April 18, 2024

Getting your amateur radio license from the FCC is just a part of doing ham radio. Yes, it’s a little odious because we all have to imagine what life would be like without government overreach and bureaucracy, but it’s just the way it is if you want to stay legal.

the BaoFeng UV5R Ham radio

It’s easy to forget about your license once you’ve tested and have it in hand and hop on the airways. But, like every other form of ID, you can’t let it expire!

The good news is that renewing it is easily done via various methods, and as long as you don’t need to retest, it’ll only set you back about $35. If you’ve never renewed before you are in luck because I’m going to walk you through it in this guide.

First Things First: Check the Expiration Date of Your License

Before you do anything else, you need to check the expiration date of your license. That’s because you can’t just renew it anytime you want!

To renew your license, it has to be 90 days away from expiry or sooner, or up to a couple of years expired. If your license is 4 months or a year or whatever away from expiry, you won’t even be able to renew it.

To check, you just need to go to the FCC website and look up your license using your call sign. This will give you a quick readout with all of your relevant information, including the expiration date of your license.

If you’re 90 days away or less, you are ready to renew via one of the three methods below. All of them work, but some of them are quicker and easier than others.

Option 1: Renew on the FCC Website

The most straightforward method for renewal is simply to use the FCC website by following the relevant links through the licensing portal. There you’ll be able to log in and renew by paying online with a credit or debit card. Note that if you don’t know or have your callsign handy, you can look it up on QRZ.com.

It’s fast and easy, and you’ll quickly have your renewed license in hand to show as proof for whatever you need it for.

Option 2: Renew by Snail Mail

If you just don’t like dealing with all of this newfangled internet nonsense, or you don’t trust the government to do a good job, it’s possible to renew via snail mail.

You’ll need to print out FCC form 605, linked above for your convenience, and fill it out completely and correctly before bundling it up in an envelope with a check for the required fee, usually around $35 bucks.

However, like all government forms, they are overly complicated, unclear, and a giant pain in the butt. Make sure you print out the accompanying instructions, read them in their entirety, and then consult them as you go through the 605 form while filling it out.

In ideal circumstances, once the form has been received and your payment processed, you should get your renewed license in two to three weeks, though it’s hardly uncommon for it to take longer.

And, as expected, if there’s any error on the form or with your information that you entered, your form will be rejected and you may, or may not, get a response letter or other notification.

I urge you to use one of the other options on this list for renewing your license, but I know that some of us old ham ops are sticklers for tradition, and this is how they’ve always done it. As long as you don’t mess up, it’s still a viable method.

Option 3: Renew via the ARRL if you are a Member

If you are a member of the ARRL or Amateur Radio Relay League, you can let them handle the renewing of your license. By the way, you really should be a member if you aren’t already!

You can think of this as your concierge renewal. It’s a lot quicker, easier, and more straightforward compared to using the FCC website and I can tell you from experience and from the experience of countless other members I’ve talked to, this is the easiest way to do it.

They won’t miss a stitch and they’ll do it super quick, meaning you can focus on the important work of messing with your set or getting on the air.

All you need to do is access the membership portal with them for instructions on mailing the 605 form above to them. They will handle the rest!

Obviously, the only downside to this is that you need to be a member of the ARRL to make use of it, and that entails an extra cost yearly. But like I said, you really should be a member if you’re a ham op! The benefits are huge, and this is just another one you can make use of.

Do You Need to Re-Test for Renewal?

No, assuming you’re renewing it before it expires.

What Happens if Your License Has Expired?

It depends. If your license has expired but is not more than 2 years past the expiration date, you can just renew normally.

However, if your license is more than 2 years out of date, you won’t be able to renew and catch it up; you’ll have to retest in order to recertify and have your license reissued!

Expired Licenses 2 Years Out of Date Must Re-test at Technician

There’s another wrinkle if your license is more than 2 years past the expiration date: no matter what rating you held previously, you’ll have to retest at the Technician level!

I know this is bound to boil the blood of our General and Extra class license holders, or holders of other, legacy classifications that are no longer utilized, but that’s what the rules are.

If You Previously Held a General- or Extra-grade License, You Can Get it Back Without Testing in Some Situations

Now, if you’ve got to retest in order to get your license reissued and you held an advanced classification, all is not lost.

You’ll have to retest at the Technician grade, no way around that, but then you can submit proof of your former license grade in order to upgrade your newly issued license back to General or Extra – of course, if you pass the test for Technician.

It’s still a pain, of course, but way better than having to do the tests to upgrade again.

Sign Up for ARRL Notifications So You Don’t Miss a Renewal!

The very best course of action is to not let your license expire in the first place, and the best way to keep that from happening (unless you are a diligent plotter on your calendar or agenda) is to sign up for the ARRL’s notifications for license renewal. Again, do that through your membership portal.

This way they’ll send you a reminder email 30 days prior to the expiration of your license, and if you want them to renew it for you it is just a hop, skip, and a jump to have them take care of it.

No fuss, no muss, and you won’t have to worry about being overdue or having to retest because you forgot like last time. 🙂

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