FRS requires no license at all; just buy a FRS radio and use it. FRS radios are limited to 2.5 watts on most channels, and 0.5 watts on channels 8-14.
GMRS, on the other hand, requires a $35 license. There is no test involved; the person simply applies to the FCC, pays the $35 fee, and receives a license that is valid for 10 years: for them and their entire family.
GMRS radios are more versatile; they support much more power (up to 5W on channels 1-7, 0.5W on 8-14, and 50W on 15-22 and the repeater input channels). They also support short digital transmissions and repeaters.
FRS and GMRS share frequency allocations, and the services are generally compatible with each other.
Compared to the Amateur Radio service, FRS and GMRS have much less flexibility and newer technologies aren’t necessarily available to them. However, since no test is required, they are popular because they are easy to get involved with and the radios can be quite cheap; $30 or less. See how to get a GMRS license.
For an article about why to use FRS/GMRS, see The Joy of Easy Personal Radio: FRS, GMRS, and Motorola DLR/DTR.
Links to this note
When things are difficult – maybe there’s been a disaster, or an invasion (this page is being written in 2022 just after Russia invaded Ukraine), or maybe you’re just backpacking off the grid – there are tools that can help you keep in touch, or move your data around. This page aims to survey some of them, roughly in order from easiest to more complex.
Most of us carry cell phones with us almost everywhere we go. So much so that we often forget not just the usefulness, but even the joy, of having our own radios. For instance:
Amateur radio is a radio service in which people are allowed and encouraged to build their own radios, antennas, and so forth. It can be used to communicate all around the globe without any intervening infrastructure such as satellites or cables.