Information for Canadian Amateur Radio Operation in Foreign Countries
Serge Bertuzzo, VA3SB RAC International Affairs Officer
One of the most common questions I receive is: “How do I operate in another country?” While the overall framework for Amateur Radio is part of international treaties and regulations set by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) and updated at World Radio Conferences, each country sets its own rules and criteria for Amateur Radio operation within its territory. As a result, there are at least six possible answers to this question depending on where you intend to visit. In all cases, this applies only to temporary operations by visitors, usually limited to three, six or 12 months. Longer stays or permanent residence will likely require obtaining operating credentials in that country. Some general guidelines on operating internationally are provided below.
Start early: check to see what the appropriate process is for the country you intend to visit. The most popular destination for Canadian Amateurs is the United States which requires no paperwork at all. For many countries in Europe and some in Latin America, an international permit, similar to an international driver’s licence is required. Other countries require that you apply directly to their telecommunications regulator for permission to operate. It could take several months to work through their procedures via mail. Or it could be that a brief set of email exchanges is all that’s needed to arrange a visit to the regulator’s offices upon your arrival to present your paperwork, pay a fee, and walk out with your operating permission.
Always have your Canadian Passport and your Amateur Radio Operator Certificate with you as proof that you are a qualified operator. For dual citizens, in most cases you may not operate on a Canadian certificate in your other country of citizenship (e.g., a dual Canada/US citizen may not operate in the US on a Canadian Certificate and vice versa).
Permanent Residents of Canada generally need to be licensed in their country of citizenship and follow the processes for that country to operate outside of Canada.
Canada and the United States have a Reciprocal Operating Agreement, a treaty in effect since 1952. Under this treaty, visiting Amateurs may operate in the host country in accordance with their rules and regulations. No special permits or paperwork are required, although proof of citizenship (passport or enhanced driver’s licence) and your Amateur Certificate should be available should authorities ask to see it. As this treaty pre-dates modern ITU conventions, the prefix is appended to the issued call sign.
Examples: a Canadian Amateur would use VA3RAC/W4 in the US 4th call area. A US Amateur would sign as K8HI/VE3 in Ontario.
The main difference for Canadian Amateurs operating in the US is that, unlike Canada, the US has a mandatory band plan which specifies modes and sub-bands. Canadians in the US must operate in accordance with FCC Part 97 Rules using the appropriate modes within their designated sub-bands. For detailed information see https://www.arrl.org/band-plan.
Most visitors want to operate using VHF or UHF mobile (typically 50 watts or less) or portable using handhelds. All levels of qualification may operate just like at home, identifying as in this example: “VE3YV mobile W3 near Erie PA”. Note that US rules require identification every 10 minutes.
Your operating privileges in the US are the same as those you are authorized for in Canada, but not to exceed the privileges of a US Extra class operator. Therefore, for example, you cannot operate phone in the “foreign phone” sections of HF bands, only on those sub-bands where US Amateurs are authorized to operate. Similarly, US Amateurs operating in Canada must abide by the rules in “RBR-4 – Standards for the Operation of Radio Stations in the Amateur Radio Service”. Specifically, a US Amateur who has a Morse code qualification may operate in accordance with the provisions applicable to the holder of an Amateur Operator’s Certificate with Basic, Morse code (5 wpm) and Advanced Qualifications.
A US Amateur without Morse qualification would operate in accordance with provisions applicable to the Amateur Operator’s Certificate with Basic Qualifications, which can be summarized as no operation below 30 MHz, input limited to 250 watts and commercially built equipment.
CEPT is an organization of European telecommunications authorities which works to harmonize radio regulations though out the European Union (EU). This includes a specific treaty T/R 61-01 which allows Amateurs to operate in other countries.
In addition to most, but not all, European countries, Canada, the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Peru, Israel, South Africa, and the Netherlands and its overseas territories have also signed as participants. T/R 61-01 is periodically updated and the latest version is available at: http://www.erodocdb.dk/docs/doc98/official/pdf/TR6101.pdf
Please note that some signatory countries may have further restrictions. For example, Aruba requires an equipment inspection, call sign assignment, and annual fee. Some countries require proof of Morse proficiency for HF operations. In addition to the footnotes in T/R 61-01, check with the International Amateur Radio Union (IARU) society or country regulator to be sure.
Amateurs with Advanced qualifications may apply for a CEPT permit, valid for one year. Applicants may apply to RAC, which issues the permits on delegated authority from Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada (ISED), our regulator. Fees for the permit are $20 or just $10 for RAC members. To apply, complete the online application form at: /cept-permits/
At this time, holders of Basic and Basic with Honours qualifications are not eligible for a CEPT permit.
International Amateur Radio Permit
An International Amateur Radio Permit (IARP) is issued under an agreement of the Inter-American Telecommunication Commission (CITEL). As with CEPT permits, the IARP is valid for one year and applicants may apply to RAC, which issues these under delegated authority from ISED. The booklet-style permit requires a passport-sized photo. Fees are $35 with $10 discount for RAC Members.
IARP participating countries are: Canada, Argentina, Brazil, El Salvador, Panama, Peru, Trinidad & Tobago, United States, Uruguay and Venezuela. Advanced qualifications may be required to operate below 30 MHz.
To apply, complete the online application form at: /international-amateur-radio-permits/
Canada has bilateral treaties with several countries to recognize each other’s Amateur qualifications. This allows a Canadian Amateur to apply to operate in that country without an examination. Since regulations vary, Amateurs should contact the regulator or the IARU society in the specific country for further information. These countries include: Chile, Haiti, Columbia, Honduras, Iceland, Guatemala, Brazil and Venezuela.
For other countries, contacting the regulator and/or the IARU society is a good place to start. The following web resources may be helpful:
For IARU society contact information: http://www.iaru.org/member-societies.html
For general information: https://www.arrl.org/reciprocal-permit. Note that this is for US Amateurs and some information may not apply to Canadians.
Operations in international waters (those areas outside of national jurisdiction) are controlled by the vessel’s “flag”, the country in which it is registered, and also by the ITU region where the vessel is located. In addition, the ship’s master must give permission for the operation.
Operations in or over the Great Lakes outside Canadian waters are mobile operations as described in the United States summary.
Further information and Updates
Although the information above has been checked for accuracy, changes will occur over time and errors do creep in. If you have any updates, changes or questions, please contact the Serge Bertuzzo, VA3SB the RAC International Affairs Officer at or use the contact form on the RAC website at Executives addressed to the International Affairs Officer.