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I'm hoping to take the exam in the fall. My question is, does it matter whether I do so in the US or Canada?

I would like to operate the radio at my school in Canada, but I do get the chance to come the US, so I can potentially take the exam there. I'm just wondering if there's any chance the exam is easier in the US or if the license granted in the US is potentially more powerful?

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  • $\begingroup$ Do you have a US/ Canadian citizenship? Please include which if any you have. $\endgroup$ – PearsonArtPhoto Aug 27 '14 at 13:56
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There are advantages and disadvantages to each.

Do you have citizenship in either country? U.S. citizens are prohibited from transmitting in the U.S. using a foreign license. As well, Canadian citizens are prohibited from transmitting in Canada using a foreign license.

What sort of privileges are you looking for? I don't think there's much difference between the U.S. Technician license and the Canadian Basic license. Both are essentially VHF/UHF and above.

However, if you qualify for the Canadian Basic with Honours license (80% or more on the Basic test), you will have more privileges on HF than the U.S. Technician license does. The Canadian Basic with Honours covers more or less the same frequencies on HF that the U.S. Extra license covers. Power limits are lower, though.

You will need the Canadian Advanced license to set up a repeater in Canada or build your own radios. In the U.S., you can do that with any class of license.

Either way, you will need a local address. The U.S. system allows you to have a call outside your call area (so you could have a vanity KG2 call in the 7 call area); Canada requires that you have a call located in your call area (so you will have to have VE3 / VA3 in Ontario, for instance).

Canadian callsigns are good for life, U.S. callsigns are good for 10 years and then must be renewed (currently free of charge).

The Canadian Basic test is 100 questions from a pool of 960. You need 70% to pass, 80% for Basic with Honours. If you don't get Honours when you first take the test, you can take it again. The Canadian Advanced is 50 questions from a pool of 540. The U.S. Technician is 35 questions from a pool of 420; the U.S. General (which will give you HF) is 35 questions from a pool of 450; the U.S. Extra is 50 questions from a pool of 750. All pools in both the U.S. and Canada are multiple choice.

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    $\begingroup$ Vanity calls in the US are now free. $\endgroup$ – user10489 Aug 19 '18 at 11:15
  • $\begingroup$ Answer is not fully correct ("prohibited from transmitting"): US and Canada have a unique reciprocal operating agreement, see other answers. $\endgroup$ – whiskeychief Sep 12 '18 at 13:45
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The ARRL's information may help you:

Foreign amateurs who wish to operate in the US and are not US licensees or citizens may do so in one of three ways:

  • If the country of which you are a citizen and an amateur licensee has entered into a multilateral operating agreement with the US, CEPT or IARP, no additional permit is required -- simply bring your CEPT or IARP documentation when you visit the US. Identify your station by the US call district identifier, such as W3/G1ABC. Use "W" and the number of the FCC call letter district in which you are operating followed by a slash and your home call sign (plus any other CEPT or IARP requirements). Amateurs must be a citizen of the country in which they are licensed. Check these links for a list of the US call districts shown graphically or for a text listing. And make sure to check the current information with the FCC. This is intended for short visits.
  • Or, if your country of citizenship and amateur license share a bilateral Reciprocal Operating Agreement with the US, the FCC allows foreign amateurs to operate with no permit. Simply carry your foreign amateur license and proof of your citizenship in that country. Identify using "W" and the number of the FCC call letter district in which you are operating followed by a slash and your non-US call sign, e.g. W3/G1ABC). Amateurs must be a citizen of the country in which they are licensed. Check these links for a list of the US call districts shown graphically or for a text listing.
  • If your country of citizenship and amateur license is not named in lists of countries that have such agreements with the US, then no operating agreement is in effect between the US and that country--and operation is not possible in the US based on your home license. Should you wish to seek such an agreement between your home country and the US for the future, you may want to contact your national Amateur Radio society to request that they contact the responsible government official to request such an agreement with the US. US citizenship is not required to obtain a US license, but a US mailing address is. Once a person is prepared to take the US license examinations, licensing is possible in as little as a few days to a week. If a US license is held, no other reciprocal operating authority may be used for operation in the US
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    $\begingroup$ Canada and the US have a peculiar and unique reciprocal operating agreement. Hams have the privileges that they have in their home country, but not exceeding those of the top-end license in the other country. Also, unusually, Canadian and US hams suffix their callsign, not prefix them as is usually done. For example, VE5STX operating in North Dakota would be VE5STX/W0; WB0STX operating in Saskatchewan would be WB0STX/VE5. $\endgroup$ – Jim MacKenzie VE5EV Oct 8 '17 at 14:48
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In order to get a licence in the US, I believe it is now a requirement (since 2000 or so) to have a US Social Security Number. I used to have a US Extra Class licence that I got in 1995, that I could not renew when it expired in 2005 for that reason (I am a UK citizen and do not have a US SSN).

