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Jan 15th 2010 12:24PM I got my FAA private certificate + instrument rating in Boston, then moved to Australia and converted it to an AU PPL. Just for pleasure, but in both places I've rubbed elbows with those trying to make a career of it.
I don't know what the process is currently like for foreign nationals to get student pilot licenses in the US -- arduous and frustrating, no doubt -- but there is absolutely no comparison financially: it is much, much cheaper to fly in the US, at least when you're just doing it on your own; I can't speak for university courses.
Assuming you do your first 250 hours in the US, I wouldn't be surprised if you saved $25,000. It's that much cheaper.
Conversion is a bureaucratic but straightforward process. Australian air law is maddeningly redundant, needlessly verbose, and in places bafflingly self-contradictory. Whereas the FAR/AIM clocks in at 1,000 pages and a cool twelve Earth dollars, I needed 5 full-size A4 binders full of noise, priced at AU$275. No wonder the exam is open-book. But fundamentally, the regs are very similar, as you'd expect. You learn the details that are different and move on.
After the written air law exam, you do a few flights with a local instructor to learn procedures and desert navigation, then a pretty standard (though much longer than in the US) checkride.
Finally, something I've not seen mentioned is how much I think one benefits from learning in a place like Boston, New York, SF, or similar: you learn what busy means. Learning at an airport underneath the Logan class B, you get from day zero the experience of working with ATC, radar, and jet traffic in some of the busiest airspace in the world. The controllers in Perth get all snippy and claim overload when they get four heavies in the same hour. I've heard this lack of experience reflected in the radio work of other pilots, but if you learn to fly around a major US class B, you'll never have mic fright, and you'll feel confident anywhere.
That being said, if you're planning a job in Australian domestic aviation, you're going to be doing a lot of flying in places where you don't see another airplane all day. The outback is devoid of radar, and instead of or in addition to flight instructing, you may find yourself building time doing cattle mustering, fox baiting, fire spotting, or crop spraying.
So maybe it doesn't make much difference. Still, twenty-five grand is twenty-five grand.