How to Apply for an FBI Background Check

Full-page sticker for my E-2 visa in the ROK
Full-page sticker for my E-2 visa in the ROK

Disclaimer: This information is based on the process I went through in 2011, 2012, 2014, and 2015 to obtain myFBI background checks for international immigration. It is not legal advice. It is not necessarily up to date. Official processes change at random and are unpredictable. 

Check with the FBI for the most up to date advice. 

When you move abroad as much as I do, you get really, REALLY good at being fingerprinted. I’m not an international mastermind criminal; I just have to prove that I have no criminal record all the time. For most working visas and a handful of student visas, a national criminal record check is required. For those who live outside the USA, this can take a whopping two days.

Rather unfortunately, for those of us who are form the USA it’s a lot more complicated to get an Identity History Summary.

On September 7, 2014, CJIS installed a new IT system. As a result of this installation, we are experiencing delays in processing. Please be assured that each issue is being identified and resolved as quickly as possible, but at this time anticipated processing time for an Identity History Summary is approximately 14-16 weeks. Allow additional time for mail delivery. –

To be clear, 14-16 weeks is more than three months. With mailing, closer to four and a half. Plan accordingly. If you want to be in Korea by October or earlier this year, you’ll need to apply now. Be aware of how many checks you’ll need! In Korea, you typically need a check for your visa and one for the Education Office.

To submit your FBI background check and get the process started, you’ll need the following: 

  • A set of official fingerprints for each check you need, taken at your local police precinct. Mine cost $11 each.
  • The Applicant Information Form, completed in block capitals and black ink. Download it here.
  • The Credit Card Payment Form, to pay the application fee of $18 per background check. (I highly recommend the credit card payment option; everything else is a certified P.I.T.A)
  • A method of sending these items with a tracking number to the FBI in West Virginia. NEVER send without a tracking number.

Submit all of those things, and wait. And wait. And wait.

You can try calling the FBI and pleading with them to speed up the process, as I did on my lunch break in 2011. It won’t do any good. They won’t even necessarily know whether they’ve received your application or not (and this was three months in). Check your tracking number, and watch your bank account for the charges.

Eventually, you will get a very plain envelope in the mail with a record check in it. The check itself will look something like this.

Redacted for privacy.
Redacted for privacy.

Even though it says that this check is no good for employment, pay no attention. They mean employment in the USA. The most important things are the signature and stamp, and the Result stating ‘no arrest history.’ You can now send this to your prospective university, employers and/or recruiter and get going on the actual visa process.

A word on ‘Channelers’

You may notice that there is an option to pay a company to run the background check instead of the FBI. In fact, these companies are approved by the FBI and listed on their website. In a pinch, it is possible to apply through these companies but you need to keep two things in mind.

#1- Channeler checks may NOT be accepted for apostilles or official use by immigration offices. 

#2- Channeler checks cost a lot more to process, even though they are faster. I applied for one just in case we need a backup location and end up in Korea this year, and the whole process took about a ten days. 

Make certain that you ask the consulate or embassy to which you will apply for your visa BEFORE assuming a channeler check will suffice.

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