Chinese Radios – Illegal in Australia?

TopicChinese Radios – Illegal in Australia?
SubtopicAmateur Privileges in relation to non type approved equipment
Equipment RequiredNone
Document last reviewed and updated (reviewed each year)13th Jan 2024 (confirmed still current – still awaiting ACMA Clarification)

Caveat – I am not a lawyer or an industry specialist. This article contains my opinions based on facts and documentation which may be flawed or the reasoning is flawed. It’s up to you to follow your own path in determining whether the answers are right or wrong, particularly how they apply to you and your situation.


This article was originally started just after Christmas 2021, soon after Europe banned the Baofeng UV5R, and I was interested in

  • Is it banned by ACMA in Australia?
  • Does the Amateur Licence allow this radio (unapproved equipment) to be used?
  • If so, where is this written in legislation or some sort of instrument or document?

Whilst the article is not long when you look at it, it has gone through many rewrites, and many hours of research to get close to something that makes some sense of it.

The largest concern was that site after site, forum post after forum post talked about this fact that Licenced Amateur radio operators can use unapproved equipment. After searching for weeks, I found very few government documents, and no legislative or government document in Australia. I actually wondered if this rhetoric was just verbatim repeating of the U.S. position and one that the ARRL makes efforts in defending. This article ended up as an exercise in finding that Australian document.

The Search for the Elusive Document

One thing I found is that you can really end up going “Down the Rabbit Hole” with this sort of stuff, and it is fair to say that the legislation is just as much as what is written, as what is not written. If you got your licence a while ago, it is well worth re-reading the legislative documents as they have been updated in the last couple of years at least, and they make for interesting reading.

Chinese radios, we have all seen them, in fact many of us have at least one if not more on the shelf that we pull out every now and then. They are very low cost, and very hard to avoid throwing one in the cart whilst browsing online sites.

The questions come up time and time again :

  • Are they legal to use in Australia?
  • Is it legal to import into Australia?
  • What licences or permits do I need to possess these radios?
  • Are all Chinese radios illegal?
  • Are these radios type approved?
  • As an Amateur Licence holder, do I have certain privileges?

But before we head down that road to find the answers to these questions, you need to familiarise yourself with the following documents:

And just for good measure, lets toss in a definition of what the purpose of Amateur Radio is from the Determination :

  • self training in radiocommunications; or
  • intercommunication; or
  • technical investigations into radiocommunications; or
  • transmitting news and information services related to the operation of amateur stations, as a means of facilitating intercommunication;

From this, it is expected that experimentation, modification, testing, teaching, learning new ideas, tweaking, and basically stretching the envelope on what the equipment can is a major part of Amateur Radio. This is what it has been about for the last 100+ years with most countries recognising the contribution that Amateur Radio has made to the advancement and also to the world Radio Communications. As such, there are certain privileges that Amateur operators have in relation to using a range of equipment including experimental, which may or may not be type approved for that country.

One of the biggest issues is that there are quite a few sites which make clear statements confirming this “understanding”, yet none of them reference legislation or official government documents (e.g. clarifying documents). The following is what was found on a few websites

What is published on Websites


In Australia, the ACMA has powers to make Standards (technical specifications) for radiocommunications equipment under the Radiocommunications Act 1992. However, the primary tenets of the Amateur Radio service are technical investigation, experimentation and self-training; hence, Australian Standards for radiocommunications equipment are not applicable to amateur stations.

New Zealand

The equipment used by radio amateurs need not be ‘type-approved’ like the equipment used by most other radio services

The statement on the WIA website surprised me a little, as the way I read it, was that ACMA makes the standards for radiocommunications equipment, therefore it does not apply to Amateur operators. That’s one hefty jump in logic and I suspect that it would not stand up in court.

So then we started looking at the Legislation.

Reading the Australian Legislation

Now lets look at a small exercise which I will believe will make it easier to understand how the legislative instrument works.

Lets look at a “recent” change that was made to the Radiocommunications Licence Conditions (Amateur Licence) Determination 2015, which was the removal of the requirement for Foundation Licensees to only use equipment that was manufactured commercially. This came under the following section that was repealled :

Section 28 has been repealed to remove the licence condition restricting amateur licensees from transmitting using equipment that has not been manufactured commercially. This change will allow foundation licensees to transmit using equipment constructed by themselves or others.

Now take the time to look at the current “Radiocommunications Licence Conditions (Amateur Licence) Determination 2015” and look for any statement stating that an Amateur Radio Licensee can utilise Commercial Equipment, Modified Equipment or “homebrew” equipment. You will not find it. Here is an example of what I previously mentioned, that the legislation is just as much as what is written, as what is not written.

This might seem a little simplistic as an example but a general rule that is followed by law makers is don’t legislate if you don’t have to.

