Those of us Snowbirds that have been bit by the aerial photography bug may want to use these flying cameras to take photographs in the United States. Can a Canadian fly a drone in the United States legally?
Yes you can, though there are certainly some hoops to jump through before you can do so legally.
As of January 16, 2016, in order to fly a drone in the United States, every drone above a few ounces in weight has to be registered with the FAA.
A Canadian citizen, bringing their four-or-six prop (or maybe even eight prop) flying machine with them to enjoy during their Snowbird stay in the U.S., has to register their flying machine before using it too.
The folks at the FAA think they have made registering drones fairly easy with their on line registration website. Visit here: https://www.faa.gov/uas/registration/ , scroll to the bottom of the page after reading the information, click the button, and start to register your quad! Please read all of the rest of this page before you do that, however, there are some issues.
Registering your drone if you are Canadian is NOT easy!
The on line registration page is, reasonably enough, oriented towards folks living in the U.S. That includes Canadian Snowbirds enjoying their time away from the Canadian winter.
You will find the form quite straightforward as you go through the process on line, entering your U.S. address and zip code etc., and when all the data needed is entered, you’ll click the button to register.
Drone footage of a Florida Village
But wait… you have to pay $5.00 for your drone registration
And here is where the complexity arises for the Canadian visiting the U.S. Using a Canadian credit card on line to pay for the drone registration in the U.S., even if it is a US dollar credit card, seems impossible.
The credit card company typically uses the zip code / postal code entered into the form as one of their validation criteria. Their system compares the zip code / postal code on the Canadian credit card against the purchase zip code. If the two don’t match, the transaction is voided. Again, and again.
The zip code field on the FAA drone registration form only accepts US zip codes.
You cannot enter your Canadian postal code, the one that matches the postal code on the credit card, and the transaction cannot go through.
After feeling my systolic reading skyrocketing, I gave up on the on line form, and emailed the FAA help address. Several times in fact, since their “form letter” response to each email simply referred me back to their on line registration process.
No matter how carefully I explained the problem in my emails, I could not make them understand that yes, I could fill out the online form but I couldn’t pay for it.
Finally one email responder suggested I call the local FAA office for help, and gave me a link to them. So I did. Uh Oh! Right to voice mail.
Amazingly… within fifteen minutes, a help guy by the name of Rod called me back from the FAA. He understood in seconds exactly what the problem was. The solution was to fill out their paper form, add a $5.00 money order, and mail both to the address on the form. He even mailed me several copies of the form so I wouldn’t have to drive to their office, some distance away. Wonderful.
Can A Canadian Fly A Drone In The United States? This sure affects your blood pressure!
This whole process drove my blood pressure higher than my quad could fly!
Finally the brains in my relationship (not me ) did some research on our behalf.
It turns out that this credit card issue is a never ending problem for folks trying to prepay for their gas at the stations in the U.S., most of which require you to insert your credit card before you can pump gas, or go inside and try to guess how much gas your tank will tank.
The gas pump accepts the card alright, but, once again, you cannot enter a Canadian postal code from a Canadian credit card, and the transaction cannot go through.
The credit card trick
My partner said that the solution to the problem with using a Canadian credit card at a gas pump is to to enter only the numbers of your postal code, and add three zeroes at the end, the gas pump will accept that as the postal code, and your credit card will authorize the purchase.
I can now say that it works. For example, if your Canadian Postal Code is L5M 4z9 (not a real one) then one would put into the the zip code field: 54900 and …
…back to the FAA on line registration page I went, did as my very intelligent partner suggested, and bingo, on line drone registration complete!
If your Canadian postal code is, for example, H7G 4G6, you would enter the following in the postal code field: 746000.
While I cannot promise that this will work for you, it worked for me. I am now, as a Canadian Snowbird staying in the U.S., legally able to fly my sweet little quad, with its most excellent camera, during my stay here.
Folks, after you register yours, make sure you follow the rules. Have the authorized registration form with you – mine is an image on my smart phone (which is quite legal), have your registration number visible on your flying machine, and fly according to the FAA guidelines. Please! Good luck.
What if the drone flyer is in an RV with no fixed address in the U.S.?
In 2022 Robert M. wrote “What if you are not stationary and are traveling around with your RV and you don’t have a US address?“.
My uninspired answer was that I didn’t know, not having had the problem myself.
With my thanks, Robert went on to say “Well, I just tried, and they seem to have changed the process for recreational use drones:
1) they now accept non-US addresses, and
2) they now have a check box where you can check Non Applicable Postal Code, and the system ignores the postal code!
The credit card info was OK and they charged 5$. Done!
There is one issue that will eventually need to be considered by snowbirds and it’s the requirement for “Remote ID Capability” where the drone emits it’s ID when flying.
This should be an update (firmware?) to our drones in the near future.”.
I appreciate the update, Robert.