Canadian Amateur Radio Examinations and Licenses



USA-Canada Reciprocal Agreement

For those who already have a USA or Canadian-issued Ham license and call sign, the Radio Amateurs of Canada (RAC) site contains a wealth of useful information regarding a special Amateur Radio Reciprocal Operating Agreement between the USA and Canada.  The agreement specifies a few (very simple!) procedures for currently-licensed Hams from the USA or Canada to follow when visiting each other's country.  


However, for those persons who may wish to obtain a definitive Amateur Radio License and Canadian call sign may do so by following the procedures outlined below.


Industry Canada's Role

Industry Canada is the Canadian government department responsible for all Amateur Radio licensing, certification and examiner accreditation in Canada. 

Specifically, Industry Canada's Amateur Radio Service Center  is the official focal point for Amateur Radio regulatory and license matters.  Their Web site offers clickable downloads of the governing documents for Amateur Radio activities in Canada (called Radio Information Circulars (RICs and Regulation by References (RBRs) as well as examination question banks and exam generation software.  


The Canadian Amateur Radio Operator Certificate


Briefly, authority to operate radio apparatus in the Amateur Radio Service in Canada (using a Canadian call sign issued by Industry Canada) is given to holders of an Amateur Radio Operator Certificate with Basic Qualification.  Other qualifications available with the Basic Amateur Radio Operator Certificate are the Morse Code and Advanced Qualifications.  


Also, because the actual licensing documents are called "Certificates of Proficiency in Amateur Radio", once applicants achieve these various qualifications, they are then "certified" to operate in the Amateur Radio Service in Canada, rather than simply being "licensed".  This subtle difference in semantics sets Canadian Amateurs apart from the rest of their "licensed" brethren elsewhere in the world.


Traditionally, Amateur Radio Operators in Canada were issued two separate authorizations; an Amateur Radio Operator Certificate and a radio station license. The Amateur Radio Operator Certificate was issued for life and had no fee associated with it, while the radio station license was issued on a yearly basis and a license renewal fee was charged.  However, on April 1, 2000, Industry Canada combined these documents into one authorization, the Amateur Radio Operator Certificate with its various qualifications. 


The "new" Amateur Radio Operator Certificate is issued for life and has no fee associated with it.  And although it's no longer necessary for Amateurs to renew their Certificates of Proficiency annually, they are still required to inform Industry Canada within 30 days of any change in their mailing address.


The Qualifications


Basic Qualification:  Obtaining a minimum passing score (70%) on this examination gives you most operating privileges above 30 MHz with a 250 watt power limit.  This includes the 144 MHz (2 meter) Very High Frequency (VHF) Amateur Radio band which is one of the most popular for local communication using handheld, mobile or base transceivers.  This closed book, written examination is usually taken first, as it must be successfully completed in order to obtain a Canadian call sign.  The test covers mostly rules and regulations and some (very) basic electronic and radio theory.  


In July, 2005, operating privileges in the HF bands (below 30 MHz) with a 250 watt power limit were also granted with this qualification alone if it was obtained prior to 2 April 2002 or, if the exam was taken after 2 April 2002, by achieving (or having proof of) an "Honours" score (80% or greater) on the exam.  


Amateurs who meet the latter criteria will be granted the same operator privileges as the holder of an Amateur Radio Operator Certificate With Basic Honors Qualification if they can demonstrate that they attained a mark of 80% or above on their Basic examination.  See our section on Recent Changes to Examinations and Licensing(below) for more detailed information on how to go about doing this.


5 WPM Morse Code: Although it has been around for a very long time, Radio Amateurs have found Morse Code is still very effective for long distance communication with very simple equipment. This sending and receiving exam can be taken after passing the Basic exam.  Having the Basic plus the Morse Code qualification gives you additional privileges below 30 MHz with a 250 watt power limit.  It includes access to the High Frequency (HF) Amateur Radio bands that allow you to communicate around the world! 


Advanced Qualification: This closed book, written theory exam is more technical than the Basic exam and can also be taken once you pass the Basic test. Having the Basic plus Advanced qualification gives all operating privileges currently authorized to Radio Amateurs in Canada, including the authority to build and operate a "home brew" transmitter, use more transmitting power, give Amateur Radio examinations to others (you must also have the 5 WPM Morse Certification to give exams), control stations remotely or sponsor a repeater or club station.




Examination Preparation


The Basic qualification examination is composed of questions drawn from a question bank (RIC-7) which you can download in its entirety from the Industry Canada Web site. The actual examination that you write consists of 100, multiple choice-type questions drawn in a stratified, random fashion from (and written exactly as they appear in) RIC-7.  The minimum passing mark is 70%, and although it does take a bit of studying, people young and old from all backgrounds have successfully passed this exam.  You can too! 


