Intrastate vs Interstate CDL – Complete Comparison

| Last Updated: December 26, 2021

Are you an aspiring commercial motor vehicle driver having trouble deciding between an intrastate CDL and an interstate CDL?

Take it easy. Many other aspiring CDL drivers are lost on the same too. 

We have found that one is ideal for drivers looking to work with short-haul companies and the other for those who want to work with long-haul companies with greater earning potential. 

Let’s hit the tarmac and discover this together. 

TL;DR: Intrastate vs Interstate CDL

Intrastate CDL

Interstate CDL

Pros

Involves following fewer regulations

Holders can gain more experience

Moderate working hours hence more leisure and family time

Involves more traveling and meeting with new people of diverse backgrounds

Cheaper to operate within one state, especially if you can access your home easily

Offers more earning opportunities with more trucking companies for higher pay

Cons

Fewer earning opportunities and lesser incomes

Involves following a lot of regulations stipulated by Federal laws

Cell

Working hours can be overly long, stealing into family and leisure time

Best For

Best for drivers who prefer fewer hours on the road

Best for drivers who enjoy long hours on the road

Best for CDL drivers looking to work with short-haul companies

Best for CDL drivers looking to work with long-haul companies

Best for CDL drivers looking to follow and fulfill fewer regulations

Best for drivers ready and willing to follow and fulfill a lot of Federal regulations

What is an Intrastate CDL? 

An intrastate CDL is a commercial driver’s license that allows the holder to operate commercial motor vehicles in ONLY one state. 

An intrastate CDL driver must strictly stick to the confines of their permitted state of operation. You shouldn’t cross state lines into other states when driving your commercial motor vehicle (CMV).

Intrastate CDL drivers work for short-haul companies that handle trucking activities in only one state. 

As an intrastate CDL driver, you can drive CMVs such as garbage trucks, bucket trucks, concrete mixing trucks, tow trucks, and dump trucks. 

Intrastate CDL comes with fewer regulations, most of which are only those specified by your state. However, some Federal regulations still apply regardless of the state. 

If you want to work with short-haul companies, you should obtain an intrastate commercial driver’s license. You can work with garbage handling and cement mixing companies.

The downside to an intrastate CDL is that you may be limited in earning potential and employment opportunities because of the limited loads and types of vehicles you can haul or operate. 

Some key advantages of an intrastate CDL include:

  • Shorter working hours, hence more time for family and leisure

  • The license is upgradable to an interstate CDL

  • Easy access to your home if you don’t travel far off.

Intrastate CDL Requirements

To obtain an intrastate CDL, you must fulfill the following requirements:

  • Age: You must be at least 18 years old to apply and receive an intrastate CDL. 

You should be at least 21 years old to transport hazardous materials or passengers within the state. 

  • Commercial Learner’s Permit (CLP): This temporary document allows you to start training as a CDL driver. 
  • Proof of Residence and Identity: Valid documents such as birth certificate, US ID, Green Card, and Social Security Card can be used to prove permanent residency, identity, or legal US citizenship. 
  • Prior Driving Experience and Clean Driving Record: Most states require CDL applicants to have a standard or Class D driving license in good standing, without revocation, disqualification, or cancelation in any other state. 
  • English Comprehension: Each CDL applicant must be able to speak, read, and write English fluently.
  • Physical and Medical Requirements: Aspiring CDL drivers must complete a medical test done by a licensed medical examiner. 

Some required physical tests include vision, hearing, blood pressure, sleep apnea, and blood sugar content. 

Drivers with physical impairments such as impaired or missing limbs should take and pass the Skill Performance Evaluation (SPE). 

Drivers must also self-certify by declaring the type of commerce they intend to do and whether they must have a medical card. 

There are four types of commerce drivers may self-certify:

a. Intrastate excepted – for intrastate drivers who don’t have to obtain a DOT card/medical examiner’s certificateb. Intrastate non-excepted – for intrastate drivers who must have a DOT cardc. Interstate excepted – for interstate drivers who don’t have to obtain a DOT cardd. Interstate non-excepted – for interstate drivers who must have a DOT card.

  • Skills and Knowledge Tests: CDL applicants must take and pass various written and non-written tests. These include:

a. CLP general knowledge test

b. Skills test consists of three parts: Pre-inspection Test, Basic Controls Test, and the Road Skills Test. 

c. Endorsement tests

  • Fees: Some of the fees to pay when obtaining your CDL include CLP test fees, CDL application fees, CDL license fees, medical examination fees, CDL renewal fees, and endorsement fees. 

The fees charged for each item differ from one state to another. 

What is an Interstate CDL? 

An interstate CDL is a commercial driver’s license issued to drivers who wish to operate CMVs in multiple states or across the borders in different countries. 

An interstate CDL is essential in the following interstate trucking situations:

  • Driving a CMV from one state to another
  • Passing through another state when driving a CMV from a given place to another within the same state
  • Driving a CMV from a given place to another within the same state, but having originated from another state.

Interstate CDL holders can drive the following types of CMVs:

  • Tanker trucks 
  • Reefers (refrigerated trailers)
  • Tractor-trailers
  • Semi-trucks and 18-wheelers
  • Flatbeds
  • Dry vans
  • CDL drivers looking to operate across state lines must be ready to follow a lot of regulations from each state and the federal government as well. 

