License Expiration and Renewal

Relevant to American hams only:  US amateur radio licenses are valid for ten years (10 year grant term).  License term or renewal rules are likely different in other countries.


So a newly-licensed ham doesn’t have to worry about renewal for a long time to come. Various organizations will nag you via email, postal mail, and on QRZ when your license expiration is on the horizon (“This license expires soon.  Renew Now!”).  So if you intend to keep your license you should have plenty of warning and opportunity to renew.   You can renew within 90 days of expiration but no sooner.

If, for any reason, you let your license expire, you have a two year grace period during which you may file for reinstatement.


However, you may not operate (transmit) whatsoever once your license has expired.


Renewal or re-instatement (within the grace period) is simple and straight-forward.  No cost and no re-testing required.  Unlike the old days, you do not need to prove activity for renewal (showing log entries).  Make renewal application on the FCC ULS website.  If you have trouble navigating the process, there are renewal services eager to do the work for you (for a reasonable fee).

Direct renewal via ULS should be very fast.  Your status with new expiration date should show up on the ULS database shortly after processing.  If previously expired, do not transmit until you see a new expiration date a decade away (much like your original license experience).

After the 2 year grace period has passed, the FCC will cancel your license and make it available for reissue. If your license gets canceled, your call sign is lost and you must pass an exam again to get re-licensed. After you have obtained a new license and call sign, you may apply for your old call sign as a vanity call, if it is still available.

Not all new hams are brand new to the game.  Sometimes hams let their license expire due to neglect or lack of interest.  More commonly a ham will find that a career and family interrupt their interest in amateur radio and they just let it slide.  Then years— perhaps decades—later they catch the bug again and want to get back into ham radio.  In some ways they are a new ham because many things have changed (rules&regs, technology).  On the other hand, the basics are familiar so they aren’t totally green.

There is good news for previous holders of General, Advanced or Extra Class licenses.  If you can show that you held one of those licenses (FCC record or copy of license) you can get it reinstated by simply passing the Technician exam (Element 2).


The one disqualification is if the license was revoked for some violation, a rare situation.


Bottom line here is that if you held a higher class license many years ago and can prove it, you can get re-licensed for that class by simply passing a modern Technician exam.

27 thoughts on “License Expiration and Renewal

  1. Good explanation. I renewed my license online today and I’m eager to find the new expiration date show up somewhere soon


  2. My extra class license expired years ago when I was busy in career and family.
    Can I take the technician class test and renew my extra class? My call sign was W6EKP
    I know I would get a new call sign but just want to get back on HF after all these years.


    • Bob, your understanding is correct. If you can prove your previous Extra status (copy of license or FCC ULS document), you simply need to pass the written Tech exam to get your expired Extra status back. A new call sign will be issued but you can then select a vanity call, including your old one, if available. Finding a license exam now is trick, as most have been sidelined due to pandemic this year. You may be able to find one online or possibly socially distanced otherwise by searching or asking local club members. Jim


  3. I have an active Technician license, but am unable to locate my card. Who would I contact please to receive a new card by email please? Thank you.


    • Mr Rush, to my knowledge, FRNs have no expiration date so you should use the one you already have when you get re-licensed. Of course, you will need to go through the exam process with a local VE (or remote on-line one these days pf pandemic) to take your Technician exam. If you pass that, you will be issued a new call sign with the class that you can prove you held previously (if Technician, it won’t matter). If you then want your old call sign back, you can apply for it (assuming it is available) as a vanity call. Jim AF5NP


  4. Hi Jim,
    I have a co-worker who just told me today that he had an amateur radio license, but it expired long ago. He had a Novice license, call sign KB6WII. He wants to get on the air again after a few decades. I think all he needs to do is;
    1. create an FRN (he does not have one according to the FCC license database)
    2. take the Technician exam, and pass it, of course
    3. apply for his former call sign using the Vanity call sign process

    Does that look correct?

    Thanks for a well written article!
    Jim – AA7HR


    • Jim, Your summary looks correct to me. My only comment would be that passing the Tech exam would get him a Tech license (no more Novice), which gives limited HF privileges. Maybe study and test for the General license would be good idea. Paying for a test on one exam session doesn’t cost any more to test up, so go for it. I also need to update this post to say that just recently the FCC started imposing a fee for new licenses and renewals. Not a lot, but adds to the typical $15 exam fee. Jim AF5NP


    • Just to let you know I was in a similar scenario. My license expired 10 years ago. About 1 month ago I applied to take the test and I passed it.

      I used my existing FRN from my original call sign. For me, it worked. I didn’t apply for a new number.


