The worldwide non-military drone market is expected to triple in market sales to $14.3 billion over the next decade. With international markets taking off and opening new market space for drone companies, it’s never been more vital to know and understand drone laws from around the world. Currently, there is no universal set of unified rules that all countries agree on when it comes to drones. Many countries have accepted drone use, especially recreational use, as something that does not need to be highly regulated, but monitored only for safety. Other countries have very strict laws and regulations against drone use no matter what the purpose, and pilots need to be sure they follow all the correct procedures before flying. This article will give an overview of drone regulations in different regions of the world, but always be sure to double check the local laws before flying in any country!
Note: Drone regulations by nation are in a constant state of change. While this guide provides an overview as of publication (January 2020), drone operators should double check with the appropriate in-country authorities. Regulatory websites that first appear to display in a non-English language often offer English translations as displayed with “En” text links or buttons of the U.S. of British flags – usually in the top right corner of the sites.
Best Practices Anywhere
While each country may have different specific laws and regulations, there are some that pop up over and over again all over the world. Nearly every country that has some sort of drone regulation distinguishes between recreational (just for fun or hobby) and commercial flights (any flight in which the pilot gets paid to fly). Recreational flights have significantly less restrictions than commercial flights, no matter where you are in the world.
From the United States to Europe to South Africa, the most common maximum height for drones is 300-400 ft. or 120m. This height is generally accepted as the safest height a drone can fly without interfering with airplanes or any other aircraft. It is also a good idea to never fly over people or near crowds, as this could put bystanders at risk. It is also common to see rules such as not flying under the influence of drugs or alcohol, not allowing the drone to get out of eyesight, and only flight in the daylight. These general guidelines should be followed no matter where you are, even if the country doesn’t require it, to ensure your flight is safe and successful.
For commercial flights, or even just to be safe in recreational flights, always check to make sure you are not too close to an airport, and if you are, be sure to clear your flight with air traffic control.
One of the biggest differences between drone regulations in different countries is how the drone needs to be registered. In the United States, the drone itself needs to be registered with the FAA and the pilot then needs to get a certification. But in Europe, you do not need to register your drone, you need to be registered as a pilot with the Civil Aviation Authority. You will then receive a registration number that can be accessed by all EU National Aviation Authorities.
The European Aviation Safety Agency sets aviation policies for member states of the European Union. As of January 2020, the agency is still working to issue definitive rules and guidelines on drone activities with a registration requirement expected to pass in mid-2020. European countries have come together to create a framework for drone legislation which consists of 3 categories: Open, Specific, and Certified. The Open category is similar to what other countries refer to as “recreational” flights, requiring minimal training and certification. The Specific category includes anything that is slightly higher risk, and requires the pilot to obtain a higher level of certification. And the Certified category includes flights that are more dangerous than typical flights, such as drones carrying dangerous goods or even human passengers. These require advanced certification, but most drone pilots do not encounter any flights that fall into this category.
Toy drones that don’t exceed 79 joules of energy with a maximum altitude of 98 feet/30 meters and weighing less than .55 pounds/250 grams do not require approval.
Permits are required for recreational and commercial use. You must have drone insurance for about $1 million USD. To apply, click here (sorry, the application is only in German). Once you have completed both, you must send all the documentation and a government issued ID to firstname.lastname@example.org
- Drones may not be flown in “cities, towns, or built-up areas” without a regular pilot’s license from Austro Control;
- No BVLOS flights; FPV flights are allowed if a second person (a “spotter) is present to monitor the flight;
- No flights over airports or large crowds;
- Flights may only be made in daylight hours in non-inclement weather conditions;
- No flights over “sensitive government areas.”
Drones may be flown no higher than 492 feet (150 meters) in uncontrolled airspace.
Operator ID labels and proof of drone insurance are required. Once the test is passed, the pilot is e-mailed a label to affix to the drone which must be visible to the naked eye at a distance of 11.81 inches/30 centimeters. Registration is valid for five years.
In addition to the 492-foot altitude ceiling, other altitude restrictions are in place according to colored zones (see map).
Drones may not be flown within 6.2 miles/10 kilometers of an airport or over people. Flights over Paris are banned without special permission.
With rules changes in 2017, there is little difference in drone rules between recreational and commercial use. The German Federal Aviation Office (FAO) issued the following rules:
- Drone pilots must pass a knowledge test to fly UAV weighing more than 4.4 pounds/2 kilograms;
- No permission required for smaller model drones;
- All drones weighing more than .55 pounds/.25 kilograms must bear a sticker with the owner’s name and address;
- Pilots must obtain FAO permission to fly a drone weighing more than 11 pounds and/or flying at night;
- FPV goggles are permitted at an altitude of up to 98 feet/30 meter if the drone does not weigh more than .55 pounds/.25 kilograms or it’s in the visual line of sight of another person “who is able to warn the operator of any danger. These will be deemed to be visual line of sight operations.
