Getting Licensed in Colombia

Yes, it can be done, but you have to really want it.

My wife and I recently decided to get our Colombian radio licenses.  Yes, it's a license there, not a certification like it is here.  She's Colombian.  I'm not, but I love Colombia and lived there for many years.  We used to spend half the year there and half in Canada before Covid messed with our lifestyle.  Anyway, we passed.  Isa and I are now officially HJ1ZEB and HJ1ISI in addition to being VA7ZEB and VA7ISI. I thought I'd share a few observations.

First, their test is one of the most difficult I have ever ever taken.  Colombia has taken a very different approach from Canada's.  Their attitude is, if you're an amateur radio operator representing their country, they want you to be a well educated, knowledgeable person, so their test contains all kinds of trivia that has nothing to do with radio.  You need to know such things as:  What is the capital city of Hungary?  What was the greatest work of Gabriel García Márquez?  What capital city has the highest altitude in the world?  Which planet is closest to Earth?  What is the longest river in Europe?  Which countries did the Mayans occupy?

Before you ask: Budapest (not to be confused with Bucharest, the capital of Romania), Cien años de soledad (which he won a Nobel Prize for), La Paz (Bolivia), Mercury (on average), the Volga (it's almost 700 km longer than the Danube), and Guatemala/Honduras/Mexico (they also existed sporadically in a few other places, but those were the top three).

The Colombians ask radio questions, too, but I won't list any of those as they are pretty standard.  The test was online, in Spanish, and my Spanish is far from perfect. I did well enough to pass, but not by much.  The passing grade was 65 out of 100 and I got 76.

The downside to their approach is that their radio community is far smaller and less active than ours.  They don't have the kind of clubs we have, and obviously they therefore don't have the club events that we have.  I've often thought that, if I ever have to move within Canada, it would probably take me very little time to make new friends just by joining a radio club or two wherever I went.  This isn't real-world in Colombia.  They don't even have active amateur radio Facebook groups.

The upside is that, if you encounter a Colombian ham, he's probably a pretty smart guy.

Note the expiry date on my license.  In order to avoid the situation we have in Canada where most call signs are held by people who haven't touched a radio for decades, the Colombians make you take another test after 5 years and they have a nominal annual fee ($5 or so) to keep yourself active in their system.  There are obviously pros and cons to both approaches and I'm not taking sides, just noting the difference.

For the first five years, Colombian amateurs get HJ prefixes.  After five years, you take the advanced exam and you graduate to an HK prefix.  Your suffix remains the same.  Shorter call signs also become available but Isa and I will almost certainly never change ours in either Canada or Colombia because they nicely match.

Anyway, we did this.  I'm not going to lie, it's probably useless, but I'm happy we did it anyway.  I'm heading to Bogotá in September (2022) for a few days and I'll give my new call sign a workout in my tortured and stiff Spanish.  I'm looking forward to it.

Reg Natarajan