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Do Recreational Drone Pilots Need A License?

The drone industry has increased in popularity significantly in the past decade. There are thousands of new models that have been launched over the years with different features that are constantly getting better. That has caused many more people to take up the hobby of flying drones than what used to. 

Flying a drone is a fun and entertaining activity for anybody interested in aviation and content creation, although they can be used for different commercial purposes as well.

Since there are so many more people using drones recreationally now the FAA (in the United States) has made some specific rules for people who fly a drone recreationally (for fun) and those who use it commercially (for business). These rules are important for you to understand so you can make sure to know whether you need a license as a recreational drone pilot or not. 

The rules vary from country to country but in the United States recreational drone pilots do not have to get a license to pilot a drone. Each drone over 250kg does need to be registered but the pilot does not need a license to fly it. 

Unfortunately the line between being a recreational drone pilot and a commercial one has become more and more blurred as technology has advanced. According to the FAA a recreational drone pilot is one that solely flies the drone for fun but what if you then post that video on Youtube and make money through ads? 

Even though you may have recorded the video when you were just “having fun” now that you are making money with the footage captured with your drone it might now be considered commercial drone flying and you would then need a license. 

As you can see what might be considered recreational at the time could then change to being commercial and require a license quite quickly. 

Since drones are in such high demand these days, with an increasing number of people and industrie, some legal aspects need to be discussed and clarified.

In this article, we will talk about the issue of needing a license in different situations for flying a drone.

You can check out the video below for some of the relevant information from the FAA. 

Do I need a license to fly a drone?

The answer to the question is not a simple “yes” or “no” because there are a lot of aspects to look at to be able to give a correct answer. Aspects like the location you want to fly the drone at, or the purpose of flying the aircraft all come into play when deciding whether a drone license is needed. 

Flying your Drone recreationally

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) offers clear guidelines about flying your drone recreationally. All drones need to be registered with the FAA if you are flying outdoors. 

According to the FAA’s website, these are 5 cases when you don’t need a license to fly your drone outdoors:

  1. You use the drone strictly only for hobby and entertainment purposes-You don’t need a license in this case. You will need to still follow all of your local rules when flying as well.
  2. If you keep your drone within visual line of sight- Only licensed pilots are allowed to fly their drones out of visual sight.
  3. Keeping your drone at least 5 miles away from airports- This is an important rule to follow. Keeping your drone at least 5 miles away will make sure that it won’t interfere with any air traffic activity.
  4. If your drone weighs less than 55 pounds– Drones, under 55 pounds are mostly designed for recreational purposes, that’s why you won’t need a license to fly it.
  5. If you don’t fly your drone at night-unless it has special lighting that helps you always know its exact location.

So, in a few words, if you just purchased a drone for recreational purposes, and would like to fly it in the park or a field, you can do that without having a license but you still need to take into account a few rules for safe flying.

Recreational flying, 5 general rules to follow according to the FAA’s website

  1. Never fly your drone under the influence of alcohol or drugs- You could put in danger other people’s safety including yours.
  2. Don’t operate your drone in an aggressive, violent manner
  3. Never interfere with emergency response activities-such as any type of accident response, disaster relief, law enforcement activities, fire-fighting or hurricane recovery efforts.
  4. Stay below the maximum altitude allowed-In most cases that is 400 feet (in the USA)
  5. Don’t fly over people- Flying over people or vehicles can create dangerous situations. For example, if your battery suddenly dies because of a drop in voltage and it crashes into someone or a vehicle.
  6. Don’t fly after dark.– Flying drones at night without the supervision of a certified remote pilot can create dangerous situations and you also risk getting a fine.

When do I need a license to fly my drone?

If you only use your drone for recreational, hobby purposes, you do not need a license, but if you plan to operate your drone for a business or intend to make money selling the footage then you need to apply for a license.

According to the FAA’s website, here are the steps that you need to follow to get a license for a commercial drone:

  1. You have to be at least 16 years old.
  2. You need to pass the Aeronautical Knowledge Test. There are plenty of FAA approved centers where you can register to do this test.
  3. You need to apply for a Remote Pilot Certificate. You can do that, 48 hours after passing the Aeronautical Knowledge Test.
  4. Pass the background check done automatically by the Transportation Security Administration during your application process.

How much does it cost to obtain a commercial drone license?

The Aeronautical Knowledge Testing fee is $150. You can pay that fee at any registered Knowledge Center when scheduling your test.

Also, there is a $5 registration fee for your drone, but this is necessary for any drone that is over 250kg whether used for recreational or commercial purposes. 

In conclusion, it costs under $200 to get a Commercial Drone License. However, if you plan to start a business, it’s wise to take into consideration other costs as well, depending on the business you are starting. For example, paying for insurance if you accidentally crash into someone or something might be a good idea. You might also want to establish a limited liability company, which can cost between $150-$200.


As mentioned above in the article, you do not need a license for recreational purposes, so if you purchased a drone strictly for hobby and entertainment, or to use it indoors, you don’t have to obtain a license.

However, you will most likely have to register your drone with the FAA assuming that it is very large at all. DJI has made a drone that is specifically designed so you don’t have to register it since it falls below the minimum weight threshold. 

That drone is the DJI Mavic Mini and it can be found here

Drones are fun to use, and there are a lot of ways to entertain yourself with them, but always make sure you follow the rules and keep everyone safe, including yourself.