- Flight within “aerodrome control zones (including aerodrome approach and take-off areas)” is prohibited;
The FAO states the agency “may permit exemptions from the prohibitions if the operation does not pose any risk to aviation safety or to public safety and order, especially in the form of an infringement of the provisions governing data protection and nature conservation, and due regard is paid to protection against aircraft noise. Especially in cases where beyond visual line of sight operations are planned, the authorizing authority will request that an objective safety assessment be submitted.”
The Irish Aviation Authority (contact email@example.com or +353 1 671 8655)
Model aircraft and drones are both considered small unmanned aircraft and the same rules apply to their operation.
- No flights over 12 or more people;
- The drone must stay within 98 feet/300 meters from the operator in visual line of sight;
- Drones cannot fly within 98 feet/30 meters of “any person, vessel or structure not under the control of the [drone operator];
- Flights higher than 400 feet/120meters above ground level are prohibited;
- No flights over urban areas nor in civil/military controlled airspace, restricted areas such as military installations or prisons;
- No flights within 3 miles/5 kilometers from airports.
Drones weighing more than 2.2 pounds/1 kilogram or more and less than 55 pounds/25 kilograms must be registered online. Lighter drones flown at heights greater than 49 feet/15 meters above the ground or water must also be registered.
Drones weighing 55 pounds/25 kilograms or more must be registered with the IAA directly. “Those in excess of 150kg are subject to the Irish Aviation Authority (Nationality and Registration of Aircraft) Order, 2015, and must be registered in a similar manner to manned aircraft.”
If you lose your drone in Ireland, you can file a Lost Drone form.
IAA contact: firstname.lastname@example.org or +353 1 671 8655).
Drones are regulated by the Italian Civil Aviation Authority (ENAC).
As with all European nations, drones must be within visual line of sight of the pilot.
- No flights over crowds, sporting events, concerts, etc. or at night;
- Recreational drones may not fly higher than 230 feet/70 meters;
- Commercial drones are prohibited from flights higher than 492 feet/150 meters;
- No flights within 3 miles/5 kilometers of an airport.
All drones and their ground stations must carry a plate identifying the pilot and drone specs. Any drone that can transmit data in real-time must be equipped with electronic identification device.
Commercial drone operators “conducting low-risk operations must submit a statement of compliance with specific requirements to ENAC along with a 94 Euro processing fee. For higher-risk operations commercial drone pilots must obtain training and an operating certificate as well as a health certificate.”
ENAC contact: email@example.com or +39 06 445 961
The Netherlands Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) enforces drone laws in The Netherlands.
Drones may only be piloted in what is known as airspace category G. This basically means only the green areas of this no-fly map.
- No flights above 394 feet/120 meters (above ground or water);
- No BVLOS or night flights;
- Recreational drone operators may not fly over groups of people (number not defined) or connected buildings
- The maximum weight for recreation drones is 55 pounds/25 kilograms.
Commercial drone pilots must obtain a pilot’s license from the DGCA — the drone operator (owner or organization) must obtain an ROC permit as well as proof of drone insurance.
Drone operators (recreational or commercial) based outside The Netherlands can apply for exemptions by filing a special form based on ICAO guidelines (download the guide).
Permission may be granted for:
- Flights in Visual Flight Rules daylight, VLOS, in uncontrolled airspace; outside prohibited and restricted area;
- Flights below 120 meter above ground or water.
DGCA contact: firstname.lastname@example.org or +31 70 351 6171
Spain’s State Agency of Air Security (AESA) regulates unmanned flights.
- No flights above 384 feet/120 meters;
- No night flights except for drones weighing less than 4.4 pounds/2 kilograms if said drone does not fly above 164 feet/50 meters;
- No BVLOS flights (exemptions are available); second observer required for FPV flights;
- No flights within 5 miles/8 kilometers from airports in uncontrolled airspace or 9.3 miles/15 kilometers in the case of exempted BVLOS flights.
- Commercial drone operators must pass Theoretical knowledge and Practical knowledge certification testing;
- Drone insurance is required for commercial operations.
AESA contact: email@example.com or +34 91 396 80 00
Drone laws in Sweden are regulated by the Transport Agency of Sweden (TAS).