Are you going to find a clearly stated, in bold print, legislation stating that as Licenced Amateur Radio operators can import, possess and operate non-type approved equipment? No you are not. Is it inferred that this is the case?

Now we go back to the determination again which states, the licensee must not use an amateur station for any purpose other than the following purposes :

  • self training in radiocommunications; or
  • intercommunication; or
  • technical investigations into radiocommunications; or
  • transmitting news and information services related to the operation of amateur stations, as a means of facilitating intercommunication;

The two key passages we are looking closely at here are

  • Self training in radio communications
  • Technical Investigations into radiocommunications

These same understandings in terms of Amateurs being exempt from requiring type approved equipment are repeated on Amateur Radio forums world wide, but almost everyone that claims this to be the case, does not provide supporting evidence.

Lets look at what was found on official documents from other countries.

Looking at what other countries have stated

Now lets be clear, another countries laws have no bearing on our laws, but it is interesting to look at what is written, particularly as Amateur Radio is global.

Hong Kong

Radio amateurs are free to choose any radio equipment designed for the amateur service. Radio amateurs may also design and build their own equipment provided that the requirements and limitations specified in the Amateur Station Licence and Schedules thereto are complied with.

United States

The FCC equipment authorization program does not generally apply to amateur station transmitters.


In contrast to most commercial and personal radio services, radio amateur operators are not restricted to use type approved equipment, and therefore some radio amateur equipment are home constructed or modified equipment in any way, so long as they meet all the technical requirement such as its operating frequency, power level, classes of emission and the national and international standards on spurious emissions.

Summarising what we have so far

ACMA is the Government entity that is responsible for standards relating to Radiocommunications equipment which also means that they are responsible for the rules relating the possession and use of this equipment.

Australian Customs, predominately restrict prohibited or dangerous goods coming into the country. The government (ACMA) may place items on the prohibited list such as Phone Jammers, and as you would expect Customs will confiscate if someone brought these items in. However customs do not have the resources to check if a radio has the correct type approval, and indeed whether the end user is an exempt user, and/or the conditions that it will be used in.

Globally there appears to be an “understanding” that Amateur Radio operators, due to their qualification and knowledge, is exempt from legislation requiring Radiocommunications equipment being type approved.

This “understanding” is important, otherwise experimentation on hardware, modification of hardware, will render type-approved equipment approval as null and void. Likewise should an Amateur operator build their own equipment (which has always been a very important part of Amateur Radio), their equipment would not be type approved and therefore not able to be used. Amateurs are capable of building equipment from scratch that can be operated outside the Amateur bands, but due to the trust bestowed upon them, the conditions of their licence, the qualification that has taught them clearly what is allowed and what is disallowed, there is a certain amount of trust that is provided to a qualified licenced amateur operator which this “understanding” is part of.

You may question when another amateur acts a little overbearing, particularly in their stern statements regarding equipment that is known (or at least suspected) to not conform with ACMA’s regulations, but what they are doing is “protecting & fostering” that understanding that exists between Amateurs and ACMA, which is valued, particularly as it not clearly stated in Legislation, and if it is not upheld, ACMA, with the powers that they have, can immediately point to the current legislation, and ban the use of all non-type approved radios used by Amateurs. As you can understand, this would cripple Amateur radio, destroy 100+ years of trust and ACMA has always shown themselves to be consultative and measured in their decisions.

It should be noted that the Baofeng radios are prohibited from being imported in the U.S. but this is based on the fact that the UV5R in particular (and other names it is marketed under) will transmit on frequencies other than the amateur radio frequencies (air, emergency services etc), and these radios are marketed to the general public, so they have chosen to ban them (in the U.S.). However as Amateur Radio operators (in Australia and the U.S.) it is not an offence to possess one (if you subscribe to notion that Amateur radio operators are not subject to type approval required), as long as you remain inside the bands & power restrictions of your licence. However, you need to consider whether the Baofeng remains inside the specifications on interference/harmonics (most likely something you cannot control).

Weeks of researching, sometimes hours a day – A breakthrough!!

As you know there has been a recent “discussion” on moving Australian Amateurs from an Apparatus licence to a Class licence. We wont start on that little chestnut here, however an ACMA response to the submissions on that proposal is where the Eureka moment come from and it is the only official “instrument” where it is referenced.

Primary Page where the document is located

The Actual Document that the paragraph is located

As you will note, even the WIA believes that there are ambiguities around the possession and operation of what would be described as non-standard transmitters under the Radiocommunications Act.

