There are many differences to be aware of when flying outside the United States (U.S.). International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) rules prevail. Member states follow ICAO guidelines as published, with differences noted, in their official Aeronautical Information Publication (AIP).

Aeronautical Information Publication (AIP)

The AIP is an official publication that defines and describes the airspace, aeronautical facilities and services, and national rules and practices pertaining to air traffic. The AIP contains public information made available through the aviation authority of the publishing country. Some AIPs are available online. Several countries may join together to publish AIP information in a single volume (e.g., Eastern Caribbean), while others issue limited AIP information through documents such as Notices to Airmen (NOTAM). AIP content also is available through commercial providers.

Although some extracted AIP information is made available on this web site, the proper AIPs should be consulted during the planning phase of international flight operations to ensure complete and current information is obtained.

Published domestic and international NOTAM information always should be consulted by the flight planner. The latest NOTAMs may be accessed through the FAA NAIMES PilotWeb NOTAM System or FAA TFR NOTAM List. Prior to flight, current NOTAM information is available through Flight Service Stations (FSS) 800-WX-BRIEF (+1-800-992-7433).

Travel Warnings

Before flying abroad, be sure to check each destination and en route country for any unfavorable travel conditions. Flyers should be aware of adverse situations, ranging from political unrest and war zones to disease outbreaks and natural disasters.

It is highly advisable to consult the Travel Warnings, Travel Alerts, and Country Specific Information posted by the U.S. Department of State (DOS) prior to travel. Information is available for every country, including terrorism threats, security risks, and political disturbances as well as entry regulations, currency, health conditions, and locations of the U.S. Embassy or Consulate in the subject country.

Department of State Travel Warnings

Travel Warnings are issued when long-term, protracted conditions that make a country dangerous or unstable. A Travel Warning also is issued when the U.S. Government's ability to assist American citizens is constrained due to the closure of an embassy or consulate or because of a drawdown of its staff.

Department of State Travel Alerts

Travel Alerts are issued to disseminate information about short-term conditions, either transnation or within a particular country, that pose imminent risks to the security of U.S. citizens. Natural disasters, terrorist attacks, coups, anniversaries of terrorist events, election-related demonstrations or violence, and high-profile events such as international conferences or regional sports events are examples of conditions that might generate a Travel Alert. The U.S. DOS offers travel tips for safer trips abroad and provides country specific information for the traveler.

U.S. Prohibitions, Restrictions and Notices

The Federal Aviation Administration issues information on countries and regions that may pose a hazard to aviators. Flyers always should check the latest International NOTAMS and U.S. Prohibitions, Restrictions and Notices Web page, and call Flight Service (1-800-WX-BRIEF) prior to travel.

Pre-Arrival

All countries require some kind of advance notification of arrival. For some countries, simply filing a flight plan meets this requirement, while others may require specific written notification many days before the flight. Requests should allow ample time for processing and return reply, if required. There are commercial agents who specialize in obtaining permits and arranging handling.

Keep in mind that some countries close their offices, as well as airports, on holidays and weekends. Each country that will be transited or visited should be researched to determine what documents, fees, and other requirements can be expected. Plan your arrival at an airport of entry during the time period customs and immigration offices will be open, unless special arrangements have been made.

It is not unusual for airports that normally have fuel to run out of it. Therefore, it is important to check directly with the fuel vendor to ensure that the type of fuel needed is in stock. Occasionally, arrangements must be made in advance for fuel to be shipped and available. Fuel is often sold in liters, so a conversion to gallons may be necessary.

1 US gallon = 3.785 liters. 1 Liter = 0.264 US gallons.

Fees

Credit cards are accepted at many destinations, but it is always a good idea to have cash available. Check with your destination airports to ascertain which credit cards and/or currencies will be accepted.

Air traffic control and navigation charges are the norm in many countries. Some fees may be paid upon landing or before departing. At other times, bills may be sent at a later date. There also may be en route overflight charges.

FAA will charge overflight fees to certain civil aircraft that fly through U.S.-controlled airspace if they do not take off or land in the U.S. or its possessions.

Required Documents

It is highly advisable to prepare multiple photocopied sets of all required documents to have on hand upon landing in each country. It will expedite entry and avoid delays at airports without copy machines.

Pilot and Aircraft

It is essential to have all required documents with you. Depending on the country, these may include aircraft registration, airworthiness certificate, pilot licenses, medical certificate, Federal Communications Commission (FCC) aircraft radio station license, FCC restricted radiotelephone operator permit, and proof of insurance. Some countries may require aircraft weight and balance data, pilot and maintenance logbooks.