Reading the answer provided by GrantB, you can see that in order to use a reciprocal licence in the US, you need to have a licence in your country of citizenship unless you are operating under a CEPT or an IARP licence - this might also be the rule in other countries where you may wish to operate in the future, so it may be advantageous to have a licence in your country of citizenship anyway.

The short answer is: assuming that you are a Canadian citizen, you should probably get a Canadian licence anyway. If you qualify to apply for a US licence (i.e. if you have a US SSN) then you might want to apply for a US licence also for convenience, especially if you spend a lot of time in the US.

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    $\begingroup$ You don't need a SSN to renew, you need a FRN to renew. If you don't have an FRN, FCC will assign one when you get your initial license. However, they do ask for a SSN to create the FRN. If you already have a license, you already have a FRN so... $\endgroup$ – user10489 Aug 19 '18 at 11:17
  • $\begingroup$ This was not the case in 1995. Or 2005. $\endgroup$ – Scott Earle Aug 19 '18 at 11:21
  • $\begingroup$ @ScottEarle but what about August, 2014? $\endgroup$ – Jim MacKenzie VE5EV Aug 20 '18 at 4:17
  • $\begingroup$ I had not heard to the contrary by then, so I could not say. Note the "I believe" at the beginning $\endgroup$ – Scott Earle Aug 20 '18 at 4:35
  • $\begingroup$ My 2003 license includes a FRN, so I think you're probably wrong about 2005. Maybe you had one and just didn't know about it. I don't have older ones handy to check, and I can't find a history page for FCC. $\endgroup$ – user10489 Aug 20 '18 at 11:20
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If you are a citizen of the US or Canada, you should get a callsign in that country because you must have a callsign in that country in order to be able to transmit there as a citizen. Also, that will allow you to use any reciprocal authority that country has to operate in other countries.

If you wish, you may also get a callsign in the other country, but if you do you may only use it in that country. It can be convenient to do so if you will operate there regularly, because your identifying will be shorter.

I am a Canadian citizen and at this time only have a Canadian callsign, but I am in the US frequently. However, I only need to identify using /W0, /W7, /W6, etc. depending on where I am in the US. If I were to do contest operation in the US I might prefer a US callsign to keep my ID string shorter. For the VHF/UHF operation I tend to do down there, the extra ID length is of minimal consequence.

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If anyone else out there has done both the US and Canadian tests, I think they will agree that the Canadian tests are significantly harder for anyone who does not have a solid electronics background. So, if the reader can legally test in the US and use in Canada then do so as the Technician and General are quite easy with a couple weeks of study and there are lots of choices for both paid and free study aids... not so for the Canadian certificates.

There are no really free study guides for the Canadian and the paid study helps are only fair at best... and because the two major sources of paid study guides for Canada know you have no choices their guides are quite steep for the quality provided.... Add to that, that the test is not at par to the American test and the test questions are designed to fail the applicant (many questions have 2 & 3 sometimes correct answers that you have to figure what the author wants as an answer not what is necessarily the correct answer as very few are cut and dry with 1 correct answer and 3 wrong ones)... Had I not had an electronics background and had written all 3 American tests and passed understanding the electronics behind the questions I wouldn’t have stood a chance testing in Canada...

Now the good news for those testing in Canada IF you are in a major center is that there are a number of clubs that will test you the basic course (generally for a fee or upon joining) but most take about 2/12 months of weekly classes and study time between...

BTW, I believe there is no longer any requirement to use both your call and location (eg N0OBZ/VA3) while in Canada so American’s take the US test and make life easy on yourself.

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  • $\begingroup$ There most certainly is a requirement to suffic with the call area, both for American hams in Canada and for Canadian hams in the US. This is specified in the reciprocity treaty. There is also a requirement to state the location where you are transmitting, too. $\endgroup$ – Jim MacKenzie VE5EV Aug 20 '18 at 4:14

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