Dateline: Valencia, Spain
Just the other day, I walked into a police station in Tbilisi, Georgia and requested a background check that I could use at a foreign embassy. I handed them my ID card, walked about 50 feet to the cash desk, paid my 26 lari (about $12USD) and was then reassured that the process would only take a few minutes.
I was literally on my way to take a seat when a man approached me with my report in hand. I never even got to sit down. The process was seamless and fast beyond belief.
Meanwhile, four months after I sent the FBI my information for a US background check, they finally charged my credit card; a month after, that my report arrived in the mail. And, since I haven’t been to the US in some time, I still haven’t seen my report.
This is just another example of my five magic words at work: “go where you’re treated best.” I could have gotten a police report in any number of jurisdictions where I am a resident — including the US and Georgia — but I chose to go to the place where, when I walked in, I would receive quick, quality help.
Now, despite the long wait, I have to give the FBI credit because the last time I contacted them about getting a report they were actually really nice. The FBI does provide important services, but the problem is that the US is a big country and they’re backlogged. Everyone is getting these reports, so it takes a while.
If you plan to live, work or travel in a foreign country, there is a good chance that you will need an FBI background check. Knowing the ins-and-outs of the process can simplify the procedure, so we have compiled here a comprehensive report on how to get an FBI background check.
The Basic Steps of getting an FBI Report
The official name of an FBI background check is an Identity History Summary. The report contains information on arrests, federal employment, naturalization, and military service; and all this information is obtained from fingerprint submissions kept by the FBI.
Though it may take some time after you submit your request to hear back from the FBI, the application is actually quite simple. There are only four steps.
Step One: Fill out an application
The first step is to fill out a simple, one page application form (that you can download here). The form requests basic information including your name, citizenship, physical description, address, contact information and the reason for your request.
If you need more than one report — in the event you are traveling or living overseas with a spouse, family, etc. — each person must fill out a form. And don’t forget to have each person sign their form.
Step Two: Obtain a set of your fingerprints
Besides waiting for your report, getting a copy of your fingerprints will be the most time consuming step of the whole process. Even so, it shouldn’t be too complicated.
You should have your fingerprints taken by a fingerprint technician. Some printing companies will offer this service, or you can go through a private company or pay a small fee at a law enforcement agency. The FBI accepts FD-258 fingerprint cards on standard white paper stock; you can no longer download one online.
You must include both rolled impressions and flat (also known as plain) impressions of all ten fingerprints. Both ink and live scan impressions are acceptable. You should also make sure that the name on your fingerprint card is the same as on your application form; and it would be prudent that all names match your common IDs, such as your passport and driver’s license.
One tip I would recommend that you won’t find on government websites is to get more fingerprint cards than you will need for your FBI background check. While the FBI states that your fingerprints need to be recent, there isn’t a defined limit on how old your fingerprint card can be in order to be recent. For my last report, the fingerprints I sent in were taken in 2014.
So, when you get your fingerprint cards, get three or four and keep the extra cards at home. That way, if one set gets lost, you’ll already have a set on hand and won’t have to be bothered the next time you need one.
Step Three: Submit Payment
The cost of an FBI Identity History Summary is only $18. You have two different payment options. First, you can pay by credit card by filling out this form; just make sure to include the expiration date of your credit card.
The second option is to obtain a money order or certified check for the exact amount of $18 made payable to the Treasury of the United States. Cash and personal or business checks are not accepted and will delay the processing of your request.
Again, if you are requesting reports for a spouse, family, etc. you must pay $18 for each report. Also note that the FBI will not expedite your request in exchange for additional payment.
If you suspect you will need an additional report at some point in the near future – your report usually needs to be 90 days or newer – I would suggest ordering two reports. You will have to pay $18 for each, but just as with your extra fingerprint cards, it’s always smart to have an extra on hand in case two agencies want a report or you need two reports for different residency programs, etc.
Step Four: Review and Submit
After you have filled out your application form, obtained your fingerprints card and provided a form of payment, all you have to do is submit your request. However, I would suggest reviewing their checklist just to make sure everything is in order before sending your request.
Once you’ve checked the list, mail the required items to the following address in West Virginia:
FBI CJIS Division – Summary Request
1000 Custer Hollow Road
Clarksburg, WV 26306
You will need a United States address to receive your report. Results CANNOT be mailed outside the US, which is one reason why I recommend having a mailing address service in the US, even if you don’t live there.
If you do not have a mailing address in the US, you can have your results mailed to a designated attorney that you identify in your application or a family member. You cannot, however, mail your results to a commercial business address.
The current processing time is 12-14 weeks, which can change but generally has been steady. This is not including the time required for mail delivery, and as mentioned, the government does not expedite requests for anyone. However, the FBI has approved several private organizations known as FBI Channelers who can handle your entire application process, for an extra fee, and often get faster results.
Why use an FBI Channeler?
If you choose not to apply for a background check directly with the FBI, your other option is to go through an FBI-approved channeler. Channelers will collect your data and payment information and then submit your request for you, often expediting the delivery of your Identity History Summary. They usually charge an additional $40 or $50 for their services.
If using the channeler option, you should contact the organization for information on how to get your fingerprints taken. Most channelers provide the fingerprinting service, but many also receive fingerprints you have had taken in other approved locations.
You can find a complete list of approved FBI channelers on the FBI’s website and should contact each channeler for processing times, costs and availability in your area.
There are a few limitations to using a channeler of which you should be aware. First, they can only process requests for U.S. persons. Second, not every channeler will handle your request if you are living overseas.
In my experience, it seems that every single channeler wants you to go to the US just to get fingerprinted. However, me team reached out to the channeler agencies provided on the FBI’s webpage to see if any of them would be open to processing requests for U.S. persons living overseas. Here’s what we found:
There are channelers who will accept fingerprints taken in another country by a law enforcement agency. This does not have to be a US government agency like an embassy or consulate (in fact, they usually don’t offer fingerprinting services). The channelers made it clear that you can obtain your fingerprints from any government’s law enforcement agency.
After getting your fingerprints, you can then mail the fingerprint card, application and payment to the FBI-approved channeler. The channelers who will accept this arrangement include companies such as ID Vetting, MyFBIReport, and National Background Check.
We also learned that not all channeling services are made alike. Some companies stated that they simply cannot provide their services to US persons living overseas. These include companies like FieldPrint.
If you’re in the United States, I would recommend using a channeler. It’s faster and worth the extra money to save time. If you’re looking for an accessible channeler, FieldPrint is the only live scan network with locations in all 50 states, DC and Puerto Rico. There may, however, be a different channeler closer to you, so it’s worth looking at the FBI’s website for the latest.
If you’re outside the United States, I would start with the three channelers listed above. If they’ll work with you, it will save you an unnecessary trip to the US.
Residency programs and your FBI background check
One last thing to keep in mind: Some residency programs don’t even require an FBI background check. This is often a good thing, but the alternate requirements will sometimes make things more complicated.
For instance, places like Malaysia will often require a police report from your previous city of residence, rather than an FBI report. It’s a bit of a joke because you could have committed a crime in the next town over and it wouldn’t show up on your report, but the local report is enough to get you residency through Malaysia’s My Second Home residence program.
To avoid problems like this, many programs in Europe just tap into Interpol directly, which makes their residency programs more attractive. On the other hand, most countries in South and Central America are so bureaucratic that they all want FBI reports.
This is another reason to carefully consider a country for residency. One that doesn’t require an FBI background check could increase your chances of following through and getting your residency. If you have to go and get 17 documents to get your residency, you just might not get it at all. Just another factor to weigh into your offshore strategy.