Part 3

Getting There and Suggestions for Foreign QRP Portable Operating

Packing for the trip

In part one, I mentioned that you may want to put your transceiver in your carry-on hand baggage rather than placing it in a checked suitcase. This will ensure that your most valuable part of your station arrives with you and is less likely to be damaged in transit.

Since your carry-on bags are subject to X-ray inspection and physical search at airports, be sure to have your license documents available should a question arise about what you are taking aboard the aircraft. I would recommend taking a copy of the transceiver instruction book to help identify the equipment as a radio.

One observation (prior to September 11, 2001) is that foreign airlines and most overseas airports have higher security than US airports. After 9/11, US security has increased considerably. Get to the airport early to accommodate security delays.

Another suggestion is to make a complete inventory, including model and serial numbers of everything you take overseas. Should a suitcase become lost, you will be better prepared to make a claim for losses if you have an inventory prepared. I do this for cameras, clothes and personal sundries, as well as the radio gear.

A further recommendation for re-entering the US is to register your expensive items with the US Customs prior to departure. Have the Customs agent note the serial numbers on a form 4457 (Certificate of Registration for Personal Effects Taken Abroad). This will prove that you bought the equipment in the United States and may help when you pass through customs when returning to the US. If you do not wish to register with US Customs before departure, at least take along the sales receipts for your equipment.

As a side note, if you take medications or prescription drugs, be sure to place them in your carry-on bag (in the orginal bottles) rather than in a checked suitcase. Ask your doctor to give you an extra prescription form to take on the trip. Also, guard your passport carefully and keep it on your body in a money belt. Passports are a valuable commodity on the black market and are prime targets for pickpockets and thieves.

Information about your destination

Use the Internet to check the weather forecast for your destination and to see what the latest currency conversion is before your departure. Also, you can find the local time at your destination to make setting your watch or radio schedules easier.

Getting through customs

When you arrive in a foreign nation, you will pass through two "stations" before being free to travel in that nation. The first is Passport Control, where you will be asked to present your passport (and visa if required) for inspection and approval by officials of that nation.

The second station is Customs where your belongings are subject to inspection. This station may also include agricultural inspection of any foods, plants or animal products being brought into that nation. If questioned about your radio equipment, be prepared to present your license documents to the customs inspectors.

Note that when you arrive back in the United States, you will pass through the US versions of these same stations. You are required to declare any purchases you made while outside of the US and pay import duty should your purchases exceed a prescribed limit ($400 per person at this time). Having a pre-trip inventory, a form 4457 or copies of receipts will prove that you did not purchase your equipment while overseas.

Suggestions for QRP operating

One thing that I have found when traveling overseas is that the hotel rooms are generally smaller than US hotels. I have stayed at hotels that were in business in the mid 1700's. This is before the US even became a nation! While many of the older establishments are very clean and comfortable, they may lack amenities such as lifts (elevators to us), or extra electrical outlets in the rooms.

You may need to unplug the table light or TV to plug in your power supply. Remember that the electrical system is probably 240 volts, so use your step-down transformer to convert it to 120 volts before plugging in your rig unless you have one of the newer switching supplies that will operate from 240 volt sources.

If you have a room on one of the upper floors (be sure to ask for one at reception), then it is a simple matter to lower a thin wire out the window and attach it to your tuner. A second wire can be run within the room to act as the other half of a dipole or a counterpoise. Alternately, you may be able to get a RF ground connection on a radiator or water pipe. The thinner the antenna wire, the less likely that you will be observed.

Another observation is that screens on windows are not used in many locations. Europe does not seem to be as "buggy" as the US for some reason. This makes getting an antenna out the window that much easier.

The older hotels were constructed before steel and wire reinforcement type of construction was used, so they are more transparent to radio signals. You will probably discover that your 5 watt signal gets out much better from one of these hotels than at the average US hotel building.

If you stay at newer hotels, then you run the risk of finding windows that can not be opened and/or steel reinforced building construction.

Use headphones to use to keep outside distractions to a minimum and to avoid disturbing the neighboring rooms. Also, it is recommended that you put everything back in your suitcase after your operating sessions and don't leave equipment, accessories or wires visible in your room for the hotel staff to see.

Look for other QRP signals around the usual frequencies, but be sure to try 7030 instead of 7040 when in Europe and elsewhere overseas. If you don't hear QRP activity, go down towards the bottom of the bands and you should hear lots of QRO signals.

The bands will sound different than what you are used to hearing. In Europe, the bands are busy with signals from many nations and you will have fun copying all the different foreign callsigns. In Australia or New Zealand, the bands are less crowded. Also, most of the world does not have subbands for the various emission types like the US. You will hear phone QSO's above 7045 for example.

Jump in there and see what you can work. You may find that a US callsign with a foreign portable designator will attract attention and be popular on the air.

North American stations are often not heard, or are weak, so working someone back home may be difficult with your portable QRP station. Don't let that stop you from trying schedules with your family or friends however. It is a thrill just to hear someone you know from the other side of the pond, even if a 2-way contact is not made.

In the summer, Europe has longer daylight than most parts of the US because of it's more northerly latitude. Edinburgh, Scotland has only about 4 hours of darkness in the summer due to its 56 degree north latitude. Rome, Italy will have daylight hours closer to what you are accustomed to. Australia is having winter during the US summer vacation season. Your location will influence the propagation you encounter.


I hope that the information and suggestions presented here are useful and may encourage you to try taking a rig along on a future trip overseas. If you do make it "over there", have fun, enjoy the sights and be sure to join the locals down at the pub for a pint. Let me know your experiences and observations working QRP from the other side of the pond.

 Back to Part 2 - Foreign Licensing Information

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Updated June 16, 2016