If I acquire a pilot's license in the US, where will I be able to use it later?
November 9, 2011 4:37 PM   Subscribe

Learning to fly in the US, then moving to Canada or the EU -- can I transfer a license?

I currently reside in the US on a visa, and I'm considering going for my pilot's license. The sport pilot license in the US looks very attractive, as it doesn't require as much instruction time, but I'm curious about whether I'd be able to use it in other countries after my visa is done.

What are my options for flight certificates in the USA that might transfer easily to either Canada or the EU? If the EU is too broad (ie each country defines their own rules), then I'm sort of specifically looking at the Netherlands. I'd like to minimize cost, but without sacrificing the number of countries that will recognize my certificate.

Any more information on the process of transferring US pilot certificates to other countries would be welcome.
posted by jpziller to Travel & Transportation (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I do not know specifically about reciprocation of a pilot's license, but I do know about reciprocation of licenses in general.

It is very rare for any license to reciprocate 100%. I don't even think there is perfect reciprocation with driver's license. There is almost always some fee, and some requirements.

But some element of every license will reciprocate with elements of the foreign license. No requirement to take 20 hours of driving instruction from certified driving school, for example. But you still have to take the written exam, and do a shortened road test. And pay a fee. But the driving school is the big expense, and takes the most time. Everything else you can do in one afternoon. But it is not perfect reciprocity.

Generally, the more specialized and hazardous a license, the fewer elements that reciprocate. A pilot's license, I would guess, reciprocates maybe 50% in cost and requirements, or maybe even less than 50%.

Beyond that general answer, an exact answer requires an exact legal jurisdiction in which you hope to reciprocate - because it will be very different in different places. It would not surprise me if the license had different requirements in various regions within the same country (a pilot's license for Nova Scotia versus the Yukon Territory could have different requirements).
posted by Flood at 4:54 PM on November 9, 2011

Pilots in Canada are licensed by Transport Canada, not individual provinces.

Here's the Conversion Agreement between Canada and the USA. Being a legal agreement, it's not exactly written in what you'd call plain English, but the general upshot of it is that licenses between the two countries are meant to be easily converted, though sometimes with a written test, provided they're up to date. There are probably fees associated with those things, but it doesn't say what they are.
posted by jacquilynne at 5:20 PM on November 9, 2011

Best answer: The FAA Sport Pilot Certificate is not an ICAO-approved certificate, so it will not transfer anywhere (except maybe to a small country that does not have its own aviation authority and just accepts the FAA).

The FAA Private Pilot Certificate will transfer to any ICAO country. They may insist that you need to pay them some money to convert it to the local one, but additional training or flight tests are not usually required.

Similarly, the "IMC" rating in the UK is not ICAO, but the "IR" is.

The EU's aviation is controlled by the JAA. There are schools in the US that will train you for a JAA certificate, and of course that will be fine in the Netherlands.
posted by phliar at 6:29 PM on November 9, 2011

Oh, there's one additional wrinkle: you can fly a US-registered airplane in the EU with an (ICAO-approved) FAA certificate, no conversion is required. (US-registered aircraft are usually known as N-registered, because US aircraft registration letters start with N.)

Since the FAA regulations are in many cases less onerous than the JAA ones, many europeans and ex-pats just maintain an FAA certificate and only fly N-registered aircraft.
posted by phliar at 6:35 PM on November 9, 2011

Response by poster: Is it possible to rent a US-registered airplane in the EU?
posted by jpziller at 6:36 PM on November 9, 2011

I have not flown in the EU myself, but yes, apparently it's quite easy to find N-reg aircraft to rent in the EU.

(Insert the usual caveats about what "quite easy" means -- after all this is aviation we're talking about!)
posted by phliar at 6:39 PM on November 9, 2011

Response by poster: One more question -- you mentioned N-registered aircraft in the EU, but not Canada. Any idea if the same rules apply there?
posted by jpziller at 6:45 PM on November 9, 2011

Yes, according to ICAO rules, a pilot licensed by country X is allowed to fly an X-registered airplane in any ICAO signatory country.

I imagine there are more N-reg aircraft rentals in Canada than in the EU.
posted by phliar at 6:50 PM on November 9, 2011

Keep in mind that as a foreign citizen, you will have to pass a TSA Alien Flight Student background check, which in the experience of a Swedish friend wasn't trivial at all.
posted by halogen at 1:36 AM on November 10, 2011

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