How to Convert a Foreign Pilot License to an FAA Certificate

By Pilot Institute
Posted on January 8, 2024 - 6 minute read

You’re probably wondering how much of a hassle it is to convert your foreign pilot license to a US one.

We’ve got good news and bad news.

The bad news?

It isn’t a walk in the park.

The good news?

We’re here to help.

In this article, we’ll explain everything you need to know about converting your foreign pilot license to a Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) one.

Does the FAA Recognize Foreign Pilot Experience?

We all know how valuable flying experience can be when it comes to aviation. 

Luckily, our experience can be recognized when transferring from a foreign Private Pilot’s License (PPL) to an FAA private pilot certificate if validated successfully.

A quick side note here; The FAA calls their pilot licenses “certificates.” So an FAA Private Pilot License (PPL) is actually a private pilot certificate. The same goes for the Commercial Pilot License (CPL) – it’s called the commercial pilot certificate.

There are two ways to go about obtaining an FAA private pilot certificate. The first is doing a straight conversion, which only requires paperwork. 

This will grant you a Foreign-Based FAA private pilot certificate, a license based on your foreign license and restrictions. 

The other option is doing a full FAA private pilot certificate, where you must go through the conversion process and then complete a written and practical exam. 

If you want to convert your foreign CPL, you will first need to convert your foreign PPL and then undergo the required written and practical commercial exams.


A diagram containing the requirements to convert a foreign pilot license to an FAA pilot license.

So you’re interested in transferring your foreign pilot license to an FAA private pilot certificate to start flying in the US? To do this, you must first validate your foreign private pilot’s license with the FAA so they can verify your experience is legitimate.

So, what are the requirements to do this?

  1. Hold a foreign PPL or CPL.
  2. Hold a current Class 3 or better medical certificate.
  3. Be willing and able to travel to the US.
  4. Ability to upload documents electronically or post via mail.

The Conversion Process

The conversion process may seem daunting at first glance, but it isn’t as bad as it looks once you break it down. 

Foreign License Verification

The FAA will validate your foreign license after completing an online application through the FAA website. You will have to create an online profile with the “Integrated Airman Certification and Rating Application” (IACRA) to submit forms.

For the application, you will need to fill out and collate the following forms and documents:

  • Completed Verification of Foreign License and Medical Form (FAA Form 8060-71).
  • Copy of Foreign ICAO License.
  • Copy of Medical Certificate.

The FAA will contact your home country to verify that you possess a valid and current PPL.

Once complete, you will receive a Letter of Verification. This can take up to 90 days from the initial application. 

You will then have 6 months to visit the US to verify your documents with a Flight Standards District Office (FSDO) Inspector or a Designated Pilot Examiner (DPE).

Contact Local Flight School

Once in the US, you will need to organize an appointment with an FSDO Inspector or DPE. A local flight school can organize this. The inspector will review your paperwork before issuing you with a foreign-based FAA private pilot certificate.

The following requirements need to be met before this meeting:

  • Completed Airman Certificate Application Form (FAA Form 8710).
  • You are fluent in the English language – able to read, write, and speak to a good standard.
  • Hold a current Medical Certificate (Min Class 3 for a PPL).

Do you want to convert your instrument rating as well? If so, you must undergo the instrument foreign pilot written test. Bring the results of this test with you.

If all goes well, you will be issued a Foreign-Based FAA private pilot certificate, granting you the right to exercise PPL privileges in the US.

You must keep the FAA certificate and your foreign PPL license to continue exercising PPL privileges in the US.

From here, you can either stay on a Foreign-Based FAA private pilot certificate or decide to go for the full FAA private pilot certificate. 

Unrestricted FAA License

So, you’ve been through the conversion process and would like to obtain an unrestricted FAA private or commercial certificate. You must complete a written exam and a check ride for each license to do this.

The FAA Written Exams

The written exam is designed to cover all your theoretical knowledge and must be taken before your check ride.

The private pilot written exam consists of 60 multiple-choice questions to be completed within 120 minutes, requiring a pass mark of 70% or better. 

The topics covered are:

  • FAA Rules and Regulations
  • Weather 
  • Aerodynamics 
  • Navigation 
  • Airspace

The written exam will be similar to the exams you took for your ICAO foreign license, the main difference being the different rules and regulations and airspace associated with the US.

The commercial written exam consists of 100 multiple-choice questions to be completed within 180 minutes, also requiring a pass mark of 70% or better. The topics covered are the same as the ones you will cover in your PPL, but to a more advanced level. It will also focus on the commercial aspect of aviation when it comes to rules and regulations.

The FAA Checkride

Arguably, the most challenging part of your license is conquering the FAA Checkride.

The checkride tests your theoretical and practical flying skills through an oral exam and a flight test.

The oral exam is a verbal assessment where you must answer knowledge and application-based questions that test your understanding of various topics.

The checkride is a practical test in the aircraft in which you will perform basic maneuvers to a high standard. 

For a private pilot checkride, the flight test standards require certain maneuvers to be done within 200ft. The standard is higher for a commercial checkride, requiring maneuvers to be done within 100ft.  

Getting the FAA Certificate

Congratulations! This is the part you’ve been waiting for since the beginning! 

Hopefully, all your hard work has paid off, and you’ve succeeded in the FAA Written Exam and Checkride! 

What happens now?

The DPE will issue you with a temporary certificate after your checkride. Your permanent license will take 6-8 weeks to be issued, so all you need to do is wait.

Being an FAA private pilot certificate holder, you must understand the privileges and limitations of your certificate.

Click here for a brief overview of private pilot certificate privileges, limitations, and requirements.

Maintaining the FAA Certificate

A diagram containing the steps required to maintain an FAA pilot license.

Currency is crucial for safety in aviation. 

There are specific rules and regulations for pilots to maintain their FAA certificate. 

Although a private certificate and commercial certificate are valid for life, there are specific ongoing requirements to remain current.

The general requirements are:

  • Biannual Flight Review completed every 24 months
  • Maintaining an appropriate medical certificate (Class 1 for commercial, Class 2 or 3 for private)
  • Three take-offs and landings every 90 days to take passengers
  • For an instrument rating, you need to perform six instrument approaches within the previous 6 months

These currency requirements are aligned with ICAO standards, so make sure you are aware of these, so you don’t lose your license!


After you’ve converted your license and ratings, it’s essential to maintain the currency of your FAA certificate.

The way the FAA judges competency can vary from what you’re used to, so you need to stay sharp.

Are you planning on getting an instrument rating, or have one already?

Read this article on the instrument currency requirements in the US so that you aren’t surprised after your conversion.

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