Why Get a Drone License for the U.S. and Mexico?

In my first blog about drones, I explored some reasons why I want to own a drone and do some photography, for either fun or profit. There are many commercial opportunities as well if you want to go down that path. Drones are in use now in many of the recent natural disaster zones as discussed in https://www.faa.gov/news/updates/?newsId=88770.

In this blog, I want to explore some reasons why I think it is a good idea to get some training under your belt and to prepare and sit for a sUAV (Small Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) or drone license.

Undoubtedly the most important reason to get an sUAV license is SAFETY!

Can anyone deny the fact that driver training is a good thing before anyone gets into the driver’s seat of a car? We expect drivers we encounter at the next intersection to not only know the rules of the road, but to also obey them. The same thing applies to piloting an airplane, an 18-wheeler or captaining a cruise ship.

But do you need a license for a drone? Some drones are lightweight toys and are therefore somewhat harmless. Larger drones, however, especially those that weigh over roughly half a pound, can often be flown at very high speeds (greater than 70 MPH) and are quite capable of injuring people or property. 

As you study for your license, you will discover that much of the educational material is centered around what you cannot do (legally) with a sUAV, just as when you took driver training, you learned that you must obey traffic signs, not speed and all that other good stuff.

The next most important reason to get an sUAV license is KNOWLEDGE.

A few years back we bought our first boat, an old wooden day cruiser, and although it wasn’t necessary, I went through some extensive online courses and obtained a boater’s license, which was both informative and lowered my insurance rates. Going through the training materials was a lot of fun, and I learned a great deal about boating safety on the open waters of both inland lakes and the oceans. 

Recently, I have been going through some online training and studying materials that are free from the FAA, and these materials are again both fun and informative. There is absolutely no question that you will be a better drone pilot with newly acquired knowledge and information under your belt.

The next reason to get an sUAV license is that it’s FUN TO DO!
If you are anything like me, you have often dreamed of becoming a certified private pilot. Flying has always been a thrill for me, even when it’s just a short airline hop from one boring airport to another. 

Much of the training for becoming a drone pilot is the same as is required for attaining a private license. It includes topics about weather, radio communications, airport operations and chart reading. This is all important information because in flying a drone you are occupying a small piece of the National Air Space (NAS), and it is your responsibility not to endanger either the public or yourself, just the same as it is when you are driving a vehicle on an interstate highway or flying a larger aircraft.

There are many online resources available, and if you have read this blog there’s a very good chance you know about some of these already. I strongly recommend going straight to the primary source for everything, which is https://www.faa.gov/uas/. Basically, you can learn everything you need to know from the information on this web site. However, you must dig it out, which can be somewhat daunting and a bit time-consuming.

To get yourself started and oriented to the problem, I personally recommend enrolling in this online course:


You can read about Tim Trott on that website or at https://www.thedroneprofessor.com. Tim provides many of the downloads you will need within the course, which makes like easier. The current cost is $50, and this fee is good for a lifetime of reviews going forward.

Another great resource is http://knowbeforeyoufly.org. This website is jam-packed with tons of information about drones.

Studying for a drone (or sUAV) licensing test will likely require between 10 and 20 hours of clock time plus a fee of $150 to sit for the exam at an approved FAA examination center. A passing score is 70% or better, which is quite achievable. None of the material is difficult, but you need to know a lot of information (read that as having memorized) if you are going to be successful. 

A license is good for 24 months, after which you must renew, which will require retesting. If you currently have a certified private license, you can likely get an endorsement for a sUAV without taking the test.


So, what does getting a drone license have to do with moving to Mexico?

First, my research indicates that the Mexican authorities, as you might have expected, are somewhat suspicious of drones entering their country. You can likely expect to pay a VAT (value-added tax) of 6% when you take your drone through customs, so make sure you have your receipt from your drone purchase with you. At some future day, you may also be asked if you have a license to fly a drone just to get your UAV into the country. We don’t think that has happened yet, but it could. Be prepared!

Second, since the drone laws in Mexico are reportedly highly inconsistent, you could be asked by the local officials where you are flying to produce your drone license, especially if you have a drone over 2kg.
Here is what we know currently, which can be found here:
  • All drone flights must be operated in daylight only. 
  • There are no laws on operating drones weighing under 2kg other than they cannot be used at night. 
  • A permit is required for operation of drones weighing between 2kg and 25kg. 
  • A permit and pilot license are required for operation of drones weighing over 25kg. 
  • You must maintain visual contact with your drone and avoid flying over large crowds or near airports.
These rules, are essentially parallel to the known knowledge base required to pass the FAA sUAV exam, so they reinforce the argument to get your drone license while it is still relatively easy and before you go to Mexico.

As a side note, I am researching information on the permits mentioned above, but all the information is in Spanish, so we will update this blog as soon as possible.


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