Checklist for Flying Your Private Aircraft Internationally

The view leaving the East Coast from inside a Mooney

One of the most appealing benefits of owning your own aircraft is having the freedom to fly whenever and wherever you want to. Although sometimes you are limited by TFR’s or weather, you still have more freedom than the typical aircraft renter. Without having to deal with availability or tedious flying club paperwork, you are free to explore the skies more thoroughly. There are thousands of airports to explore in the US (Approximately 18,911 for those curious) and thousands more internationally. There are valuable skills you must learn in order to fly internationally, and it is certainly a challenge worth pursuing.

A good friend of mine recently flew with his family in their Mooney M20C to the Bahamas. After flying 210 nautical miles over open water, they landed at North Eleuthera Airport and took a boat to the tranquil and beautiful island of Spanish Wells and spent a week fishing, snorkeling, and relaxing. When you fly out of the U.S. you can explore exotic and interesting places in the world that many others do not have access to.

As I said before, flying out of the U.S. comes with its challenges. There is a lot of paperwork, planning, and in some cases extra gear for your aircraft involved. AOPA has a great series of guides for flying to specific international destinations. They have guides for the Bahamas, the Caribbean, Canada, Central America, Alaska, and Mexico. Pilots certainly have to reference these along with multiple other sources before leaving for their journey.

I have put together a list of a few of the major items you must have when flying internationally. This is not comprehensive, and a few international destinations have specialized legal information they require, but it will give you a good idea of what is to come if you choose to begin a flight plan out of the U.S.

1. Passports and legal Information. When you go through Customs and Boarder Protection, you will be asked to show all legal documentation as though you had flown in on an airliner. This is in addition to your usual flying legal documents. It is important to locate and carry your passport, pilot license, and medical certificate. All passengers must have a passport too, and any children flying without one parent must have a notarized statement of approval from the absent parent for the dates of the trip.

2. Paperwork for the aircraft. In addition to all of the paperwork required to operate an aircraft in U.S. airspace (Airworthiness certificate, registration, weight and balance, etc.) you must also have aboard a radio station license.

3. Charts You will have to seek out and purchase charts of the route you are flying. These foreign charts are similar in typography to their U.S. counterparts, but it is important to look over them and memorize features along the route of flight well before you depart.

4. Aircraft Insurance Certain aircraft insurance policies do not cover international flight. It is important to contact your insurer and discuss appropriate coverage. Proof of insurance that covers international flight is required to be carried aboard for certain destinations.

5. Radiotelephone Operator Permit You may remember vaguely from your Private Pilot Written exam that you need a Radiotelephone Operator Permit to fly outside of the U.S. Here is all the information you need to obtain one. Thankfully they are issued for the holder's lifetime.

6. Life Vest When flying over open water, you are required to have onboard a life vest or flotation device for each passenger. It is also recommended that you bring a life raft, but it is not legally required.

7. Sunscreen This one is certainly not legally required, but if you are traveling to a tropical destination such as the Bahamas or the Caribbean it is certainly recommended. Keep your skin safe to ensure that you get the most fun out of your vacation.

I hope that this article inspires you to look into the possibility of flying your private aircraft somewhere internationally. The new experiences are unbeatable and you will have fascinating stories to tell. Do you have any advice for pilots who are new to international flight? Let me know in the comments!