Want a license? Here's what you need to know.
$15; cash, check, or money order. We do not keep any of this money! It all goes to the ARRL and FCC.
You need to bring a form of government-issued photo ID. Yes, we know it's a hacker con, but the FCC says we have to check ID. (If you don't have this, or you're a minor, check out this page to see alternate forms of ID we can take.) You also must provide either your Social Security Number or your FCC FRN; for fairly obvious privacy reasons, we encourage everyone to get their FRN for free, instantly, by signing up at FCC CORES. You can then use that on the paperwork. If you have a simple calculator (it needs to have no memory, or we need to be able to wipe its memory before your exam), you can bring that, too; otherwise we'll provide one if you need it. (No smartphones.) If you have a current license, it would be helpful (but not required) if you could bring a copy of that, too.
For that fee, you can take the exams once. If you pass an exam, you can continue on to the harder exams for free; there's no penalty for failure, except that you don't get to go on. If you pass, that fee covers your license for ten years. You'll get your paper license and callsign in the mail. If you want to retake an exam (if you just missed it by a little bit), you'll need to pay the $15 again.
You have an unlimited amount of time to take an exam, though we find most people get it done in under an hour; some people get it done in five minutes.
Ham radio has three exams: Elements 2, 3, and 4. Each is a written, multiple-choice exam; 2 and 3 are 35 questions each (26 correct to pass), whereas 4 is 50 questions (37 correct to pass). Passing Element 2 gives you the Technician ham radio license; 3 confers General, and 4 confers Extra. You need to take lower-level exams to take higher-level ones, but you can take them all in the same exam session, for the same fee. We occasionally have people who walk in, pass all three, and walk out with an Amateur Extra license.
The ARRL Technican Manual is a great tutorial of all the information you need for Tech, and they have equivalent books for General and Extra (all often available at your local library). All of them are now available as Kindle books. There is also great free information online; for instance, if you're in a hurry and you have some electronics knowledge (basic schematic symbols), the No-Nonsense Study Guides by KB6NU are great. (Note that the Tech guide is free on that site; the others are low-cost but nonfree.) You might also wish to take practice exams (the entire question pool is freely available); one good site with updated questions is AA9PW. HamStudy.org also has both study flash cards and practice exams. Note that the question pool for General exams is being changed as of June 30, so make sure that any study tools you're using have been updated!
No. However, you will need to have an address in the US to have your license sent to. Also, this license will not necessarily work in your home country. You may need an additional license from your government.
There are exams at least monthly, most places in the country; check out the ARRL Exam Session Finder to find one in your area.
This exam is being run by Brendan O'Connor, K3QB. You can contact him at k3qb -at- arrl -dot- net.