As the aviation industry grows exponentially, countries all over the world need pilots more than ever before. Many foreign pilots are traveling to the United States to continue their flight training, including pilots already licensed in their home country. Foreign pilots who are already licensed can follow a streamlined process for the training requirements to obtain FAA certificates. Because this process can be confusing and raise a lot of questions, here are the details for how to convert a foreign pilot license to an FAA pilot certificate.
Good news! According to 14 CFR 61.75, a foreign pilot who holds a private pilot license may convert that license to an FAA private pilot certificate. All aircraft ratings listed on the foreign license will also transfer. This is the only direct conversion permitted without any additional testing. For example, a foreign-issued commercial pilot license can only be converted to an FAA private pilot certificate, not a higher certificate.
If you have the foreign equivalent of an FAA instrument rating, 14 CFR 61.75(d) states that it can be converted to an FAA instrument rating after passing the FAA knowledge test. This does not require a practical test (i.e., a checkride), and the knowledge test can be completed up to 24 months before applying for the conversion.
Commercial Pilot & Airline Transport Pilot (ATP)
There is no direct conversion allowed for foreign commercial and ATP licenses. To earn one of these FAA certificates, a foreign pilot first needs to receive an FAA private pilot certificate through the conversion process, then complete the commercial or ATP certificate through traditional training. This includes completing both a knowledge test and a practical test, as well as attaining all of the required aeronautical experience.
1. Foreign pilot license verification. The first step in converting your foreign pilot license is to have it validated by the FAA. Complete an application for verification on the FAA website. The FAA will review your information and contact your home country to verify that you possess a valid and current pilot license. This process normally takes 45-90 days. You will receive a verification letter when this is done; then you will have 6 months to visit the United States and apply for a private pilot certificate.
2. Contact your local Flight Standards District Office (FSDO). When you arrive in the United States, you will need to set up an appointment with an inspector at an FSDO or a Designated Pilot Examiner (DPE) who will review all of your paperwork. Before this meeting, make sure you:
- Have completed an Airman Certificate Application (FAA Form 8710).
- Are able to speak, read, and write English fluently.
- Hold a current FAA medical certificate (at least 3rd Class).
- Bring your instrument rating knowledge test report with you if you wish to convert an instrument rating as well.
It is important to realize this meeting is not a test; it is simply a means to verify your identity and the validity of your documents. After this meeting, you will be issued a temporary airman certificate and will be able to exercise private pilot privileges in the United States.
3. Continue training toward a commercial or ATP certificate. Before beginning your flight training in the United States, you will need to obtain an appropriate visa and undergo a vetting process through the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). A local flight school can assist with this process. You can then begin training toward a commercial pilot certificate. If you already possess a foreign commercial pilot license, the training will be fairly simple and involve reviewing regulatory differences as well as making sure you are ready for the knowledge and practical tests.
Once you understand the process, converting a foreign pilot license to an FAA certificate is a straightforward procedure. If you only want to convert a private pilot license, it is simply a matter of paperwork and patience. For higher certificates, you will need to complete the necessary flight training and knowledge tests, but the work you put in preparing for these will be well worth it.
Important note: Once you obtain an FAA private pilot certificate that is based on a foreign license, you will need to keep both the FAA certificate and your foreign license in your possession when exercising your FAA privileges.
More information from the FAA about foreign license verification processes can be found at: https://www.faa.gov/licenses_certificates/airmen_certification/foreign_license_verification.
Written by Karl Winters, Gleim Aviation Editor and Assistant Chief Instructor