Can I Get a CDL If I'm a Non-US Citizen?
In order to drive a commercial motor vehicle, the following conditions may apply:
You need a CDL to drive a commercial motor vehicle (CMV) in the U.S.
You may obtain a CDL if you are a lawful permanent resident (LPR) of the U.S.
If you are not an LPR, and you live in Canada or Mexico, you have to get a CDL from Canada or Mexico to drive a CMV in the U.S.
If you are not an LPR, and you don’t live in Canada or Mexico, you may have a “non-domiciled CDL” in the U.S., under certain conditions.
In order to be allowed to drive a commercial motor vehicle (CMV) in the United States, you need a commercial driver’s license (CDL). To find out what types of vehicles require a CDL, click on my blog post, “Who Needs a Commercial Driver’s License in Oklahoma?” (Although that blog post is about Oklahoma, the types of vehicles that require a CDL are the same in every state, because federal law regulates CDLs.)
If you’re not a citizen, and you want to drive a CMV, you may be wondering, “Can a non-U.S. citizen get a CDL?” That answer is yes, with some restrictions. I’ll explain the process of obtaining a CDL, for a non-citizen, in more detail, below.
A Lawful Permanent Resident May Have a CDL
If you are a lawful permanent resident (also called an “LPR” or “green card holder”) you may obtain a CDL; simply show your green card to the driver’s license examiner.
To see how to get a green card, read my earlier post, "Steps to Get a U.S. Green Card."
If You Are Not a U.S. Citizen or LPR
If you are not a U.S. citizen or LPR, the situation is more complicated.
First, if you are a resident of Canada or Mexico, you will have to obtain a CDL from Canada or Mexico. This is because the U.S. Department of Transportation has determined that the CMV testing and licensing standards of Canada and Mexico meet the same standards as the United States. There’s also a federal regulation that says you can’t have more than one valid CDL. Because a CDL issued in Canada or Mexico is a “valid CDL” in the U.S., you can’t have a CDL issued by Canada or Mexico and also have a CDL in the U.S. If you are a resident of Canada or Mexico and are not a U.S. citizen or LPR, you have to get a CDL in Canada or Mexico, even if you live and work in the U.S.
If You’re Not a U.S. Citizen or LPR, and Are Not a Resident of Canada or Mexico
If you are neither a citizen, LPR, or a resident of Canada or Mexico, then you may obtain a “non-domiciled CDL” in the U.S., under certain circumstances. However, the law here is complicated because you have to comply with both federal and state requirements.
While federal law regulates CDLs, each state has its own agency that issues CDLs.
Federal law prescribes minimum standards for CDL issuance; each state must adhere to these minimum standards to be in compliance with federal law. However, federal law allows states to set standards that are stricter than the federal minimum standards. In issuing non-domiciled CDLs to people who aren’t U.S. citizens or LPRs, Oklahoma has stricter standards than federal law.
Federal law states that, to issue a non-domiciled CDL, a state must require a person to:
“provide an unexpired employment authorization document (EAD) issued by USCIS or an unexpired foreign passport accompanied by an approved I-94 form documenting the applicant's most recent admittance into the United States.”
Oklahoma law goes further. To obtain a non-domiciled CDL in Oklahoma, you must be:
“1. An H2A-Temporary Agricultural worker lawfully present in the United States as indicated on an original, valid and unexpired I-94 immigration status document issued by the United States Customs and Immigration Service; [or]
2. A J-1 Exchange Visitor Program participant lawfully present in the United States as indicated on a valid and unexpired J-1 Visitor Visa issued by the United States Customs and Immigration Service and who is enrolled in an agricultural education training program.”
If you are qualified to have a non-domiciled CDL under federal law, but not qualified for a non-domiciled CDL under Oklahoma law, you may be eligible for a non-domiciled CDL issued in another state. To find out the requirements for a non-domiciled CDL in another state, check with that state’s driver’s license issuing agency. For a directory of state driver’s license issuing agencies, click here.
Commercial Learner’s Permit
The laws for non-citizens obtaining a Commercial Learner’s Permit (CLP) are the same as the laws for non-citizens obtaining a commercial driver’s license. Both federal law and state laws provide for issuing CDLs to non-citizens.
If you are not a U.S. citizen, you may have a CDL if you are an LPR. If you’re not a U.S. citizen or LPR, you may have a CDL under certain conditions. The legal landscape for non-citizens obtaining CDLs, can be complex.
Laws Governing the Issuance of CDLs and CLPs to Non-Citizens
The laws governing the issuance of CDLs and CLPs to non-citizens are not all in one place, and can be difficult to locate. For those interested in reading the actual text of the laws, here are the links to the most relevant laws:
Federal regulation governing issuance CDLs and CLPs to non-citizens: 49 C.F.R. § 383.71
Oklahoma state law governing issuance of non-domiciled CDLs and CLPs: 47 O.S. § 6-111
Federal regulation stating that people who are not citizens or LPRs, and are domiciled in Canada or Mexico, must obtain CDLs and CLPs from their country, but that people who aren’t citizens or LPRs, and are not domiciled in Canada or Mexico, may obtain non-domiciled CDLs and CLPs in the U.S.: 49 C.F.R. § 383.23
Federal regulation saying that a CMV driver may only have one valid CDL: 49 C.F.R. § 383.21
Oklahoma state law stating that someone who lives outside of the state of Oklahoma, may drive a CMV in Oklahoma, if he has a valid CDL issued by his home state or country: 47 O.S. § 6-102
Federal regulations requiring all state driver’s license issuing agencies to comply with federal standards for issuing CDLs: 49 C.F.R. Part 384