Allowable International Contacts with Ham Radio

In our Technician License Class, the question comes up: “What allowable international contacts can I make with ham radio?”  Allowable international contacts comes from one of the questions in the Technician Exam (Element 2) question pool:

T1D01 (2014 question pool): With which countries are FCC-licensed amateur stations prohibited from exchanging communications?

The correct answer is:
Any country whose administration has notified the ITU that it objects to such communications

OK, so which countries have said that they don’t want amateur radio communications? A review

Worldwide ham radio call sign prefix map.  Compliments Maps.com.

Worldwide ham radio call sign prefix map. Compliments Maps.com.

of the FCC web site shows this:

Permissible Countries

Section 97.111 of the Commission’s Rules, 47 C.F.R. §97.111, authorizes an amateur station licensed by the FCC to exchange messages with amateur stations located in other countries, except with those in any country whose administration has given notice that it objects to such radio communications. Currently, there are no banned countries.

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North Korea does not allow its citizens to operate amateur radio stations. Photo courtesy Dennis Rodman.

While there are currently no banned countries, there are countries that don’t let their citizens use ham radio. According to Wikipedia, only Yemen and North Korea currently do not allow ham radio operation by its citizens. However, there was a recent DXpedition to Yemen in 2013 that was approved for DXCC credit. You might think that Communist countries would not allow amateur radio but the Soviet Union (now Russia), Cuba and China all have active ham radio operators, and international contacts with ham radio are allowable in those countries.

Third Party Restrictions

Quite a few countries prohibit amateur radio third party traffic (information passed on behalf of a third party, someone other than the two radio hams involved in the radio contact). The main objective here is to limit amateur radio to communications between radio hams only and not have it become an alternate form of communication for the general public. This was more of an issue back when international phone calls were expensive and countries were trying to protect their local telephone companies. It seems kind of pointless now with easy access to the internet.

The way the FCC rules read, you cannot provide third party traffic to another country unless there is a third party agreement in place between the US and the other country. From the FCC web site:

The following countries have made the necessary arrangements with the United States to permit an amateur station regulated by the FCC to exchange messages for a third party with amateur stations in: Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Australia, Belize, Bolivia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Federal Islamic Republic of Comoros, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, The Gambia, Ghana, Grenada, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Israel, Jamaica, Jordan, Liberia, Republic of the Marshall Islands, Mexico, Federated States of Micronesia, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, St. Christopher and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Swaziland, Trinidad and Tobago, Turkey, United Kingdom (special event stations with call sign prefix GB followed by a number other than 3), Uruguay, and Venezuela. The United Nations also has arrangements with the United States to permit an amateur station regulated by the FCC to exchange messages for a third party with amateur stations 4U1ITU in Geneva, Switzerland, and 4U1VIC in Vienna, Austria.


Reciprocal Operating

The information above is all about US hams operating from the US and making international contacts with ham radio. When it comes to US hams going to other countries, you are outside of the FCC jurisdiction. It is up to the other country whether they honor your FCC license or not. Canada has a very simple reciprocal operating procedure: you just go there and use your call sign followed by /VEn according to whatever call area you are in. For example, if I go to Alberta, I operate K0NR/VE6. Other countries operate under CEPT or CITEL which is pretty simple. Others require you to file an application and pay a fee. Others say “come here and take our license exam and then you can operate.”  It varies all over the map, so visit the ARRL web site for more details.

Summary

To wrap this up then, if you are operating from the US or its territories, you can work any amateur station that shows up on the air. Countries that don’t want their citizens using amateur radio generally restrict that on their end. If you do plan to pass Third Party Traffic, then be sure to verify that the US has a third-party agreement in place. If you plan to operate from another country, do your homework because the policies and procedures vary.

73, Bob