  5. Hi, I have the same situation, I quit the hobby for many years to concentrate on my family, now I am back, I passed the technician again but don’t have my old license to prove that I had a general class, what are my options? I am studying for the General test but if I don’t have to that would be nice, my old call sign was N1KUD. I Appreciate any help. Thanks


    • Luiz, without a copy of your original license it’s hard but not hopeless to prove your old license. You can get a license verification letter from the FCC (for a fee), retrieve a license copy (1966 or more recent, for a fee), or find yourself in a Radio Amateur Callbook (cost varies, can be free if you have one). More details at the ARRL website at Best wishes on getting your General back by passing only the Technician exam. Of course, once you’re re-licensed, you’ll have to apply for your old call with a vanity request.


    • Hi Luiz,
      When did you get your first license? When did you get your general? I looked up N1KUD in the FCC databases and found nothing. I looked up Miranda, Luiz and found two entries. (when searching by name you have to do it in this format LASTNAME, FIRSTNAME)

      Here is the link to the FCC license search page –

      Without a copy of your original license, it’s going to be tough. I know there are some parameters around the details of jumping right to General as well, which I am not well-versed on.

      No matter what, congratulations on returning to the hobby and getting your technician license.

      Oh, also, what is your new call sign?

      Hope this helps a little,
      Jim – KD7G


      • Hi Jim,

        Thank you so much for the quick reply, good news, I found the first license I got on 12/10/91, I am not sure when I got the General, I looked up callbooks online up to 1997, and still shows me as a technician, I guess the callbooks after 1997 is in CD format and I can’t find it, is there a chance you can look it up for me, I guess I will need that to prove it, right? Based on the date I got my license it would expire in 2003 including the 2 years grace period, so my guess is that a call book between 1998 and 2002 should show me as a General. Any help will be appreciated. Thanks again, 73


    • Hi Luiz,
      The data for your General license is online. I’ve pasted it below. It appears that your call sign was KF4PGO. Your previous call sign was N1KUD. Your General license was granted on 02/20/1997.

      I think the quickest way to get your General is what AF5NP (also named Jim) desccribes – go to take the Technician exam (again) and present your old license to them. He also provided a link to the ARRL’s page that describes Exam Element Credit Rules and Instructions, which you should read if you have not looked at it yet. ( ).

      Here’s the license info (your old license) on the FCC site.

      Call Sign KF4PGO
      Radio Service HA – Amateur
      Status Expired
      Auth Type Regular
      Grant 02/20/1997 Expiration 12/10/2001
      Effective 02/20/1997 Cancellation 12/11/2003

      Amateur Data
      Operator Class General
      Prev. Op. Class Technician
      Group D
      Prev. Call Sign N1KUD

      Do let us know how it all works out.

      Jim – KD7G


      • Wow, now I remember the KF4PGO call sign, unbelievable lol, thank you so much both of you, a really big help, I agree and will take the Technician test again once I find my general license. Really appreciate your help. 73


      • Hi Luiz,
        If you are unable to locate the license soon, I agree with AF5NP (Jim) that you can get a license verification letter from the FCC (for a fee), retrieve a license copy (1966 or more recent, for a fee).

        I tried to find the specific instructions on the FCC site for these two options, but I was unable to find them.

        This page at the ARRL site describes the process that AF5NP described to you.


  6. OK, Luiz. Since you now have a Tech class license it’s too late to get the General applied to the exam you took for that. So you’ll have to go and re-test for Tech (should be easy for you) with the proof of previous General license to get it credited.
    As for searching callbooks, I don’t have a way to do that myself. You can try your local library (possibly) and make a photocopy. Or you can get Steve M to search for you. He has an old callbook reference library which is now under construction but says he will help until it’s back on line:


  7. Rather ridiculous question here and may be overthinking the “process.” I am struggling to find any information showing if a Technician license expires… keep this tidbit of info at the ready. However, if a person is a General or high level, are they required to renew ALL expiring licenses or just the highest a person has attained? Thank you kindly. r/KK6CQG


    • Hi Nathan, no such thing as a ridiculous question 🙂
      Every USA license expires 10 years after issuance. The actual date is noted on your license (they don’t print them anymore– you should have soft copy, or print a PDF of it). Also look on your QRZ page which shows the FCC license info.
      In your case it expires 2023-02-27 (only seven days from now!).
      If you gave a General class license, you no longer have a Tech license; likewise if Extra, no lower class licenses. Only one license to renew. Jim


      • Many thanks Jim! And yes, I just renewed online, hence what prompted my inquiry. Just wanted to be sure. Stay well and thank you.


  8. Hi Jim I am trying to renew my license and i am in the 90 days window but according to the FCC website I still have to wait until 90 days? Confusing ! Any idea why?
    Randy N2VQD


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