grade before you can proceed with the extra class.

How long does it take to get the extra license?

It takes around 18 months on average but can be much longer for some people who have a busy life and don’t do so well in exams.

What is the passing score for getting an Extra Class License? 75% (26 correct answers required)

What does passing the Extra Class Exam include?

Passing the extra class exam includes a license for life, full privileges on all amateur bands and modes. To get this you need to pass a tough theory exam with 35 questions, a multiple-choice test, and operating practice.


is getting your ham radio license worth it?

The short answer is yes! Having a ham radio license can be useful in many situations. For example, having the license means that you have access to emergency services because there are dedicated frequencies for emergency communications and disasters. Having a license also means that you can get into amateur radio which is just talking with people in your own city, country or even around the world!

We’ve provided a guide to help you understand the importance of getting your ham radio licence, when it should be used and how difficult the exam is. The more you know about this certification process before starting down that path, the better equipped you will be once you get started on your journey as an amateur radio operator.

This article includes links to some resources for those who want to learn more or are just curious about what amateur radio operators do!