How to Get a CDL – The Steps Explained

Each state has its own laws governing how to get a CDL, but there are some qualifications and requirements that seem to be fairly consistent no matter in which state you choose to acquire your CDL.

Most states require you to be a resident and have a valid driver’s license in the state in which you’re applying for your CDL. Typically, you’ll also be required to agree to a background check of your driving history.

In every state, before you can be issued a CDL, you’ll be required to take and successfully pass a number of knowledge tests, depending on the endorsements you plan to add to your license.

CDL Training StepsIn addition to the written knowledge tests, you’ll also need to demonstrate your driving ability by taking a skills test out on the road. Generally, any fees that are due must be paid prior to scheduling your skills test.

The skills test will usually consist of three parts: a vehicle inspection, basic control of the vehicle and a road test in which you’ll be tested on your ability to drive in a variety of road conditions, along with making turns and driving up and down steep grades.

The age requirement for interstate commercial driving is usually 21 years and some states will allow intrastate driving as early as 18 years of age. You must be either a high school graduate or have a GED.

To get a CDL, you must be physically able to obtain a state Department of Transportation Medical Examiner’s card. Some states will also require that you pass a vision test within certain parameters in order to qualify for a commercial driver’s license.

Most states will have a Commercial Driver’s License Manual you can pick up from any driver’s licensing office in the state. In some case, you can even download the manual online from the state’s official website.

Even after you have your CDL license, you may be required to drive with a trainer for several weeks. The training period is usually no more than 6 months long and many companies only require a 3 month training period.

24 Responses to “How to Get a CDL – The Steps Explained”

  1. Janice Parks says:

    Thanks so much for condensing all this information into one convenient place! Glad I found it!

  2. Lenard Schmidt says:

    This is a good site, i need information for getting cdl in USA. I drive truck in Europe for 7 years, want to drive in USA. Here on a visit for 3 weeks but will move if I can drive truck. Thank you.

    • Aidan says:

      Wow, this one kind of stumps me Lenard, I have to admit. To be honest, I’m not really sure if you need to check with the Department of Transportation in the state you think you want to work in, or if you need to contact the US embassy in your home country. I’m guessing you would need a work visa or a green card or something, but I don’t know what it would be for sure. I’m really sorry I can’t be more help, but I wish you all the luck in achieving your goal!

  3. Edward Perez says:

    What happens if you don’t pass all the tests

    • Aidan says:

      Generally you can retake a test if you don’t pass it the first time, although there may be a waiting period before you can be re-tested.

  4. Brandon Cox says:

    How long is the average career for a truck driver?

    • Aidan says:

      That’s a tough one to answer Brandon. I knew one woman who quit after 3 months on the road, and I’ve known men who have been driving their entire adult life. Just depends on the person.

  5. David W. says:

    I had a CDL for several years after I stopped driving and I finally just let it expire. If I want to drive again commercially, will I have to repeat the training?

    • Aidan says:

      Good question David, thanks! I’m not really sure how each state handles expired licenses. You may be able to take the written tests and the road test, and be able to be licensed if you pass them. But some states may require you to repeat the training, depending on how long ago your license expired. My best suggestion is to contact the DOT in your home state and see what their restrictions are. Good luck to you!

  6. Vernon Bodiford says:

    Thank you for explaining this in a logical way that’s easy to understand.

  7. Kent says:

    How far back does the driving background check go?

    • Aidan says:

      Hi Kent,
      It may differ from state to state, so be sure to check what your state requirements are. Some states go back as far as 10 years, others don’t go back that far.

  8. Allen Byrd says:

    Can I have a CDL in more than one state?

    • Aidan says:

      You’ll need to check with your state’s DOT to be absolutely certain, Allen, but I’m fairly sure that if you apply for a license in one state, you have to surrender any license you may have from any other state.

  9. Gregory Cooper says:

    I’ve heard the skills test was really hard and that you have to be able to parallel park an 18 wheeler. Is that true? What happens if you fail?

    • Aidan says:

      Hi Gregory, don’t believe everything you hear. Most of the schools do a good job providing you with all the training you need to be able to pass the skills test. If you fail, there’s a short waiting period, but after that you can take the test again.

  10. Tommy says:

    What do you have to do to get that medical exam card?

    • Aidan says:


      Each state has its own requirements, and they’re based on requirements set up by each state’s Dept of Transportation.
      Typically a general physical exam is required, although it can also include vision and hearing exams.

  11. Derek says:

    Do you know if you can get a CDL if you’ve had a DUI? It was a long time ago, back in the day when I was young and stupid.

    • Aidan says:

      It depends on what is allowed in the state you’re applying. Some will still approve you for a CDL, even with a DUI, if it was not recent. Just check with your state’s requirements.

  12. John Brooks says:

    If we’re considering becoming a truck driver, is it really worth getting full endorsement and training for all 3 classes?

    • Aidan says:

      The big thing about getting more endorsements and getting the Class A, Class B, and Class C licenses, is that they’ll allow you to apply for more jobs and you’ll be seen as a more attractive option to many employers…I’d definitely recommend getting as many of the endorsements as possible, and also being qualified for Class A, B & C driving…

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