Are Walkie Talkies Illegal? Which Walkie Talkies Need License?

You may be confused in various countries about different kinds of walkie-talkie on sale, or you may not be sure what kind of radios you need and what you are legally authorized to use in other part of the world, or in any other country you wish to visit.

Firstly, please remember that any kind of radio in the world can function anywhere.

There are rules, however, on where such kinds of radio can be legally used.

Regulation for the use of radios around the world

Governments have specified various forms of walkie-talkie radio in different parts of the world that can be owned by the general public.

These regulations typically ensure that major or “official” walkie-talkie users (such as police and other emergency services, etc.) do not suffer interference from the use of walkie-talkie radios by members of the public.

PMR446 UK / EUROPEAN Walkie Talkies 

The UK flag’PMR446‘ is the European Union radio standard authorized for use in the United Kingdom and the European Union. At a frequency of 446MHz, they have 8 channels and a maximum range of around 2 miles in open land.

No PMR446 radio can have a transmitting power of more than 500 mW, so all makes and models have the same maximum range effectively.

Both PMR446-compliant European radios are the Cobra radios that we supply, and even the Kirisun PT558, Lynx PT400 and Entel HX446L.

In the U.S.A. or Canada, European Union flagPMR446 radios (like the ones we sell) are NOT Authorized.

The electrical mains voltage in Europe is 230 – 240v, so American radio chargers will not operate, and if you plug them in, they will likely be destroyed, since they are equipped for 120v.

FRS / GMRS American Walkie Talkies 

FRS and GMRS are American official standards that are commonly available in shops in US for consumers.

They have 14 – 22 channels, with 462 and 467MHz frequencies. They cannot communicate and are NOT LEGAL for use in the UK or Europe with European PMR446 radios.

The electrical mains voltage in the USA and Canada is 120 volts, rather than the 240 volts used in United Kingdom and Europe, so the US 120v chargers could have issues with UK voltage blowing up.

There is NO such thing as a “combined” European/American walkie-talkie that is legal to be used in both countries, because, by definition, such a radio would also be capable of transmitting on non-legal frequencies, and therefore would not be legal in either region.

A real PMR446 radio can not be changed to operate on American FRS/GMRS networks, or vice versa. However, you can program a non-PMR446 UK radio to use the frequencies of the American FRS and GMRS.

What about the “rest of the world”?

Individual nations which have their own laws and limits on what kind of radios can be used legally. We are unable to include a list of these rules in full.

In their expected country of use, it is up to the prospective buyer to verify what the situation is.

Many countries in the Middle East are VERY STRICT on what radios people can even carry to their countries from our own experience, we have learned of people getting radios seized from their luggage upon entry by the customs authorities.

Much of Europe, with the exception of Switzerland, does not seem to be concerned about what radios are brought in, which does not allow for equipment that does not comply with its laws.

Which walkie talkies need license?

If a walkie-talkie labeled “FRS/GMRS” or one labeled “GMRS” is used, then yes, an FCC license is required. Channels for FRS, or Family Radio Service, are free to use, but a license is required for GMRS (General Mobile Radio Service) operation. You’re going to need to pay a charge and file FCC forms 159 and 605, and from there it’s pretty automatic.

What’s the difference between GMRS and FRS?

Technologically, not much is there. FRS is meant to be used at low power by ordinary people, and there are FRS frequencies between regular GMRS frequencies (see table here). Most radios have an indication of whether you are broadcasting on FRS or GMRS… pay attention when selecting a channel.

On the topic, here is what tech guru Phil Karras has to say:

General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS), is a licensed FCC service, and this was not made clear to prospective customers anywhere on the listing. Not that it is done by someone else either. It also does not mention the radio’s power output, nor does it say the truth about the radio’s’ 18 mile’ range.

FRS radios, Family Radio Service, are not approved and have an output power limit of 500 mW and can ONLY use the antennas connected to the radio. These radios use the interstitial GMRS frequencies.

By regulation, they are NOT permitted to use the usual GMRS or GMRS Repeater frequencies, not that it doesn’t happen, but your wallet may be $15,000 lighter if the FCC catches you. I haven’t learned of any FRS radio users being prosecuted or fined yet. When the individual is a very sporadic user, it’s very difficult.

GMRS allows one output power of up to 50W so that if so built, a small radio such as this might put out 5W, you are also allowed better antennas, connected to the house or up on a tower.

In most areas, GMRS also usually has repeaters depending on whether a party gets together to put one up or not, which expands the range tremendously, but only if you have a license!

That’s right, folks, you could get charged up to $15,000 if you use the wrong frequency without a license. Right there, that’s real money.

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