- No BVLOS flights (except where noted below);
- In uncontrolled airspace, flights are allowed at a height of less than 400 feet/120 meters;
- No flights over prisons, nature reserves, nuclear power plants and military installations;
- All drones weighing less than 15 pounds/7 kilograms must show a label with the operator’s name and phone name;
- Liability insurance required for UAV over 44 pounds/20 kilograms;
- Night flying is permitted so long as the drone displays “lighting in such a way that the position and direction of the unmanned aircraft can be clearly understood;”
Permission must be obtained by TAS for:
- BVLOS flight exemptions;
- Flights above 394 feet/120 meters (394 feet) in uncontrolled airspace;
- Drones weighing more than 15 pounds/7 kilograms;
- Flights over people, animals and property not belonging to the pilot.
With the UK set to leave the EU on Jan. 31, 2020 under Brexit, the Civil Aviation Authority will not be bound by any EASA requirements. However, the CAA’s official position states:
“The CAA has been clear since the EU referendum that we consider that the most positive outcome for UK consumers and the aviation industry would be one where the UK has continued participation within the EASA system and for existing systems of mutual recognition between the UK and EASA Member States to remain.”
A CAA fact sheet notes that the agency is assuming the “UK continues to mirror EU aviation regulations for at least a two-year period.”
Model/hobby drones must weigh under 29g/44 pounds; heavier drones must obtain special permission.
A drone cannot fly above 400 feet in altitude or 1,640 feet (500 meters);
Drones must remain in line of sight of the pilot; however, Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) drone flights may be granted by the CAA for specific, restricted cases. Commercial flights also require CAA permission. Exemptions for FPV flights are also possible. For specific questions, email the CAA.
Anyone responsible for a drone weighing between 250g/.55 pounds and 20kg/approx. 44 pounds must register as an operator with the CAA at an annual cost of approximately $11.75 USD or 9 pounds. Drones must be labeled with the operator’s ID designation. Note: An operator is not necessarily a pilot. All drone pilots must pass an online test. The cost is $11.75 USD (9 pounds).
Drones may not be flown with 50 meters (164 feet) of people, vehicles, buildings or vessels. They may not be flown within 150 meters (492 feet) in a congested area or any large group of people such as a concert or sporting event.
Last year, the UK passed a new law changing the drone flight restriction zone around airports Old restrictions of a radius of 1 kilometer has been replaced with “a radius of either 2-2.5 nautical miles and then 5 x 1 kilometer zones starting from the point known as the ‘threshold’ at the end of each of the airfield’s runways. Both zones extend upwards to a height of 2,000 feet above the airfield.”
If you intend to record in an area where people are, you must inform them before you start.
Of the 23 countries in North America, 5 (including Canada and Jamaica) have very few restrictions when it comes to recreational drone flights. They do have areas near airports where airspace is restricted, have maximum heights and distances you can fly, and require some sort of registration with the local aviation authorities, but other than that you are free to fly pretty much anywhere. 10 countries (including the United States, Mexico, and the Bahamas) require some sort of paperwork to fly, but still do not restrict drone flight too much. And 3 countries (Cuba, Belize, and Nicaragua) have very strict drone regulations, restricting all drone flight except for very specific commercial occasions. It can also be very difficult to bring a drone into these countries, as it might be confiscated in customs. The other 10 countries do not have enough information at the time, and may not have any official legislation on drones just yet.
Since most Caribbean islands are the territory of a European, South American or North American nations, drone laws will generally conform to the parent nation; however, there are some outliers.
All drones are prohibited in Barbados, Cuba and the Bahamas. Some key requirements in select nations according to the Caribbean Council:
- “A permit to fly drones weighing less than 4.4 pounds/2 kilograms is not required;
- Pilots must keep drones within a visual line of sight;
- Drones may only be flown in good weather conditions;
- Drones may not be flown over private property;
- Drones may not be flown within 5 miles/8 kilometers of military installations or airports;
- Drones must not be flown over 396 feet/121 meters;
- Drones may not be flown while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
- Drones must not be flown at night.”
“Persons who wish to operate a UAV should apply to the police stating the reason.”
Trinidad and Tobago
- Drones must be registered with the Trinidad and Tobago Civil Aviation Authority (TTCAA).
- Drones should not be operated in any open-air function or mass public gathering.
- Drones should not be flown at a height greater than 121 meters or 400 feet above the ground.
- Drones should not be operated in a manner that may endanger persons or property.’
- Drones should not be operated within 5 kilometers (3.1 miles) from any manned aircraft operations including the boundary of the Piarco International and ANR Robinson International Airports.”
Mexico’s Directorate General of Civil Aeronautics (DGCA) offers the following drone guidelines:
- No BVLOS flights, no night flights;
- Drones may not be flown more than 1,500 feet from the pilot, no higher than 400 feet;
- No flights over people or animals;
- No flights over historical sites;
- Drones over .55 pounds must be registered with the DGCA; only Mexican citizens may register.
