Applying for a New CDL in Wisconsin
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If cruising down the highway behind the wheel of a big machine sounds appealing to you, it might be time to apply for your commercial driver's license (CDL).
To do so in Wisconsin, you'll have to abide by all of the nationwide regulations set by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), and follow the statewide licensing process overseen by the Wisconsin Division of Motor Vehicles (DMV).
WI CDL Requirements & Exemptions
To qualify for a Wisconsin commercial driver license, you must:
- Already have a valid, non-CDL driver's license.
- Be at least 18 years old.*
- Be able to prove U.S. citizenship or permanent legal presence. You can show WI DMV employees your:
- Valid U.S. passport.
- U.S. birth certificate.
- Certificate of citizenship.
- Permanent residency card.
- See the DOT's page for a full list of acceptable documents.
*NOTE: CDL drivers under 21 years old will only be allowed to operate commercial vehicles within Wisconsin.
CDL Exemptions in Wisconsin
Certain commercial drivers do not need to possess a Wisconsin CDL in order to go about their business. These include:
- Firefighters and emergency response personnel.
- Recreational vehicle (RV) operators.
- Farmers using commercial vehicles within 150 miles of your farm.
- This includes your family and employees, and also applies to farms in Minnesota or Iowa.
- Drivers of back-up snow plows employed by local governments of populations totaling 3,000 people or under.
WI Commercial Learner's Permit
Before you can get your commercial driver's license, you'll have to get a commercial learner's permit (CLP). It might be helpful to take a CDL education course before applying for your CLP, although that is not required by either the FMCSA or the WI Division of Motor Vehicles.
When you feel ready to begin the process, schedule an appointment with your local DMV office, and bring:
- Your Wisconsin driver's license.
- The evidence of your U.S. citizenship/lawful permanent residency (see above).
- The proper medical paperwork (see below).
- A completed Wisconsin Driver License Application (Form MV3001).
- The $30 commercial learner's permit fee.
You'll be asked to take your written exams—including for any endorsements you want to add to your commercial driver's license. Keep in mind when scheduling your appointment that CDL written tests can take 1.5 hours or longer to complete.
After finishing up the tests, be prepared to celebrate, because the DMV will issue your commercial learner's permit!
What If I Fail My CDL Permit Exam?
If you fail the written WI CDL test, it's okay—the Wisconsin DMV will let you retake it up to 5 times within the span of 1 year.
However, if you fail every attempt, you will not be able to take the test again without special permission from DMV staff. To get permission, you'll have to show them what you've done since your last failed test to improve your ability, such as taking a commercial driver education course.
CLP Restrictions in Wisconsin
Just like a permit to drive a regular car, your commercial learner's permit comes with its own set of rules.
Your CLP will be valid for 180 days, and you only need to wait at least 14 days after receiving it to take the skills tests necessary for getting your full commercial driver's license. During this time, you may wish to take a behind-the-wheel training course to fully prepare you for your upcoming practical skills test.
You can renew your CLP, but you may have to retake your knowledge tests in order to do so. Make sure to ask the DMV staff about retesting before deciding to renew your commercial learner's permit.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration restricts anyone operating a commercial vehicle with a CLP to driving on public roads only, and only while riding with a full-CDL holder permitted to drive the same class of vehicle.
How to Get a WI Commercial Driver's License
After at least 14 days have passed and you feel confident about moving forward in the process, it's time to take your skills tests.
The Wisconsin Division of Motor Vehicles directs all CDL applicants to third-party testers to take their skills exams, but the agency allows you to use the memory aid in the WI CDL manual during the procedure.
The WI CDL skills exams you'll need to take include:
- Vehicle inspection.
- Basic control skills tests.
- On-road driving tests.
If you fail any portion of the skills exam, you will be able to retest for that section alone. Any parts of the test that you pass successfully will be acceptable for the duration of time that your CLP is valid.
Make sure to bring with you to the appointment*:
When you're done, you can call yourself an official commercial vehicle operator. Your CDL will be valid for 8 years, after which time you'll need to renew.
* NOTE: Some third-party testers will provide you with a vehicle to take the exam in, but others won't. It's best to check ahead before arriving at your appointment, since you will receive a restriction on your CDL if you can't take the skills test in the type of vehicle you're applying to operate with your commercial driver's license.
CDL Fees in Wisconsin
The Wisconsin Division of Motor Vehicles currently charges the following fees for commercial driver's licenses and related services:
- Commercial learner's permit: $30.
- Commercial driver's license: $74.*
- Duplicate CDL: $14.
- Endorsements: $5 each, plus $10 issuance fee.
- HAZMAT endorsement: $44.
- With CDL renewal: $34.
- HAZMAT fingerprinting fee: $23.75.
- HAZMAT endorsement: $44.
Skills exams are conducted by third-party testers, which may dictate their own price for administering exams and/or renting vehicles. The WI DMV has set a ceiling for the highest amount they may charge you for both the full skills test and any individual portions of the exam you may need to retake. Visit the DMV's testing guide for details.
*NOTE: Price will be prorated for the time remaining on your existing Wisconsin driver's license.
WI CDL Medical Requirements
Every driver hoping to operate a commercial vehicle in Wisconsin will first have to be deemed physically fit for the job. You'll need to make sure you have all of your medical paperwork in hand before you schedule your initial appointment with the WI Division of Motor Vehicles.
The Wisconsin DMV requires every CDL applicant to complete a Commercial Driver Certification: Tier of Operation (Form MV3230), where you tell the state the type of driving you expect to do with your commercial driver license.
Some applicants will also have to submit a federal Medical Examiner's Certificate (Form MCSA-5876).
Check out the medical certifications FAQ put together by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to see if this additional form applies to you.
Military CDL Waivers in Wisconsin
The DMV and FMCSA have established a program to help service members or recent veterans retain a CDL by having their skills test waived.
You could be eligible if you have experience driving commercial vehicles or the military equivalent during your time in the service.
To qualify, you will have to:
- Be a Wisconsin resident.
- Be on active duty OR have been discharged within 1 year.
- Complete a Military Service CDL Skills Test Waiver Application (Form MV3588).
- Certain portions must also be filled out by your training or commanding officer.
- Present proof of your military service. Acceptable forms include:
- Your current military ID.
- Your military discharge papers.
You will also have to bring all the proper paperwork needed to apply for a CLP and pass all of your written exams.
For more information on how the process works, see our guide to the CDL military skills test waiver.