    If you would like to work with long-haul companies that transport goods in multiple states or countries, you should acquire an interstate CDL. 

    One significant advantage of interstate CDL and interstate trucking is more earning opportunities with higher incomes. 

    The higher incomes and earning opportunities can be attributed to the higher number of CMVs you can drive with an interstate CDL. Additionally, you can transport more loads. 

    With an interstate CDL, you gain more experience in a shorter time than an intrastate driver. You’ll also travel more and be exposed to more people from diverse backgrounds. 

    However, more travel means longer working hours, limiting the amount of time you have left for leisure, friends, and family. You may be away from home for months at a time. 

    Interstate CDL Requirements

    There isn’t a big difference between the CDL requirements for interstate CDL and intrastate CDL. 

    Proof of identity, knowledge and skills tests, medical requirements, prior driving experience, commercial learner’s permit, English comprehension, and prior driving record remain the same for most states. 

    However, some requirements such as age and fees may differ slightly from state to state. 

    In almost all states, you must be at least 21 years old to be allowed to obtain an interstate CDL. The same age is required to transport hazardous materials or passengers across state lines. 

    The payable fees for the CLP, endorsements, CDL application, CDL renewal, and the license itself may be higher for interstate CDL applicants. 

    Similarities and Differences 

    We now know what interstate and intrastate CDLs are, the strengths and weaknesses of each, and what types of CMVs apply for each type of trucking. 

    Let’s now explore some similarities and differences between the two CDLs. 

    Intrastate CDL and Interstate CDL Differences

    The following differences are noticeable between intrastate and interstate CDLs:

    Regulating Body

    The regulating body for intrastate CDLs is the state issuing the licenses. For states, there are fewer regulations that drivers must follow. 

    Interstate trucking is regulated by Federal laws, which are stricter and more than the regulations of a single state. Each state you pass through will also have its regulations on top of the federal ones. 

    Types and Number of Commercial Motor Vehicles

    With an interstate CDL, you can operate more CMVs than a driver with an intrastate CDL. 

    As noted above, interstate drivers can drive reefers, tankers, flatbeds, semi-trucks, trailers, dry vans, 18-wheelers, and tractor-trailers. 

    On the other hand, intrastate drivers can operate concrete mixing trucks, bucket trucks, tow trucks, garbage trucks, and dump trucks

    With an interstate CDL, you can also carry more loads compared to intrastate CDL holders. 

    Allowable Operation Areas

    The allowable operation area for intrastate trucking is just within the borders of the state. Intrastate CDL drivers aren’t allowed to go beyond unless they upgrade to an interstate CDL. 

    For interstate trucking, the allowable operation area is across multiple states or countries, as the need may be. Interstate CDL holders can traverse the whole country and beyond to haul goods. 

    Intrastate CDL and Interstate CDL Similarities

    The following are noticeable similarities between interstate and intrastate CDLs:

    CDL Requirements

    Most of the CDL requirements discussed earlier in the article apply to both interstate and intrastate CDLs. Most states copy and adopt the requirements from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA).

    However, there may be slight differences in the requirements from one state to another for the two CDL types. 

    HazMat Regulations

    Because of the sensitive nature of transporting hazardous materials, both intrastate and interstate CDL drivers operating HazMat CMVs are regulated by Federal laws. 

    HazMat drivers undergo rigorous vetting, including national background checks, collection of fingerprints, and submitting their recent photographs for ease of identification and verification. 

    Suitability to CDL Classes

    Both interstate and intrastate CDLs apply to the three CDL classes: Class A, Class B, and Class C. You can operate any CMV in any of the classes either within or across state lines as the need may be. 

    Bottom Line

    If you had trouble deciding between interstate and intrastate CDL, we hope that you have by now made a more informed choice. 

    If you want to work with short-haul companies within a given state, you should obtain an intrastate commercial driver’s license. 

    With an intrastate CDL, you’ll enjoy shorter working hours, more time with family, and fewer regulations. However, you will be limited in your earning potential. 

    CDL drivers who want to work with long-haul companies for more experience, greater pay, and more traveling should obtain an interstate CDL. 

    With an interstate CDL, you’ll have to contend with longer working hours, long durations away from home, plenty of regulations, and more fatigue. 

    People Also Ask

    The questions below will further help you to understand various aspects of intrastate and interstate commercial driver’s licenses. 

    Can I Change My CDL From Intrastate to Interstate?

    You can change your CDL from intrastate to interstate. The charges for the process vary depending on the state that issued your intrastate license. 

    Do Intrastate CDL Drivers Need a Medical Card?

    Intrastate CDL drivers who self-certify for non-excepted must obtain a medical card from a licensed medical examiner. 

    Drivers who self-certify as intrastate excepted don’t need the medical card.

    What is a Non Excepted Interstate CDL?

    A non-excepted interstate CDL is a commercial driver’s license that requires the driver to get a medical card to operate a CMV across states Iines. 

    On the other hand, a driver who self-certifies in the interstate excepted category doesn’t have to provide a medical certificate or card. It means he is exempt from providing the card.



    After spending years on the road, I had a lot of time to think about the hardships that came with the trucking industry. I realized there was an opportunity to lend a hand a create a resource for truckers by truckers. With the help of my tech-savvy son, I built Trucker Geek as a way to show people that becoming a driver doesn’t need to be a stressful headache.