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Global Citizen

How to Get an FBI Background Check

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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 guide on how to get an FBI background check.

The FBI provides important services, but the problem is that the US is a big country, and they’re often backlogged. Everyone is requesting these reports, so it can take a while.

Can an American citizen get dual citizenship? How can it make all the difference? The Nomad Capitalist team has helped our high-net-worth clients obtain second citizenship in 28 countries. Apply to become a client, and we will help you to “go where you’re treated best” through dual citizenship and second residence. 

Background checks are just one small part of the sometimes complex application processes. Here, we have broken it down for you step by step. 

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; 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 with three options: 

  • apply and submit electronically directly to the FBI online
  • apply and submit directly to the FBI via mail 
  • apply and submit through a channeler

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.

If you submit your application online, go to the website and follow the instructions in the “Obtaining Your Identity History Summary” section.

You then have the option to go to a participating U.S. Post Office branch to submit your fingerprints as part of the request process electronically, and there may be additional charges.

If you decide to use a U.S. Post Office branch, you must first electronically fill out your application and make the payment before going to the branch to submit your fingerprints.

If you choose not to use a U.S. Post Office branch, you can still mail your completed fingerprint card along with the confirmation email you received when you initiated your electronic request to the address provided in your confirmation email.

If you applying via mail, 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 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 we recommend that you won’t find on government websites is getting 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. 

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 – we 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 fingerprint card, and provided a form of payment, all you have to do is submit your request. However, we 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 we 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 up to two months for mail and 10 days for online applications, which can change but generally has been steady. This does not include 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 $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 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.

You should be aware of a few limitations to using a channeler. First, they can only process requests for U.S. persons. Second, not every channeler will handle your request if you are living overseas.

Some channelers will accept fingerprints taken by a law enforcement agency in another country. 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 clarified that you can obtain your fingerprints from any government 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 Accurate Biometrics, Biometrics4All, Inc, and National Background Check.

We also learned that not all channeling services are made alike. Some companies stated they simply cannot provide services to US persons living overseas. 

If you’re in the United States, we would recommend using a channeler. It’s faster and worth the extra money to save time. 

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 good, but the alternate requirements sometimes complicate things.

To avoid problems like this, many European programs tap into Interpol directly, making 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 consider a country for residency carefully. One that doesn’t require an FBI background check could increase your chances of following through and getting residency. If you have to go and get 17 documents to get your residence, you just might not get it at all. This is just another factor to weigh into your offshore strategy.

In times of uncertainty, having an offshore strategy, including dual citizenship, offers you a sense of freedom. It both enhances your quality of life and ensures your safety and security.

At Nomad Capitalist, we strive to assist our clients in achieving the freedom they desire. We provide comprehensive strategies to help you go where you are treated best.

However, it is important to approach dual citizenship with caution and the right strategy. Contact us to learn more about our holistic strategies and becoming a client. 


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