How To Renew Your Ham Radio License (For Free)

I just received an official-looking envelope in the mail, notifying me that my amateur radio license is about to expire. Inside, an official-looking form offered the opportunity to renew it: just fill in a few pieces of information, indicate how I planned to pay the “$7 license renewal fee,” and send it back in the enclosed postpaid envelope. Recognizing it as a scam, I threw it out.

Okay, so it’s not exactly a scam in the “wake up in a tub of ice with a kidney missing” category, but the letter, from the good old W5YI group, was clearly intended to take advantage of hams who don’t know the proper way to renew their licenses. Here are some simple instructions to do it without spending a dime.

First, check your license expiration date. It’s printed on the license. If it’s more than 90 days away, just make a note on your calendar about it. You can’t renew it until it’s within 90 days of expiring.

Once you’re inside the 90-day window, visit this FCC page and type your callsign into the form. Note the number under the “FRN” column on the form (or note if there isn’t one).

Now, go to the Universal Licensing System home page. If the previous step revealed that you don’t have a FRN assigned, you need to click the “Register” button. If you do have a FRN, click “Log in.” Now this is the tricky part. At some point, the FCC sent you a letter asking you to pick a password. If you thew that out, or don’t recall what the password was, then on the login screen choose the “Contact Tech Support” option.

Assuming you remembered your password, log in, and you’ll next reach a screen where you can manage any FCC-issued licenses you own. Click the “Renew” button in the left-hand column and follow the instructions. If your ham license doesn’t appear in the box on the renewal screen, double-check to be sure you’re within the 90-day renewal window.

Once you’ve finished that process, click over to the other FCC database, called CORES, and choose the “Update” button. Log in with the same FRN and password you used to renew, and check that your CORES information matches your license information. The FCC keeps two separate databases, so it’s good to make sure they have the same information in both.

That’s it. Now you can forget about this chore for the next 10 years, or until the next time you move (the same web sites allow you to make address changes for free).