Passport and Visa

If you are a U.S. citizen, a U.S. Passport will be required to enter most foreign countries and to re-enter the U.S. The passport must contain any necessary visas required by countries being visited. A U.S. Passport Card cannot be used for international air travel.

A visa is a permit to enter and leave a country to be visited. Some countries require visitors from other nations to have a valid visa in their possession before departing their home country. A visa may be obtained from foreign embassies or consulates located in the U.S. A valid passport must be submitted when applying for a visa of any type.

Some countries do not require a visa for flight crewmembers. Check with each country being visited prior to flight.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP)

If leaving the U.S. with personal items of value, it is advisable to register them with Customs using Form 4457 (PDF).

Upon returning to the U.S., individual customs declaration cards, Form 6059B, will need to be submitted at the airport of entry. The pilot of a commercial flight will need to turn in a customs general declaration, Form 7507 (PDF). Customs also requires aircraft to have customs decal, Form 339A, which can be purchased annually online before traveling or upon re-entry.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) requires aircraft entering and exiting U.S. airspace to register in the Electronic Advance Passenger Information System (eAPIS) and submit passenger/crew manifest information. CBP publishes the Guide for Private Flyers (PDF), containing important information for international flyers.

The Caribbean Community (CARICOM) has an APIS program in place for 10 of its member States, requiring all aircraft to transmit advance passenger information. A fact sheet (PDF) is available with detailed information.

Permits and Insurance

Many countries require proof of insurance and, sometimes, this can be difficult or expensive to obtain. Some states, such as the European Commission, now require War and Terrorism insurance. Mexico requires Mexican liability insurance.

Some countries require various permits, including overflight permits, with possible corresponding fees. A filed flight plan is sufficient to overfly others. Enter the overflight, landing, or other required permit number on line 18 of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) flight plan form.

Required Equipment

In addition to basic navigation and communications equipment, there may be other specific requirements specified by ICAO or individual countries, such as a 406 MHz ELT, HF radio and survival gear. Some over water equipment and satellite radios may be available for rent from suppliers.

Radio

A two-way, very high frequency (VHF) radio is required when departing or entering the U.S. In addition, a high frequency (HF) radio is necessary when flying in airspace that is out of VHF range. A satellite phone can be very useful when flying in airspace with no VHF coverage.

Transponder

An altitude reporting transponder (mode C) is required to enter or exit the U.S. and to penetrate or transit an Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ). Some exceptions apply.

406 MHz Emergency Locator Transmitter (ELT)

Due to changes in monitoring emergency frequencies, and for search and rescue (SAR) requirements, ICAO has stipulated that aircraft must have a 406 MHz ELT to fly internationally. Some countries, such as the U.S., Canada, The Bahamas, and many Caribbean nations, have not yet adopted this requirement for aircraft.

The 406 MHz ELT must be registered with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and re-registered every two years.

An emergency position indicating radio beacon (EPIRB) does not meet the ICAO requirement, but it is a valuable addition to have on board.

12" Registration Numbers

12" registration numbers are required by ICAO. Rules stipulate that aircraft registration marks must be at least 30 cm (11.81 inches) tall on fuselage and vertical tail sections, with some exceptions (ICAO Annex 7, section 4.2.2).

They also are required by the U.S. to penetrate and transit the ADIZ. These can be permanent or temporary. They may be added temporarily to an aircraft with decals or adhesive tape.

ADF

Many areas of the world use Non-directional Beacons (NDB). Some countries require an Automatic Direction Finder (ADF) receiver to be onboard for Instrument Flight Rules (IFR) flight. Others allow the use of Lateral Navigation (LNAV)-capable equipment to substitute for an ADF.

Survival Gear

Onboard survival equipment is not only prudent to have, but also it is required by some countries. ICAO Annex 6 specifies required overwater and overland survival equipment. In arctic, jungle, or desert regions, other survival gear is a must.

Transport Canada Aviation Regulations (CAR) have very specific requirements for aircraft embarking on transatlantic flights. Since most single and small, multi-engine aircraft will depart from an airport in Canada, this equipment is mandatory. Greenland and Iceland have similar requirements.

Satellite Phone

Although not required, a satellite phone is a helpful item to have when traveling abroad, particularly in remote areas.

Time Flexibility

Allow plenty of time to get things done while outside the U.S. At times, it may take several hours to clear customs and immigration, get fuel, file a flight plan, and pay any necessary fees, among other things. Sometimes, the location of each is far from the others and entails a long walk to obtain an official stamp for required paperwork. Patience and courtesy are highly recommended.

