Can a Felon Get a Ham Radio License?

Felons with an interest in assisting with emergency services may want to look into operating a ham radio. This blog post will address the issue of whether or not a felon can get a ham radio license.

  • What Is a Ham Radio?
  • What Is a Ham Radio License?
  • What Is Required to Get a Ham Radio License?
  • An Opportunity for Felons?
  • Recommended Action

What Is a Ham Radio?

A ham radio is a radio that allows a person to talk to people much like on a CB radio with many more frequencies allowed. Ham radios have been in existence for over 100 years. The term, ”ham,” is often used to designate a person who is an amateur at doing something. Ham radio operators are often involved in requesting assistance in local or area emergencies.

What Is a Ham Radio License?

A license is issued by a state agency to practice a profession and is required in order to call oneself a licensed professional. A license shows that someone has specific knowledge or skill necessary to do a job. Typically, these types of credentials are obtained after completing certain education.

Licenses are legally required by the government to work in an occupation. A license is:

  • Awarded by a government licensing agency
  • Give some legal authority to work in an occupation
  • Requires meeting certain criteria such as having a degree or passing a state-administered exam

Founded in 1914, the American Radio Relay League (ARRL) regulates ham radio licenses. The ARRL is also called the National Association for Amateur Radio in the U.S. Currently, there are more than 158,000 members.

Operating a ham radio can be difficult; using a radio to transmit long distances can be complicated. Therefore, a license is required to operate a ham radio. Anyone with a ham radio can listen over the ham radio frequencies, but a license issued by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is required by anyone wanting to transmit over these standard ham radio frequencies.

There are three types of ham radio licenses:

  • Technician license – This provides transmitting privileges on VHF and UHF radio bands. These offer communications for a few miles up two of hundreds of miles. This is the basic license obtained by passing the entry-level exam.
  • General license – This creates additional transmitting privileges on multiple high frequency (HF) radio bands and can be obtained after acquiring a Technician license.
  • Extra license – This creates additional transmitting privileges on several segments of the HF radio bands reserved exclusively for extra class licensed ham operators and is the highest upgrade to a ham radio license.

What Is Required to Get a Ham Radio License?

It is not difficult to get a ham radio license, which is also called an amateur radio license. Until recently, there was a requirement to know Morse code. To become licensed to operate a ham radio, an applicant must study and pass an exam.

While the FCC still grants ham radio licenses, it no longer administers the licensing exam. Ham radio license exams are given by volunteer examiners (VE). The volunteer exam (VE) coordinator is responsible for certifying and monitoring the volunteer examiners who run the license exam sessions. A licensed exam must be administered by three volunteer examiners.

An Opportunity for Felons?

Beginning in 2017, an applicant must indicate on an application for a ham radio license if he or she has been convicted of or pled guilty to a felony.  The Communications Act obliges the FCC to ask the question on Form 605.

The commission is including a question regarding a felony conviction in any state or federal court. Any applicant answering, “Yes,” must provide an explanation regarding the conviction.

An applicant must then explain the circumstances and provide a statement giving the reasons why he or she believes that granting the application may be in the public interest in spite of the actual or alleged misconduct.

“An applicant must provide sufficient information for the FCC to determine whether there’s a new material and substantial question of fact regarding whether the applicant has the character qualifications to be a Commission licensee.” There is no specific checklist of items, but the information must include:

  • Whether there is a conviction or a guilty plea
  • Time and place of conviction or guilty plea
  • Penalty imposed
  • Whether the penalty has been satisfied completely

Anyone convicted of a felony and later pardoned or whose record has been sealed should include information regarding the pardon as that will be relevant to whether the conviction still makes a candidate undesirable for licensing.

It is important to be honest when applying for a ham radio license. If a felony isn’t disclosed but is found on a background check this constitutes fraud and is punishable by jail time. It is a crime to falsify an application, which could result in being sent back to prison.

In order to be successful in obtaining a ham radio license, it is essential for felons to be honest about their backgrounds. They are already seen as being dishonest, untrustworthy, and unwilling or unable to follow directions from authority figures.

