If you are already a pilot in your country you may be asking yourself if you can use your pilot license in the US. The answer to this question is in short; yes. However, the US civil aviation authority, known as the FAA will only grant you a Private Pilot license based on your foreign certificate. Even if you are an ATP with thousands of hours, you will need to take certain steps in order to have your private license transferred and valid in the US. The process is called convalidation and the following steps are what you will need in order to complete convalidation.
1. Determine Your Goal
Are you looking to get a private pilot rating to buzz around the beach and build some flight time or are you looking to get a US Commercial license in order to fly N- registered aircraft (US Registration)? Getting a private pilot license (PPL) is mostly paperwork. However, reaching a US Commercial or ATP certificate will involve flight training and a checkride. Even if you just want a PPL it is worth getting IFR privileges if you already hold them in your home country.
2. Foreign License Verification
You can thank the Convention on International Civil Aviation of 1944 for your ability to fly internationally. A treaty was created that established international norms for flying. That is why a pilot's license earned in Angola or Bolivia can be recognized in Bhutan or Sweden. The first step is paperwork. Visit FAA.gov and complete the Foreign License Verification Form 8060-71. It can now be sent via email which will save you a lot of time and stamps. The process takes 30-60 days so plan ahead.
This forms asks the FAA to contact the civil aviation authority in your country and verify that your license is current and valid. If your license is not valid in your home country you are out of luck. Once the FAA receives confirmation, they will mail you ( and email ) the Letter of Foreign License Verification. This letter opens a 6 months window to come to the US and get a PPL based on your national license.
3. Obtain an M-1 visa ( If you are going beyond PPL)
Do you plan to get a US Commercial, IFR, Multi-Engine, or ATP certification? Then you will need a student visa. Any flight training that results in a certificate will require you to be on a student M-1 (vocational) or F-1 (university) visa. . You must apply to the school of intended study and it must be authorized to issue the I-20. By having this visa you will be able to fly as a student in the United States in order to complete your licenses and ratings.
2. Convalidate to a US PPL (w/ IFR privileges)
Once you are in the US visit the local Flight Safety District Office (FSDO) or a flight school to schedule an appointment with a Designated PIlot Examiner (DPE). This is NOT a test, they will interview you to verify identity and documents and can issue you a temporary airman’s certificate immediately. You must have all of your paperwork together, a completed IACRA 8610 which is an application for a license and be able to speak good ICAO English. English is the international language of aviation. The cost varies depending on the regions but expect $200-$300 for the DPE.
If you hold instrument flying privileges on your home country's certificate, you can request those on your foreign based FAA license. Visit a PSI/Lasergrade or CATS testing center and take the Instrument Foreign Pilot written test. It is the same as the regular IFR test but 10 questions shorter. Do this BEFORE you meet with the DPE or you will end up paying twice.
4.Take it all the way to Commercial
Now that you have your M-1 visa and an FAA private pilot license, you will be able to complete your other licenses and ratings. If you are coming to the US to train with an already existing instrument or commercial the process will be a review of the differences in airspace and regulations. You will be required to take the IFR and commercial written exams once you arrive in the United States. This process may be lengthy but it pays off in the end as you will be an FAA licensed pilot. Once you complete the process of foreign license verification, you can complete your pilot training within 2 months if you have all of the requirements!
By following these steps you will be able to transfer over your private pilot license for use in the US. Although there are additional steps to achieve an instrument rating or commercial license, you will still be able to use these once you pass the required tests. Coming to the US to learn how to fly will be an exhilarating experience. Although it may seem difficult, with the help of an excellent school you will be able to accomplish your dreams of becoming an FAA licensed commercial pilot.