South & Central America
South America is the only continent that welcomes drones in every single country! While each country has slightly different requirements, there are no countries that restrict drone flight completely. Countries such as Brazil, Columbia, Peru, Suriname, and Venezuela require some sort of permit or online registration, and have basic guidelines such as maximum altitudes and drone weights. Countries such as Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Ecuador, and Paraguay are even more relaxed, especially for smaller, lightweight drones. Each country does have slightly different specifications, but all of the rules are based around operating safely.
- No BVLOS or night flights;
- Aircraft must weigh less than 19.8 pounds/9 kilograms;
- Drones weighing more than 1.65 pounds/750 grams must obtain a license and register with the Dirección General de Aeronáutica Civil (DGAC) and the drone must include a parachute;
- No flights higher than 400 feet or 1,640 feet from the UAV operator;
- No flights within 1.2 miles/2 kilometers of an airport;
- No flights in areas where firefighting agencies are firefighting using manned aircraft.
According to India’s Ministry of Civil Aviation (DGCA), only Indian citizens may pilot drones. Foreigners may lease drones from Indian organizations. The Indian org must then file for a Unique Identification Number (UIN) for the drone mission.
The Indian government classifies drones as follows:
- Nano: Less than or equal to .55 pounds/250 grams;
- Micro: From .55 pounds /250 grams to 4.4 pounds/2 kilograms;
- Small: From 4.4 pounds/2 kilograms to 55 pounds/25 kilograms;
- Medium: From 55 pounds/25 kilograms to 330 pounds/150 kilograms;
- Large: Heavier than 330 pounds/150 kilograms.
- All drones except the nano class must display a UIN;
- No BVLOS flights, no flights higher than 400 feet;
- Drone operators must obtain authorization to fly in controlled airspace by filing a flight plan and by obtaining a unique Air Defense Clearance number.
DGCA contact: mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org or +91 011-2463-2950
Of the 11 countries in Southeast Asia, most of them are welcoming of drones. The only country in this region that completely banned drones is Brunei, and if you try to bring one to the country it will be confiscated at customs. But other countries such as Cambodia have very little rules when it comes to drones, not even requiring a permit to fly for recreational or commercial purposes. Most countries however, are somewhere in between, requiring some sort of permit with the local authorities. A more in depth resource on drone laws in Southeast Asia can be found here.
The Directorate General of Civil Aviation states:
- Drones may not weight more than 15.4 pounds/7 kilograms (although exemptions are possible);
- No BVLOS or night flights;
- No flights within 9.3 miles/15 kilometers of airports;
- No flights over crowds or densely populated areas.
Note: Indonesia has one of the stiffest penalties for illegal drone activity: up to $66,000 euros.
- No BVLOS flights, no flights higher than 400 feet (unless authorized by the Civil Aviation Authority);
- No flights within 6.2 miles/10 kilometers of airports;
- Drones cannot fly closer than 98 feet to children, pregnant women or the elderly;
- Drone weighing more than 15.4 pounds/7 kilograms must obtain a permit.
The Civil Aviation Authority of Thailand (CAAT) states that all drones with cameras of any size must be registered before flight. In addition, drones weighing more than 4.4 pounds/2 kilograms, must be registered.
- Drones may not be flown closer than 98 feet to buildings, vehicles or people;
- No flights within 5.5 miles/9 kilometers of airports;
- Altitude height, 295 feet/90 meters;
Drone restrictions in Africa vary widely, with countries on both ends of the spectrum. Some countries, like Egypt, Libya, and Morocco, are very restricted, making it very difficult to get approved to fly a drone no matter what the circumstances. But countries like South Africa, Mozambique, and Cape Verde are much less restricted, with rules similar to the US regarding recreational drone flights. But, because the regulations vary so widely, be careful when bringing your drone into a new country, as it could be seized at customs without the proper paperwork.
Australia’s Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) offers an extensive online resource covering the drone rules Down Under.
- No BVLOS flights or night flights (CASA exemptions may be granted);
- No flights higher than 400 feet;
- No flights closer than 98 feet/30 meters to people;
- No flights over people;
- No flights near emergency sites;
- No flights within 5.5 kilometers of a controlled airport space; flights are allowed with that radius in a non-controlled airspace if there are no manned aircraft present.
The Civil Aviation Authority of New Zealand (CAANZ) regulates drone activities in New Zealand:
- No drone flights within 2.4 miles/4 kilometers of uncontrolled airspace;
- No flights above 400 feet without CAANZ special permission;
- No BVLOS flights without special exemptions.
Because there is no set of universal drone rules that all countries have agreed upon, it is always best practice to research the individual country before flying there. A great resource for drone laws in different countries can be found here.
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