Security

Under Federal Aviation Regulations (FAR) Part 99, all aircraft are required to provide identification when entering or exiting U.S. Airspace. The IFIM Entering, Exiting, and Flying in U.S. Airspace section provides additional information on national security, interception, ADIZ, and APIS procedures. In some areas of the world, it may be advisable to arrange for private security guards if your aircraft will be left overnight or longer.

Terminology

There are many differences in aviation English outside the U.S., including occasional lack of fluency and varied accents. As such, it is helpful to review ICAO terminology before flying abroad. Some aviation terms, such as CAVOK (ceiling and visibility o.k.), line up and wait (taxi into position and hold), and 9999 (visibility greater than 6 sm or 10 km), are commonly used. Numbers are read out singly, including "zero," and "decimal" is used instead of "point."

Communications

ICAO requires powered aircraft pilots to hold a certificate stating they are proficient in the English language. FAA now requires U.S. pilot certificates to have the statement "English proficiency" on them. Old pilot certificates may be replaced for a nominal fee.

Specific radio frequencies are used in different regions of the world. 123.45 is commonly used in remote oceanic areas to contact other aircraft for operational purposes, including relaying position reports, obtaining weather updates, and other communications. The emergency frequency 121.5 always should be monitored during flight. HF radio is required for nearly all oceanic flights and in many remote locations.

When flying outside the U.S., use the word "November" when stating the aircraft call sign, if of U.S. registry.

Weather

Obtaining accurate weather information is vital. Most onboard satellite weather services are not available outside the U.S. Access to Internet weather Web sites is widely available for pre-flight planning. Aircraft with an HF radio will be able to access Volmets in flight. They are part of a worldwide system of scheduled meteorological voice broadcasts.

Despite good forecasts, bad weather can arise quickly, particularly in the tropics and arctic regions. The inter-tropical convergence zone near the Equator can produce treacherous weather, mainly heavy rain and thunderstorms. Arctic weather is notorious for low pressure systems, wind, fog, and icing conditions. IFR flying experience is recommended in these areas.

A few countries, such as Russia and China, report wind speed in meters per second. You will need a conversion chart to change knots or miles per hour. International METAR and Terminal Aerodrome Forecast (TAF) can be found on the NOAA Web site by entering the four letter airport identifier in the appropriate box.

Altimetry

The U.S. and many other countries use inches of mercury to measure barometric pressure. Other countries use millibars (e.g., hectopascals or hPa). Some aircraft altimeters will display both; however, if only a single-display altimeter is available, it is necessary to have a conversion chart available.

The U.S. and other western countries use QNH altimeter procedures. Some countries (e.g., Russia) use QFE altimeter procedures. When operating under QFE altimetry, your altimeter will indicate zero when on a datum point somewhere on the airport surface, commonly a runway threshold. Complete understanding of the rules and procedures required to fly under QFE altimeter procedures is critical when operating in these countries. Some airports will supply QNH on request.

While the transition altitude/flight level in the U.S. is 18,000 feet (FL 180), it varies greatly elsewhere, and the flight levels may begin as low as 3,000 feet (FL 30). You may be assigned Flight Level six zero (FL 60), for example.

A few countries (e.g., China) use meters instead of feet. For altitude and speed, you will need conversion charts.

Charts

Some countries, such as the U.S., Mexico, and Germany, have their own Visual Flight Rules (VFR) charts, as do many European countries. World coverage Operational Navigation Charts (ONC) are available. The scale is 1:1,000,000. World Aeronautical Charts (WAC) also cover a large part of the world. WAC charts are revised annually, except Alaska and the Caribbean, which are revised every other year. A planning chart for the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean also is available, as are other types of VFR charts. Chapter 9, Section One, of the Aeronautical Information Manual (AIM) contains descriptions of many aeronautical charts.

It is highly advisable to have IFR en route and approach charts with you, as well.

U.S. government civil aeronautical charts and flight information publications are available from the National Aeronautical Charting Office (NACO).

International Flight Plan (ICAO)

When entering or leaving the U.S., aircraft will need to file an ICAO international flight plan with Flight Service (FSS) in the U.S. or the appropriate authority for the foreign country. This applies to VFR and IFR flights. Although both flight plans require similar information, the ICAO form (PDF) is somewhat different from the U.S. domestic form (PDF). On November 15, 2012, the ICAO Filed Flight Plan (FPL) will undergo changes regarding Item and Field contents.

