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I own a PPL(A) license following JAR-FCL. Recently, this license has been exchanged for a European EASA license. My training was on a motor glider (TMG), I do not have ratings for SEP, but TMG and Ultralight only. In Germany I will have to fly a one hour test on an SEP to get the rating (plus about 5h for training).

What do I have to do in the US to get the rating?

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From a private pilot's perspective, there are two possible options: a foreign-based license or a 'full' FAA pilot's license.

The first type is defined in 14 CFR 61.75, which starts like this:

§61.75 Private pilot certificate issued on the basis of a foreign pilot license.

(a) General. A person who holds a foreign pilot license at the private pilot level or higher that was issued by a contracting State to the Convention on International Civil Aviation may apply for and be issued a U.S. private pilot certificate with the appropriate ratings if the foreign pilot license meets the requirements of this section.

You apply to the FAA and they check with Germany (or wherever) that your foreign license is valid. If it is, they'll issue a foreign-based license "with the appropriate ratings" with no flight or theory test of any kind required. That's for VFR only; if you're instrument rated then you also have to do a theory test as well if you want to fly IFR.

That sounds great - and I suppose it is - but there are two big practical concerns. First, any limitations on the foreign license are applied, e.g. if your license is for daytime VFR only then you're still restricted to that, even if a regular FAA license would allow night VFR. And if your foreign license expires or becomes invalid for any reason, the FAA one does too.

Second, you won't have been required to learn anything about US regulations or flying practices. So you might not fly safely or legally because you simply don't know the rules or even what services are available to you as a pilot (FSS, Flight Following, TRSA etc.). One way to handle this is to get some general orientation or introductory training from a US instructor or school, but as a foreigner that will require TSA approval unless you can do it as ground school only (which is not defined as "flight training"). But you might find - as I did - that some instructors will not work with a foreign student at all until they have TSA approval, whether or not it's just ground work.

The other option is to get a normal, full FAA license. You have to pass the same FAA medical, written and flight tests as US pilots to the same standards. You can count your previous flight time towards the required hours but you do need to be able to pass the tests so you will certainly need some instruction. And as a foreigner you will need TSA approval before you can receive any flight training.

The big advantage of getting a full license is that it never expires. If you really want to get one and you have the time and money then you could look into spending a month somewhere suitable in the US (Florida? Arizona?) at a flight school to get it as quickly and cheaply as possible.

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    $\begingroup$ I'm currently in exactly the described situation and I really want to highlight what @Pondlife already wrote. If you're license will be accepted and you get an american airman certificate based on it you are legal but the risks to get illegal are huge. They are bunches of differences from flying in Germany or other European countries and you should be awere of them prior piloting an airplane in the US. I wouldn't recommend trying to learn these by reading only but also by some lessons with an instructor. If you do well and feel safe 2 hours of each ground school and flying may be sufficient. $\endgroup$ – Falk Jan 8 '14 at 21:01
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    $\begingroup$ @Falk, that's great advice but it's worth remembering that foreigners cannot receive training of any kind without TSA approval. I tried to get exactly the introductory training you're suggesting and ended up paying $160 to the TSA for a background check. $\endgroup$ – Pondlife Jan 8 '14 at 21:24
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    $\begingroup$ Oh damn, that's true. I needed to get the TSA approval anyway, so it was no matter for me but in my eyes you should still consider to invest this money instead of risking high fines or even your life. $\endgroup$ – Falk Jan 9 '14 at 2:00
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    $\begingroup$ @Falk Yes, I completely agree. The point is just that foreigners shouldn't forget that TSA approval is required for all training, so if you get a foreign-based license and try to do the right thing by getting some orientation training you will immediately run into the TSA process. But clearly the (relatively) minor investment is worth it. I'll update my answer with something about this. $\endgroup$ – Pondlife Jan 9 '14 at 16:15
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    $\begingroup$ @BrianKnoblauch Good point, ground school is specifically excluded in 49CFR1552.1(b) and I've edited my answer. However my personal experience has been that instructors won't offer any training at all to foreign students without approval because the consequences of getting it wrong are potentially very severe and therefore it makes more sense to just avoid the issue. Part 141 schools that deal with a lot of foreign students and know all the details might see it differently from independent part 61 CFIs, of course. $\endgroup$ – Pondlife Jun 26 '14 at 17:42

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