How to get an amateur radio license in the UK

Amateur radio or ham radio isn’t just another part of radio history.

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If you’re interested in finding new shortwave listening channels, and you have a passion for technology, amateur radio could be the perfect environment for you. 

People who enjoy the amateur radio hobby use it to communicate with other radio amateurs around the world. You can learn how to use your ham device to connect with digital pen-pals. 

Or you can just search for new sounds and share your discoveries with the world. 

In some circles, there are even amateur radio competitions

Before you can begin exploring this exciting world, however, you need to know how to get your license.

That’s what we’re here to help with today. 

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What is an amateur radio license?

Amateur radio is a service and a hobby involving various kinds of radio equipment, including SW (Shortwave broadcasting). To legally use the amateur radio waves for your entertainment, you’ll need an amateur radio license. 

Licenses are there to make sure that people use their radios properly. You need to show that you can be sensible with your shortwave broadcasts before you can interact with other people. 

Not so long ago, the entrance exam for an amateur radio license was hard. You needed to know your way around Morse code and answer a lot of complex questions. 

These days, applying for licensing isn’t as tough. With the help of a local amateur radio club, you can even train for your test. 

There are different levels of radio license available for ham enthusiasts. The beginner option is generally the best when you’re getting started. However, if you enjoy experimenting with ham you can take your skills to the next level. 

The Intermediate and Advanced licensing exams are tougher, but they allow you to explore more radio waves. 

Even as a beginner radio amateur, you can:

  • Use shortwave radio to communicate and send messages.
  • Use hams to talk to other people around the world. 
  • Use transmitter powers of up to 400 watts.
  • Experiment with different kinds of broadcast.
  • Play with transmitters and receivers to unlock the mysteries of radio.
  • Build your own transmitters and radio scanners.

How do you apply for an amateur radio license?

The easiest way to get an amateur radio license these days is with an online application. You can find the forms you need from the regulatory authority for amateur radio in the UK: Ofcom. 

When you visit the licensing website for the first time, you’ll have to complete a registration form. If you want to renew amateur radio licenses online, you can use the same website, and you’ll need a copy of your current license number. 

If you’re logging in for the first time, you’ll have the option to apply for your new license on the website. Here, you can choose what kind of examination you want to take.

Before you start your licensing test, make sure that all of your details are correct. You’ll need to enter your name, your main station address, phone number and email for your certificate.

If your details aren’t correct, then you still wont be able to use your license. 

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The good news is that the amateur radio license exam is pretty straightforward. If you pick the foundation exam for beginners, the questions are multiple-choice.

They test your knowledge of things like radio terminology, and the conditions of using a ham radio. 

The intermediate exam has two parts, including a practical assessment and a multiple-choice option. The practical assessment will ask you to show that you can use your radio correctly. 

For the Advanced amateur radio license, there’s a demanding multiple-choice test for both electronics theory and radio use. You’ll also have to take another practical exam.

There are various online forums and communities that can help you with brushing up your knowledge. 

You might even find some helpful information on the amateur radio subreddit

How to renew amateur radio licenses

Getting your amateur radio license can be a little confusing for beginners. The amateur radio license in the UK is called the “license for life,” but it doesn’t last forever. You’ll need to learn how to renew your amateur radio license online too. 

All radio amateurs need to renew their license at least once every five years. Usually, the process is simple enough. You contact Ofcom and let them know whether your details have changed since you last updated your license. 

The quickest way to go about renewing your amateur license is to go on the Ofcom website or send your information to the Ofcom group via email. Ofcom has its own online licensing portal where you can handle everything on your own. 

If you need some extra help, there are some staff available. 

Just keep in mind that getting a response from Ofcom isn’t always easy, particularly when the company is busy. Ofcom also deals with a lot of other things in the UK, including Broadband. 

One point worth noting is that it’s free to renew an amateur radio license online. However, if you’re sending your application via direct mail or post, then you’ll need to spend £20. You also need to pay a fee if your license has expired. 

You can’t use the renewal portal to update your license if it has already run out. Instead, you have to complete a new application form. 

Re-applying for an amateur radio license in the UK is something that you can only do by post, which means that you incur the £20 fee. 

Do you need an amateur radio license?

So, should you be looking into getting an amateur radio license?

If you’re planning on experimenting with ham radio, it’s worth making sure that you have the right certificates in place.

Even if you only play around with the frequencies for a short while then ditch the hobby, having a license will stop you from getting into trouble. 

The good news is that most people fall in love with ham radio operation after getting their license. According to statistics released by Ofcom, the number of licensed people in the UK is growing all the time. 

In 2017 alone, there were 52,195 people in the UK with full advanced licenses. 

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On top of the amateur radio pros in the UK, there are also 9,739 people using ham radio at an intermediate level, and 22,649 people using the tech at a foundation level. This adds up to a 10% increase between 2012 and 2017. 

As the number of people experimenting with radio technology continues, the licensing trends continue to go up. 

The fact that the UK has more Advanced license holders than people with any other kind of amateur radio certificate also suggests that people want to keep learning when they start.

There’s a good chance that you’ll enjoy getting your license if you’re into amateur radio. 

Become a radio amateur

Becoming a radio amateur is a great way to take your love of radio to the next level.

You get to explore the soundwaves and interact with broadcasts in a unique new way. At the same time, ham radio offers an excellent way to connect with people around the world.

You might find yourself joining an amateur radio club where you meet a lot of new friends. 

If you want to learn more about amateur radio, or just radio history in general, check out the other articles here at Radio Fidelity! 

Radio Fidelity: For the love of radio.