Pilot license vs certificate : What’s the difference?

by | FAQs for Beginners

Many people ask “what is the difference between a pilot license vs certificate?”


The card the FAA issues after you complete your training and pass your checkride is called the pilot certificate. It shows the level of training you have received and once you have earned it, your pilot certificate never expires.

The FAA pilot certificate alone is not enough to legally fly a plane. In addition to the pilot certificate, you need:

  1. a medical certificate. Depending on your age and whether you are using your license as a professional pilot, your medical lasts between 6-months and 5-years.
  2. and a photo i.d., which can be a state-issued driver’s license or other government issued document.

When people refer to their pilot license, they are generally referring to these three documents which together provide you with the “license” you need to fly an airplane.


In addition, the FAA expects pilots to maintain a level of proficiency depending on the type of flying they are doing. At a minimum, this includes a one-hour with a flight instructor sitting at a table talking about flying and one-hour in an airplane with an instructor demonstrating your proficiency. This flight review is completed with a signed endorsement added to your logbook which will keep your license valid for another two years.

Depending on the type of flying you do, you may not need a medical certificate either, but for most people passing a medical is not too challenging and it will open up the opportunities you have as a pilot. This includes instrument flying in clouds, flying at night, carrying more than one passenger, and flying faster airplanes. (Once you’ve started flying, you’ll soon discover that there’s no such thing as an airplane that is fast enough! )

When you’re ready to earn your own pilot license start looking for a flight school near you.

Don’t put off your dream of learning to fly any longer. Click the button below and start your journey to become a pilot with FlightRepublic today.