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Cost to get a Ham Radio License or GMRS License in the USA

Even though humanity has entered the age of digital communication, and internet coverage is widespread, many people continue to operate the radio for short and long-distance communication. Whether you want to reach the closest emergency station or a fellow radio communication enthusiast worldwide, a $50 radio station will do the job. However, you will need a fee for the license.

It costs $35 to get a Ham radio license and $35 to get a GMRS radio license. In the United States, the FCC issues radio licenses and charges a flat rate of $35 for all radio licenses. 

There is a reason why Ham and GMRS licenses are not the same license: they allow communication on different frequencies, and that will affect the distance that you can reach with your radio station. Getting the Ham Radio License will require you to pass a test, which adds additional costs. Keep reading to learn more about the costs for Ham and GMRS licenses. 

How Much Does the Ham Radio License Cost?

Until recently, getting the Amateur Radio License, also known as Ham License, was free, but you needed to pay a $15 fee to take an exam. Exams are typically taken at the local office of the National Association for Amateur Radio (ARRL), where they collect fees for their services. 

More recently, the FCC plans to take a $35 fee for every license they issue. This does not include the $15 exam fee ARRL charges. So the full cost of getting a Ham Radio License will rise to $50: $15 to take the exam and $35 to issue a license. 

However, as of June 2021, the FCC has not started collecting this $35 fee. Unfortunately, it is unclear when they plan to start implementing this fee. It is expected that this fee will come into effect in Summer 2021, so if you have been waiting to take the exam, consider hurrying up if you want to save $35. 

The $15 fee collected by the ARRL only applies if you prepare for the license exam by yourself without manuals and pass the exam on your first try. Every next attempt at taking the exam will cost you another $15.

Ham Radio License Cost & GMRS License Cost

Tiers of the Ham License Exam

The same rule applies for getting every next level of a Ham License. In case you didn’t know, there are three tiers of Ham Licenses:

  • Technician License: the basic amateur licence that will be enough to get you on the air.
  • General License: the most popular type of licenses that will allow you to use the spectrum below 30 MHz, the entire range of operating modes and some HF frequencies. 
  • Extra License: this type of licence will give access to the entire spectrum of amateur frequencies.

For every exam that you take, you need to pay a fee. Luckily, the fee stays the same. Also, one cannot jump straight to General or Extra type of licenses—to get a General type of Ham License, you need to get a Technician License. To get the Extra license, you need to have the General license. There is a higher level of expertise expected when you get an extra license or general license. 

Exams for Technicians and General licenses have the same questions. However, sets of questions for these two types of exams are different: a test for the General license has 50 questions, and a test for the Technician license will have 35 questions. As you raise the license tiers, you are going to need a different number of right answers. 

The extra license exam is different compared to the exams for the general and technician license since candidates need to meet more requirements. 

Preparing for the HAM Radio License Exam

Because of how the tests are created, there are different levels of preparing for the exam and different costs associated. It is possible to spend nothing on preparation materials and manuals and still pass the test. However, taking the exam without any preparation is difficult and not recommended. 

However, if you want to increase your chances to pass successfully and not waste your fee, you may want to invest time or funds into educational manuals and materials. The ARRL has plenty of different programs and webinars you can use to prepare for the exams. And more recently, in 2021, they introduced the Learning Center for beginner radio enthusiasts. 

Most materials and manuals by the ARRL are free. Some will require additional payment, which should not exceed $40. Aside from the ARRL, there are resources online that provide materials for a similar price. However, it is perfectly possible to skip any manuals that you need to pay for and still pass the exam.

How Much Does the GMRS License Cost?

General Mobile Radio Service, or GMRS, is another type of license commonly issued to amateur radio users. The range of frequencies available for GMRS systems is significantly narrower than for Ham Radio: 462 – 467 MHz, while the General Ham Radio license will give you access to the range from 1.6 MHz to 27 MHZ. This is ideal for both day and night and long-distance communication.

A significantly lower range of frequencies available with the GMRS license comes with a pleasant bonus—you do not need to pass the exam. However, you do still need a license but getting it without the exam is easier and cheaper. The only step you need to take is to file a request for a license and pay the fee.

While the FCC announcement on a $35 fee was bad news for aspiring Ham Radio licensees, it was a pleasant surprise for those who want to get a GMRS Licence. It used to cost $50 to issue a GMRS Licence, but after April 2021, the FCC charges the same fee for GMPS Licence as for the Ham Licence with a flat fee of $35. No other fees or expenses are associated with these types of licenses. 

Do You Need A Ham License or GMRS?

If you are choosing between a Ham License and a GMRS License, there are several differences that you need to consider: 

Cost: both licenses cost $35 to issue. That is the fee that you pay to the FCC. Ham Radio License will cost an additional $15 for every attempt at passing the exam.

Exam: GMRS license does not require an exam, and to get the Ham Radio License, you need to pass a test.

Usage: GMRS systems are enough for small-distance communication, while with an Amateur Radio System (Ham), you can reach all the way to Australia because it uses signal repeaters.

There are some things that the ham and GMRS licenses have in common. Both licenses are issued to individuals, so if you consider getting one for a business, these options will not be useful for you. 

Also, both licenses can be shared by the immediate family of a license. So if you need a license to communicate with a family member, one license is enough. Finally, both Ham and GMRS licenses are valid for 10 years.

Conclusion

Since April 2021, both Ham and GMRS licenses cost $35, and this money goes to the FCC. However, as of June 2021, the FCC has not collected a fee for Ham licenses but is expected to do so in the first weeks of summer. 

To get a Ham Radio License, you will need to take an exam that is usually conducted by the ARRL. Every attempt will cost an additional $15 fee. Exams are required for every radio license, so you should try to pass your exams on the first few attempts to reduce the overall license costs. 

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