What Are the Different Types of FAA Medical Certificates?

medical certificates

Medical certifications allow pilots to be held to proper medical standards, ensuring the safety of both the pilots and the passengers. [Credit: Istock]

With 3 different types of FAA medical certificates and an additional option for recreational pilots, it can be hard to know which certificate you require. Fortunately, the information is out there and you don’t have to stress when you’re on the path to becoming a pilot. There are 1st Class, 2nd Class, and 3rd Class medical certificates as well as the newer BasicMed option. The types of aircrafts you are looking to fly needs to be considered when you’re looking to obtain your FAA medical certificate. Don’t let yourself get bogged down by the information. Below are the types of certificates, as well as who is required to hold which one. 

Quicklook: Types of FAA Medical Certificates

  • 1st Class Medical Certificate: Best for ensuring pilots always meet the requirements necessary to reach your flying goals
  • 2nd Class Medical Certificate: Best for pilots utilizing their commercial pilot certificate privileges  
  • 3rd Class Medical Certificate: Best for Pilots that use their personal airplane for travel
  • BasicMed: Best for Pilots that use their personal airplane for travel

What Are Medical Certificates for Pilots?

FAA medical certificates are a necessary piece for most pilots. Medical certificates keep pilots up to date on their health status, ensuring any health concerns are noted before they’re in the air. While not all pilots will be required to hold a medical certificate, they are all required to receive an authorized exam to ensure they can fly safely. BasicMed is a newer option for certain pilots. BasicMed is not an option for all pilots as it does have flying restrictions. 

How Do FAA Medical Certificates Work?

FAA medical certificates are provided by FAA medical examiners. These certificates allow pilots to legally fly specific aircrafts, depending on the certificate they hold. Medical certificates allow the pilots to be held to proper medical standards that ensure the safety of the pilots and passengers. 

Why are Medical Certificates Important?

FAA medical certificates are important for both the pilot as well as any person in the aircraft or on the ground. Unknown medical conditions can cause devastating impacts when a pilot is in control of an aircraft during a medical episode or emergency. Keeping up to date on your required FAA medical certificate can help you mitigate these risks. Know your health history and current health status to allow yourself to pilot the safest flights possible every time you’re in the air. 

4 Types of FAA Medical Certificates for Pilots

Don’t question what type of FAA medical certificate you need. Read on and make sure you obtain the one you need to fly. 

1st Class Medical Certificate:

If you are new in your aviation journey and are considering a career as an ATP, then the 1st Class medical certificate is the one for you. Pilots looking to fly for airline companies should look into their 1st Class medical certificate early on in their training. This helps you ensure you can obtain this certificate before completing your training. 

What It is Needed for: ATP or Airline Transport Pilots 


  • 20/20 vision with or without correction
  • Must meet mental and neurological standards
  • ECG required at age 35 and annually after 40 years old 


  • Must be renewed every 12 months, 6 months for those over age 40 
  • Not recognized by the military

2nd Class Medical Certificate:

The 2nd Class medical certificate is a necessary certificate for pilots who are looking to carry passengers or cargo for hire and other commercial uses. The 2nd Class certificate is very similar to the 3rd Class, but you are held to higher standards in certain areas, including vision. 

What It is Needed for: Commercial flying


  • 20/20 vision with or without correction
  • Must pass color vision test 
  • Must pass all health standards 


  • Must be renewed every year 
  • Not able to fly for transportation airlines 

3rd Class Medical Certificate:

The 3rd Class Medical Certificate is the simplest medical certificate for private, recreational, and student pilots to obtain. This is an ideal option for those looking to fly for themselves. Those looking to fly commercially or for an airline will need to look at the 1st and 2nd class medical certificates. 

What It is Needed for: Private pilot, recreational, and student pilot certificates


  • Must meet eye, ear, nose, throat, and other standards in examination
  • Must meet mental health standards
  • Must disclose health history 


  • Must be renewed every 5 years if under 40, every 2 years if over 40
  • Pilots must fly recreationally, not for hire 
  • Not for commercial or airline pilots 


BasicMed is an option for many pilots to have the ability to fly without having to obtain their 3rd Class Medical Certificate. While BasicMed is an excellent option to have for certain pilots, it isn’t the right option for all pilots. What type of pilot you are working towards, what type of aircraft you will be flying, and where you will be flying are all factors to consider when looking into BasicMed. 

What It is Needed for: BasicMed can be used to fly recreationally or privately without a medical certificate for those that will be flying under the criteria for BasicMed. 


  • Possess a current and valid U.S. driver’s license
  • Held valid medical certificate after July 14th, 2006
  • Receive a qualifying physical exam from a licensed physician, Comprehensive Medical Examination Checklist must be followed 
  • Complete BasicMed course


  • Limited to aircraft able to carry 6 passengers or less
  • Cannot fly an aircraft weighing more than 6,000 lbs
  • Cannot fly with more than 5 passengers
  • Must be flying recreationally 

Which Medical Certificate is Best for You?

Knowing what type of FAA medical certificate is best for you starts with the type of pilot you are or are working towards becoming. Some pilot certificates may allow you to choose a medical certificate or other medical option like BasicMed. However, certain pilots are required to hold specific medical certificates in order to be the Pilot in Command. So, if you’re looking to become an airline pilot, then the First Class Medical Certificate will be the one you’ll need. If flying for fun is a joy you’ve been wanting for years, then look to BasicMed and start your flight training today! 

Whatever the case, the medical certificate or similar option to have you flying safely and legally, is often easy to obtain. FLYING Magazine can keep you up to date on medical requirements, flying guidelines, and more. Subscribe today! 



What medical certificate is needed for private pilot?

A private pilot can either obtain a 3rd Class Medical Certificate or if they meet the requirements, can complete the necessary items to be covered under BasicMed. 

How much is a FAA medical certificate?

The FAA does not charge for medical certificates as they are not the ones providing the exam and certificate. Physicians that are authorized Aviation Medical Examiners may charge varying fees for an FAA medical certificate. The costs usually range from $75-$200.

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