To fly N-registered airplanes, you have to have an FAA license that was either validated or converted or acquired normally as an independent license in the USA.
For foreigners, the easiest way to obtain an FAA license is to have your own license validated. Most flight schools can help you with the preliminary steps. The process itself essentially consists of informing the FAA which licenses you have and which you want validated. Secondly, you have to allow the issuing authority to pass this information on to the FAA or confirm it. To do so, you only have to submit two forms, which are easy to fill in and should be sent to the local FAA (FSDO) office 2-3 months prior to travel. Due to government budget cuts, staff at the FAA has been considerably reduced which, to some extent, has resulted in substantial delays in getting licenses issued and validated. That’s why it’s important to get your paperwork in as early as possible.
Directly after arriving in Florida, the flight school will schedule an appointment with the FSDO (Flight Standards District Office) that you must personally attend. The friendly employees on site will chat with you for a while to find out whether your English is good enough to handle American radio communication. Don’t worry. This is not a language test and you will not be graded, but the FAA does want to ensure that everyone on radio communication channels has basic English language skills. Most people usually come out of this appointment with a “temporary airman certificate” which allows you to fly planes in the USA. After about 3 months, you should receive in the mail the compact FAA license, which is the size of a credit card. This license is valid indefinitely as long as nothing changes in your underlying license. Also, all restrictions from your original license apply to this one, too. For example, if you do not have separate night flight authorization, you will not receive night flight authorization in the USA with validation even though a normal American license includes night flight authorization. If these rules aren’t already complicated enough for a PPL SEP Country license, then it gets more complicated for more advanced licenses.
Once you have your “temporary airman certificate,” theoretically, you are authorized to fly. But before you can hire a charter plane, you have undergo checkout through the flight school.
Those who want to convert their licenses should obtain detailed information in advance on the individual requirements, which are different depending on the license – PPL or CPL, VFR or IFR. What they all have in common is the fact that you have to re-take exams that will pave the way toward obtaining a stand-alone FAA license.
For those who have obtained their license in the USA according to FAA regulations and have also passed a valid medical exam and a current biannual flight review can skip all the aforementioned procedures and start directly with checkout.