Should U.S. ham tests be given abroad?

Should U.S. ham tests be given abroad?

By Dan Romanchik, KB6NU

A couple of weeks ago, I received an e-mail from a reader who wanted my opinion about a thread on the HamRadioHelpGroup mailing list. The e-mail that started the discussion was a message from an American living in Italy who wanted to take the Technician Class exam. In her e-mail, she told of her troubles finding a test session, and then when she did find one, what she perceived as “irregularities” in the testing process. Reading the thread was a little disconcerting, and I blogged about this issue (

I understand why foreign national go to the trouble of taking the U.S. license exam. Some of them even buy my study guides. About a year ago, for example, I swapped some e-mail with a guy from Malaysia about why he purchased my study guide and why he wanted a U.S. license. He said that it was because a neighboring country offered reciprocal operating privileges to U.S. licensees, but not Malaysian licensees! He mentioned that he tested for the license in Thailand.

Basically, my Malaysian friend was using the U.S. licensing process to circumvent the Malaysian licensing process. Australians seem to do this, too. Apparently, according to one of the VKs who commented on the thread, getting a U.S. Tech license is easier than testing for an Australian Foundation license. So, some Australians get a U.S. Tech license first, then get the Australian government to issue them a VK Foundation license based on the reciprocal operating agreement between the U.S. and Australia.

Another reason that some outside the U.S. obtain U.S. amateur radio licenses is the challenge. That’s the reason Martin Butler, M0MRB/W9ICQ, of ICQPodcast fame, gave when I spoke to him about this recently.

Are these reasons “good enough” to continue this program of licensing non-U.S. citizens? My first reaction was that no, it’s not good enough, and I questioned whether or not the ARRL VEC should sanction non-U.S. VEs and whether or not the FCC should even allow testing outside of the United States.

I didn’t see the need for conducting these test sessions or the desirability (to the U.S.) of licensing foreign nationals. I reasoned that not only was there a greater possibility of test fraud, this program could lead to foreign authorities claiming that the U.S. was meddling in their affairs.

This post garnered a lot of comments. Several of them took me to task for voicing this opinion and were in favor keeping the current licensing program in place. There were a variety of reasons.

One of the reasons in favor of using the U.S. licensing process is that in many countries, amateur radio license exam sessions are not very frequent. Another is that they often are quite expensive. This creates an artificial barrier to getting an amateur radio license. Using the U.S. licensing system breaks through this barrier and allows many more to enjoy amateur radio

Of course, for everything to be on the up and up, the foreign authorities would have to condone the use of U.S. license tests. Apparently, this is the case in Thailand and Australia. I don’t know about Italy, but I’m guessing that the authorities there don’t really care about Italians obtaining U.S. licenses.

Perhaps the best comment came from Thida, HS1ASC/KH6ASC. He noted that the tests in Thailand were administered very strictly, and says, “The U.S. may lose some callsigns, but what the U.S. and U.S. hams get from us is goodwill, very positive feeling. Everyone who gets U.S. license is so proud, and others look at them respectfully.” Since Part 97.1(e) lists as one of the purposes of amateur radio, “Continuation and extension of the amateur’s unique ability to enhance international goodwill,” I’m now all in favor of offering U.S. ham tests abroad.


Dan, KB6NU, is the author of the “No Nonsense” amateur radio license study guides, and blogs about amateur radio at KB6NU.Com, and you can contact him by e-mailing When he’s not pondering the vagaries of the U.S. licensing system, you’ll find him working CW on the HF bands.