Having their record expunged can give them the chance needed to begin with a clean record and succeed in getting a ham radio license. Expunging a criminal record allows anyone to honestly state on an application that he or she has not been convicted of a crime.

Recommended Action

It is a major challenge, but it might be worth it for a felon wanting to get a ham radio license and participate in emergency services. Giving him or herself the best chance for success by having his or her record expunged and also documenting additional education could make the essential difference.

Having support from family, friends, or previous employers can make a huge difference. A felon doesn’t have to be defined by his or her crime. He or she can begin again, live an honest life, and achieve his or her goal no matter how difficult it might seem.

What do you think about this blog post? Have you or someone you know been in the situation of trying to get a ham radio license with a felony? What was that like for him or her, and how did he or she achieve success? Please tell us in the comments below.


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  • Does anyone know if this affects renewal of a ham radio license that you already have. I got my ham radio license in around 1995 as a teen. I had a felony in 2011 is the felony going to keep me from renewing my license My spouse is also a ham and we have spent money on equipment ect

  • It should be noted here that an Amateur Radio License does not allow you to operate on amateur radio frequencies for pay. RACES and DEMgt. Does not except felons.

  • My question is if you plead no contest. My partner stole the money that he told me everything is fine. The money was for Florida sales tax. His job was to go down and pay the money every month. I paid the tax’s. No punishment. Community service etc etc. So what do I answer on the application?

  • Negative, the question is not on the renewal application. Renewal is an (AU) Administrative Update. You are not filling a new FCC Form 605 for a new license such as GMRS or a vanity call. However, Your name will probably trigger a Red Light list if you are on a State or Federal Registry. In that case you may be flagged and have to submit letters of recommendation and prove your character to the FCC. The Commission states a felony is not a automatic denial. You will need to provide why it is in the best interest of the public that you be allowed a license. Having letters from local government will help. The more you provide the better off you will be.

  • I studied and took the test this past April for my Extra license and passed it. Here it is almost August and it still says pending on the FCC website. How long does it take for a felon to be granted a license? It’s just a hobby playing on radios! I guess they’re hoping I’ll lose interest in ham radio and move on to something else. Why does this country have to be so full of self-righteous haters?

  • The ARRL DOES NOT REGULATE HAM (Amateur Radio) LICENSES, the FCC regulates them. The ARRL is a club and you do not have to be a member, the membership fee is currently $49 a year (August 2019)

    A plea of no contest is a conviction.

    You can not just go and take the Extra exam, there are currently three levels Technician (element 2), General (element 3) and Extra (element 4), you must have the previous level to test for the next level so you must pass the technician exam first, then if desired the general exam, then if desired the extra exam.

  • I was young dum and stupid right out of school, i burgularized a country club i had worked for for 2 and 1 half years becaused they wanted to fire me because of the greens chairman did not like me, so instead i quite because this was my first jod i had where they took out income tax and social security. I did not want a fireing from my first job. I got mad so after brewing for about 3 months i went back at nite and burglarized the country club and i got caught about 6 weeks later, anyways i got 6 years for burgulary got out in 1985 and served out my parole in September 1989, been clean ever since. Would this hurt my chance at getting a ham liscens?

  • Hello folks,

    I am an attorney but also a ham radio operator (callsign KG5JST) and I don’t think the “felony rule” for ham radio licenses is fair.

    Hence… I’m willing to provide a free hour of pro-bono time for anyone who wants a lawyer’s assistance in writing a letter to explain the circumstances of a prior felony conviction when applying for a ham radio license, seeking an upgrade, etc.

    My contact information is on my website at

    Also, if your application is rejected, I am willing to travel to DC if you wish to seek an appeal before an ALJ (admin law judge). I can’t do this for free, but I will do my best to keep the costs as low as possible.

    Lastly… please don’t let this stupid rule keep you from getting your ham radio license. It is worth fighting for.

    • I have had a ham license
      For almost 30 years
      Extra class for about 25 years I wus a ve for a while n this is b.s.

