At what point does one need a radio license? Is it when you cross the border, or upgrade to a CPL, or convert to an FAA license, or none of these cases?
An Radio Operator Certificate-Aeronautical is required by operators of radiotelephone equipment on board aircraft and at aeronautical land (fixed and mobile) radio stations using aeronautical mobile frequencies. The radiotelephone equipment at such stations shall be of a type that requires only simple external switching, has a power output not exceeding 250 watts effective radiated power (e.r.p.) – equivalent to 400 watts peak envelope power (PEP) – and where all frequency-determining elements are preset within the transceiver.
Unless otherwise exempted, all radio stations in Canada must be licensed by the Minister of Industry Canada. Please consult your local Industry Canada office for details.
The licence (or copy thereof) must be made available at the request of an Industry Canada inspector.
The radio station licence generally specifies the call sign of the station, the frequencies to be used for transmitting and any special conditions under which the station should be operated.
To obtain a radio station licence, a completed licence application form with the prescribed fee should be submitted to Industry Canada. To be eligible for licensing in Canada, radio equipment must be type-approved or found to be technically acceptable for licensing by the Department.
There's some good guides available on their site (ic.gc.ca).
Search for RIC-21, RIC-22, and RBR-1
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Good grief. Most airplane radios are either 5W or 10W.The radiotelephone equipment at such stations shall be of a type that requires only simple external switching, has a power output not exceeding 250 watts effective radiated power
From the Industry Canada website:
In theory, if you fly into the US you need a radio station licence.Licensing Requirements
Do I need a licence for the aeronautical radio equipment on board my aircraft?
You will not require a licence if you meet both of the following criteria:
the aircraft is not operated in the sovereign airspace of a country other than Canada.
the radio equipment on board the aircraft is only capable of operating on frequencies that are allocated for aeronautical mobile communications or aeronautical radio navigation. You can verify whether the frequencies you use are in the aeronautical mobile band by referring to Regulation by Reference (RBR-1).