Ham radio, also known as amateur radio, provides a very useful public service, provides emergency communications, and is an exciting hobby. Ham radio is one of very few hobbies that are licensed by the federal government. Once a ham radio operator has earned a license from the Federal Communications Commission, the next step is to procure the proper equipment. The two basic ways to obtain ham radio equipment are to build it yourself, or to buy it. This document addresses issues related to buying ham radio equipment.
The first decision to make if you plan to buy ham radio equipment is what capability the equipment must provide. Different classes of licenses allow different privileges. Hence, you want to buy ham equipment that is appropriate for your license class. Another basic consideration is whether you plan to communicate mostly locally, or if you are more interested in communicating around the globe. In general, VHF (Very High Frequency) and UHF (Ultra High Frequency) ham rigs provide local communication, whereas HF (High Frequency) ham radios are for worldwide communication. Those are merely generalities. It is entirely possible to communicate around the world with VHF or UHF equipment, and locally with HF ham gear, but in general, the preceding generalities are a good rule of thumb.
The next decision to make is whether you plan to buy ham radio equipment new or used. In general, new equipment costs more than used equipment, but you are less likely to have problems if you buy ham radio equipment new. There are good bargains to be had if you buy ham radio equipment that has been well taken care of. It is a good idea to have an experienced ham radio operator assist you whether you are buying ham equipment new or used. You can find experienced operators at your local ham radio club. Those same people can help you study for your ham radio license, as well as help you set up your equipment, and learn how to operate it correctly.
There are a variety of places to purchase used ham radio equipment. One place is something called a "hamfest". A hamfest is a (typically) annual event where ham radio operators meet and buy and sell equipment, as well as host forums, and other activities related to ham radio. Many times there are commercial vendors at the hamfest who will help you buy ham equipment that is new or used. Many manufacturers also show up. The main part of a hamfest is a flea market where individuals buy, sell, and trade their ham equipment. The rule at a hamfest is the same as at any flea market: "Let the buyer beware". Always insist that the seller demonstrates that the ham equipment is working properly. Many hams are tinkerers by nature, so there is also a lot of buying and selling of ham equipment that may not be operational. The idea is that you buy a radio that is not working at a bargain basement price, and then fix it up yourself. That is usually not a good idea for the new ham. So, if buying ham equipment at a flea market interests you, it is a good idea to have an experienced ham with you, and insist that the seller demonstrate the equipment. It is also a good idea to only buy ham equipment that comes with a user manual, or for which you can obtain a manual.
Other sources to buy ham equipment include eBay, Craigslist, and regular newspaper classified ads. Additionally, many ham radio magazines include classified ads where subscribers can post ads when they want to sell ham radio equipment.
Whatever route you choose, be sure to learn as much as possible about ham radio, electronics, radio in general, antennas, and FCC rules and regulations. Then after you buy ham radio equipment you will be ready to communicate with the world!