The Advanced qualification examination is based on a similar (but more technical) question bank (RIC-8) which you can also download in its entirety from the Industry Canada Web site. The actual examination that you write consists of 50, multiple choice-type questions drawn from RIC-8 in the same stratified, random fashion as the Basic exam.  The pass mark for this exam is also 70%. 


Examination Preparation Courses

The London Amateur Radio Club (London, Ontario) often conducts such preparation courses, usually during the Fall months.  

Examination Self-Preparation

While formal examination preparation is certainly desirable, completion of a formal course of study is absolutely not necessity for someone to obtain their Basic or Advanced Canadian Amateur Radio Certificate.  In fact, many people prefer to study on their own time (and in their own way) to prepare for these exams, and have very successfully done so over the years.


A large section of the Radio Amateurs of Canada (RAC) Web site contains detailed information regarding all aspects of Canadian Amateur Radio including the examination and license process.  Click on the "How to Start?" tab off their main page.  Their site also includes links to other sources that offer printed self-study guides and commercial (computer-based) examination preparation materials.  


The Toronto Emergency Communications Group has also assembled an excellent online (downloadable) Basic Amateur Radio Course that is freely available in multiple .PDF format lessons.  The course can be used as a stand-alone document for exam preparation, or as an additional, quick-study guide to supplement more detailed printed works.


In addition, Industry Canada offers a comprehensive practice and test generation software package for both the Basic and Advanced qualification examinations for free download from their Web site.  Once installed, the software allows you to take "practice exams" for either or both qualifications on your personal computer.  It's a great way to help gauge your readiness for the actual exam. 




There is a long-held tradition within Amateur Radio of mentoring newcomers.  These mentors (affectionately called "Elmers") are currently licensed Hams who enjoy helping newcomers study for and then pass their first examinations, as well as helping them set up their first Ham Radio stations.    

The Application Form


Applicants wishing to be tested for one (or all) of the Canadian qualifications should first download and print out a few copies of this application form (Industry Canada Form IC-2381, Application and Report for Amateur Radio Operator Certificate and Call Sign) from the Industry Canada Web site.  Bring these blank copies with you to the examination session.  During the examination session, you'll be asked to legibly print the requested personal information (and call sign choices (see below)) in the appropriate blocks on the top of the form.  


If you're unsure about what to put in a particular block on the form, (such as what to put in the "Type of Station" and/or "Amateur Radio Certificate Qualifications" blocks) don't worry.  Your examiner will make sure your application form is complete and correct prior to submitting that information to Industry Canada following the successful completion your exam.


Also, most applications for a Canadian Certificate of Proficiency in Amateur Radio are now being submitted electronically to Industry Canada by Accredited Examiners.  So you will also need to bring along your current e-mail address to share with your examiner. They, in turn, will send that information along to Industry Canada as well.  


Industry Canada, in turn, will contact you directly via that e-mail address to ascertain your choices for an initial call sign prior to issuing one to you.


Requesting a Call Sign


Canada is one of the few industrialized countries in the world that still encourages applicants for an initial Amateur Radio License to request their choice of call sign without additional charge. Candidate call signs can be selected from a list of those available as shown in the Canadian Amateur Radio Available Call Sign Search Engine.  At some point, applicants will be asked to indicate their first, second and third choice(s) of call signs to Industry Canada.  However, before finally deciding on which call sign(s) to request, applicants should read the entire contents of RIC-9 to insure they are eligible for the call sign(s) they select.  


It is important to remember that just because a requested call sign is shown in the database as being available, there's still no guarantee it will be assigned to you by Industry Canada.  Likewise, if no choices are indicated, and a Canadian call sign is not already assigned to the applicant, Industry Canada will assign an appropriate call sign from those currently available.


Taking the Examinations


Once the application form is in hand, applicants then need to decide how and where they wish to take their examination. This can be done in one of two ways.  


  • Industry Canada Regional Office:  Applicants can visit an Industry Canada regional office to be examined by a staff examiner.  A complete list of addresses and telephone numbers for Industry Canada's regional offices is contained in RIC-66.  It's probably a good idea to call ahead to see if an appointment will be required. 
  • Industry Canada Accredited Volunteer Examiners:  You can also take your exam from one of Industry Canada's many accredited volunteer examiners.  These people are currently licensed Ham operators who volunteer their services to Industry Canada by conducting examinations for applicants who reside in their local area.  In fact, this is the method most preferred by Industry Canada so the "regional office route" (above) should only be pursued as a last resort.  




Here are some other good articles and beginner sites on what ham radio is all about: