Exploration licenses grant the holder an exclusive right to explore for gold and other possibly other minerals over a defined area of land. Depending on where you are in the world this will be called a license, tenement, claim or land holding.
Governments issue licenses to help regulate explorers and promote effective exploration that will lead to the discovery of economic mineral deposits.
Each license permits the holder to explore an area of land for a limited period of time. During this period, the holder must complete work and expenditure according to the license agreement. Such commitments aim to promote best utilization of land area by allowing only companies that are actively exploring to hold the land. Renewal of licenses is allowed, though with each renewal the expenditure commitments will usually increase. Rental charges per unit of land held may also be charged annually.
While the general concepts of exploration licensing are similar throughout the world, specifics vary greatly. In developed countries license applications can be submitted online, though some areas of Canada (e.g. Manitoba) still require the physical ‘staking’ of mineral claims with wooden pegs. Expenditure commitments vary also, though are always proportional to the area of land held.
Note that an exploration license is not a license to mine. If a company does find a deposit, there are then a long list of permits and licenses that must be gained in order to begin mining.