Sunday, October 18, 2009

How long does it take to get an amateur radio license?

This question is one that we get asked quite frequently at VE sessions, typically by people who've just successfully completed their examination for Element 2, thereby earning their first amateur radio license.  (And actually in those cases it's "How long before I get my license", but anyway.)  Most of them are pleasantly surprised to find out that the answer (for us, at least) is "typically about five or six days".  We're an ARRL/VEC VE team, so we submit our results back to Newington by priority mail, which tends to result in them hitting the FCC database (ULS) about three business days later, and as we test on Friday evening that usually means the resulting licenses clear ULS on Wednesday or Thursday.  Some VE teams, notably Laurel VEC, submit results electronically, which results in new licenses making it onto ULS sometimes within 24 hours.  How's that for instant gratification?

Of course, this question comes up because (as anyone who has recently studied for the Technician license knows), one is not permitted to go on the air until one's license actually appears in the "ULS consolidated licensee database" (unless one qualifies for a reciprocal operating grant as an alien); until this happens, one is not technically an "amateur radio operator".  However, it's rare indeed that the study guides that most people use to prepare for the exams tell them how long it takes for this to happen. 

This is another area where US hams have it good.  Very few countries have turnaround this quick; more typical waits range from a week or so (most of Europe) to months or even years.  I know a guy in India who tested nine months ago who has yet to receive his license; he didn't even find out that he passed until two months after the test.  We tell you if you passed or not immediately (the FCC regs on the VE program mandate this). 

I haven't talked about how long it takes to learn what you need to know to get the license.  That's because that's really a function of the student.  Some people can learn this stuff in a few hours; others will take a bit longer.  There's a group that's been doing one-day classes for years with a pretty high success rate.  I personally spent about a month in preparation for the tests, but I took all three elements at one time and I'd say that most of my study time was spent on the material for the (much harder) Element 4 test for the Extra license.

This post has been brought to you by pool questions T1A01, T1C01, and T1D05.