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I remember reading that the security for foreigners doing a flying license in the United States were rigorous (as would be expected). As a European Union citizen, what would I expect to need to do from a paperwork/legal standpoint (FAA, CBP etc.) to be allowed to pursue a private licence in the USA, assuming I have no previous flying experience?

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@casey Specifically thought that there might be a few countries like the EU ones with less restrictions, but in that case i'll rephrase my question :) –  TheFlyingEngineer Feb 6 at 17:17
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While technically you didn't ask this, may I point out that Canada will allow an EU citizen to obtain a PPL without any kind of visa at all. There are questions on the Travel site about it. –  DJClayworth Feb 7 at 2:16
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@DJClayworth thanks for the tip, will take a look :) –  TheFlyingEngineer Feb 8 at 23:39
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2 Answers

up vote 10 down vote accepted

You need 2 things before you can start flight training in the U.S.:

The complete process is documented at the AOPA website.

In a nutshell, this is what you need to do:

  • Make sure you have a proper visa or permanent resident card (green card). A visa that allows you to live in the U.S. is fine (you don't need a specific visa for flight training). Examples of appropriate visas: H1B, H4, L1, L2 but there are many others
  • If you don't have one of the visas mentioned above, you need to apply for a student visa (M-1). You need to contact a flight school that will assist you with the visa application.
  • Contact a flight school if you haven't already done so in the previous step. They will register your "case" and provide you with information you need when applying for TSA clearance.
  • Apply for the AFSP program on the TSA website
  • Wait for approval by the TSA (is a multistep process that could take a while. It includes having your fingerprints scanned, among other things)
  • Start your training
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You should first find the school, then start to take care of the TSA procedure (as it takes a lot of time) and then get your visa. You need an I-20 form issued by your flight school in the US to apply for your student visa. –  Falk Feb 6 at 17:29
    
Ok, you're right. I changed my answer to reflect that. But this is only true if you want to apply for a student visa just for flight training. It doesn't apply to green card holders and people already on a appropriate visa (H,L,...) –  Philippe Leybaert Feb 6 at 17:58
    
TUnfortunately I don't have any experience with holding a green card and so do most other europeans. Anyway getting the appropriate visa takes only a few days so it meight wait and should not stop you from doing all the AFSP steps which can take moths. I would suggest to Find an experienced school first. They will help you with any further steps. Next would probably be to take one day at the computer and initiate all the other steps. Sign in for AFSP, book your flight, organise an apartment and apply for your required visa. –  Falk Feb 6 at 18:13
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There are two different legal requirements for a citizen of a foreign country to do flight training in the United States:

  • You require an TSA approval for each course you intend to participate in (if you for example also like to do your instrument rating in the US you need a second approval). Read more about TSAs Alien Flight Student Program on their website

  • You're also required to have a visa to legally stay in the United States for the time of your training. Most probably you'll require a student visa (M1) but maybe also another type of visa is appropriate for you. Find more information on the website of the US embassy in your country.

When choosing your flight school do not only consider getting the TSA approval but also if your flying hours there will be accepted by EASA to get your desired license.

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