Oceanic Crossing

If flying at altitudes from FL 290 to FL 410 across the North Atlantic Ocean, aircraft must be equipped with required onboard radios and instruments in order to fly a specific track. Tracks are revised every 12 hours. The track routing is based primarily on weather and winds. Eastbound tracks are labeled from the end of the alphabet (e.g., U,V,W,X,Y,Z), and Westbound tracks are labeled from the beginning (e.g., A,B,C,D,E,F). There are dedicated fixes linking each track to the North American and European airway systems at both ends. Additionally, there are random track routes. Track fixes are defined by latitude and longitude.

Refer to FAA NAIMES PilotWeb NOTAM System for North Atlantic and Pacific Tracks information.

Aircraft flying the tracks must be equipped to meet Reduced Vertical Separation Minimums (RVSM), Minimum Navigation Performance Specifications (MNPS), and Strategic Lateral Offset Procedure (SLOP) requirements.

Position Report

Position reports are required while flying out of radar contact or when requested by air traffic control. Information is given in a specified order. It is a good idea to practice giving a full position report ahead of time in order to reduce radio congestion (See Aeronautical Information Manual AIM 5-3-2).

  1. Identification
  2. Position
  3. Time
  4. Altitude or flight level
  5. Name and time estimate of next reporting point
  6. Name only of next succeeding reporting point

Example:

"Santo Domingo, N12345, position." (Pilot)

"N12345, go ahead." (ATC response)

"N12345 (November one, two, three, four, five)
KATIN at 1456 (one four five six)
Seven thousand
Estimate VESKA at 1518 (one five one eight)
PENKO next
Go ahead."

An estimated en route time (EET) after takeoff for all Flight Information Region (FIR) boundary crossings should be entered on line 18 of the international flight plan. Pilots should be familiar with en route procedures and be prepared to give a boundary estimate to ATC.

Clearances

At many foreign airports, official clearance is required to start an aircraft's engine. Further clearance is required to taxi. It is common not to receive an IFR clearance until after engine start and during taxi to the runway. Be prepared to copy your IFR clearance at this time.

VFR Flights

Filing an international (ICAO) flight plan is required for VFR flights in most countries. Additionally, there may be specific VFR transponder codes that differ from each other and from the U.S. VFR code.

In many countries, night VFR is not permitted.

Experimental Aircraft

Some countries do not permit experimental or light sport aircraft to fly within their borders. Other foreign aviation regulations require these types of aircraft to register or obtain written permission prior to entering their airspace.

Canada and The Bahamas allow Internet downloading of the necessary certificate.

Length of Stay

Many countries will charge fees or taxes for extended stays. Some require aircraft to be registered in a country after six months. Check with each destination for any penalties.

Health

Be sure to get the latest health and immunization information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Information for specific countries is available for travelers at 1-800-CDC-INFO (1-800-232-4636).

Ferry Tanks

No person may operate an aircraft with a fuel tank installed within the passenger compartment or a baggage compartment unless the installation was accomplished pursuant to Part 43 of CFR 14, Chapter 1, Subchapter C, and a copy of FAA Form 337, which authorizes the installation, is on board the aircraft.

International Preflight Checklist

All items will be not required on every flight, but they should be considered.

Country

  • Review current conditions and travel warnings
  • Required documents (e.g., passport, visa, licenses)
  • Insurance requirements (e.g., liability, war and terrorism)
  • Permit requirements (e.g., entry, overflight)
  • Contact information (e.g., phone and email)
  • Airports of entry
  • Fuel availability
  • Accepted currency and credit cards
  • Languages spoken
  • Special flight rules (e.g., no night VFR)
  • Vaccinations

Aircraft

  • Required documents (e.g., airworthiness, registration)
  • Equipment requirements (e.g., 406 ELT)
  • Radio requirements (e.g., HF, mode C or S, ADF)
  • Survival gear requirements
  • Experimental aircraft/light sport (e.g., permits, validations)
  • Ferry tank permits and documents
  • 12-inch tail numbers
  • Spare parts, tools, oil, tie downs, chocks, etc.

Navigation

  • Charts (e.g., IFR, VFR, WAC, ONC)
  • Approach/Departure charts
  • GPS
  • Conversion tables
  • ICAO flight plan forms
  • General Declaration forms

Miscellaneous

  • Satellite phone
  • Waste disposal
  • Time flexibility
  • Holiday/weekend closures
  • Multiple copies of documents and permits
  • Submit passenger/crew manifest electronically to CBP
  • Emergency position indicating radio beacon (EPIRB)