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?
You need 2 things before you can start flight training in the U.S.:
- An appropriate visa. A tourist visa (B2), business visa (B1) or VWP (Visa Waiver Program) is not accepted
- TSA clearance through the Alien Flight Student Program (AFSP)
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
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.