You can see the lines highlighted above, so I won’t quote them again, but it clearly shows ACMA has that “understanding” as well (which is good to see). However it would be good to see ACMA make a less ambiguous statement which was something like

Licenced Amateur Radio operators are exempt from

  • Importing Non-type Approved Equipment
  • Possessing Non-type Approved Equipment
  • Selling Non-Type Approved Equipment (only to other Amateurs – details recorded)
  • Using Non-type Approved Equipment

providing the following conditions are met:

  • Equipment is not on a explicitly banned by ACMA for use in Australia
  • Equipment is only used on permitted Amateur Radio Bands as per the LCD
  • Equipment is only used on permitted power ranges as per LCD
  • Equipment meets the spurious emissions specifications as per the LCD
  • Equipment does cause interference
  • Equipment/Station meets the EMR Compliance Requirements

But for the moment, this should be pushed (for clarification) should the proposal for Class licences proceed.

Even putting out a statement like the one above, does not diminish their powers, just reinforces them. This leaves the responsibility clearly in the hands of the Amateur Licensee to make sure that their equipment conforms.

OK I have read all that – can I go and use a Baofeng?

Well it comes down to following the ACMA regulations which is a condition of your licence.

These will include (but not limited to) :

  • Transmitting only on the Amateur bands as specified by your level of licence
  • Transmitting within the power limits as specified by your level of licence
  • Must not cause harmful interference to radiocommunications
  • The licensee must not operate an Amateur station if the emissions of the station include spurious emissions that are not attenuated below the figures as per the LCD.
  • Does your equipment meet the Electromagnetic Radiation Compliance for Amateur Radio Stations?

Now you might think that most of these points are straight forward, but I believe that the spurious emissions might be a fail with harmonics not being attenuated bellow the figures required. This is not an automatic fail, as there have been a revisions of the product and some have reported that they do not have the harmonics.

You, as an amateur licensee, and as part of your licence conditions, should be confirming this before you use such a device. This means you need to test the Baofeng on a spectrum analyzer to see if your model has harmonics which are outside the specifications set down by ACMA. It is understood that not all models/revisions have the harmonic issue, but its not clear what does and what doesn’t.

In another article we discussed Amateur Radio clubs and the value they provide. Here is another great opportunity for clubs to procure a low end spectrum analyser for the club and hold particular nights (or separate nights) to test equipment with a capable operator, so that you can bring your radio in for testing. However have a look around on Ebay and similar and you will find plently of low cost spectrum analysers (such as this TinySA review) and if you are going to immerse yourself in Chinese radios, then an investment in a decent spectrum analyser will not go astray to ensure that you remain compliant.

So lets get back to the question, can you now go and use a Baofeng?

Personally, if you had a choice and you were buying now, I would steer clear (until you can find clear evidence to the contrary). This is not a steer clear of all low cost Chinese radios, as some have performed well on a Spectrum Analyzer, but normally these have a slightly higher cost, but it may be worth paying that little extra and have something that fits within your licence conditions without question marks.

So to wrap up, lets go back to the original questions at the start of this article

Are they legal to use in Australia?

These radios (UV5R) are not type approved and not covered by any class licence. So unless you are a licenced Amateur they are illegal for use in Australia

Is it legal to import into Australia?
In terms of importing, they are not a prohibited item, so it does not appear to be illegal to import, but check the next question on possession.

What licences or permits do I need to possess these radios?
As mentioned, you need to be a licence Amateur to use one, but reading the

Radiocommunications Act 1992 – sections
47 Unlawful possession of radiocommunications devices
48 Additional provisions about possession of radiocommunications devices

It appears that it is not illegal to possess with the intent to supply to another person (e.g. reselling), however read the sections as it does not make things clear.

Are all Chinese radios illegal?

Very simple answer, if it is not type approved in Australia, then it is illegal to use in Australia unless you have an Amateur licence AND it meets the Amateur Licence and LCD requirements/specifications on interference, spurious emissions and Electromagnetic Radiation compliance.

Are these radios type approved?

I am sure the Baofeng UV5R is not, but you need to follow up this yourself, as things might change. As for the other models, I believe it is highly unlikely as well, but again follow this up yourself.

As an Amateur Licence holder, do I have certain privileges?

Well this answer took a long while to find, but it does appear, due to the experimental nature of Amateur Radio that ACMA provides some room to work with non-type approved radios, which is good. However, especially with ACMA wishing to move Amateur Radio to class based licencing, I would be pushing for some very clear clarification on these privileges, as the wording in the document found leaves a lot of room for ambiguity.

Final Summary

As I worked through this, it took more twists and turns than a Crime Thriller. It does not look like it, the way it was written, but I have spared you the many dead ends and hopefully some of the confusion. In fact I almost gave up on this article a few times.

This article is not a dump on all Chinese radios. There are some good brands out there. They have provided some lower cost options for new amateurs, but as some of these brands re-badge other manufacturers models, you need to have your wits about you when purchasing these radios.

Finally I repeat the caveat at the start of this article, as it is is of importance.

Caveat – I am not a lawyer or an industry specialist. This article contains my opinions based on facts and documentation which may be flawed or the reasoning is flawed. It’s up to you to follow your own path in determining whether the answers are right or wrong, particularly how they apply to you and your situation.


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