Can I come to Canada, convert my CPL and work as a pilot?


Photo by Hudson Hintze on Unsplash

TWO OR THREE times a week I receive an email from the holder of a foreign country’s pilot licence – usually a commercial pilot licence – who is a citizen of a country other than Canada. Countries from which these enquirers have hailed include Mexico, the Philipines, South Africa, Pakistan, India and Australia.

The email says something like this:

I am a citizen of my country. I have a CPL. I want to convert to a Canadian licence, how much will it cost, and how long will it take me to get a job as a pilot?

So to save myself writing the same frequent email response I thought I would write a blog post – then I can point people towards it.

Working as a pilot in Canada

I’m not qualified to give immigration advice. But I know that to get a job in Canada you need to be Canadian citizen, or a permanent resident, or have a work permit for Canada. The right to live and work in Canada is at the behest of Citizenship and Immigration Canada. That government department knows nothing about airplanes or pilot licences. Having a Canadian pilot licence does not give you the right to work as a pilot in Canada or help you to get the right to work in Canada.

So if you don’t have a Canadian passport or a permanent resident card, and you want to work in this country – in any job – you must investigate whether and how you can get a work permit. Start at this government webpage.

I do know that there is absolutely no shortage of Canadian citizens who, like my enquirers, are recently qualified commercial pilot licence holders with very little experience and who want jobs. There is a shortage of experienced ATPL holders with hundreds or thousands of hours pilot-in-command time in multi-engine turbine aircraft. But you would not be asking me for help if you were a 10,000 hour airline pilot with a Boeing 737 type rating. And regardless of your experience the laws of Canada mean that Canadian companies are allowed to hire only people who already have the right to live and work here.

Getting a Canadian CPL

IF you’re absolutely sure you want to spend the time and money on it – converting a foreign CPL to a Canadian CPL is a straightforward process. Pilot licensing in Canada is the responsibility of Transport Canada (another government department) – and the procedure for converting foreign licences is listed on this very helpful page.

If you already hold a CPL from an ICAO member country, you will need to:

  • Get a Canadian Category 1 medical certificate – you can have the examination in your home country
  • show that you have the required number of flight hours in the various required categories
  • take and pass the CPL written exam (it’s called CPAER) which you have to do at a Transport Canada centre in Canada. So you’ll have to study Canadian procedures and Canadian air law and regulations as well as have other pilot knowledge
  • and take and pass a CPL flight test in Canada. That means some hours in an airplane with a Canadian instructor.

Once you have done all that you can get a Canadian Commercial Pilot Licence. If you hold an FAA (USA) Commercial Pilot Licence the procedure is a bit simpler. But either way I stress that having a Canadian CPL doesn’t give you the right to work for a Canadian company or airlne. Getting a Canadian pilot licence is simple, but expensive. Getting a Canadian work permit is in general very difficult, and for almost everyone not possible at all.

Can I help you?

If you are a foreign-licenced pilot and you’re already living in in Canada, in the Toronto area, I would love to talk to you about some refresher training, and the process for converting your licence to a Canadian one. I like to fly with anyone who loves airplanes, and it doesn’t make much difference to me if the licence you hold is a commercial or private pilot. And if we decide I’m not a good fit for you then I can put you in touch with other flight schools who might work out better for you.

But if you’re enquiring from outside Canada with the intention of working here I strongly recommend you investigate whether you can get a work permit for Canada before you spend too much time (or any money) on Canadian pilot training.

Good luck in whatever you decide to do!

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