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How to Get an FBI Criminal History Record Check
Why you may need one
Different names for the same thing
An FBI criminal history record can also be referred to as an identity history summary or “rap sheet.”
What’s inside an FBI criminal history record check
The record check lists certain types of information taken from fingerprint submissions on file with the FBI as related to the following:
All public federal misdemeanor and felony convictions which may include basic information about the charge, conviction, and incarceration (if any).
Any outstanding warrants.
Convictions that have been sealed by a judge or have been expunged should not show up on an FBI criminal history record check.
What you’ll need and how to obtain the report
You will need a set of fingerprints as well as a completed Applicant Information Form which among other things will ask you for your full name, date and place of birth, citizenship status, social security number, address, email, and phone number.
There are three options for requesting your report:
Option one: Electronically directly submitted to the FBI – log onto www.edo.cjis.gov. Scroll down to the section entitled, How to Submit a Request. To get started, you will need to provide your email address. There is a fee of $18.00 per application for this service which can be paid securely online.
Fingerprints - When submitting the request electronically directly to the FBI, you can go to a participating U.S. Post Office location to submit your fingerprints as part of the request. You may be charged by the U.S. Post Office for this service. Note that not all U.S. post offices provide this service. Here is a link to the participating post offices nationwide.
You must first complete the online electronic application and submit your payment prior to visiting and submitting your fingerprints through the U.S. Postal Service.
You will receive a confirmation to the email address you provided on the request. It’s important to keep this email confirmation (check your spam filter if you don’t find it in your Inbox). This email confirmation will be used to check the status of your request and to access your report.
If you choose not to submit your fingerprints through a participating U.S. post office, you can mail a completed fingerprint card. There are specific instructions on what is required. You must include a copy of your confirmation email. Fingerprint cards and copy of the email confirmation can be mailed to the following address:
FBI CJIS Division
ATTN: ELECTRONIC SUMMARY REQUEST
1000 Custer Hollow Road
Clarksburg, WV 26306
I suggest sending the document via certified mail or if by a commercial courier, with tracking and signature confirmation to ensure that you can track receipt of your fingerprints.
Option two: Direct submission by mail - submit your filled-out application and fingerprints directly to the FBI by mail.
Download, fill out, print, and sign the Application Information form.
Obtain a set of your fingerprints. Use the Standard Fingerprint form FD-258. Follow the instructions.
Submit payment of $18.00 to the Treasury of the United States. You can use the online credit card payment form to fill in your information or send a money order or certified check (no personal checks).
Mail in your complete application, fingerprints, and payment to:
FBI CJIS Division
ATTN: SUMMARY REQUEST
1000 Custer Hollow Road
Clarksburg, WV 26306
Again, I suggest sending the document via certified mail or if by a commercial courier, with tracking and signature confirmation to ensure that you can track receipt of your fingerprints.
Option three: Use an approved Channeler – Channelers approved by the FBI can be used. They are third-party companies that can help expedite the delivery of your application and fingerprints on behalf of the FBI. This link takes you to the approved FBI Channelers.
Third-party Channelers provide a variety of services including forwarding your application and fingerprints. Many also offer electronic fingerprinting services. It costs much more to use this service, but ultimately, this is the option we chose.
Reasons why we chose a Channeler:
There were no post office locations near us that provided electronic fingerprinting.
I already knew that getting a good set of fingerprints for me would be problematic and I didn’t want to risk rejection of my prints or a delay.
I didn’t want to deal with fingerprinting ink and paper.
It was easy for us to request both an emailed copy and a mailed copy through the Channeler. The emailed copy was for us to see what the results were without having to open the official hard copy.
We received our results quickly. We had the emailed results the same day. And in less than 5 business days, we had the mailed copy.
Here’s what my report looked like
This is a copy of my report in case you’d like to see what one looks like. I didn’t have any arrests or warrants, so there was not much to it. I have redacted parts of the report containing personal information.
What if something is incorrect on the report?
According to this resource by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), under federal law, you can review your criminal record check to correct or update your own personal record. It’s a bit complex, but if you find misinformation on your report, you must work with the agency that submitted the information.
Tips to keep in mind
Self-fingerprinting – you should check with your consulate/VFS office to confirm that you can self-fingerprint. I have heard conflicting stories about whether this is acceptable. Plus, if your fingerprints are not legible by FBI standards, your application could be rejected or delayed. My advice: when in doubt, don’t.
Difficulty getting good fingerprints – Some of my fingers are smooth, making it difficult to get a good set of fingerprints. I used Corn Husker’s lotion (available at Amazon as well as other major retailers) a few times a day for a few days before fingerprinting to help plump up the fingers. Although it took 3 electronic tries (the Channeler associate was very patient), I was finally successful.
Do not open your original report - Sealed, un-opened reports should be accepted by the consulate/VFS office you’re applying to. However, you should check with the respective office you will apply to for any additional requirements including apostille. In our own personal experience with VFS San Francisco, the sealed, un-opened envelopes were acceptable.
If you’re curious - If you want to know what’s in the report before you apply for a visa, have an additional copy mailed or emailed to you so you can review the contents. This is what we did.
You can request an FBI Criminal History Record check anytime – just like a credit report, you can request a criminal history record check anytime if you’re willing to go through the steps to get it.
Rejection of your application – some infractions in your report may not cause your visa application to be rejected, but others could. I have heard that it sometimes depends on the person reviewing your visa documents, although I assume there are parameters they must follow. If you are rejected, seek the advice of a professional immigration and legal expert.
Timing – be sure your report does not exceed the overall time requirements for your visa application. You should never submit an old report. For example, our reports are dated in April. We had our VFS San Francisco appointments in June. We arrived in Portugal in August and our SEF appointments in Portugal were in October. So, our reports were no older than 6 months in total. A good resource for details about timing can be found in the files section of the Americans & Friends Facebook Group under Get your Visa.
I’m not an expert - Please note that I’m not an expert in legal or immigration matters. The information provided in this article is to be used for reference purposes only. Perform your own due diligence and seek the advice of a professional immigration and legal expert if you have questions or concerns about an FBI criminal history record check.
Until next time…