Obtaining TSA Approval: A Guide for International Student Pilots

Oct 17, 2023

Few things are as exciting as the prospect of attending flight school in a foreign land (and airspace). But, if you’re not a US citizen or national, you have to satisfy some extra conditions before your “Learn to Fly in America” adventure can take off.

In this post, we’ll discuss a key aspect of how to become an international pilot: special Transportation Security Administration (TSA) requirements for foreign students.

Why Be an International Flight School Student in the US?

There are many reasons a person might choose to come to America for flight training.

Many international students want to learn to fly in the US because:

  • We have a variety of high-quality training airplane and helicopter pilot training programs, advanced aviation technology, and reputable flight schools.
  • Training here may be more affordable than in a student’s home country.
  • It could pave the way for further study or employment in the US down the road.
  • It provides an immersive way to improve English language skills.
  • Adventurous souls like to explore and have enriching new experiences!

It’s important to understand and evaluate your personal motivations because, as a foreign student, you will need to jump through more hoops to make it happen. It can be well worth the effort, though!

Flight School for International Students (1)

TSA Approval Matters

The TSA is tasked with helping keep the nation’s transportation systems, including aviation, secure. Knowing who’s coming into the country and for what purpose supports the TSA’s mission. That’s why international flight school students have to pass through the additional rigors of TSA approval.

So, why’s this a big deal for international flight students who wish to learn to fly in the United States? Several reasons.

TSA non-US-citizen flight training approval isn’t just part of a government agency’s strategy, it’s also a crucial stepping stone on your path to becoming a student pilot here. Your whole end-to-end piloting experience in the US will have touchpoints that are affected by your TSA approval status.

Foreign Student Flight Training — TSA Approval Required Because…

  • It’s mandatory for non-US citizens or nationals who are pursuing their initial FAA pilot certificate; recreational, sport pilot, or private pilot certificate; or instrument or multiengine rating.
  • It helps ensure that only qualified and trustworthy candidates have access to flight training and that the individuals coming in to do flight training aren’t a security threat. (The TSA conducts background checks and a vetting process before granting approval.)
  • It enables your training. Foreign students without TSA approval can’t pursue flight training in the US, which may limit opportunities to gain valuable skills, ratings, and experience.
  • It broadens your training post-training career horizons. Without TSA approval, you will effectively be barred from pursuing certain aviation jobs.

The TSA Approval Process

It’s important that you familiarize yourself with the TSA protocol for international students and complete the necessary procedures to obtain approval before embarking on your flight training journey in the US. This can be a confusing endeavor, so don’t hesitate to contact us with questions.

The TSA approval process for international student pilots is fairly involved. You have to puddle jump your way through several steps and requirements along the way.

While the particulars of the application can depend on your background and the kind of training you’re pursuing, here’s a general overview of what to expect:

  1. Begin the application process. First, create an account on the Flight Training Security Program (FTSP) online portal. Then start supplying the requested personal information — your name, date of birth, passport details, category of request, aircraft type, name of training school, course ID,  etc. To ensure you have all the details correct, you may need some back and forth correspondence with the school you’re planning to attend.

  2. Make your payment. Your application will cost $130 (as of October 2023). This non-refundable processing fee is paid to the FTSP.

  3. Submit required documentation. You’ll need to provide various documents as part of your application. These may include a copy of your passport, visa, employment verification, financial statements, proof of English language proficiency, and prior flight training records. The TSA will follow up with you with instructions on what materials are requested and how to submit them.

  4. Complete fingerprinting. You’ll have to schedule an appointment to have your fingerprints taken at an authorized location. The FTSP uses your fingerprints to kick off a background check. In recent times, this whole process has become very easy in the U.S. It may even make sense for you to wait until you’re in the US to get fingerprinted — unless you’re from a country where fingerprinting is also easily done and processed.

  5. Complete background check. The TSA will conduct a thorough background check, including reviewing your criminal history, immigration status, and any potential security concerns.

  6. Receive TSA approval. Once your background check is complete and you meet all the requirements, you’ll get TSA approval. This approval is valid for a specified period of time, usually for the duration of your flight training program.

TSA flight student candidate approval time usually hovers around 30 days. This assumes you’ve submitted all the asked-for information and haven’t made any errors with your application. So it’s recommended that you start the application process far in advance of your intended flight training program.

Flight School for International Students

Setting Yourself Up for TSA Approval

Applying for TSA approval can be a lot to take on. But, it is possible to streamline the process and sidestep common pitfalls.

10 Most Frequent Application Problems

According to the TSA, these are the most common errors people make during the application process.

  1. Name doesn’t exactly match the passport, US visa, airman certificate, US driver’s license, or other identification that’s presented.
  2. Name on your passport is different from what appears on other documents.
  3. Citizenship may have more than one country (e.g., one associated with birthplace and another associated with current status).
  4. US visa number is incorrect.
  5. Height and weight are reported using the wrong scale. (e.g., feet instead of inches)
  6. Dates are copied incorrectly.
  7. Airman certificate type rating is missing.
  8. Addresses aren’t for the physical buildings you lived in.
  9. Addresses aren’t complete. (e.g., lack room or apartment number).
  10. Images and account information don’t match.

Tips for TSA Approval Success

Remember, plenty of people go through this gauntlet all the time. You know it can be done! With that in mind, here are some recommendations for facilitating the process and increasing your odds of a smoother, quicker approval.

  • Read the application guide and FAQs on the FTSP website before starting your application process.
  • Review the common errors and the FTSP’s guidance on preventing or fixing these issues.
  • Double check all information you’re submitting to make sure you didn’t make any typos, omissions, etc.
  • Give yourself ample time to collect documentation, get fingerprints done, await the review of your application, etc.
  • Make sure you have sufficient financial resources for your application and training.
  • Be on the lookout for and respond to emails from the FTSP as soon as possible to avoid delays.
  • Follow any instructions provided to you by the FTSP very carefully.
  • Be sure to properly update your information in a timely manner if any details change. (e.g., You move.)
  • Contact your prospective flight school and/or the FTSP with any questions.

Learn More About How to Become an International Pilot

Are the gears in your head spinning and you’re eager for more information? Then check out this roundup of resources.

FAQs — Flight School for International Students

Why should I consider an international flight school?

Getting your training in the US can open doors for you that aren’t available elsewhere. Schools here are known for their quality of programming, instruction, and technology. You may also save money.

Who needs TSA approval for flight training?

Anyone who isn’t a US citizen.

What is the TSA flight student candidate approval time usually?

Once the FTSP has everything it needs from you, it typically takes them 30 days or less to process your application and get a decision to you.

Where can I find out more about how to become an international pilot?

The TSA’s Flight Training Security Program (FTSP) website is a great resource! Flight schools that regularly work foreign students can help you, too.

Additional Resources

How to Convert Your License to FAA Standard

How to Become an International Pilot? With Pureflight!

Foreign students require TSA approval for flight training in the US.

Getting your TSA flight school approval can be a complex process. It’s critical that you prepare for and follow the instructions for the application. It’s your best bet for success.

If you need help, Pureflight — one of the top flight schools for international students — is here for you with all the information, insight, and encouragement you need. We work with countless foreign student pilots so we’re well-versed in all the details. Contact us today.