Applying for a New CDL in North Carolina

Driving a commercial motor vehicle is a great way to make a living, but operating such large machines comes with a lot of responsibility. That's why, to drive one, you will have to get your commercial driver's license (CDL). The process is a bit more involved than obtaining a license for a regular car or truck.

Nationally, it's regulated by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), and in North Carolina, the licensing process is overseen by the North Carolina Division of Motor Vehicles (DMV).

Who Can Get a CDL in NC?

To be eligible for a North Carolina commercial driver's license, you must:

  • Already have a valid, non-CDL driver's license from North Carolina.
  • Be at least 18 years old.

Drivers who are under 21 years old will only be permitted to operate commercial motor vehicles within North Carolina.

NC Commercial Learner's Permits

Before you can get your commercial driver license in NC, you'll have to get your commercial learner's permit (CLP). While it's not required by either the North Carolina DMV or the FMCSA, it's recommended by both agencies to take a CDL training course beforehand, to help you prepare for the exams you'll need to take.

Once you feel ready, schedule an appointment with your local NC Division of Motor Vehicles office. Bring with you:

  • The $40 CDL application fee.
  • The $20 learner's permit fee.
  • The proper medical forms (see below for details).
  • 2 documents showing proof of identity and age.
    • Each document must have your full name and date of birth. Examples include:
    • Driver's license.
    • Birth certificate.
    • Original Social Security card.
      • Tax forms.
  • Proof of your Social Security number. Aside from your Social Security card, you may bring in:
    • Tax forms.
    • Payroll records.
    • Military records.
    • Medicare/Medicaid cards.
  • Proof of your residency in North Carolina. Examples include:
    • NC vehicle registration card or title.
    • North Carolina voter precinct card.
    • Utility bills.
    • Lease/mortgage agreements.
    • School records.
  • 1 document showing proof of liability insurance. Any paperwork must include:
    • Your name.
    • The effective date of policy.
    • The policy expiration date.
    • Date the policy was issued.

You will also need to participate in a driving record check, where the past 10 years of your record in all 50 states and the District of Columbia will be under examination.

The North Carolina DMV also checks that you do not currently hold more than 1 driver's license and that your license is not:

  • Suspended.
  • Revoked.
  • Disqualified.

After turning in the proper paperwork, you will have to take the appropriate written exams for the classification of CDL you want and for any endorsements, if applicable. The NC DMV will issue your CLP after you successfully pass the tests.

CLP Regulations in North Carolina

Once you receive your commercial learner's permit, it will be valid for 180 days*, and the NC Division of Motor Vehicles limits you to getting 2 permits over the course of 2 years.

You will be required to maintain your CLP for at least 14 days before you can take the skills exam.

While driving with your CLP, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration requires you to operate commercial motor vehicles on public roads only, and only while you're accompanied by a full CDL holder with the same class of license needed for the vehicle you're driving.

* NOTE: If you let your commercial learner's permit go 30 days past its expiration date, you'll need to retake all of the written exams.

Obtain a NC Commercial Driver's License

After 14 days have passed and you're ready to continue the processes, you will have to take your skills tests, either through the North Carolina DMV office or a third-party company.

Skills testing includes:

  • A vehicle inspection.
  • Basic vehicle control.
  • On-road driving test.

After you successfully pass all tests, pay the CDL fee (see below) to receive your North Carolina commercial driver's license. Your CDL is valid for 5 years. Check our guide on how to renew it for when that time is up.

Commercial Driver License Fees in NC

The North Carolina Division of Motor Vehicles charges the following for CDLs and services related to commercial driver's licenses:

  • Commercial learner's permit application fee: $40.
  • Commercial learner's permit: $20
  • Duplicate commercial driver's license: $13.

Commercial driver's licenses in NC are valid for 5 years, and the DMV charges fees for CDLs and any endorsements on an annual basis. These annual fees include:

  • Class A, B, or C CDL: $20
  • Endorsements: $4 each.

The NC DMV accepts cash, money order or personal checks for payment. Some Division of Motor Vehicles offices may also accept credit cards. Call ahead to your local North Carolina DMV office for more information.

Military CDL Holders in North Carolina

If you're in the military or you've recently been discharged, the North Carolina Division of Motor Vehicles will waive your CDL behind-the-wheel skills test.

To qualify for this waiver, you'll need to:

You may be disqualified if you have done any of the following within 2 years of your application:

  • Had more than 1 driver's license (military license excepted).
  • Had your license suspended, revoked, or cancelled.
  • Been convicted of any motor vehicle offenses.
  • Committed a military violation related to a traffic accident.
  • Refused a drug test.

You'll still need to take the NC DMV's required written exams (see above). For more information on the NC military skills test waiver or to begin the process, call the North Carolina Commercial Driver License Unit at (919) 861-3319.

North Carolina CDL Medical Requirements

All NC commercial vehicle operators will have to go through a process called medical self-certification, in which you tell the state the type of driving you anticipate doing with your commercial driver's license.

To self-certify, you will have to complete a Medical Certification of Driver Type for Commercial Driver License (Form CDL-MED-1).

Most CDL holders will also need to have a medical card in order to operate a commercial motor vehicle. If you're required to have such a certification, you will have to bring it with you when you apply for your commercial learner's permit.

The NC DMV may require additional paperwork, such as a full medical report, if further questions about your physical condition arise.

The North Carolina DOT provides a National Registry Driver Exam FAQ, as well as a guide to medical certification with more information.

You can also check out their general self-certification FAQ page for any questions regarding self-certification.

Commercial Driver License Classifications

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has designated several classifications of commercial driver license, which permit holders to drive specific types of vehicles, including:

  • Class A CDL—Lets you drive a combination of vehicles over a certain weight, such as a tractor-trailer.
  • Class B CDL—Allows you to drive a single vehicle over a certain weight, like a box truck.
  • Class C CDL—Pertains to any other type of vehicle over a certain weight not covered by Class A or Class B CDLs.

Depending on which class of commercial driver's license you're applying for, you may have to take different skills or written exams. See our guide to CDL classifications for more information.

CDL Endorsements & Restrictions

An endorsement is an additional certification you can add to your CDL, which will allow you to drive a greater number of vehicles. To get an endorsement from the North Carolina Division of Motor Vehicles, you will have to take extra written and possibly skills tests, and pay an additional fee.

You can get endorsements in order to drive:

A restriction is something that is placed on your commercial driver's license that will limit the types of vehicles you can drive. You might receive a restriction if:

  • You're under a certain age.
  • You can't operate full air brakes.
  • You can't operate a manual transmission.

Restrictions can typically be removed from your CDL if you complete extra tests or paperwork and/or pay additional fees. Check out our guide to endorsements and restrictions for more information.

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