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Under International Telecommunications Union (ITU) regulations, national governments are required to have those who wish to take part in Amateur Radio demonstrate the knowledge and skills required to operate safely, and without causing interference to other users of the radio spectrum. Typically, licences are graded, with entry level options, and options which provide access to a wider range of frequencies and/or "modes", and sometimes more power. Thankfully, these tests are typically multiple choice, with the exception of the practical test it the WIA system.
Exams are run by either the government department responsible for radio communications; or by delegation to bodies such as the national association for Amateur Radio in that country, or other groups. Fees vary from country to country, and are unusually high in Australia.
However, those in eastern Australia now have access to an alternative, low cost examination service, using the US system, and reciprocal licensing rules.
The US system has three levels of licence, and through reciprocal licence arrangements, they allow candidates to apply for the "equivalent" Australian licence level, of which there are also three, Foundation, Standard, and Advanced.
The benefit of the US (ARRL/VEC) system is that the session fee is only USD $15.00
In the US system the levels are Technician, General, and Extra, sometimes called Amateur Extra. Each paper combines the theory, practice, and regulations relating to operation permitted by the licence. As knowledge is cumulative in this system, it is necessary to pass each paper up to the level desired. On the upside, the one fee covers one attempt at each paper, provided the previous paper is passed. It is also possible to pass at Technician or General, then come back weeks, months or years later to upgrade.
US exams are also useful for existing Amateurs who are travelling to the US, and want to remove power limits from reciprocal arrangements; hold US citizenship; or who do not have a passport and licence which match (required under US rules); want to be a Volunteer Examiner; want an extra qualification for the CV; or who just want a challenge. This exam may also enable an Australian to obtain a licence for Thailand.
To find the next session, select Australia on this search tool: ARRL - Find an Exam Session
The OZ VE group will attempt to be at the Wyong Field Day each February.
You will need a US address, whether a friend's, or something like a Shopmate one. Obtaining an FRN (FCC Registration Number) online at this address, using this online form, ahead of the exam, is strongly recommended, and quite simple. The exam process includes completing the application for a licence, which is issued for free, and renewable on application after 10 years.
You MUST select a contact address within the US, or its territories, that is, where the US Postal Service is the mail delivery organisation. While this system allows one outside the US, but this can only be used for business radio, etc, NOT amateur. If you have a friend in Guam, Hawaii, Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, (US) Virgin Islands, American Samoa, or Alaska, then the system should give you a more interesting callsign, or allow you to select one via the "vanity" system. You would have to enquire whether this includes Compact of Free Association countries.
One the day, you need two HB or No. 2 pencils, an eraser (rubber), a ballpoint pen for multipart (self-carboned) forms, a non-programmable calculator (optional, but it must NOT be part of a 'phone or tablet); there is no fixed time for completing each paper. ID is required, and if upgrading from another US licence, a printout of this.
Payment is required, and if outside the US, depending on the examiner, US$15 cash, local cash as indicated by them, or a cheque from a US bank for US$15 made out to "ARRL/VEC" can be used. The AUD amount would be a little above that calculated above, to cover actual costs.
Once your licence is in the FCC Universal Licence System, it is ready for use.
If you need to use it to obtain a VK licence, log in using your FRN, and print your US licence, and forward it with the WIA Callsign Recommendation form from this page to obtain a callsign recommendation from them.
Then forward this recommendation to the ACMA with an application form, "Amateur - non assigned", available on this page. If needed, further information is available here. They will then invoice you for the fee.
"Non assigned" means that it is an application for a general licence, not one requiring the assignment of frequencies, as is needed for clubs running repeaters and/or beacons.
Once you have either the General or Extra licence you can become a Volunteer Examiner, and help others become licensed. The manual and forms can be found on the ARRL/VEC page.
You can obtain a personalised "Vanity Callsign", using the FCC online form here. Notes from the ARRL.
Note that the OZ VE group, of which the author is a member, does not have any form of exclusivity over ARRL/VEC exams in Australia, nor US exams in general in this country; however, as far as we know, "OZ VE" are the only group providing this service. If others can convince another VEC to accredit them, they could provide these services at a lower fee, or free. Other VECs are listed on the NCVEC, and can choose to list their exams in the ARRL list above.
If you are a VE, or want to form a group to serve your area, please say G'day.
The group can also offer services to your club, school, scout or guide group, etc. Please contact us.
VEs are empowered to make appropriate adjustments to the exam process, such as reading the questions and answers to those unable to read them for any reason, and can conduct exams in homes or residential care facilities, when needed.
If you are an existing Australian (or other) Amateur going for the Extra straight up, don't take the General paper for granted, as it is not trivial.
Find OZ VE on facebook: USA Amateur Radio Licence Exams in Australia
US Candidates use the same ARRL link.
Kiwis, find your local branch at NZART.
Canadians, visit Radio Amateurs of Canada.
UK & Crown Dependencies, RSGB.
Ireland, Irish Radio Transmitters Society
Tasmania; and central, western or northern Australia, the Wireless Institute of Australia.
For other countries see the IARU Member Societies List,
or google: Amateur Radio your country name
US Exams are available in a number of additional countries, with frequent or on-demand sessions in UK, Germany, and Japan, among others. They are listed on the ARRL page.
Written by Julian Sortland, VK2YJS & AG6LE, November 2017.
Thanks to members of Robots & Dinosaurs for help with some code use above.
Tip? US$2, A$3 or other. Thanks!