  • I really wish you made your site easier to post on from a handheld device. Your blue menu box and up Arrow key end up in the right corner and right in the middle of the comments box where you’re trying to type. Try it out yourself from your phone. Start typing enough letters to fill the screen. No, just cut and paste this comment and then go in and try to edit it. I had just spent 10 or 15 minutes writing an “atta boy” comment and question and tried to correct a misspelling and accidentally hit the Blue menu box and tried to go back and it erased my entire comment. You guys should try and fix that. Just a suggestion.

  • Don’t do the cut and paste thing because it doesn’t bring the keyboard up. It’s the keyboard that takes up half the screen and that’s where the problem lies. So if you do the cut and paste bring the keyboard up after you paste and hopefully you’ll see the issue.

  • After you do the cut and paste make sure that you go in and try to edit it which will bring up the keyboard. The keyboard takes up the lower half of the screen and crowds everything else out. Since many felons don’t have access to a desktop or laptop and probably use their cell phones like me you might want to try and fix that.

  • Thank you for the information. It will come in quite handy. Although my offense was more than twenty years ago and there has been no repeat of that or any other criminal offense I understand why they are asking. Great information in layman’s terms. Thank you.

  • I find it interesting that law makers can create law that retroactively restricts people. Also, I find it rather disgusting that this website would describe people with felony convictions, the way it does. Every person over the age of 15 has committed multiple felonies in their lives, they just weren’t caught.
    I was convicted of a felony 30 years ago. Paid my debt, no trouble since, and even recognized by Congress for “Outstanding Service to the Community”. And now, I find out, I will more than likely be denied a license by bearucrats, who themselves have probably committed more felonies than anyone. I also wonder why the attorney who posted here, isn’t trying to fight this restriction across the board. I.e. get the law repealed? Not enough money in it? Not really the “defender” of rights attorneys like to believe they are?

  • I picked up a class C felony in year 2000, for 3rd degree assault domestic violence. I was in a bad relationship with a woman and was trying to leave the relationship. She tried to prevent me from leaving the residence with my possessions. An altercation ensued, and I ended up with the assault conviction.

    In 2018, I applied for my amateur radio license, and answered ‘Yes’ to the felony question. I passed the test, and sent the FCC an explanation regarding the felony conviction.

    The FCC accepted my explanation, and granted the amateur license. It states on the FCC ULS license search page for my callsign that I have a felony conviction. It sort of tarnishes my radio license, by putting that on there. I don’t agree with that.

  • I took my test yesterday. Until test time, I hadn’t really even considered my felony barring me from a HAM radio license… but of course… here we are. I passed my test and the minute I got home, I sent my “explanation” to the email address on the form (
    Today, I got an email saying that they had attached my explanation to file number xxxxxx. I went to the FCC site and did a search with file number they gave me and sure enough, it says “Pending.” I called them two different times today just to try and get a ballpark on when I’d have an answer. I asked “will it be three days or six months?” and she said yeah it could be any time within that range. My felony, btw, is from a car accident in 2012. There was alcohol involved for my passenger and I. No other vehicles involved. I wrecked and we both went into ICU on ventilator. She didn’t make it. My convictions or no contest plea was to vehicular homicide by recklessness and evading arrest. I have no idea if I will get rejected but I’ve bought equipment, I’m – at this moment – listening to local guys chit chat about stuff I’d love to talk to them about (using a raspberry pi as a station) but I can’t and may never be able to talk to them. Frustrated. Very frustrated. Especially after reading the comment above where the guy has waited 5 months on his pending approval. I will come back and update this once I’ve heard back.

  • Like Mike H, I hadn’t even thought about there being a question about felonies on the ham test. I studied, took the tech test and easily but was a bit stunned when the VECs brought this up. I almostjust walked out. A dumb kid thing from 1984 isn’t exactly in the forefront of my consciousness anymore.

    Now waiting to hear back about my letter. I can understand why they may have been delayed during COVID confinement, so applications made this year might have dragged on for this sort of decision, but hopefully they are back on track.

    AA3RR, Bob Rose, wrote a great paper analyzing the FCC’s responses to The Felony Question. It is titled “Analysis of Amateur Radio Applications” and should show up in a web search.

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